Editorial guidelines

Communicating personality

The UW Brand Voice should reflect the personality and values of the brand itself. Since we are progressive, practical and straightforward, we put a high value on ideas — and on getting to the point. Avoid using complicated or arcane words and phrases, especially if a simpler or more familiar term can convey the same meaning. This helps your audience to focus more on the content of what you have to say, and your message (and our brand) will appear more confident and powerful as a result. Attempts to impress through excessive or incessant eloquence usually have the opposite effect.

Being from the Northwest, the UW Brand Voice should also feel a bit informal. It’s important to be correct, but not to the point of being stiff or detached. Be conversational. Imagine you’re speaking with an individual or two rather than a faceless crowd. Again, we want to humanize the UW brand — so when appropriate, don’t be afraid to let your own personality come through.

Communicating story

Now that we’ve outlined how to communicate the UW brand personality, let’s talk about what to communicate. The content you deliver in any marketing or communications effort will be driven by what’s relevant to your audience — what they care about, the questions they need answered. But regardless of your specific message, there are guidelines that can help ensure the stories we all tell share a consistency across the board:

  1. Always include students in your message. The UW is many things, including a preeminent research institution and a world-class healthcare facility. But we’re a university first and foremost, dedicated to educating and inspiring. So whatever you’re writing or talking about, look for ways to make students a relevant part of your message. How is your content related to the UW’s effort to create global citizens of the next generation? Can you talk about learning opportunities or scholastic achievements? Are students being exposed to other cultures or ways of thinking?
  2. Always lead with a shared human concern for an important challenge being addressed. Engage your audience with a “big picture” idea. Talk about a concern — then follow up with what the UW is doing to address it. Facts lend credibility, but they should be used as support for the human concern being addressed.

    Example: Everybody needs a home. But there has to be a way of building our own homes without sacrificing someone else’s a world away. That’s why the UW is working tirelessly to find environmentally-friendly construction solutions.

    Avoid: The UW is extensively researching environmentally-friendly construction practices in an effort to slow the destruction of rainforests.

  3. Build better integration with the region and beyond. To avoid having the UW perceived as “siloed” or disconnected from our region, it’s important to reinforce the connections the University has, and the impact its making, throughout the Northwest and around the world.
    • Advantages of place – reinforce the symbiotic relationship between the University and the Northwest. We’re rooted in the same spirit of discovery and drive to innovate. The culture and people here inspire us, and in turn, we inspire them. It’s a cycle that constantly improves and enriches both the University and the region.
    • Unparalleled research and partnerships – talk about important partnerships (with other universities, individuals, researchers, corporations) and how collaborative efforts are resulting in meaningful discoveries. Often, our “team” is bigger then those within the University so remember we want to convey that idea.

In addition, if you are writing for brand/external advertising, be sure that your ad informs and teaches – as opposed to simply boasting.

Example: UW research has brought to light more than 1,000 technological innovations – many of which have helped launch successful companies.

Avoid: UW research is making a big impact

Messaging by audience

When you’re writing or talking about the University, it’s important to tailor your message to the people with whom you’re communicating. Think about what’s meaningful and relevant to them. What issues do they care about? What questions do they need answered? This will help guide the content and emphasis of your message. The University has identified three core audience’s categories, approved during the research and strategic planning process: The Family, The Region, and National/Academia.

The Family

The Family consists of our many internal audiences: faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni, donors, parents and others who are already involved and engaged with the UW. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly a member of the UW Family yourself.

Since these groups are already aware and engaged with the UW, messages should provide a context for the relationship that already exists. They should remind us all that we are part of a movement, a meeting of minds — with resources and capabilities that continue to make a real difference here and around the world. Here is how our overall brand position translates to members of the Family:

We are the UW — a community of informed individuals, pursuing and sharing knowledge with passion and conviction, committed to developing stronger ideas, individuals and solutions for a better world.

The functional benefit we offer to the Family can be described as follows:

The UW is a resourceful, collaborative environment full of colleagues, mentors, friends and partners committed to big ideas and the positive change we can create in the world.

The Region

The Region consists of individuals, legislators, business leaders and organizations who are aware of the UW, but may not be directly involved. They have a high opinion of the institution, are probably aware of the impressive research being done, and are proud to have the University in their backyard. While there are no obvious negatives, they need more information before a full and inspiring image of the UW can emerge in their minds.

As individuals (and often as companies and other organizations) they share our concerns and commitment to building better, more equitable societies, healthier lives and stronger minds — in our backyard and around the globe. They believe that the UW has been and continues to be a driving force in the growth and success of our state, but feel the University is still a bit awkward and aloof, especially when it comes to partnering with private-sector entities. We want to continue building positive relationships with the Region, and demonstrate that the UW is an organization worthy of their continued support. Like them, we are committed to building our state, our region and creating a better world for all. Here is how our overall brand position translates to the Region:

Like you, the UW is a citizen of Washington, the Northwest and the world, and takes seriously its responsibility for building healthier lives, stronger minds and a vibrant, sustainable world. In service of these goals, we are committed to collaboration and the integration of our resources and capabilities.

The functional benefit we offer to the Region can be described as follows:

The UW is a resourceful, collaborative environment full of colleagues, mentors, friends and partners committed to big ideas and the positive change we can create in the world.


This group consists of peer institutions and individuals in higher education, as well as opinion-leaders in the national media and politics. To these audiences, the University of Washington is clearly the region’s flagship institution. However, while admired for its impressive research, the natural beauty of its surroundings and the vibrant intellectual and creative culture of the Northwest, these audiences haven’t heard as much from the UW as they might expect from a dominant regional powerhouse.

On a national level, the intentions, vision and actions of the UW have not been clearly defined. These audiences are ready to hear more from the University and our work in health, environment and technology. It makes sense that we would be strong in these areas, and we should claim them as our own by offering demonstrable proof and empirical evidence of impacts we’ve made in each. It’s time for the University of Washington to stake its territory and to set the agenda for what it means to be a world-shaping research university in the current age.

Here is how our overall brand position translates to the National Academy:

The University of Washington, grounded in explicit humanist values, is driven to lead by integrating the full assets of the university and its rich environs in pursuit of knowledge and solutions for addressing key issues of pressing human concern.

The functional benefit we offer to the National Academy can be described as follows:

Foundational, integrative knowledge and solutions that will help set the agenda for creating a better world.

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