The irony of quality advertisements, audiobooks, and training content is that you may never notice the voiceover behind them—and yet, that’s exactly the outcome you want. Let’s review what constitutes great voiceover scripts.
A high-quality script ensures that a voiceover enhances your content without outshining it (or distracting listeners for the wrong reasons). A well-written script helps voice actors and advanced text-to-speech platforms like WellSaid Labs easily identify where to add pauses, emphasis, and inflections.
A solid script even helps make content more digestible to listeners, breaking run-on sentences into short snippets for better comprehension. It’s not unreasonable to claim that an attuned script makes a good voiceover a great one.
However, writing scripts for voiceovers is very different from writing scripts for other mediums. In this blog post, we explore how voiceover scripts are different from regular scripts, how to adequately prepare your script for voiceover, and sample scripts for various read styles.
Jump to the topic that interests you most, or read the whole article for the full picture:
- Ways that Voiceover Scripts Are Different Than Regular Scripts
- How to Write Voiceover in a Script
- Voiceover Script Do’s
- Writing Voiceover Scripts: What NOT to Do
- Preparing a Script for Voiceover Production
- Best Practices for Writing Voiceover Scripts
Ways that Voiceover Scripts Are Different Than Regular Scripts
Voiceover scripts are different than voiceover scripts for a number of reasons.
- Don’t write them for the reader, but for the speaker. With regular scripts—say, for a movie or playwright—the reader imagines the script in their head. They might not even say it out loud until a director provides context. But with voiceover scripts, the reader isn’t just casually reading the script in their head. Rather, they are enunciating every word. For this reason, a write a script with direction as to the desired tone, emphasis, and pace when spoken.
- Compared to a screenplay or film, many voiceover scripts must be shorter or broken down into manageable chunks. Many voiceover scripts are for online videos, training modules, commercials, or audio advertisements (as with those inserted into podcasts or music-streaming sites). With these time constraints, script writers must pay careful attention to how much time it takes to speak their script aloud. A simple paragraph that takes mere seconds to read could take minutes to say.
- Script writers must also use the script as a mechanism to capture (and keep) audience attention. Whereas other scripts are for visual mediums (such as plays or movies), voiceovers might have to stand on their own. A confusing, rushed, or long-winded script can make it hard for listeners to understand and recall what’s being said. Writers must pay careful attention to not only the script itself—but the experience of the listener hearing it.
How to Write Voiceover in a Script
Behind every great voiceover is a great script.
High-quality voiceover scripts help voiceover actors (or text-to-speech platforms, wink wink) identify where to add inflections, emphasis, and pauses to make a voiceover easy to follow and enjoyable to listen to. Well-written voiceover scripts make content more digestible, help an audience better retain information, and reflect a brand in a more professional light.
When writing voiceover scripts, there are a few things to keep in mind to connect with your listeners and create a high-quality voiceover. In this blog post, learn what to do—and what not to do—when crafting your voiceover script.
Writing voiceover scripts: What to DO
Below are three things that transform an average script into one that lands.
1. Be concise
Especially in audio-only productions, your audience has a shorter attention span because they are consuming content via only one of their senses (their ears). Depending on the format of your production, you may also have a limited time to deliver your message (e.g. a 30-second advertisement). For these reasons, aim to get your point across as quickly as possible so you keep your audience’s attention. Get clear on your goal from the start, avoid writing too much without clearly delivering your message, and prevent meandering as new ideas come up.
A great way to make sure you’re being concise is by keeping sentences short and simple. Break them up where necessary. Avoid sharing different ideas in the same line or waxing poetic on any one topic. To ensure concise and digestible sentences, try…
- Focusing on one idea per sentence
- Reading your sentences aloud and deleting any confusing phrasings
- Breaking long sentences into two or more sentences
2. Establish your brand voice(s)
Establishing your brand voice ensures consistency, makes your content more credible, and makes your brand more memorable. Think of Martin, the famous Geico Gecko. After watching many Geico commercials over the years with the same voice, your brain can automatically identify the brand without seeing the animated gecko.
When choosing your brand voice, make sure you understand the purpose, context, brand, and audience intended for your voiceover script.
Even if two scripts have the same purpose (e.g. generating leads or sales), you could have two different audiences. For example, a bank may serve all demographics, but the way they talk to senior citizens could be different from how they connect with 30-year-old working professionals.
Similarly, an education script for a corporate learning environment may require a different tone than an informative script for a product video. The language, tone, and inflections in your voiceover script should reflect those nuances.
Advanced text-to-speech platforms offer a suite of natural-sounding AI voiceovers. You can choose one or more natural-sounding Voice Avatars to make your content more engaging and effective—or even create a brand new Voice Avatar yourself.
3. Use action verbs
Active sentences are those where the subject performs an action, whereas passive sentences are used when the subject receives an action. For example, “she threw the boomerang” sounds more active and less convoluted than “a boomerang was thrown by her”. Active sentences and action verbs pull in listeners and keep them engaged. When possible, aim to write in active voice versus passive voice to be as clear and direct as possible.
Writing voiceover scripts: What NOT to do
Now that you know a few things to DO when writing a voiceover script, the following are items to avoid.
1. Stay away from words that are difficult to pronounce
When writing a voiceover script, avoid using words that are difficult to pronounce or are only regionally used. Acronyms or long numbers can also be confusing to a voice actor when reading a script. When in doubt, spell out acronyms and write numbers as words (e.g. one million vs. 1,000,000).
