University of Wisconsin–Madison

Voice and Tone

When producing marketing and advertising materials for UW–Madison, it’s important to represent the brand in a spirited, yet professional, manner. Conveying a brand goes beyond what we say—it’s also how we say it.

Photo of two students taking lake samples from a boat on Lake Mendota with caption "Surrounded by lakes and infinite possibilities."
UW–Madison’s tonal words—Passionate, Approachable, Unconventional, Catalytic, Purposeful, Tenacious, and Grounded—serve as a launching pad for the voice and tone of the UW–Madison brand. Think of these words not in terms of a checklist, but of a spectrum you can reference and adjust. Depending on the nature and audience of the piece, there is flexibility to emphasize some tonal elements over others.

For example, when writing for undergraduates or prospective students, the tone and style should be at its most aspirational (Passionate) while maintaining an air of achievability and realism (Approachable, Grounded). When writing for internal or alumni audiences, the tone and style should work toward one unified message (Purposeful), contain an engaging subject (Passionate, Tenacious), and remind the reader what sets UW–Madison apart (Unconventional).

You may also reference the Brand Positioning Statement, Brand Pillars, and Brand Rationale as you aim to write with UW–Madison’s voice and tone.

Set the Tone

Unconventional

Creative, vivid, and witty, but not unprofessional or inappropriate

Passionate

Bold and prideful, but not pretentious

Tenacious

Inspiring and engaging, but not hyperbolic

Grounded

Curious, thoughtful, and intellectual, but not preachy or arrogant

Approachable

Genuine and authentic, but not self-deprecating

Purposeful

Active, concise, and clear; without fluff, jargon, or clichés

Catalytic

Ambitious, forward-thinking, and achieving, but not boastful

Style Specifics

Editorial Style Guide

The goal of the UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide is to provide a reference for points of style specific to UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association: to detail items that university communicators use frequently, and to ensure that UW–Madison titles, locations, departments, and the like are used in a consistent manner.

The list of rules included within the style guide is not intended to be a substitute for or re-creation of the rules of usage and spelling found in the preferred references for campus use, which should still be the primary style guides:

  • the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition (for non-news communications)
  • the Associated Press Stylebook, 2014 (for news communications and institutional websites at University Communications, although the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association uses Chicago style)
  • Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
  • Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, 4th edition

Our Name

First reference (especially for external audiences):

  • the University of Wisconsin–Madison (full, official name; note the en dash instead of a hyphen)
  • Capitalize The only as a formal title in a formal reference or when the phrase stands alone, such as in the headline of a program. Generally, however, lowercase the, especially when it appears within a sentence. (E.g., “Some 40,000 students attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison each year.”)

Acceptable second references:

  • UW–Madison (no the)
  • the UW (in a context that is clearly UW–Madison)
  • university

Read more in the UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide.