Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Style Guide: GOV.UK

In response to the earlier blog post, senior journalist and media teacher, Joseph Pinto, has drawn my attention to the web link 


which will be useful to common people, bureaucrats, and journalists every where. Following is posted here courtesy the Government Digital Service, government of UK:

Government Digital ServiceContent principles

This style guide is part of the Design Principles document.

  1. Style guide: GOV.UK

    This style guide is for written content on the GOV.UK website.
    The first part of this guide is for the whole of GOV.UK. Any information on www.gov.uk should follow this guidance.
    Then there are separate sections for the ‘mainstream’ content (this is content for both businesses and citizens) and Inside Government content. These go over the different formats (eg the way we present the information) and include detail on specifics.

    Ever-changing style guide

    This style guide will evolve – check here regularly for the up-to-date version.
    If there are style differences for separate sections of the site, you will see a ‘style differences’ heading under the main content; if not, this style is to be used across the whole of GOV.UK.
  2. 1. Tone of voice

    GOV.UK is for anyone who has an interest in how UK government policies affect them. Using this style guidance will help us make all GOV.UK information readable and understandable.
    It has a welcoming and reassuring tone and aims to be a trusted and familiar resource.

    1.1 Active voice

    Use the active rather than passive voice. This will help us write concise, clear content.

    1.2 Addressing the user

    Address the user as ‘you’ where possible. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to citizens and businesses to get involved or take action, eg ‘You can contact HMRC by phone and email’ or ‘Pay your car tax’.

    Style differences

    Mainstream: Don’t use ‘we’, ‘I’, ‘our’, ‘us’.
    Inside Government: Use ‘we’ if the ‘we’ is obvious from the context, eg it’s clearly a department or the government.

    1.3 Be concise

    To keep content understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:
    • specific
    • informative
    • clear and concise
    • brisk but not terse
    • incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words) – but remain human (not a faceless machine)
    • serious but not pompous
    • emotionless – adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin
    You should:
    • use contractions (eg can’t)
    • not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar – eg say ‘You can’ rather than ‘You may be able to’
    • use the language people are using – use Google Insights to check for terms people search for
    • not use long sentences with complicated sub-clauses
    (Note: words ending in ‘–ion’ and ‘–ment’ tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than they need to be.)

    1.4 Gender-neutral text

    Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’ etc.

    1.5 Plain English – mandatory for all of GOV.UK

    Use plain English. Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.
    We also lose trust from our users if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We can do without these words:
    • agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
    • advancing
    • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
    • combating
    • commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
    • countering
    • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
    • deploy (unless it is military or software)
    • dialogue (we speak to people)
    • disincentivise (and incentivise)
    • empower
    • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
    • focusing
    • foster (unless it is children)
    • impact (as a verb)
    • initiate
    • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
    • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
    • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
    • liaise
    • overarching
    • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
    • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
    • robust
    • slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork, etc)
    • streamline
    • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
    • tackling (unless it is rugby, football or some other sport)
    • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
    • utilise
    Always avoid metaphors. For example:
    • drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
    • drive out (unless it is cattle)
    • going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
    • in order to (superfluous – don’t use it)
    • one-stop shop (we are government, not a retail outlet)
    • ring fencing
    With all of these words you can generally get rid of them by breaking the term into what you are actually doing. Be open and specific.
    Write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-to-one but with the authority of someone who can actively help.
    All audiences should understand our content; this isn’t ‘dumbing down’, this is opening up government information to all.
  3. 2. Points of style

    2.1 Abbreviations and acronyms

    Spell out acronyms at first mention unless they’re well known, eg UK, DVLA, US, EU, VAT, MP etc. This includes government departments or schemes. Unless the acronym is widely known, spell it out in full. For example, most people will probably know what DVLA is but there are several interpretations for ECO.
    The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym, explain it in full on each page, and then refer to it by initials. For example – HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Don’t use an acronym if you’re not going to use it again later in the text.
    Don’t use full stops in abbreviations – BBC, not B.B.C.
    Quick reminder: Freedom of Information – you can make an FOI request but not a request under theFOI Act.

