This style guide is primarily for use by web editors at Bracknell Forest Council to help provide consistency across our sites. It is published openly for all to see and use. The information contained may change over time depending on user testing and analytics as the website is used.
Abbreviations and acronyms
The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym explain it in full on each page unless it’s well known, eg UK, EU, VAT. Central government abbreviations should be written in full the first time they appear on the page. Then refer to it by initials.
If you think your acronym is well known, please provide evidence that 80% of the UK population will understand, and commonly use, the term. Evidence can be from search analytics or testing of a representative sample.
Don’t use full stops in abbreviations – BBC, not B.B.C.
Don’t use an acronym if you’re not going to use it again later in the text.
Use the active rather than passive voice. This will help us write concise, clear content.
Addressing the user
Address the user as ‘you’ where possible. Use direct appeals to citizens and businesses to get them involved or to take action, eg ‘Pay your brown bin collection charge’, ‘Tell the council you are moving’
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’.
Use the ‘ise’ rather than ‘ize’ suffix, eg organise not organize.
Use ‘and’ rather than an ‘&’.
Don’t put apostrophes in abbreviated plurals, as in: PCs, and 1990s.
Make sure you know the difference between: It’s a sunny day (where ‘it’s’ means it is), and the cat chased its tail (where its shows ownership or belonging).
Use (round brackets), not [square brackets].
Don’t use bold.
Bullet points and steps
You can use bullet points to make text easier to read. Make sure that:
- you always use a lead-in line
- the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
- you use lower case at the start of the bullet
- you don’t use more than one sentence per bullet point – use commas or dashes to expand on an item
- you don’t put ‘or’, ‘and’ after the bullets
- if you add links they appear within the text and not as the whole bullet
- there is no full stop after the last bullet point
Use numbered steps instead of bullet points to guide a user through a process. You don’t need a lead-in line and you can use links and downloads in steps. Each step ends in a full stop because each step should be a complete sentence.
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR LARGE AMOUNTS OF TEXT AS IT’S QUITE HARD TO READ.
Lower case is preferable but use capitalisation for:
- full titles for conferences, strategy documents, publications
- department names, for example Corporate Services
- team names, for example Community Engagement and Equalities
- place names
- brand names
- 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
- header cells in tables eg Annual profits
- titles of publications (and within single quotes)
When referring to the council, the word ‘council’ should be lower-case.
When referring to bank holiday, this should be lower-case.
Sentence case should be used for headings.
Contact details should be added to the contact information box on each page if required. They must be the details of the service team relating to that page.
Within the main Bracknell Forest site, contact details should be set to ‘mini’ unless full contact details, including address, are required for the purpose of a customer action.
Contact information within page content
If contact details need to be presented within the page content for the purpose of customer transactions, please set out the details as follows:
You can get in contact by:
- making an online enquiry
- email: email@example.com
- phone: XXXXX XXXXXX
- post: Time Square
Phone and post should only be used where there is no online alternative or a customer has to use these options to transact.
Contact information – news
News stories should not present contact information in a contact box unless there is a specific need for contact.
Use contractions, eg ‘they’ve’, ‘we’ll’. Avoid using ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’, ‘would’ve’ etc – these are hard to read.
Read more about contractions on GOV.UK.
Use lower case unless using the full name of the council, eg ‘Bracknell Forest Council’. When referring to the council generally, use lower case, eg ‘the council’
The format for dates should be DD Month Year, with no commas or suffixes, eg 28 September 2015.
Other rules for dates are:
- use upper case for months eg January, February
- don’t use a comma if you include a day of the week
- don’t use a comma between the month and year, eg 14 June 2012
- when space is an issue, eg tables, you can use truncated months, eg Jan, Feb, etc
- we use ‘to’ in date ranges – not hyphens, en rules or em dashes. For example:
- school 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
- don’t use ‘quarter’ for dates; use the months, for example: ‘expenses, Jan to Mar 2013’
- when referring to ‘today’ make sure you include the date as well eg ‘It was announced today (14 June 2012) that…’
eg, etc and ie
Use these sparingly, considering the audience. Where possible use full words rather than the notations. Some customers will not be familiar with the meaning.
