Voice and tone

One of the ways we create a consistent and familiar experience for our users is by speaking with a consistent voice throughout our product and content while being aware of our tone.

What’s the difference between voice and tone?

What’s the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: our voice is a personification of who we are. We always have the same voice. Then, our tone changes along dimensions of tone to match a given context and situation.

Voice guidelines

Our brand has a distinct voice and character. This voice and character is the basis of our writing for all of our digital platforms.

When we write in our shared voice, we are always:


  • Be clear and concise
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, and filler words
  • Be precise and consistent with terminology so that our meaning is always clear


  • Express calm positivity
  • Help users solve problems and perform tasks quickly
  • Anticipate questions and provide answers ahead of time

Conversational, minus the jokes

  • Use the words our customers use
  • Speak to, not down or up, to our customers

Note: This section will be evolved as we continue to refine our brand identity.

Using tone

We can express any given message in wildly different ways by combining voice and tone.

There are four dimensions of tone that we can use to adjust the tone of any given message:

  1. Funny vs. serious.
  2. Formal vs. casual.
  3. Respectful vs. irreverent.
  4. Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact.

Our tone comes through the words we use and how we string them together. Our voice shapes which words are part of our vocabulary, and provides a “range” along these dimensions of tone that will keep our voice consistent even as our tone changes.

Tone is tricky!

The difference between voice and tone and how to use them together is tricky. Here’s a specific non-Sourcegraph example of how voice affects vocabulary, while tone affects specific word choice.

Imagine a voice that is Sage. A phrase varied on the enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact scale might be written like:

  • Enthusiastic: “This is lovely!”
  • Matter-of-fact: “This is good.”

In contrast, a voice that is Energetic would sound very different on the same scale:

  • Enthusiastic: “This is utterly stupendous!”
  • Matter-of-fact: “This is great.”

Further reading:

Adapting to emotional context

Positive situations

  • Be encouraging and positive
  • Express interest
  • Don’t take credit for their success
  • Don’t assume it was easy

Neutral situations

  • Express confidence
  • Connect value to action
  • Don’t create uncertainty
  • Don’t tell people “what to do”

Negative situations

  • Be honest and direct about problems and provide next steps
  • Use conversational but straightforward language
  • Don’t minimize the problem
  • Don’t use negative or technical words
  • Don’t assign emotion