The AIC Voice: Writing and Editorial Guidelines

As a higher education institution that serves a broadly diverse body of learners, the voice of American International College must resonate with every member of the College community. While aspects of tone and phrasing may need tailoring to best reach a given audience, there are common threads that help ensure the AIC voice is accessible to all writers while remaining authentic and consistent across all forms of communication.

Maintaining the AIC voice takes more than a robust knowledge of grammar. Communicating on behalf of the College requires an understanding and alignment with its mission, vision, and core values. Writers are charged with striking the right balance of an authentic, inclusive, and informed point of view with an optimistic yet professional tone. Key to writing in the AIC voice is to inform the reader in such a way that anticipated questions are answered within the message whenever possible. Knowing who you are writing for will help determine what to include and what to avoid in each message.

What does belonging mean to you?

Belonging is at the heart of the AIC experience. Offering a unique, inclusive learning experience for students of all backgrounds, this sense of belonging resonates with each and every member of the College community. When incorporating taglines or slogans into AIC-branded materials, consider how to incorporate this spirit into each communication.

Examples: AIC: Find where you belong; Future leaders belong at AIC

Context is Key

If writing were to be simplified into an equation, one half would represent audience and the other context. A question of “Who is this for?” should be followed by questions like, “What do we want to communicate with them? What medium/platform will be used to share our message? Is this an initial announcement or a follow up to a previous message?”

Context is always provided by the writer. Your audience cannot know what you do not mention. When in doubt, think in terms of asking yourself who, what, when, where, and why, when composing your message and include those answers in your copy.

Keeping it conversational

Crafting messages in the AIC voice often requires a balance of formal and conversational tone. While all communications should align with the mission, vision, and values of the College, it is often necessary to adjust the type of language used to most resonate with each specific audience. Prospective students currently in high school will respond differently to a message than people considering graduate school. Alumni just out of college will respond differently than graduates from fifty years ago. When drafting messages to a broad group of constituents, maintain a professional tone using clear and concise language. Remember, you may have written a message yourself, but the readers see it is from AIC, not from you personally.

When writing on behalf of the College, the platform used may warrant a change in voice and tone. A social media post, for instance, will be briefer and more informal than a letter. Advertisements require much more concise copy than a website article. See the Social Media section of this guide for more information on communicating via social media platforms.

It is strongly suggested that you read your message aloud before submitting it for approval or before publishing it for the public to read. Note any instances of the following: repetitive language or sentence structure; incomplete thoughts; pacing; inconsistent tone; conflicting tenses among verbs; and other issues of quality control. Reading your copy prior to submission or publication will more likely than not show you where improvements can be made. If you find yourself stopping and rereading a section of your copy, then your reader will likely do the same. That is the time to edit and revise.

Key Audiences

Communication is a key cornerstone in the AIC community. Understanding how to effectively articulate a message to each unique stakeholder audience while keeping their interests in mind is essential.

  • Prospective Students: Undergraduate and graduate
  • Current Students: On campus, residential, commuters, and distance learners
  • Alumni and Donors: Those who have stayed connected to AIC and continue to support its mission, vision, and values, including the Board of Trustees
  • Faculty: Full-time and adjunct faculty members and instructors
  • Staff: Full-time and part time College staff, contract campus support staff, and more
  • Community Members: AIC’s local neighbors, residents and businesses of the Greater Springfield area including community groups, local leaders, and partners
  • Parents and Families: Those most connected to AIC’s current and past students

First and third person

Even when writing on behalf of an institution, it is still easy to mistakenly write in the first person point of view, but it must be avoided when possible. If you compose a message that is on behalf of AIC, you should never use the word “I” when speaking on behalf of the College. The only time it is acceptable to use the word “I” is if you are writing on behalf of a specific and defined speaker, such as in a letter or an email. Words like “we” and “us” are acceptable to employ when discussing the AIC community, but they are most effective when the speaker of a message is clearly identified. If the message is not coming from a specific person, it is best to avoid the use of “we/us.” It is preferable to write in the third person (and when applicable, the second person) when composing messages in the AIC voice.

Using Active Voice

Copy used for messaging should be as clear as possible. One of the easiest and most common ways to maintain clarity is through writing in an active voice. This means prioritizing the subject who commits an action onto the object of the sentence. “The cart is pulled by the ox” is an example of passive voice. In the active voice, that sentence reads, “The ox pulls the cart.” The passive voice is always formed by joining an inflected form of to be (or, in colloquial usage, get) with the verb’s past participle. Writing in an active voice will become especially helpful when you encounter more complex ideas and sentence structures.

However, it is important to bear in mind that there are scenarios in which writing in a passive voice will help communicate your message more effectively. There are instances in which the object needs to be emphasized over the subject of a sentence. For example, the sentence “Instructors grade students by their exams, homework, and participation in class” emphasizes the determining factors of a student’s grade. The same sentence written in the active voice would read, “Instructors consider exams, homework, and participation in class when grading students.” As you can see, the active voice in this scenario can potentially confuse readers. Knowing when to use which voice will help your readers better understand the message you wish to communicate with them.

For further clarification, refer to the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style.

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