    2.2 Americanisms

    Don’t use Americanisms. You ‘fill in’ a form, not ‘fill out’ a form.
    Exceptions include where it’s part of a specific name, eg ‘4th Mechanized Brigade’.
    Organise – not organize (this isn’t actually an Americanism but is often seen as such).

    2.3 Ampersand

    Use ‘and’ rather than an ‘&’, unless it is the logo image on Inside Government.

    2.4 Brackets

    Use (round brackets), not [square brackets]. The only acceptable use of square brackets is for explanatory notes in reported speech, eg a minister’s speech on Inside Government:
    “Thank you [Foreign Minister] Mr Smith.”

    2.5 Bullet points and steps

    How to use bullet points to make text easier to read:
    • always use a lead-in sentence
    • bullets should always make sense running on from the lead-in sentence
    • use lower case at the start of the bullet
    • don’t use full stops within bullet points – where possible start another bullet point or use commas, dashes or semicolons to expand on an item
    • don’t put ‘or’, ‘and’ after the bullets
    • there should be no full stop after a bullet point
    • don’t use numbered bullets unless it is process – there is a steps format for you to use
    • use links in bullets (including downloads) if necessary


    • Use steps to guide a user through a process – steps are not a numbered list.
    • You can use links and downloads (with appropriate markdown) in steps.
    • Steps end in a full stop because each step should be a complete sentence.

    2.6 Capitalisation

    Lower case is preferable but use capitalisation for:
    • departments (specific government departments – see below)
    • titles
    • buildings
    • place names
    • brand names
    • The Earth (ie our planet), Planet Earth and Earth sciences
    • faculties, departments, institutes and schools
    • job titles, ministers’ role titles eg Minister for Housing, Home Secretary
    • names of groups, directorates and organisations eg Knowledge and Innovation Group
    • Parliament, the House
    • titles of specific acts or bills, eg Housing Reform Bill (but use ‘the act’ or ‘the bill’ after the first time you use the full act or bill title)
    • names of specific, named government schemes known to people outside government eg Right to Buy, Queen’s Awards for Enterprise
    • Rt Hon (note lack of full stops)
    • specific select committees (eg Public Administration Select Committee)
    • header cells in tables
    • titles of publications (and within single quotes)
    • World War 1 and World War 2 (note caps and numbers)
    Don’t capitalise:
    • government – never Government, even when referring to an elected administration, (so not the Afghanistan Government) unless part of a specific name, eg Local Government Association, or Inside Government
    • civil service
    • minister, never Minister, unless part of a specific job title, eg Minister for the Cabinet Office
    • department or ministry – never Department or Ministry, unless referring to a specific one, eg Ministry of Justice
    • white paper, green paper, command paper, House of Commons paper
    • sections or schedules within specific named acts, regulations or orders
    • director general (note no hyphen), deputy director, director, unless in a specific job title
    • group and directorate, unless referring to a specific group or directorate, eg the Commercial Directorate
    • departmental board, executive board, the board
    • policy themes eg sustainable communities, promoting economic growth, local enterprise zones
    • general mention of select committees (but DO cap specific ones – see above)

    Capitals for government departments

    Use the following conventions for government departments. A department using an ampersand in its logo image is fine but use ‘and’ when writing in full text.
    • Attorney General’s Office (AGO)
    • Cabinet Office (CO)
    • Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
    • Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
    • Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS)
    • Department for Education (DfE)
    • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
    • Department for International Development (DFID)
    • Department for Transport (DfT)
    • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
    • Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
    • Department of Health (DH)
    • Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
    • HM Treasury (HMT)
    • Home Office (HO)
    • Ministry of Defence (MOD)
    • Ministry of Justice (MOJ)

