General Education

Noodle Tone Guide

Noodle Tone Guide
Know what you want to say, and say it in a way that makes people want to share it. Image from Unsplash
Merin Curotto profile
Merin Curotto October 7, 2019

Always be curious, pithy, bold, humble, intelligent, trustworthy, upright, honest, subtle in humor and wit, serious when necessary, and authoritative without being stuffy.

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When writing for, on, and about Noodle, follow the lead of "Indiana Jones at a party." (Yes, we'll explain what that means.)

"Character" and "Tone" are casually interchangeable, but their purposes are different:

  • Character = Our north star = Indiana Jones ("Indy") at a party.
  • Tone = Our character in action = "How would Party Indy phrase this?"

The Noodle character is:

  • Always: Curious, pithy, bold, humble, intelligent, trustworthy, upright, honest, subtle in humor and wit, serious when necessary, authoritative without being stuffy, keeps you safe in uncharted territory.
  • Never: Snarky, wordy, boring, pretentious, political, condescending, inefficient, cute or excitable.

Where does the Noodle tone appear?

  • In our culture
    • How we talk to and treat each other
    • How we talk about our company
    • As a model when hiring
  • In everything we write
    • Online: UX copy, School profiles, CTAs
    • Articles: Headlines, subheadlines, preview copy, body copy, photo captions
    • Branded content: Social media, newsletters, marketing materials

What would Indy do?

  • "Thinking about going to college?"
    • Indy: "College? Do it."
  • "Financial aid is available if you know where to look."
    • Indy: "Financial aid is like buried treasure. You just need to know where to look."
    • Indy: "X rarely marks the spot. Unless we're talking financial aid—in which case, here's where to look."
  • "Sign up for our newsletter."
    • Indy: "Newsletters made possible by the blood, sweat, and tears of experts."
  • "Getting into Harvard is difficult."
    • Indy: "So, you're competitive? Harvard sounds right."
  • "Follow Noodle on Twitter and Instagram."
    • Indy: "You’re going to want to see this."
  • "Read more articles about degree types."
    • Indy: "Had enough? Didn't think so."
  • “Many Americans spend more on education than on a home—yet our decisions are often made using incomplete information."
    • Indy: "If you're gonna spend money on education, you'd better know what you're getting for it."

The mechanics of how it's done:

  • Cut the fluff. Certain types of words weaken writing. Those words include (but are not limited to):
    • Qualifiers (basically, essentially, generally, kind of, mostly, pretty, rather, slightly, somewhat, sort of, various, virtually)
    • Intensifiers (a bit, a lot, extremely, fairly, incredibly, insanely, really, quite, very)
    • Prepositional phrases (as, in, over, of, for, at)
      • Instead of: "The purpose of an MBA is to teach students how to be effective leaders in business."
        • Say: "An MBA teaches students to be effective business leaders."
    • Stock phrases (the reason for, due to the fact that, in light of, despite the fact that, in the event that, in reference to, with regard to, is able to, has the opportunity to, has the ability to, prior to, not different, not many, not often)
      • Instead of: "Despite the fact that you have a low GPA, you can still get into college."
        • Say: "Even though you have a low GPA, you can still get into college."
  • Show, don't tell. Lazy writers use meaningless words (rewarding, meaningful, gratifying, fulfilling, enriching, beneficial, worthwhile, valuable) that don't paint pictures.
    • Replace lazy words with concrete examples.
      • Instead of: "Social work is a rewarding career."
        • Say: "Social workers devote their careers to helping other people navigate difficult situations."
    • If you cannot find concrete ways to show your reader that a subject is "rewarding", chances are your subject isn't "rewarding" after all.
    • Headlines are an exception to this rule; words like "rewarding" are effective in headlines because they are broad and easy to understand.
      • ie: "5 Rewarding Healthcare Jobs That Pay Over $100K Per Year"
    • And, for Pete's sake, never intensify lazy words ("Social work is a deeply rewarding career.").
  • Don't be boring. Or predictable. Avoid figures of speech, and other expressions that have no meaning or literal definition, lack complexity and make no memorable contributions to your writing.
    • Instead of "The data can speak for itself: The average student carries over $33,310 in student loan debt."
      • Say: "Over 42 million Americans carry an average of $33,310 in student loan debt."
    • Things that are boring and predictable:
      • Cliches (in modern society, in this day and age, throughout history, little did I know, good things come to those who wait, opposites attract, easy come, easy go, you win some, you lose some).
      • Overused quotes like "knowledge is power."
      • Referring to education as a tool, weapon, passport to the future, or anything about "opening doors"
  • Assume every assumption is bad. Words like "expensive" and "affordable" make assumptions about financial means.
    • Instead of: "Getting an MBA is expensive"
      • Say: "The average cost of a two-year MBA is $60,000. At a top-ranked school, an MBA can cost more than $100,000."
    • Instead of: "This book is an affordable resource for students studying for the PSAT."
      • Say: "One resource for students is this $12 guide to studying for the PSAT."
    • Internet slang and pop culture references make demographic assumptions. Also, they'll make even less sense in a year (there's a reason nobody says "cool beans" anymore).
  • Make readers feel smart. What doesn't make readers feel smart?
    • Too much, or too little, background. If you jump in too quickly or explain something to death, you'll confuse readers. Put readers who know nothing about the subject at ease—and give everyone else a new lens through which to view things.
    • Motivational speaking. "Hang in there!", "You can do it!", and "You got this!" are for cat posters, not Noodle.
  • Don't try too hard. Unless you're trying hard not to offend people.
    • Alliteration is a tricky tactic to execute.
    • Exclamation points should only be used ironically.
    • Jokes are more likely to flop than succeed. If you can't be witty, don't.
  • Last, but not least:
    • If your headline is a flop, nothing else matters.
    • Know what you want to say, and say it in a way that makes people want to share it.
    • Don’t be a nag, don't be unclear, and avoid repetitive language.
    • Every story needs a beginning, middle, and end.

For more tips and tricks, check out our guide to Writing Articles People Want to Read.


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