I’ve spent quite a bit of my career creating tone of voice guidelines. And I don’t think anybody’s ever read them. I mean really read them.

Guidelines are boring! I mean, when was the last time you devoured some like you would the latest Reacher?

And they’re not just boring. They’re impractical. There’s no way even the most seasoned copywriter can remember all those writing rules. It’s just not how people work.

So, it’s time we all admitted the truth: you can’t programme a human.

What do we do instead?

We’ve always told our clients that the guidelines are the start of the journey, not the end. You can’t expect people to read them and just get it.

But you can expect exactly that from AI.

It turns out the guidelines we’ve been creating aren’t useless after all. They’re really effective AI prompts.

They cover the big picture stuff, like the overall personality of a brand; the detailed stuff, like exactly how many words to limit sentences to, or which sorts of words the brand prefers and which it doesn’t; and they include loads of before-and-after examples that show the tone of voice in action.

With a bit of tweaking from someone clever like our AI Director Luke, you can use the guidelines to get AI writing copy that’s consistently on-tone. (Then have humans add the finishing touch.)

Beyond tone

And it’s not just about tone of voice. We create guidelines on all sorts of things, like brand, design, social, style (as in: do we say 4th January or 4 January, and so on), diversity and inclusion… even product naming.

These days, when we’re writing these guidelines, we can go into so much more detail, add so much more nuance, because we don’t have to worry about overburdening (or, more likely, boring) sensitive human minds.

So, are guidelines dead? Nope, quite the opposite. It’s like we’ve been producing cans and now here, at long last, is a can opener.

Guidelines aren’t dead. AI’s given them a reason to live.

Written by Nick Padmore, Head of language at Definition