What user testing teaches us about work voice
Work voice is one of the main reasons why users do not read content. When users see content written in work voice they will skim read; understand less than they read, and feel confused about your brand.
What is your work voice?
Work voice is the writing style you use when you are writing formally to colleagues, your boss, or the regulator. It is not the one that you would normally use with your friends and family, or your neighbour. It should not be the voice you use when writing to your users.
A good example - I recently came across something that was written for the general public about COVID that used the phrase ‘resumption of recreational activities’. I think what they meant was: ‘when you can get back to doing exercise or sport’. I say Í think' because 'resumption of recreational activities' is the work voice of someone who works in government who probably has a formal definition of 'recreational activities' that I do not have access to.
Readers disengage when they see work voice
When they read work voice, users feel disengaged. They feel that your content has been written for someone else. They feel that you do not understand them, because you are not using the style of language they use.
Work voice creates misunderstanding
Our user testing shows that many people do not read content that is written in work voice. They skim over it and miss the key message, or when filling in forms just guess what information you might need from them. In Australia, new legislation makes it compulsory for financial services organisations to communicate clearly so that their customers do not make inadvertent errors.
Work voice may not be your 'brand voice'.
Work voice often shows up in the letters that people in organisations write to their customers. The more difficult the message - ''we are denying your claim'' for example - the more likely it is that they will hear your work voice, even from brands who pride themselves on their customer-centricity.
"Each time we speak, the voice we use is heavily influenced by our audience and our purpose: whom we are talking to and why. For example, we use different voices to talk to our pet, to our mother, to our boss and—if we are a lawyer in private practice—to our clients." Christpopher Balmford in the Journal Clarity
How can you avoid writing in your work voice?
The truth is, only your users can tell you how they feel when they read your words. That is why I designed a user testing method specifically for written communications - User Testing for Style and Content - a unique language-based user testing method for CX, Compliance and Brand Voice. My bachelor degree is in Linguistics and English, I have post-grad qualifications in Psychology, and I continue to study and observe how people use language.
How do our clients react?
Clients have told us that they feel more confident knowing that their content is creating a positive customer experience, and that their content is compliant with regulations. They have also discovered an additional benefit - that users use their call centres less because they have fewer questions about their content.
I also have a newsletter call Bellbird that comes out about 4 times a year. You can subscribe here.