Part 2: getting people on board

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I’ve decided to start using photos of my cats here. Everyone just uses stock images anyway, might as well make it cute right?

Here’s part 1 if you missed it.

Now, you might be chomping at the bit to brainstorm some principles and start writing. But we’re not here to just create some guidelines; we’re here to get buy in for an approach to writing that will have a lasting, measurable impact.

Bad news: a successful tone of voice programme is 30% creativity, 70% stakeholder management. If you want your beautiful set of guidelines to be well-received, you have to do these three things before you get anywhere near creating them.

1. Work out who you need support from

Everyone in the business has a stake in your tone of voice, because everyone is a writer. You don’t need them all to be giddily excited about the prospect of a new writing style, but you do need them to understand why it’s happening and not ignore it or — worse — chop it down when it arrives. …

Part 1 of a 5-part guide

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I’ve decided to start using photos of my cats here. Everyone just uses stock images anyway, might as well make it cute right?

In my experience*, most tone of voice programmes don’t achieve as much as they should. That’s because they’re usually focused on the wrong things.

Real talk if you’re thinking about how your business writes: you probably don’t need a ‘distinctive’ tone of voice, you just need to make most of your writing less terrible. The bigger a company you work for, the truer that’s likely to be.

When I was a consultant, clients would spend a lot of time worrying about the fine nuances of their tone, and how it separated them from the competition when it came to marketing. …

This is a cross-post of an article I wrote for the lovely people over at Lecture In Progress. (They sensibly titled it ‘5 ways to write about yourself that won’t drive employers away’ though.)

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Few topics are more liable to leave you staring bug-eyed at the blank page than writing about yourself. Unfortunately, if you’re starting out in the creative industries you’ll have to do it a fair bit. There’s your CV, for one. Then all the cover letters you need to write when you’re applying for jobs. Plus your website, if you’ve got one. And then there’s LinkedIn and any other networking places you hang out.

How do you sell yourself without sounding like you’re trying too hard? How do you make people you’ve never met interested in what you have to say?

I have some advice. Not on what to say — it’s your life, and your experience. If everybody spoke about the same kinds of things, the world would be a pretty dull place. …

In which I very obviously bait pedants.

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I’ve decided to start using photos of my cats here. Everyone just uses stock images anyway, might as well make it cute right?

Spelling and grammar are in decline, right? Textspeak and emoji are ruining English, no-one can write properly any more and everything’s going to the dogs.

That’s a pretty common argument you hear, accompanied by either righteous indignation about the standard of teaching, or hand-wringing about the future of our great literary culture.

There’s just one small problem with the idea that the standard of English is in decline: it’s total nonsense.

Literacy rates in the English speaking world have been rocketing for the last hundred years and show no signs of slowing down. More people write than ever before, and more of us are reading than ever before. …

Spotify, I love you. But I’m going to pick on you now.

I got an email this morning from Spotify, outlining changes to their terms and conditions. Normal folks might find that colossally dull, but I was genuinely intrigued.

Something caught my eye: they’ve made changes so their Ts&Cs are clearer and more streamlined.

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Good news! For years I’ve banged on about the importance of following through with good, clear, customer-centric writing in everything you do, especially the small print. We’ve made a big deal of our Ts&Cs at Monzo, and I’m very proud of them.

So I was excited to have a look at the new terms.

Uh oh. Here’s an extract. …

(Or, do one thing to improve your writing)

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I’ve decided to start using photos of my cats here. Everyone just uses stock images anyway, might as well make it cute right?

Writing a bit clunky? Can’t keep the word count down? You might be suffering from excessive nounification.

Business writing is full of nouns taking the place of perfectly good verbs. Here are a few examples, with their neater verb-y versions in brackets.

‘We conducted an analysis of…’

(‘We analysed…’)

‘If you want to make a payment…’

(‘If you want to pay…’)

‘In order to make a decision…’

(‘To decide…’)

‘We provide support to customers…’

(‘We help customers…’)

They creep in when we adopt the bizarre ornate formality of ‘professional’ English, which makes things longer and more complicated than they need to be. …

Training people to write isn’t straightforward. Here’s how we think about it at Monzo.

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Last post, I argued that everyone you work with should be trained to write.

People have strong feelings about writing. Words are the main way we interact after all, and criticism of your writing can feel like criticism of you.

So training people to write differently isn’t like training them to use new software. If you teach them about the latest accounting system, they don’t usually yell “But my Year 8 Accounting teacher said the total opposite!” or “I hate it when people format columns like that, I’d rather die!”.

You need to teach people skills, but you also need to buy them into the change – good training does both. Bear in mind that one session can have an impact, but for sustained change you need a programme that builds up skills and confidence over time. …

They’re all chronically under-trained in the skill they use most often.

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I have good news and bad news.

First, good news: you might think you’re a recruiter, marketer or engineer — but you’d be wrong. You’re a writer, and so is everyone you work with. Congratulations!

In fact, the company you work for produces more words than anything else. All day every day, everyone is writing. Emails, instant messaging, reports, commit messages, webpages, app copy, Ts&Cs, brochures, ads, etc.

Here’s the bad news: even though everyone you work with is a writer, most of them have never been trained to write.

Sure, they learnt some things at school and university — but lots of those things were either not useful or just downright wrong. Like the misleading notion that complex language makes you sound smarter, or the totally mythical idea that you can’t start a sentence with the words And or But. …

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Hello, I’m Harry.

I’m a writer at Monzo, and look after our tone of voice.

Before Monzo I spent about six years at The Writer, helping businesses big and small change they way they use language.

I believe that words are the most chronically under-appreciated and under-used aspect of any business, but then I would wouldn’t I.

In this blog, I’ll try to convince you of the same thing, in posts it won’t take more than 5 minutes to read. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’ll share some examples of how I’ve tried to turn the ideas here into practical processes at Monzo and elsewhere.

And there might be the occasional rant about language things I find annoying. Of which there are many.


Harry Ashbridge

Hello, I’m a writer at Monzo.

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