Where they are used, don’t use full stops after or between these notations.
Avoid the use of exclamation marks unless they are used in the title of an event or activity.
‘e’ as a prefix
Use sparingly as there is often little need to denote the channel to the customer. Where the prefix refers to electronic, it should always be lower case with a hyphen, eg ‘e-learning’. This could be more simply explained as ‘online learning’.
At the beginning of a sentence, capitalise the first letter of the word that follows the e, rather than the e itself, eg ‘e-Procurement’
The exception is email which should always be written lower case in text and must be capitalised at the start of a sentence.
Email addresses should only be presented for third party services. Do not use email addresses for council services. Please use the standard enquiry form.
Write email addresses in full, in lower case and as active links. Don’t include any other words as part of the link.
FAQs (frequently asked questions)
Don’t use FAQs. If you write content by starting with user needs, you won’t need to use FAQs.
Fax should only be given where necessary for the service to function.
Use ‘More information’ not ‘Further information’ when adding as a sub-heading.
Lower case even when specific, eg Afghanistan government, UK government.
one word, lower case
- ‘re-’ words starting with ‘e’, eg re-evaluate
Don’t use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it, for example, a little used-car is different from a little-used car. If in doubt, check the Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors.
(See eg, etc and ie)
Don’t use italics. Use ‘single quotation marks’ if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.
Specific job titles are upper case, eg Chief Executive.
Generic job titles are lower case, eg director, councillor.
When using links, please follow these rules:
- 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)
- links must not open in a new window
- headings and subheadings must not be used as links
- link text must be relevant and meaningful.
- links must be named differently on a page unless they go to the same location
- ensure the link text clearly describes what it is linking to (never use terms like “click here”, “more information” or “follow this link”
- for example “Order a copy certificate” “GOV.UK website”
- use the correct capitalisation for external links eg GOV.UK website rather than gov.uk website
- anchors must not be used to navigate long pages
- if pages are too long they should be simplified, or the content separated over multiple pages
- “back to top” or similar navigational techniques using links must not be used
When adding a link in the body field make sure you do not include any end punctuation within the link.
Links within link paragraphs must be calls to action rather than just a link.
Lists should be bulleted to make them easier to read. See bullets points, Steps.
Very long lists can be written as a paragraph with a lead-in sentence if it looks better.
Lower case. Don’t use LA.
Use ‘local council’, instead of ‘local authority’ where possible.
Use ‘local council’, instead of ‘local authority’ where possible.
Lower case, no apostrophe.
See ‘words to avoid’
Always use million in money (and billion), eg £138 million. Use millions in phrases, eg ‘millions of people’.
Don’t use ‘£0.xx million’ for amounts less than £1 million.
Use the £ symbol – £75.
Don’t use decimals unless pence are included, for example use: £75.50 but not £75.00.
Write out ‘pence’ in full eg ‘calls will cost 30 pence per minute’.
Currencies are lower case.
Use ‘More information’ not ‘Further information’ when adding as a sub-heading.
Use ‘one’ unless you’re talking about a step, a point in a list or another situation where using the numeral makes more sense. For example, ‘in point 1 of the design instructions’
Write all other numbers in numerals (including 2 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.
If a number starts a sentence, write it out in full (‘Ten free passes available to customers’)
For numerals over 999 – insert a comma for clarity. ‘It was over 9,000’.
Spell out common fractions, such as one-half.
Use the percentage symbol, not the words.
Use ‘500 to 900’ and not ‘500–900’ (except in tables).
Use MB not KB for anything over 1MB, eg 4MB not 4096KB . For under 1MB, use KB, eg 569KB not 0.55MB.
Don’t use more than two decimal places (eg 2.45). Do not put in zero pence.
Addresses: use ‘to’ in address ranges, for example: 49 to 53 Cherry Street.
Spell out first to ninth. After that use 10th etc.
In tables, use numerals throughout.
