Good content is essential to ensuring we communicate effectively with our audiences. This style guide provides information that will help ensure that research councils produce clear, consistent and user-friendly content.
The style guide was produced following a review of all existing research council style guidelines. It applies to all content, including online and printed content.
For items not included in this guide we recommend referring to the following style guides:
If you would like to suggest a change or addition to the style guide please contact email@example.com.
Minimise the use of abbreviations and acronyms.
Spell out an abbreviation or acronym the first time you use it on a page and insert the abbreviation in brackets directly after it, for example Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
Only use the abbreviation or acronym thereafter on that page. Don't use an acronym if you’re not going to use it again later in the page.
Don't spell out abbreviations or acronyms that are well known and used more widely than the full name, for example BBC and UK.
Do not use full stops in abbreviations or acronyms, and don’t put spaces between the letters, for example BBC, not B.B.C or B B C.
When using the plural form of an abbreviation or acronym, add a lower case s without an apostrophe, for example CDs and PDFs.
Don’t include an e before ‘ment’. Don’t use acknowledgement.
Use the active voice rather than the passive voice. This makes content livelier and clearer.
For example, use ‘our website includes many new features, rather than ‘many new features are included on the website’.
For more information on the active voice see the Plain English Campaign’s writing guidance.
Use all capital letters.
You should normally use and rather than &, unless & is part of a formal title or an organisation’s name, for example the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
There may be occasions where & needs to be used due to space restrictions, for example in graphs and charts or in website navigation titles.
An & can also sometimes be used to aid readability, for example saying ‘the finance and information and computing departments’ is confusing and reads better as ‘the finance & information and computing departments’.
Avoid using as they can confuse.
Biannual means twice a year. Biennial means every second year.
Use brackets sparingly.
You should normally use (round brackets). However, there may be occasions where you need to use [square brackets], for example in quotes.
It is often better to use commas rather than brackets. Brackets can look more cluttered than commas.
If a whole sentence is within brackets, put the full stop inside the brackets.
Use a capital B.
Use bullet points to make lists easier to read.
Make sure that:
See also Numbered lists.
Use capital letters sparingly. They break the flow of text and decrease the readability of content.
Lower case is usually preferable but use initial capitals for:
Not Chairman, Chairlady or Chairperson.
Avoid using clichés. Examples of clichés include:
Use colons to indicate the beginning of lists in sentences or to introduce the items in a bulleted list. Bulleted lists often work better than lists in sentences.
For example, topics of interest include: climate change, population growth and recycling.
Use commas to break up long sentences, but only use them for natural breaks in the text.
Use commas to separate a sequence of items, for example: red, yellow, blue and pink.
Do not use commas:
Use lower case (north, south, east, west) unless part of a defined geographical place, for example South London or the Middle East.
Use hyphens between the quarters, for example: north-east.
Ensure that the copyright for content is not breached.
For non-original content, ensure that you have the written permission of the content owner to publish the content.
Ensure that you have the correct copyright permissions for any images you use.
Great Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales (not Northern Ireland).
The United Kingdom refers to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Use UK instead of writing out United Kingdom in full.
Britain can be used as convenient shorthand for Great Britain.
Use British rather than UK as an adjective, for example: British citizens.
Use an initial capital letter for all country titles, for example Poland.
One word. No hyphen.
Avoid using en and em dashes whenever possible as they can be hard to configure correctly on web pages. Parentheses (round brackets) are often a better solution than dashes.
Use ordinary dashes for hyphens. See Hyphens.
Use the following format for dates:
Don’t include the day of the week, for example don’t say Monday 5 January 2017.
You can use the dd/mm/yyyy date format in tables and graphs when space is limited.
Use the following styles for years:
Use uppercase initial letters for days of the week, for example Monday.
Always write days out in full, for example use Monday, not Mon.
Use ‘to’ when expressing a period of days, for example Monday to Friday.
Don’t use days of the week when referring to specific dates or events.
Use the following format for these diseases (note the specific uses of upper and lower case):
Keep document sizes as small as possible. Larger documents can take longer to download.
Help reduce file sizes by:
Make sure you use the correct fonts for your organisation in all documents. See Fonts.
