Male & Female Tone of Voice

Published: 07 December 2017

Could your thought leadership suffer because of its tone of voice?

We’d love to know what you think about the issues and findings discussed in this report. What tone of voice do you think your thought leadership content typically adopts? What other lenses (e.g. ethnicity, age) might also be important to consider?

In the effort to get your messaging right when developing thought leadership content, considerations about whether it carries the right tone of voice can be easily forgotten. But new research from Linstock finds that this could be costly.

Our findings reveal that firms could be hampering the ability of their thought leadership content to achieve a key objective – collaboration – by adopting an overly male tone of voice.

In recent years, a growing body of academic literature has found distinct differences in the writing styles typically adopted by men and women. In summary, male communication tends to be assertive, using language that is typically dominating and more forceful. Meanwhile, women are more likely to use ‘affiliative’ language, seeking to connect and associate with the reader.

With thought leadership growing in popularity, we decided to analyse 100 pieces of thought leadership content from leading organisations to assess whether they use a typically male or female tone, based on prevailing academic definitions.

The results are clear. Overall, 58% uses a typically male tone. By comparison, just 37% uses a typically female tone. The remaining 5% is classified as neutral, meaning the writing displays an equal balance of typically male and female characteristics.

Why is this so significant? Because a typically male tone can discourage collaboration, which we know is becoming an increasingly important reason for undertaking thought leadership. According to recent Linstock research, nearly one in three (29%) firms said that boosting collaboration will be a primary purpose of their thought leadership activity over the next 5-10 years. This is up from 17% who view it as a priority today.

The message this sends to thought leadership producers is clear. For future content to truly fulfil its objectives, more emphasis on using writing traits identified as typically female, and adopting a neutral gender approach, will be critical.

The need for this adaptation is much more acute in some sectors than others; we have found that content among financial services and law firms is heavily male, while among charities it is the opposite.

If these changes are not made, the ultimate risk is that the maximum return on investment in thought leadership simply won’t be realised.

In our new report we set out steps for firms to consider when embarking on their next thought leadership project. Some of the changes we advocate will be difficult. They may require rethinking certain writing techniques considered to be hallmarks of good copy in communications today; for example, softening definite assertions and using longer sentences. But studies show these techniques can encourage the reader to engage more.

We would love to know what you think about the issues and findings discussed in this report. What tone of voice do you think your thought leadership content typically adopts? How do you differentiate the tone of voiced needed in a report compared to, say, a press release? And what other lenses (e.g. ethnicity, age) might also be important to consider?

Please download a free copy of our report here, and get in touch to tell us what you think. Additionally, let us know if you’d like to attend one of our events planned for 2018 which will explore these issues in more detail.

Tom Yazdi
Associate Director

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Tom leads projects for Grant Thornton International, Bovill and Retirement Advantage. He has an advanced certificate from the PRCA.

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