Style Guidelines Style Guidelines

Tone and voice

Much of the way IAIG communicates with its stakeholders is through writing. It’s often their first introduction to us. So how we write is critical to establishing our credibility, ensuring others understand our mission and our work, and building the trust needed for open communication.


Our written voice signals who we are and what we stand for. IAIG should strive to portray clarity, strength, trustworthiness, loyalty and integrity. through our written material.

Another way to think of our voice is to think of what IAIG is versus what it is not. IAIG is:

  • Steadfast but not antiquated
  • Professional but approachable
  • Smart but not arrogant


Changes in tone allow for IAIG to introduce variances in the way in which it communicates depending upon the situation or the audience. Compared to some organizations or even other units within UNOPS, these variations in tone will be limited, since we want to portray deep stability and consistency. It will be up to individual staff to determine wherever a particular context warrants a variation in tone: for example, the tone of written content may be more formal and direct in communications with donors or senior management, than materials prepared for use on the IAIG website, or for material intended to encourage reporting and awareness of wrongdoing.

Style tips

IAIG staff should follow the guidance provided in the UNICEF Style Book (October 2015) used by UNOPS for all external written materials. In addition to the Style Book guidance, think about the following as you write.

  • Eliminate all development jargon: write as if you are writing to a professional from another field. For that matter, don’t use any jargon at all. Especially avoid “consultant-speak” in an attempt to sound more forward-thinking.
  • Use simple, direct language: if there is a way to say something with fewer words, or using simpler words with the same meaning, do so (eg: always say “use”, not “utilize”).
  • Be careful with the use of aggrandizing adverbs, when the sentence is just as clear without the adverb. Often removing words like “extremely” or “highly” helps writing appear more direct and trustworthy.
  • Use the active voice except in circumstances where it would sound very awkward to do so. It helps express ownership over what we say and about what we do and what we’ve done. It portrays confidence and sounds less turgid.
  • Help the reader out. Vary sentence lengths: avoid the temptation to add more, even if it sounds clever. Clear always beats clever.
  • Don’t avoid contractions: “don’t” sounds clearer and more trustworthy than “do not”.
  • Finally, to edit your own writing, read what you have written out loud, then always have someone else do a final copy edit: it’s near-impossible to catch all errors in your own writing.