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Writing in the UW brand

The words we choose, the tone we use, the way we talk about the UW and tell the stories of UW people, communities and impact — that’s all part of the University of Washington brand. In writing (as elsewhere), the UW is friendly, ambitious, unpretentious, intellectually curious and compassionate.

How these qualities are expressed may vary. A student taking the mic at a pep rally on Red Square will sound different from a “Year in Review” report to donors. A dean’s message to faculty and staff will have a different tone from a social media post to high-school-aged prospective Huskies. But in all of these, the basic qualities of the UW should come through.

Explore this Writing section for guidance on telling UW stories and communicating UW messages in a way that expresses our brand and shows the world who we are.

Questions? Contact

Writing on brand

Telling a UW story

One of the most powerful ways to infuse the Boundless spirit in our work is through storytelling. Through the stories we tell – and the ways in which we tell them – we can share the impact the University of Washington is having on our community, our region, and the world. Choosing to be intentional about the way we link belief and impact demonstrates that together, we will change the world. In fact, we already are.

View stories through the lens of the UW brand. Be intentional in spotlighting how narratives illustrate the University’s mission and beliefs. Check out the resources below for the latest UW news and media across a variety of platforms. Let’s share how Huskies are changing the world.

Where do I start?

With so many incredible stories to tell, it can be tough to know where to start. Here’s a quick guide to help you craft content that will meet your communication objectives while staying under the umbrella of the UW brand.

  1. Choose your story: Identify a story from your college, unit or department that demonstrates at least one of the four brand pillars (see Brand 101 page).
  2. Narrow your story’s lens: Use the brand tenets as a guide for shaping your story. You can use a tenet as a headline or subhead, or just use it as a source of inspiration for how you communicate your story (see Brand 101 page).
  3. Apply brand personality and tone of voice: Embody the UW personality and tone of voice through your word choice, syntax and style. Check that your language is personable, engaging and clear (see below for tips on how to achieve this), not stuffy or didactic.

Editorial tips

Here are some general editorial guidelines to help you write content that showcases your story while remaining on brand.

  • Lead with personal stories and connections. We want to sound human, not institutional. And we want people — including prospective students, current students, alumni and the public — to identify with what we’re saying. Sharing stories of the people behind the UW helps us do that. If you’re talking about a specific program, for example, include who is participating and how people are benefitting rather than simply sharing facts about the program itself. Delve into who, not just what.
  • Address the impact. We tackle a lot of issues, big and small. And as a result, we impact a lot of lives. So, don’t just talk about the challenges we’re addressing; talk about how people are affected as a result. Again, connect on a personal level by incorporating issues of shared human concern.
  • Give examples. Whenever possible, be specific. Provide compelling, vivid details and adhere to that old writing adage: Show, don’t tell.

UW storytelling

Voice & tone

The UW’s brand personality traits capture the spirit that stems from our purpose and principles. These traits represent more than our brand; they represent the people who are part of our community as well as the characteristics we constantly strive to embody.

Our personality and beliefs should shine through in everything we say (in other words, our tone of voice) and do.

Using a distinctive tone to capture the UW’s personality brings our passionate, spirited leadership to life. It also establishes one brand with one unified voice, which helps our audiences recognize and relate to us. In all communications, our tone of voice should be personable, engaging and clear.

The brand personality traits should be used to inform style and tone of voice. Please use the bolded adjectives as a guide to shape tone and messaging; they are not key words to simply be copied and pasted into text.

  • Bold: Our vision of what we can achieve is bold. We’re confident, but never arrogant or exclusive in our language. We are clear and direct in our messaging.
  • Tenacious: We’re determined to make a positive impact, no matter how daunting the task, and our messaging conveys this resolve.
  • Confident: We embrace challenges. We’re not haughty, but we believe in the power of possibilities and the strength of collaboration. Our language is positive and upbeat. It reflects our can-do attitude.
  • Boundless: We avoid clichés. We go beyond the status quo. We engage our audience in a way that resonates authentically with them. We’re real and we’re optimistic.
  • Compassionate: We connect with people. Our language reflects this people-oriented, thoughtful approach.
  • Visionary: We believe in the power of new ideas and will work tirelessly to turn them into actions. We share our visionary ideas in a relatable, approachable way using language that is positive as well as genuine.
  • Innovative: We harness our collective energy to imagine new solutions. Our fresh, vibrant language reflects our inventiveness and creativity.

