Welcome to our tone of voice guidelines! 👋

It's is an overview of how we work with words. It’s for everyone in the company, and it applies to all the writing we do.

Can you guys please fix the tone of voice? We're super unfriendly sounding...
Mark
CTO

First off, what do we mean by ‘tone of voice’?


In literature, the tone of voice refers to the author’s feelings towards the subject. Now, we’re not writing books, but the same principles apply. Our tone of voice is the way we tell our users how we feel about the message we’re sending (an email, a text, a Tweet), which will influence how they’ll feel about it too. It’s a really powerful way to gain a user’s trust.


 


So, why have we made it?


Truthful answer? We let ourselves go a bit. In our haste to ship great features over the last couple of years, we’d occasionally let standards slip and maybe didn’t give the craft of language it’s due care. We’d expeditiously write some ‘placeholder’ text that’d end up being used in an information pop up. We’d draft some words for a booking confirmation screen that we’d “definitely revisit next sprint” but ended up leaving for a year.  


 


So we thought we’d create a guide to help us.


What we don’t want to do is discourage you from writing. We’re an intelligent, articulate and witty bunch and we really want that to come across in the service - the emails we email, the texts we text, and the Tweets we tweet.

💬 Tone principles

So, how did we arrive here?

We sat and had a careful think about how we want (and don’t want) to sound. We came up with a set of three ‘tone principles’.

💚 Simplicity

We’re trying to take something that is often very complex and make it understandable to everybody.

We’re clear, concise, and to the point.

💭 Thoughtfulness

We’re dealing with people who may be unwell.

We’re empathetic and human. Our users are using a digital service, but they’re talking to people, not robots.

😄 Friendliness

Does anyone relish a trip to the doctor?

Probably not, but if we’re friendly, informal and communicate in a way that’s relatable to our users we can make it as enjoyable as it can be.

💚 Simplicity

Did you know what triage meant before you started working here? What a ‘script’ was? Or a fit note? Lots of us probably didn’t, and it’s probably safe to assume that our patients don’t either.

We try to avoid complicated language - medical or technical. We need to be mindful of our users and not present them with information that is jargon-filled, verbose, or just boring. They’re generally using our service whilst in-between tasks on a busy day, often on a phone or whilst on the move. It is essential that we’re as concise as possible.

Always remember - explaining things in a simple way isn’t dumbing it down. Taking complicated medical or technical advice and presenting it in a way that’s understandable to anyone takes real skill and empathy, and ensures people will actually read it. Don’t bombard them with overcomplicated content. If you really need to use a technical term, give a brief definition.


 


Instead of…


Script      Prescription
Commence     
Start
Consult   →  
Appointment
Dependent     
Child
Assist     
Help


 


In context…


Imagine a patient is booking an appointment and selects a condition that requires more information before booking.

💭 Thoughtfulness

When you’re not feeling yourself, the last thing you want is to speak to someone who doesn’t care. Our users first point of contact with us won’t be with one of our awesome GPs or fantastic PX team members. It’ll be with a generic appointment booking interface, transactional email, or iPhone notification. How do we make it feel like that isn’t the case? How do we make it feel like there is one of us guys on the other side? That the words are tailored to them?


There’s often no way around it for us as digital service - there are things we have to ask of our patients that a bricks and mortar GP won’t. Uploading photo ID, adding personal details, providing proof of parental care of a child. These tasks can be annoying, especially if you’re unwell, so how do we guide users through it in a frictionless manner? There’s only so far we can finesse it with nice design - the right words are crucial.


We also need to make an effort not to be passive, especially when we’re conveying news that is out of our hands. Trying to distance ourselves from a task that we know is a total headache really isn’t a good look. We just need to suck it up and get them through it as smoothly as possibly.


 


In context…


Imagine a patients profile hasn’t been completed, and they want to book an appointment. What’s the best way to inform them that they need to carry out that task before they can speak to a doctor?

😄 Friendliness

How do we speak our audience’s language? It’s a tricky balance. Whilst we don’t want to bombard them with medical jargon or take an authoritarian approach, neither do we want to trivialise their condition. Yes, we’re a bunch of innovators. No, we’re not wacky.


You’re 2/3 of the way through now, so probably spotted a few emoji. They’re a really handy way of injecting personality into our words but are also an easy way of making your product look like a teenagers WhatsApp chat 💩.


We like to use them sparingly, as a little visual touch to help emphasise a point, draw the user’s eye, or as an explanatory aid. If you’re unsure of an emoji’s suitability, meaning, or possible connotations, please consult our Head of Emoji Curation (Nichola 💅).


 


In context…


A patient gets an SMS from us 10 minutes before their appointment starts. How do we get them into the waiting room in as quick and friendly a way as possible?

So, that's our tone of voice! But please remember – it's a constantly evolving document. If you think we've missed something, please let us know.
Ed

Day-to-day applications ✍️

Abbreviations and acronyms

If we need to use abbreviation/acronym, spell it out on the first mention. Doctor Care Anywhere rather than DCA is probably a good example, or Internet Hospital rather than IH.

Capitalisation

Sentence case, please. (FYI, sentence case is the conventional way of using capital letters in a sentence or capitalizing only the first word and any proper nouns).

Dates and times

We do them like this. Not sure why, but let’s go with it and keep it consistent.

Thu, 27 Sep 2019, 8:45pm

Pronouns

If your subject’s gender is unknown or irrelevant, use one of either “they,” “them,” or “their” as a singular pronoun. Use one of either “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers” pronouns as appropriate. Don’t use “one” as a pronoun. At DCA, we have decreed that ‘guys’ is gender neutral.

URLs and websites

 

Use title case if you’re talking about the website, but the URL is always lowercase and always ditch the http:// bit. You haven’t needed to type that part out in, like, a decade.

  • The NHS website states…
  • Read more on the NHS website at www.nhs.uk/conditions