    2.7 Dates and times

    We use ‘to‘ in date and time ranges – not hyphens, en rules or em dashes. For example:
    • tax year 2011 to 2012
    • Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (put different days on a new line, don’t separate with a comma etc)
    • 10 November to 21 December
    • when space is an issue, eg tables, publication titles etc, you can use truncated months: Jan, Feb, Mar, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
    • 5:30pm (not 1730hrs)
    • midnight, not 00:00
    • midday, not 12 noon, noon or 12pm
    • 10am to 11am (not 10–11am)
    • don’t use ‘quarter’ for dates; use the months, for example: ‘[dept] expenses, Jan to Mar 2013’
    When referring to ‘today’ (eg in a news article) make sure you include the date as well. For example: ‘The minister announced today (14 June, 2012) that…’

    2.8 Eg, etc, and ie

    Don’t use full stops after or between these notations.
    If you want to use the long form (‘for example’ instead of ‘eg’, ‘specifically’ instead of ‘ie’ etc) then this is at the content designer’s discretion. User testing has shown that some people are not familiar with abbreviations such as eg, so consider your audience before abbreviating.

    2.9 Email addresses

    Write email addresses in full, in lower case and as active links. Don’t include any other words as part of the link.

    2.10 Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

    We don't really use FAQs on GOV.UK. There are 3 main reasons for this:
    • generally, we find FAQs duplicate other content on the site
    • you can't front-load FAQs so we are not helping usability
    • you could unnecessarily add to search results with duplicate, competing text
    So in short, FAQs should not duplicate content on any other part of the site. And content should not be in FAQ form if there is another, appropriate www.gov.uk format.
    If your call-centres etc get questions that really are frequently asked, get in touch and we will help you find a way to take care of those user needs.

    2.11 Geography and regions

    Compass directions are all in lower case: the north, the south of England, the south-west, north-east Scotland, south Wales.
    The same applies to wider regions: the west, western Europe, the far east, south-east Asia.
    Note the following: East End, West End (London), Middle East, Central America, North America, South America, Latin America.
    You can use a capital for a shortened version of a specific area or region if it’s commonly known by that name, eg ‘the Gulf’ for the Persian Gulf. If it’s not in common use in the media etc, stick with lower case eg ‘the strait’ for ‘the Strait of Hormuz’.

    Great Britain

    Refers only to England, Scotland and Wales excluding Northern Ireland.
    If you are telling users about multiple areas, use: ‘England, Scotland and Wales’.


    Use UK and United Kingdom in preference to Britain and British (UK business, UK foreign policy, ambassador and high commissioner). Note: British embassy, not UK embassy.

    2.12 Hyphenation

    • ‘re-‘ words starting with ‘e’, eg re-evaluate
    • co-ordinate
    Don’t hyphenate:
    • reuse
    • reinvent
    • reorder
    • reopen
    • email
    If in doubt, don’t use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it and check the Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

    2.13 Italics

    Don’t use italics. Use ‘single quotation marks’ if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.
    If you’re talking about a legal requirement, use ‘must’. For example, ‘your employer must pay you the National Minimum Wage (NWM)’.
    If you feel that ‘must’ doesn’t have enough emphasis, then use ‘legal requirement’, ‘legally entitled’ etc. For example: ‘Once your child is registered at school, you are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly’.
    When deciding whether to use ‘must’ or ‘legally entitled’ etc, consider how important it is for us to talk about the legal aspect, as well as the overall tone of voice.
    If a requirement is legal, but administrative, or part of a process that won’t have criminal repercussions, then use: ‘need to’. For example: ‘You will need to provide copies of your marriage certificate’.
    This may be a legal requirement, but not completing it would just stop the person from moving on to the next stage of a process, rather than committing a more serious offence.
    Front-load your link text with the relevant terms and make them active and specific. Always link to online services first. Offer offline alternatives afterwards (where possible).