Getting the “right” tone: Using language that is personable, engaging and clear

While there are multiple characteristics that form our personality — and you may want to emphasize different aspects at different times for different audiences — we always want our tone of voice to come across as personable. We’re a trusted, knowledgeable source thanks to our position as a renowned research university, but we’re approachable. We don’t use pedantic jargon, and while we’re confident, we’re never arrogant. We’re people-oriented, engaging and passionate about making a difference in the world. That passion comes through with energetic, vibrant language.

Of course, the way you apply tone will vary depending on the audience, platform and your objectives. While you will make subtle shifts to ensure the tone suits your audience and communication goals, the overall tone — or feeling conveyed through copy — should embody the UW brand.

Here are some suggestions on ways to sound personable, engaging and clear:

  • Always consider your audience first. What kind of language and content will they connect with?
  • Be personal and direct. Use first person (“we,” “our,” “us”) and second person (“you,” “your”) when appropriate to maintain a conversational feel. Lead with details about students, faculty, alumni, donors, etc., when possible.
  • Avoid the thesaurus. Stick to everyday language. Strive to address complex issues using smart but clear language that is inclusive rather than alienating to readers.
  • Be concise. Use active rather than passive language.
  • Since we want to sound like a person, not an ivory tower institution, use contractions when it suits your target audience and the medium you’re using to communicate.


Think of the on-brand statement as an elevator pitch that sets the stage for sharing your stories of being boundless, whether you’re creating a fact sheet, drafting speaking points or writing Web copy.

There are two versions for you to leverage: The first captures our vision with an informal, inspirational tone. The second provides a bit more detail on our scope (addressing our three campuses, academic medical center and continuing education programs) while also conveying our vision; it uses a slightly more formal tone.

Informal tone

What defines the students and faculty of the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief that what you care about can change the world. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. And it’s our determination to Be Boundless for Washington and the world. Join the journey at

Formal tone

At the University of Washington, we believe that what you care about can change the world. We’re more than one of the world’s leading public research universities: We’re a community of students and faculty united by a drive to serve the public good. From educating future leaders and making innovation work for all of us, to research breakthroughs and creative works that save and change lives, we’re committed to helping people and communities achieve their full potential. With multiple campuses, a world-class academic medical center, Pac-12 athletics and extensive continuing education programs, the opportunities here are limitless. Learn how you can Be Boundless for Washington and the world at

On-brand examples

The following examples are not meant to be prescriptive; rather, they demonstrate how the UW brand may be applied to various communications. Use these as a source of inspiration for developing your content.

Sample story (for an e-newsletter, annual report, etc.)

Partners in collaboration

UW consulting center strengthens small business

The Foster School of Business at the University of Washington is reaching beyond the classroom and into the community to bolster small businesses around the state — from wholesale fish marketers to hair salons — with consulting services.

What began two decades ago as a class that assigned students to help business owners in lower-income neighborhoods is now the Consulting & Business Development Center (CBDC). Today, student consultants assist about 300 businesses in low- and moderate-income communities each year.

“We’re trying to create jobs in underserved areas across the state of Washington,” says CBDC director Michael Verchot. “We do that by engaging our students in consulting projects and our faculty in teaching small business classes.” The strategy seems to be working. The Foster School estimates that the CBCD has generated more than $85 million in new revenue and created and retained more than 10,000 jobs across Washington state.

Last winter, a team of student consultants brought its expertise to A.J. Ghambari’s Seattle Bagel Bakery, a wholesale operation in Tukwila. A gregarious 2007 UW grad, A.J. is a natural at marketing and networking — skills he acquired working alongside his extended family of Iranian-American retail entrepreneurs.

But when it comes to wholesale budgeting and finance? “It was a brand-new ballgame,” says AJ. Diving into his spreadsheets, AJ’s student consultants cranked out cost analyses for everything from wheat buying to shipping. “Their work helped me to be more disciplined,” says AJ. In a bakery that produces up to 15,000 bagels daily, he learned, every sesame seed counts.

The decision to collaborate with the CBDC came easily. As an undergrad, AJ sat on the other side of the table, serving as a marketing consultant for the Garlic Garden specialty shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. “It was one of my most memorable experiences at the UW,” he says.

In July, AJ opened a second retail location in Seattle. With business in the black, 200 wholesale customers and a new gluten-free line in the works, he’s optimistic: “All our bases are covered and we’re ready to step up our game.”

