Voice and Tone
Shaped by our experience-driven mission, Northeastern’s voice is one of empowerment.
Ambitious. We set big goals and meet them.
Daring. We take strategic risks and view failure as an opportunity to learn, reassess our options, and move forward.
Distinctive. We do things differently from all other universities.
Strategic. We’re thoughtful and deliberate in all that we do.
Visionary. Our culture is built on innovation.
Open. We encourage new ideas, embrace change, and are welcoming and accessible.
As we describe our people, programs, and outcomes, emphasize those elements that make them, and Northeastern, unique. Our content should capture our core values and differentiators—experience, a global perspective, partnership and collaboration across disciplinary and geographical boundaries, and use-inspired research.
Phrases that were once specific to Northeastern (“co-op,” “experiential learning,” “lifelong learning,” “use-inspired research,” “global network”) are now used by many other universities and organizations, where they may have slightly different meanings. When writing for Northeastern, use these words with purpose, and provide context when possible. See our Key Terms and Style Points for definitions and examples.
Every editorial opportunity is different and should reflect a tone that’s appropriate for the intended audience. With that in mind, here are general guidelines for crafting copy—from a short, snappy print ad to a feature-length news article.
Make it genuine and relatable. Copy should not sound slick or like marketing-speak. Read it aloud: Is the phrasing something you’d actually say to someone else, or does it sound stilted or artificial? Avoid clichés, jargon, business-speak, and long-winded explanations. Many websites, including this one, list clichés and suggest how to avoid them in professional writing. Be clear and direct. When choosing between a simple word (for example, “start”) and a lofty word (“commence”), choose the simpler, conversational word.
A sentence like this:
Northeastern faculty are engaged in creating a yearlong innovation incubator for experiential education—a learning model based on the intentional integration of life experience and academic instruction.
Should be written more simply:
Northeastern professors launched a group to generate new ideas around experiential education, which blends classroom and real-world learning.
Make it specific and succinct. Avoid generalized statements that could apply to any college or university. Avoid verbose flourishes and filler copy. Back up statements with proof points. Include details that reinforce Northeastern’s core messages and underscore how we’re different.
Any university could say this:
Northeastern University educates students for a lifetime of success.
Only Northeastern can say this:
Northeastern’s renowned experience-driven approach to learning sets our graduates far ahead of those from traditional universities.
Make it inspiring and motivational. Northeastern students, faculty, staff, alumni, and industry partners are creative, solutions-focused, and results-driven. Use active verbs to convey this confidence and energy. Avoid passive voice. Motivate the audience to keep reading or to take action.
Innovative research sounds less innovative in passive voice:
The model was tested against official influenza surveillance systems and has been shown to accurately forecast the disease’s evolution up to six weeks in advance—significantly earlier than other models.
Active voice aligns with our results-driven approach:
Researchers tested the model against official influenza surveillance systems and showed it accurately forecasts the disease’s evolution up to six weeks in advance—significantly earlier than other models.
Make it personal and real. We are an inclusive, mission-driven organization. Include authentic details conveying the passion for our mission and what we stand for. Be conversational (tip: using contractions helps with that). Use first-person plural and second-person pronouns (“we,” “us,” “you”) whenever possible, as well as contractions such as “I’m” or “we’re.” This engages the reader in a direct, human way.
A sentence like this:
Students attending Northeastern get to do up to three, six-month co-ops during their time as an undergraduate.
Feels more accessible when recast as second person:
As an undergraduate student at Northeastern, you’ll get to do up to three six-month co-ops.