As you write, keep in mind that scripts are intended to be listened to versus read. A high-quality voiceover pronounces each word correctly and speaks clearly. Your script makes this easier on the voice over actor or text-to-speech Voice Avatar, providing clear sentences that are intuitive and easy to read aloud.
2. Avoid skipping pauses
Similar to visual or written content, verbal content requires frequent pauses. Your audience needs silent moments to process your message. Pauses are also a great way to emphasize an important idea and to build a sense of sincerity. When writing your voiceover script, add in strategic pauses via commas or other annotations.
3. Avoid writing for reading
The way you write is not the same way you speak. In most cases, people speak more informally than they write. Use words that you naturally use when speaking so your voiceover script doesn’t sound like it was, well, scripted.
As you write your script, read it out loud to make sure it is clear and coherent outside the walls of your own brain. You can even share your script with colleagues, and have them read your script aloud, to ensure your script translates when read by others.
Best Practices for Writing Voiceover Scripts
With these nuances in mind, let’s cover a few top tips for writing voiceover scripts.
Get clear on tone.
The context of your project will influence the tone of your script. Make sure you are clear on the brand, purpose, and context before sitting down to your computer. For example, you could be writing two scripts, both designed to train employees. But if in one you’re training medical professionals and in another you’re training fashion designers, you’re going to need completely different tones in your voiceover scripts. The former may be commanding, educational, and informative, while the latter could be conversational, smart, and witty.
Consider time restraints.
As mentioned earlier, timing can be of the essence when writing voiceover scripts. Clarify how much time your project needs to fit within (if any at all) and write your script with that in mind. You may need to cut extraneous words, dive straight into the content, or start with an attention-grabbing introduction to make the most of the time that your voiceover has to fit within.
Spell phrasings out.
Even if you’re uber-familiar with a certain brand’s acronyms or titles, a Voice Avatar or voice actor may not be. You might write NATO in your script, but without clarifying, a Voice Avatar may not be able to easily identify whether you want things pronounced as N-A-T-O or nay-toe. Similarly, numbers can look simply on paper but be confusing to read aloud. Instead of writing 5,000,000,000 and making the voice actor calculate the number you’re referring to, write a simple 5 trillion to keep everything clear.
Keep your goal at the forefront.
Remember that, with many voiceovers, you don’t have the luxury of visuals to do the heavy-lifting. For that reason, it’s important that you keep the purpose of your script front and center. Stick to your storyline without meandering, nor introducing unnecessary details or story lines. End with a clear, direct, verb-oriented call to action, whether you want listeners to buy now, visit a website, or enter their information right away.
Read your script out loud.
Since your script is designed to be spoken aloud, you should absolutely verify that it sounds just as smooth when said as it does in your head. You would be surprised how many things you catch when you say your script aloud, from run-on sentences to passive voice to overly complex sentence structure. Your script should flow well as a whole, even if it will be broken into smaller chunks when editing.
It can also be useful to have someone else read your script out loud, since their interpretation or tone may help you refine your writing and pacing. You could have a completely different internal voice than someone else, and having someone else read your script aloud will help you catch that before you invest in an official voice actor or Voice Avatar.
Preparing a Script for Voiceover Production
Once a script has been written, it should be formatted specifically for voiceover work. Since plain text can be read and interpreted in many different ways, a writer should add direction and guidance for the voice actor or text-to-speech platform like WellSaid Labs. Even though a writer may have a particular cadence or spoken intonation in their own mind, this has to be communicated clearly in the script so it can stand alone.
One of the ways to do this is to use capitalization wherever you want a text-to-speech platform or voice actor to enunciate certain words (or parts of words). For example, FANtastic places the emphasis on the beginning of the word, whereas fanTAStic instructs the Voice Avatar to highlight the middle.
Try speaking the following sentence three different ways, emphasizing: never, better, or home. “There has never been a better time to purchase a home.”
Humans naturally take breaks to breath, swallow, or comprehend as they read. As such, you can influence where readers take breaks by inserting ellipses into your scripts. You can also break apart complex sentences by inserting well-timed ellipses or line breaks.
Consider the difference between (and even try speaking aloud) these read styles:
- Looking for great deals on video games, headsets, and more? … Check out our upcoming Cyber Monday sale at gaming central dot com!
- Looking for great deals on video games, headsets, and more? Check out our upcoming Cyber Monday sale at… gaming central dot com!
- Looking for great deals on video games, headsets, and more? Check out our upcoming Cyber Monday sale at gaming central… dot com!
Format and Notation
Depending on the project, there are a few different ways to notate direction in a voiceover script. By using suggested time codes, line breaks, and directions, the voiceover script can be broken down into manageable chunks. Here are a few examples:
Time Code: 00:00-00:10
Stop by and catch our holiday sale! All items are up to fifty percent off.
Time Code: 00:00-00:30
The Stronger Together Foundation is connecting people from ALL over the world, creating online spaces for education and collaboration… ESpecially in these uncertain times, we believe people need community more than EVER.
The time code indicates that the voiceovers should be 10 seconds and 30 seconds, respectively, helping to pace the voiceovers accordingly. You won’t always need to use time codes, but they’re a useful tool to be familiar with.
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As you can see from these best practices and examples, using a blend of formatting, grammatical annotations, and clear direction, a script writer can guide the way a voiceover sounds through the script alone—before a word is ever spoken.
Many different genres use voiceovers, from radio shows and television commercials to movie trailers and podcasts. With the right voiceover—and the script that drives it—you can reach a wider (and more attentive) audience than ever before. You heard it here first.