Sample social media posts

Facebook: Scientists have long thought that life began when the right bases and sugars happened to mix and produce RNA. But innovative UW researchers questioned the answer and found that these life-triggering combinations might not be coincidental. Don’t miss their visionary discovery:

Twitter: Talk about tenacious: Visionary UW researchers assist surgeons by putting the power of telerobotics at our fingertips

Sample ad

Dare to do
Using robots to improve disaster response

You never know when a natural disaster may strike. That’s why electrical engineering students at the University of Washington are developing innovative telerobotic technologies and working with community organizations to make disaster response faster and more efficient — and, ultimately, to save more lives.

We can’t change the way of Mother Nature. But we can be better prepared.

How will your ideas inspire action?

Sample executive communication

Dean’s Letter: Boundless? You bet.

Those of us on UW campus have noticed the Be Boundless tagline emerge all over the grounds during recent months. It’s everywhere – purple wristbands and huge bus banners. Taglines like this don’t simply emerge from a quick engagement with a marketing firm. For the past year, UW did research, taking a good, hard look at what people value about their experiences here. Boundless emerged as the word that captures how people experience that intersection of personal opportunity and societal impact that, in the end, makes you feel that you can a make a difference in the world.

Personally, I like “boundless” because it captures my own experiences going way back to the 1980s when I was a Ph.D. student in the then College of Forest Resources. I came to UW eager to understand the emerging issue of global climate change and in particular how it would impact mountain ecosystems. The personal opportunities offered by UW were indeed boundless: an engaged CFR faculty coupled with expertise across the campus in atmospheric and earth sciences. The Quaternary Research Center was a hotbed of interdisciplinary inquiry where the big “so what?” questions were debated at weekly seminars where graduate students were always welcome.

More recently, I have used the Be Boundless tagline as a lens to view the work of our College. Where are we embodying the optimism and determination that propels us to take actions to create a better world? This month’s Dean’s letter would be extremely long if I described the many, many ways we manifest the Be Boundless spirit. Instead, I want to call out a particular boundless moment I witnessed last month because it afforded me an “aha!” moment. Boundlessness is as much about social process as it is about our scholarly work. It is found when we seize emerging, less conventional opportunities.

Here’s what that less conventional opportunity looked like. Several of our scientists participated in the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2015 organized last month by the UW Law School. The Symposium’s goal was to challenge a very broad range of participants to tackle the shared interests and concerns of the United States and the global community regarding changes in the Arctic. When I walked into the Symposium I knew I was not at a normal science meeting. I did not need to read the participant list to recognize the formal attire of industry leaders and high level policy makers, the impeccable military bearing of senior officers, and the presence of regional stakeholders, many wearing traditional Native dress.

On the final day, Dr. Jody Deming (Professor, School of Oceanography and Director of the Future of Ice Initiative) moderated a panel discussion called “Our Rapidly Changing Arctic: The Current Status and Continuing Need for Science-informed Policy.” The panelists represented some of UW’s leading scholars: Dr. Jamie Morison (APL Polar Science Center), Dr. Ian Joughin (APL Polar Science Center; Affiliate Professor, Earth and Space Sciences), Dr. Tom Leschine (Professor, School of Marine & Environmental Affairs and Adjunct Professor, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences) and Dr. George Hunt (Professor, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences). Jody had quietly confided to me that she was concerned that talking about science during the last session of the last day of the Symposium might not draw many people. On the contrary, non-scientists were there in force and dominated the questions for the panelists.

Afterwards, Jody reflected that our scientists contributed significantly to the conversation at the Symposium by demonstrating to key leaders that we are ready partners in building an interface for science and decision making in the Arctic. Associate Dean Bruce Nelson (Professor, Earth and Space Sciences) noted that at most conferences and meetings, discussions between scientists and policy makers are still not occurring in a substantive way—they each go to their own breakout sessions. The session led by UW scientists broke that mold by creating dialogue between the scientists and non-scientists alike.

Boundlessness is not just a tagline. It happens when we communicate with people and groups who are not part of our normal sphere of influence and may be just outside of our comfort zone. In the end, this is a very human experience that requires both confidence and humility. For all of you who manifest the UW boundlessness, I thank you for what you do. And, I am curious as to what boundlessness means to you. How do you cross boundaries in your work?

Lisa Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor