When you’re writing an article to publish on the freeCodeCamp community publication, it’s important to keep in mind how you’re saying what you’re saying.
What are we talking about here? We’re referring to your voice and your tone. These two aspects of your writing can have a strong effect on how people react to your articles, how much they enjoy reading them, and whether or not they’ll get through the whole thing.
So let’s talk about voice and tone a bit more to help you develop yours so you can write educational, encouraging, and interesting tutorials for the developer community.
How to Develop Your Voice as a Writer
When you’re writing, there are a number of things that come together to create your voice. So what do we mean when we say “voice”? Well, it’s how you sound when you write – the language you use, how you phrase things, your writing style, and so on.
As you write more and more, you’ll develop a stronger, more distinctive voice. Think of your favorite authors, or one you might have studied in school. Sometimes you feel like you could recognize their voice if you heard them speaking. That’s what you want to develop as a writer for freeCodeCamp’s publication.
Your writing voice is something that you don’t really want to change. Once you’ve established how you write, try to stay consistent and keep writing in that style. That way, readers know what to expect when they read your articles and they’ll feel comfortable with the way you write.
And here’s something to keep in mind: the people reading your articles will often be learning to code, learning a new skill, looking for a job, or trying to level up in their current position.
Many of these readers are busy adults who have other jobs, families, and full lives outside of learning to code. So you want to engage them, welcome them into your article, and make them feel comfortable and interested.
Here’s one more important tip about voice: it’s usually better to write in active voice rather than passive voice. This gives the agency to the doer of the action, and it’s a more powerful way to write.
So instead of saying something like “Now the project can be deployed”, say “Now you can deploy the project”. This keeps the focus on the reader and makes it clear that they’re the ones doing the action.
If you want to read some articles by authors who have developed very strong voices, check out Colby’s articles and Estefania’s articles. These are just a couple examples – many freeCodeCamp authors have successfully found their own clear voices (and Quincy, freeCodeCamp’s founder, has one of the most recognizable writing voices of all).
An example of active vs passive voice
Let’s look at another example of how to use active voice in your writing. Here’s a paragraph that uses a lot of passive voice. See what it sounds like when you read it aloud:
Instead of writing something like the above (which, admittedly, went a little overboard with the passive voice for demonstration purposes), try something like this:
Why is this better? Well, first of all it uses action verbs and places the reader at the center of the action (the reader is often the subject). The language is also more powerful and direct, and it flows more naturally and isn’t stilted or awkward.
How to Think About Tone in Your Writing
Tone is a bit different from voice, as it can change depending on what you’re writing, who your audience is, and the feeling you’re trying to convey.
If you’re trying to sell a product, for example, you’d want your tone to sound authoritative, hopeful, maybe a bit intriguing – because you want people to trust and want to buy what you’re selling.
If you’re telling a story of a personal accomplishment, you want your tone to sound joyful, celebratory, expansive, and confident – but not boastful or hubristic. After all, you want to impart that feeling of success while still encouraging others and lifting them up with you.
If you’re telling the story of how you got your first job in tech, you might sound excited and encouraging. If you’re explaining how to use some particular syntax in Python, you might want to sound practical, informative, and engaging.
This is not to say you can’t use different tones in the same article. Even if you’re writing a deep technical guide, you can still bring in some levity and humor to keep readers engaged.
An example of how to use different tones in your writing
Let’s look an example of a couple short paragraphs that display different tones.
First, let’s pretend that you’re writing a React tutorial, and you want to sound authoritative, knowledgable, and encouraging. You might write something like this:
In this tutorial, I’m going to teach you all the basics of React so you can use it confidently in your projects. You’ll learn all about state, hooks, components, and other foundational React concepts. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to build your own React app with x, y, and z features.
Pretty straightforward and to the point, but it provides clear information, tells the reader what they’ll be able to accomplish, and gets right down to business.
How about an inspirational or personal story – what should that sound like? Well, you’ll want to make sure you sound conversational, approachable, and engaging. Why would your reader care about your story? You want them to be able to relate to what you’re saying and feel connected to it. Something like this:
When I graduated college, I knew I wanted to go to grad school to study archaeology. So I did – but things didn’t turn out as I planned. After a couple career twists and turns, I found freeCodeCamp, started volunteering as an editor for the community’s publication, and eventually got hired on full-time. Here’s how it happened.
Hopefully this would make you curious and draw you in so that you would keep reading.
How to Choose the Right Tone for freeCodeCamp’s Publication
When writing for the freeCodeCamp community’s publication, your tone should stay positive, encouraging, and helpful. Avoid sounding disparaging and negative, as that sort of writing doesn’t have a place in News.
Here are some tips to help you develop a helpful and positive tone in your articles.
