Tone of voice

What is SFU’s brand voice?

Our brand voice expresses our unique personality, reflects our values and excites people about what we do, and how we do it.

While we may work for diverse and distinctive organizational units, we are all part of an institution with shared values and a common purpose. Each time we communicate with SFU audiences, we’re influencing our reputation and shaping our brand. We’re not like other universities and we shouldn’t sound like them.

Follow this guide to apply SFU's brand voice to all of your communications. Whether you’re making a video or a PowerPoint presentation, writing an SFU News article, a social media post or a new web page, our brand voice should shine through.

We speak simply, but with sophistication.

We are engaging. Our voice is:

  • Positive
  • Confident·     
  • Conversational
  • Concise
  • Approachable
  • Friendly
  • Compassionate
Our voice is never:
  • Pessimistic
  • Pretentious
  • Corporate
  • Wordy
  • Arrogant
  • Cold

Our audiences

Before creating marketing and communication materials for your faculty, school or department, always consider your audience(s) and then tailor your approach and your message to suit.

External audiences:

Government: Officials and political leaders such as the provincial Ministry of Education, local mayors and representatives.

Funding partners and agencies: Federal, provincial and municipal government agencies that provide funding and cooperation for research, studies and other projects.

Community and corporate partners: Public and private companies, at home and abroad, that are interested in engaging with SFU and supporting our initiatives.

Prospective donors: Business leaders, corporations and organizations interested in investing in SFU’s initiatives.

Parents and families: Of current and prospective students.

SFU community: Residents and businesses of the Metro Vancouver area, particularly those located around SFU campuses.

Internal Audiences:

Students, faculty and staff: Individuals who are currently studying, teaching and working at SFU.

Alumni: Graduates of our degree and professional programs who are living in Canada and around the world.

Our message framework

This is the big-picture view of who we are, what we do and how and why we do it.

We are Canada’s engaged university:

  • We educate changemakers, visionaries and passionate problem-solvers
  • We deliver academic and research excellence
  • We share knowledge to create innovation that benefits society

We celebrate the diversity of people, ideas and cultures

SFU’s Brand DNA – our attributes

These attributes define us and make us uniquely SFU:

  • We’re unconventional. We move beyond tradition. Our ideas and capabilities are timely, emergent and ahead of the rest.
  • We’re fearless. We go where others won’t. We take risks, give voice to difficult ideas, and align our values and vision to create impact.
  • We’re compassionate. We improve lives using the power of knowledge, advocacy and engagement.
  • We’re approachable. We create a culture of openness where our campuses, programs, events and partnerships welcome diversity and community participation.
  • We’re ready. We make things happen. We strive and reach to overcome limitations and barriers.

So how do we flavour our writing using our message framework and attributes?

  • Think unconventionally about how to introduce and address your topic
  • Use analogies and tell stories, not just facts
  • Use our attributes in your text, or headlines, where appropriate

Here are some writing techniques for bringing our brand voice to life:

  • Write clearly, without jargon
  • Write in the active voice
  • Write in the first person
  • Use a positive tone
  • Use the fewest possible words
  • Replace the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, has been, have been) with strong verbs
  • Avoid ‘zombie’ nouns (i.e. development, definition, analysis, etc.) and use the more active root verb instead (develop, define, analyse, etc.)

Brand voice writing techniques

Below is a very simple before/after example of how these brand-voice writing techniques can significantly improve your communication with your audiences.


The text represents a fictional SFU departmental homepage that does not yet use our brand voice.

The before text appropriately uses the active voice, with one instance of passive voice. But it frequently uses just two verbs: ‘to be’ and ‘offer’. It refers to SFU in the third person and only once references the reader (‘you’).

Overall, the text sounds informational and polite rather than conversational, approachable and friendly.


Why study at SFU?

Simon Fraser University offers an excellent environment for undergraduate and graduate studies. The institution is home to a variety of world-class research facilities, innovative programs, and world-renowned scholars.

More than 37,000 students are currently enrolled in in eight faculties, with approximately 30 per cent international students in attendance. There is a wide variety of program options. Diplomas, certificates, bachelor’s, master's and/or doctoral degrees are offered. Many programs offer experiential learning opportunities.

Learn more about why SFU is a world-class university and is the right school to attend.

Interested in applying? Review programs, admission requirements and the application process.


The version below uses brand voice techniques:

It portrays SFU in the first person, references the reader (you) and uses strong verbs instead of ‘to be’. Eliminating ‘to be’ and writing in the active voice requires you, as the writer, to revise your sentence structure and generate some action that develops a slight sense of story. Importantly, it also creates a conversational tone that speaks directly to the reader. The information is exactly the same in both texts, but in the second version, which automatically becomes shorter and simpler without ‘to be’, the university sounds friendlier and more approachable:


Why choose SFU for your studies?

(Note that this heading uses a strong verb and the word ‘your’ to connect with the reader)

Our world-class research facilities, renowned scholars and innovative programs attract keen students from around the globe. Thirty per cent of our students hail from other countries.

Each year, more than 37,000 students pursue their educational goals in one or more of our eight faculties. You can choose between programs offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees or those offering certificates and diplomas. Many programs feature experiential learning.

Learn more about how SFU can fulfill your educational aspirations.

Ready to apply? Review our programs, admission requirements and application process.

(Note use of SFU brand attribute ‘ready’)