It’s easy to find good copywriting advice online, but it’s hard to find great copywriting advice online.

The main problem is specificity—or rather, lack thereof. Take, for example, this SEJ article and the passage shown below:

copywriting tone

The point is not to pick on the SEJ article (per se). The point is that this kind of copywriting advice is par for the course.

All of this to explain why we were so pleased to find this article from Nielsen Norman Group outlining four dimensions of tone of voice. It’s authoritative in ways that we don’t often see with copywriting content; not only is it well-written, but it also provides a framework we’ve not encountered before AND validates that framework with focused original research.

It’s worth the 15-20 minutes for a thorough read, but we’ll summarize the four dimensions to get you started (and we’ll add something to their article with these non-circular definitions that don’t contain the terms being defined):

Funny vs. Serious 🎭 How many liberties are you willing to take with the subject matter? If you had to choose, would you rather the audience enjoy your writing or trust your writing? (Not a trick question.)

Formal vs. Casual 🧐 Are you trying to be conversational, or are you more interested in being precise and proper?

Respectful vs. Irreverent 🏴‍☠️ To what extent does the audience expect you to take the material itself seriously? How efficient, focused, and/or urgent is a typical piece of your content?

Enthusiastic vs. Matter-of-Fact ⛓ What’s the right emotional/logical balance for your content? Does your reader prefer to feel energized or grounded while consuming your content?

Here’s how we’d self-assess theCLIKK’s writing along those four dimensions:

Funny vs. Serious — 60/40 respectively. “Smart-ass” is very expressly our chosen voice here, but we’ve sometimes said that we need both pieces (“smart” and “ass”) for that voice to work as intended.

Formal vs. Casual — 20/80 respectively. Part of our job as content curators is to make this kind of subject matter more conversational, though the real-world value of it is never lost on us.

Respectful vs. Irreverent — 30/70 respectively. Some subjects deserve deference and sensitivity, but let’s not take the rest too seriously. It makes everything harder than it needs to be (including marketing).

Enthusiastic vs. Matter-of-Fact — 50/50 or close to it. Really, theCLIKK swings back and forth along this dimension; we try to stay focused for the bigger chunks of a mail, but we allow ourselves flights of fancy for segments like Trivia and OH, AND THIS (which are meant to be lighter).

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