- be in sentence case
- be 65 characters or less
- be unique, clear and descriptive
- be front-loaded
- you can use ‘if’ if really necessary but be very careful, front-loaded statements are faster to read. For example: “Licences for street trading” or “Street trading licences” is better than “Applying for and obtaining a licence for street trading”
- be optimised for search
- keep it short: eight words will appear in search, so think about which eight words are going to best convey your information
- where possible avoid stop words like ‘of’, ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘for’, ‘and’ – search engines simply ignore these terms. If you use them, make sure they’re not taking up the space of a keyword (but equally don’t remove at the expense of helping the title making sense!)
- use a colon to break up longer titles
- not use acronyms unless they are well-known eg EU
- not include symbols or punctuation – other than hyphens, apostrophes and question marks
Lower case even when naming a specific council, eg Bloxham parish council.
Do not use he/she. Use ‘they’.
It will help to remember the following when writing content:
- keep it simple – use words that your audience will understand
- an average sentence length of 15-20 words is recommended, the maximum being 25 words
- avoid large sections of text – break up into shorter paragraphs and remove any unnecessary words
- web pages must have as low a reading age as possible – maximum 14 years old. You can test the reading age of a page using the Readability Test Tool.
Before publishing content, you should check your page through the Hemingway App to give you an idea of any issues with it. Correct them where possible.
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.
Use single quotes:
- in headlines
- for unusual terms
- when referring to words or publications, for example: ‘Download the publication ‘Understanding Capital Gains Tax’ (PDF, 360KB)’
Use double quotes in body text for direct quotations.
Use the block quote Markdown for quotes longer than a few sentences.
Do not use semicolons as they are often mis-read. Long sentences using semicolons should be broken up into separate sentences instead.
Don’t use long sentences – check any sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them to make them clearer.
There is more advice on GOV.UK about writing short sentences. Read more about short sentences.
Use only one space after a full stop, not 2.
See ‘Quotes and speech marks’
- be 140 characters or less
- end with a full stop
- not repeat the title or body text
- be clear and specific
- tables must not be used for layout purposes
- tables can be used when information needs to be compared from row to row or column to column
- tables must have a heading in the first row
- tables must include a summary description for accessibility purposes
Where you need to use technical terms, you can. They’re not jargon. You just need to explain what they mean the first time you use them.
Read more about writing for specialists on GOV.UK.
Use ‘Telephone: 011 111 111’ or ‘Mobile:’ not ‘Mob:’.
Use spaces between city and local exchange.
When a number is memorable, group the numbers into easily remembered units, eg 0800 80 70 60.
Use Celsius, eg 37°C.
- use ‘to’ in time ranges – not hyphens, en rules or em dashes, eg 10am to 11am (not 10–11am)
- use the 12 hour clock eg 5:30pm (not 1730hrs)
- midnight, not 00:00
- midday, not 12 noon, noon or 12pm
- 6 hours 30 minutes
- only use decimals where minutes are needed
See ‘page titles’.
Tone of voice
Use the active rather than the passive voice. For example:
- active voice – we will make a decision
- passive voice – a decision will be made
Use an appropriate style of writing to match the content and audience. In some cases an informal, friendly, personal style may be more effective than formal language.
Don’t overuse the word “please”, get the right balance between being formal and friendly.
You should use the word ‘council’ rather than the full ‘Bracknell Forest Council’.
Lower case, even when part of a name, eg Swanage town council
Avoid using trademarked names where possible (eg tablet not iPAD). Trade mark is 2 words but trademarked is 1 word.
Upper case. Twitter is a trademarked name.
Lower case, no hyphen.
Upper case, because it’s a brand name.
Words to avoid
Using plain English means avoiding metaphors or unnecessary complicated language in order to make a webpage faster to read and easier to understand.
The list of words to avoid can be found on GOV.UK.
You and us
Unless you need to do so formally, refer to the council as ‘we’ and ‘us’.
Refer to readers as ‘you’ where appropriate so they feel we’re talking to them personally.
Avoid using ‘our’ and ‘your’ which can create confusion.