So You're Writing a Writing Guide

A look into the new source for Square's voice and tone.

an illustration of a diverse array of hands typing on the same keyboard all on a textured blue background

Mastering a brand’s voice takes time. When you’re a new writer, or just new at a company, it’s all about getting acclimated. All writers have their natural style. Adapting that to fit a brand is a unique challenge (and opportunity) that happens gradually. My experience in getting up to speed with the Square voice happened a bit differently: by refreshing it in our first centralized writing guide.

The beauty of writing is that there are a million different ways to say the same thing. But without guardrails around what our voice is and isn’t, people are left guessing, and the brand risks inconsistency.

From the beginning, Square had always had a fairly consistent way of writing and speaking. However, there wasn’t one centralized source for our voice and tone. Each team had its own set of standards, and with dozens of writers at Square—and even more scattered resources—we needed a way to speak the same language. As I worked with our team on developing the guide, I realized the importance of having one “source of truth” is even bigger than that.

a photo of a billboard featuring a square ad with a person holding a tablet and the phrase: “Sell anywhere. From right here.”

Artwork by Philippe Gauthier

Writing is designing

A consistent voice and tone help set the stage for how we show up in just about everything we create, especially visuals. Writing inspires design, and vice versa. When reframing our voice and tone for the guide, we naturally linked up with our design partners to talk about what Square was, is, and will be, to inform our new foundation and our approach to storytelling.

As we continue to build out our brand system, having a writing guide that aligns with our design principles makes for a cohesive experience overall. More than that, it gives us a jumping-off point for reaching new audiences, new markets, and new places in the world.

Talking the talk

Content-wise, having a centralized guide helps us figure out the best ways to approach different topics in copy. This is where our tone comes in handy. We determined a handful of personality traits that help guide how we sound depending on the situation—kind of like how you might talk to someone you just met a little differently than you’d talk to your best friends.

These personality traits help ground our conversations. Are we trying to solve a problem? Or talking about ways to bring more people into the economy? No matter the topic at hand, making our personality traits a key part of the guide helps us establish conversational ways in, so we can relate to business owners no matter where they are or what they do.

Building trust

A consistent way of communicating (and a guide to do it from) gives people a brand to rely on. We never want to be the brand that says one thing and does the other, or says so many different things that people don’t know what to believe.

Getting all writers on the same page with our voice and tone lets us establish consistency, so there’s never a question of what Square stands for—both internally and externally. After all, we’re talking about people’s money, businesses, and livelihoods. Trust is crucial.

Artwork by Kirstyn Martin

The best part of creating this guide was how many people came together to make it successful. Writers. Designers. Marketers. Leads across the entire organization—and the entire globe. As we continue to connect through a bunch of little squares on a screen, it’s amazing what we can accomplish together, even when we’re not in the same place.