Use ® or ™ with drug trade names, for example Nurofen® is a trade name.
Use lower case for generic drug titles such as ibuprofen.
Use an initial cap when referring to the planet. Use lower case when referring to the ground or soil.
Avoid using eg as it can be read as ‘egg’ by screen reading software. Use ‘for example’ or ‘such as’ instead.
Lower case, no hyphen.
If you need to emphasise particular words or phrases, use bold. However, use bold sparingly or it will lose its impact.
Headings and bullets can often provide more effective ways of emphasising particular information in web content than bold.
Do not use underlining (can look like a link) or CAPITALS (they look like you are shouting).
Italics can be difficult to read and should only be used for certain types of words, see Italics.
For our purposes:
Use EU rather than the full title.
Use exclamation marks sparingly and only when they are absolutely necessary.
You can use exclamation marks in some instances, for example:
You should only create a list of FAQs when there is a clear need for them. They should only list questions that users are genuinely likely to ask.
Rather than create an FAQ list, it is sometimes possible (and preferable) to answer potential FAQs in relevant content pages.
When you create FAQs, you should provide your digital staff with a set of clear and well-written questions and answers.
Only include one s. Don’t use focussed.
You should use your organisation’s corporate fonts in any documents you produce for the web, for example ESRC use Gill Sans MT in documents.
Don’t use footnotes on web pages unless they are absolutely necessary.
Don’t use non-English words and phrases unless there is no English alternative, for example use per year, not per annum.
Include any accents or other symbols on foreign words that have not yet been incorporated into English (these words should also be in italics).
Use accents or other symbols in foreign names and organisation titles as required, for example Chloë Murphy.
Don’t use italics or accents for foreign words that have become anglicised through common use, for example ad hoc and status quo.
Use English plurals for Latin words, for example forums and consortiums.
Only use one space after a full stop.
Do not use full stops in abbreviations and acronyms, for example use BBC not B.B.C.
Do not use full stops in headings or subheadings.
Do not use full stops in names, for example use AB Jones not A.B. Jones.
You should use gender-free language whenever possible, for example use staffing instead of manpower and police officer instead of policeman.
Never use ‘his’ to cover men and women; use ‘his or her’, or a different sentence construction.
Italicise both genus and species.
Capitalise the genus name but not the species name.
After using the full name once, abbreviate the genus name.
Always use lower case, even when specific, for example: UK government.
Use ‘grant holder’ rather than ‘award holder’.
All lower case and two separate words.
If graphs or charts are required, it may be useful to also provide data tables to accompany them. This could help users understand the data.
You should use corporate colours and fonts in your charts where possible.
Use headings to aid readability and split content into chunks.
Make sure that all headings:
Avoid using too many heading levels. Most content should require no more than three heading levels.
One word. No hyphen.
Use a capital H and lower case b. No hyphen.
Don’t use hyphens unless you really have to.
Avoid using ie as it can be misread by screen reading software. Try (re)writing content to avoid using it, or use an alternative such as ‘meaning’ or ‘that is’.
Only use images which serve a useful purpose or which are relevant to the content.
Ensure that you are legally entitled to use any images you wish to publish. Images won’t be published if you cannot prove that you have copyright permission to use them.
You should only provide good quality images to your digital team. The team may need to resize or crop images they receive to make them suitable for publishing.
For accessibility reasons, you must include descriptive alternative text (alt text) for any images that you add to the website. Examples of alt text for images could be:
You can use JPEG (.jpg), GIF (.gif) or PNG (.png) formats for your images. However, JPEGs and PNGs work best in our Mura content management system. Don’t use TIFF (.tiff) images.
Lower case, no hyphen.
Use italics sparingly as they can be difficult to read on screen.
You should only use italics for:
Avoid using jargon. Always write in Plain English.
If you can’t avoid using a word or phrase which could be perceived as jargon, explain what it means in plain English and limit its use.
Use Je-S, not JeS or any other variation.
Use initial capital letters for job titles: Chief Executive, Digital Officer.
Descriptions of a job or profession do not require capitals.
Don’t include an e before ‘ment’. Don’t use judgement.
Lower case, unless referring to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.
