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Verbal Language

Setting the tone

In addition to word choice, the tone we use in our communications has a big impact on how our audience receives the messages we’re sending. Our tone reflects our attitudes and emotions, and should vary based on the context.


Same personality. Different tones.

Think of IU as a person. While a person has only one personality, they express themselves differently depending on the situation. Someone might speak in a different tone to their supervisor than they would towards their childhood best friend.

The same is true for us. In our marketing and communications, we vary our tone based on the nature of our communications, our audience, media placement, and a number of other factors.

How to strike the right tone

When you’re writing for the IU brand, you’ll consistently speak in the brand voice, but will adapt your tone appropriately. You might use a different tone in a TikTok video than you would in an invitation to a prominent researcher’s lecture.

Ask yourself the following before determining tone:

  • What is the topic you’re communicating about or the idea you’re trying to convey?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Where are you reaching them?
  • How would you describe the culture and common language of the platform or channel you’re using?
  • What is the objective of your piece?

In addition to these considerations, you’ll always want your writing to be inclusive.

Consider a range of expression

Just as our visual language employs a range of expressiveness, our verbal language provides the flexibility to tailor our messages. Being comfortable writing in a variety of tones will help you maximize the effectiveness of your marketing materials.



Formal executions represent our brand in its purest and most traditional form. Writing in a formal tone adheres to standards and embraces conventions. 

Formal work is suitable for the most official or executive circumstances or audiences. You might also keep things formal when the situation is serious or urgent.



Informal executions skew towards conversational and approachable. Writing in an informal tone is relaxed, rather than strict in form. It might also acknowledge the vernacular of its audience, but never in a pandering way.

There's a time and a tone

Some of our most formal use cases might include:

  • Ceremonial materials
  • Administrative materials
  • Official communications
  • Faculty-oriented events

Some of our most informal use cases might include:

  • Social media
  • Student-centric emails
  • Campus events
  • Student recruitment

Using an informal tone isn’t limited to speaking to student audiences. Informal writing can help you better establish a personal connection with many different audiences. Just make sure to exercise good judgment when deciding what tone to employ.

Keep learning about IU's verbal language

On top of mastering tone, be sure to dive into other resources about the many components of our verbal language.

  • Inclusive writing

    Always make your writing accessible and inclusive to maximize its reach and impact.

  • Copywriting for different media

    Learn best practices for writing persuasively across media touchpoints.

  • Messaging strategy

    Develop an approach to messaging that can be carried out cohesively across campaign executions.

  • Our editorial style

    Get access to our style guides: the IU Web Style Guide and our Editorial Style Guide.