Write like you’re talking to a friend
When you’re explaining a technical concept, pretend you’re talking to a friend. Imagine how you’d explain it to a buddy or colleague, and then write that down. While it might need a bit of editing to tighten it up, this is a good start.
You probably wouldn’t yell at your friend or make them feel stupid. You’d think about how to break the concept down into understandable chunks so they could learn and retain it. Then you’d explain and describe that concept in plain language you’d use in everyday conversation.
If you approach your articles in a similar way, it will help you keep your writing casual, simple, and relaxed. The publication is not an academic journal, and you don’t need to be overly formal in your writing. Make it approachable and friendly when you can.
Even though it’s best to keep your language simple and straightforward, it’s helpful to maintain a basic level of professionalism and polish. After all, you want people to take your articles seriously and recognize them as helpful and insightful resources. So avoid too much slang, informal speech (keep the “LOLs” to a minimum), and so on.
But again, don’t be afraid to use humor when it’s appropriate – everyone can use a little chuckle now and then. And when you’re reading through a long technical tutorial, sometimes the best mental break is a quick laugh. Don’t force it, but if it comes naturally to you, let it flow.
So how should this language look? Well, for the most part it looks like the language in this article. Whenever a freeCodeCamp team member writes an article for our community’s publication, we try to maintain a similar tone – generally casual, authoritative, positive, and helpful.
Use “You” Instead of “We”
When you’re writing a step-by-step tutorial, it’s easy to want to involve yourself. You might say “First, we need to install VS Code, since we’ll use this as our code editor.” But “you” is a powerful word, and it’s more effective to use “you” than “we”.
Just think of it as giving instructions directly to your reader – “First, you need to install VS Code, since you’ll use this as your code editor.” It’s more direct, and focuses the reader on what they’re doing. After all, you hope that they’re coding along with your tutorial.
You can use “we”, of course, if it’s appropriate for the context – just don’t overuse it, especially in step-by-step guides.
And on a related note, don’t use “one” as a pronoun (like “To do this, one has to add the following code…”). It’s overly formal and stilted, and can be a bit off-putting for the reader. Instead, always use “you” (or in rarer cases, “we”, as discussed here).
How might this look in a more extensive example? Compare this:
Alright, today we’re going to build a Twitter clone. We’ll go through all the steps we need to build the app, and in the end we’ll have a fully-functioning social app. We won’t get into the details of x or y, as they’re a bit out of our scope. But we’ll learn everything we need to know to finish the project.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to build a Twitter clone. You’ll go through all the steps you need to know to build the app, and in the end you will have a fully functioning social app. We won’t get into the details of x or y, as they’re a bit out of the scope of this tutorial. But you’ll learn everything you need to know to finish the project.
You can see how the emphasis is on the reader in the second paragraph – “You will do this”, or “You will learn” and so on. This makes the reader think of themselves, what they can do, what they’re learning, and what they’re getting out of the tutorial.
It’s implied that you’re going to walk them through it – so you don’t need to include yourself with “we” unless it’s a general statement about circumstances or something similar (how I said “We won’t get into the details of x or y…” above in the second example).
Keep it positive, and relatively PG
freeCodeCamp is a friendly, welcoming, and inclusive community. The free resources we provide are open to everyone everywhere, and we want to make sure our articles, tutorials, and videos are accessible to all.
Because of this, we want the articles we publish to be free from negative language, gatekeeping, overly sarcastic language, and any hurtful or offensive remarks. The articles we publish on the publication are meant to be educational, inspiring, helpful, and encouraging – so your tone should reflect that.
No one should feel stupid or embarrassed when reading your articles. They should feel inspired, curious, and ready to dive in deeper.
Even if your reader is a complete beginner and might be in over their heads, your tone and language shouldn’t discourage them or turn them away. Help them know what to expect by writing a clear introduction to the topic, laying out any prerequisites or requirements you have of them before they start, and so on.
And finally, it should go without saying that there’s no room for hate speech, racism, bashing or belittling others, swearing, or trolling in the freeCodeCamp community. So keep all that out of your writing.
Let’s see an example of how NOT to write:
If you want to understand Redux, you need to be smart. After all, it’s hard, especially for people who don’t have a CS degree. Older devs might not understand Redux, either, because they’re just not mentally quick enough.
Obviously, you’ll need to go through tutorials and courses and build a project with it to learn it thoroughly – duh. Just don’t be an idiot and skip the fundamentals.
Ok – DON’T write like that! I hope it’s clear why this is overly negative, condescending, gatekeeping, and just generally offensive.
Remember – keep it positive, encouraging, clear, and educational!
Thanks for reading, and happy writing!
Want to know more about how to craft a great article? The freeCodeCamp community’s publication has a Style Guide full of writing tips and publication guidelines.