    2.16 Measurements

    Use numerals and spell out measurements at first mention.
    Abbreviating kilograms to kg is fine – you don’t need to spell it out.
    If the measurement is more than 1 word, eg ‘kilometres per hour’ then spell it out the first time it is used with the abbreviation. From then on, abbreviate. If it is only mentioned once, don’t abbreviate.
    Use Celsius for temperature, eg 37°C.

    2.17 Numbers

    Write all numbers in numerics (including 1 to 9) except where it’s part of a common expression and it would look strange, eg ‘one or two of them’. Use common sense.
    ‘One of the 13 words in this sentence is causing problems: this 1.’
    This sentence would be better with ‘one’ as the final word.
    If a number starts a sentence, write it out in full (‘Thirty-four hula-hoops found in researcher’s filing cupboard’) except where it starts a heading.
    For numerals over 999 – insert a comma for clarity. ‘It was over 9,000’. Spell out common fractions, such as one-half, but use a % sign for percentages, ie 50%.
    Use ‘500 to 900’ and not ‘500–900’ (except in tables).
    File sizes: use 5MB not 5,000KB. Keep it as accurate as possible and up to 2 decimal places. For example: 5.03MB.
    Addresses: use ‘to’ in address ranges, for example: 49 to 53 Cherry Street.


    Always use million in money (and billion), eg £138 million. Use millions in phrases, eg ‘millions of people’.

    Ordinal numbers

    Spell out first to ninth. After that use 10th, etc.
    In tables, use numerals throughout.

    2.18 Money

    Use the £ symbol – £75
    Don’t use decimals unless pence are included – for example use: £75.50 but not £75.00.
    Don’t use ‘£0.xxm’ for amounts less than £1 million.
    Write out ‘pence’ in full – ‘calls will cost 4 pence per minute from a landline’.

    2.19 Organisations

    All organisations are singular, for example: ‘the government has decided to sell assets’.
    Departments don’t take the definite article, for example: ‘DVLA’, not ‘the DVLA’
    Use ‘local council’, instead of ‘local authority’ where possible.

    2.20 Quotes and speech marks

    In long passages of speech, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.

    Single quotes

    Use single quotes:
    • in headlines
    • links
    • unusual terms
    • when referring to words or publications, for example: ‘Download the publication ‘Understanding Capital Gains Tax’ (PDF, 360KB)’

    Double quotes

    Use double quotes in body text for direct quotations.

    Block quotes

    Use the block quote markdown for quotes longer than a few sentences.

    2.21 Contractions

    Use contractions eg ‘they’ve’, ‘we’ll’. Avoid using ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’, ‘would’ve’ etc – these are hard to read.

    2.22 Spaces

    Use only 1 space after a full stop, not 2.

    2.23 Telephone numbers

    Use ‘Telephone: 011 111 111’ or ‘Mobile:’ not ‘Mob:’.
    Use spaces between city and local exchange etc. Here are the different formats to use:
    • 01273 800 900
    • 020 7450 4000
    • 0800 890 567
    • 07771 900 900
    • 077718 300 300
    • +44 (0)20 7450 4000
    • +39 1 33 45 70 90
    When a number is memorable, group the numbers into easily remembered units, eg 0800 80 70 60.

    2.24 Titles

    Remember all the search engine optimisation points and use colons to introduce the sub-clause.
    Good example:
    ‘Income Tax reform: impact assessment’
    Bad example:
    ‘An assessment of the impact of proposed reforms to Income Tax’

    2.25 Transactions and services

    These are pre-transaction pages. Use SEO to define the title, so if people search for ‘registry office’, put that in and then explain the proper term is ‘register office’.
    Give 1 sentence of what the user can expect from the service – this will appear before the button.
    ‘What you need to know’ section:
    This is where you put information that the user will need to complete the transaction and information about how long it takes, how much there will be to pay etc.
    You can add alternatives to the online transaction at the bottom of the page.
    For more information on writing for transactions, have a look at the GDS Service Design Manual.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the good work.

Feel free to surf to my homepage: Massage Party