Our language and tone should be clear, expert and fresh.
We should use plain English and unstuffy, active language. We should avoid jargon, but we shouldn’t dumb down our content.
Everything we write should be logical, active and confident. We say what we need to say clearly and concisely. We should use informative and simple words.
Use large scale as the noun and large-scale as the adjective.
See foreign words and Genus.
Use clear, descriptive and short titles for all links. Do not use non-descriptive link titles like 'click here' or ‘this page’.
Only include links that could be genuinely useful to users.
Ensure that link titles are the same or similar to the title of the page you are linking to.
Avoid putting too many in-line links in paragraphs as they break the flow of the text.
For links to the homepage of an external site, use the organisation or website name in the link title, for example Wellcome Trust.
If you are deep-linking to a page within an external website, you should make it clear that you are linking to another site by including the organisation’s name in the link text. For example, use one of the following formats:
Ensure that external links don’t open in a new window.
Links to documents and files (downloads)
Include a file type and size in any links to downloads, for example Word and PDF files. You must include the file type and size within the link text: New crime programme guidance notes (PDF, 895KB).
Always use the following format for kilobytes and megabytes:
Ensure that all download links don’t open in a new window.
Use long term as the noun and long-term as the adjective, for example:
Lower case, no hyphen.
For amounts in sterling, use the pound sign (£) followed by all digits, for example £2.87 and £0.29.
For large amounts (millions or billions of pounds), use digits and words, separated by a space, for example £22 million and £4.2 billion. You can use the abbreviated version (£k, £m and £bn) in tables and graphs, for example £2.7m.
For euros and US dollars, you should put the symbol before the digits, for example $45 million, €12. When written out, the plural of euro is euros.
For other currencies, write out the currency title in full. If used more than once, put the standard abbreviation in brackets after the first mention of the currency and use the abbreviation thereafter, for example The prize was 10,000 Swiss francs (CHF), of which CHF 9,000 went to charity.
Do not use k to indicate thousands, but write out the zeros, for example £45,000.
Use a capital M for our Moon. Use lower case for all other moons.
Use the full name (title, first name, second name), for example use Professor Emma Bradshaw, on first mention. Use the title and second name thereafter, for example use Professor Bradshaw.
Use English titles for foreign names, for example Mr Nicolas Sarkozy.
Do not shorten Professor to Prof.
Use capital N and P.
Use a numbered list of steps when you want to guide users through a process.
You don’t need a lead-in line for a numbered list, but make sure that:
Do not start sentences with numbers in digit form. You can use words if necessary, for example: Thirty-one papers were submitted.
Numbers from one to nine: write these numbers out in full (five people, eight kittens), unless they are followed by an abbreviated unit of measure, for example 3km.
Numbers from 10 to 999: use digits, for example 124 people.
Numbers from 1,000 to 999,999: use digits and commas, for example 33,293 people.
Large numbers (one million or higher): use digits and words, and include a space between the number and the word, for example one million men, £2 million.
Numbers used with units: when you use the abbreviated version of units, use digits and don't include spaces, for example 13mm or 12kg. Include a space between the number and unit when you spell out the full version of a unit, for example 14 miles.
Decimals: use digits, and include a space between the number and subsequent words, for example 3.5 per cent or 4.25 miles.
Fractions: use decimals or percentages instead of fractions. If you do use fractions, spell them out and hyphenate them, for example two-thirds of the people or one-fifth of applicants.
Lower case, no hyphen.
Put the most interesting information towards the top of the page.
There is no limit on the number of words you can include on a web page. However, you should structure pages so that it is easy for users to find the information they are looking for. This is especially important on longer pages. You can aid usability by splitting content into defined sections, and by using elements like headings and bullets.
Use unique, descriptive and meaningful titles for all pages.
Keep page titles as concise as possible.
Aim for paragraph lengths of no more than three or four sentences. Web users like to be presented with small chunks of information.
However, too many very short paragraphs (of one or two lines) can also be hard to read. Vary the length of your paragraphs to make the content more interesting. Uniform content is hard to scan and looks boring.
Limit each paragraph to one subject or idea.
Use one line return between paragraphs.
All upper case.
Use initial upper case.
Use %, not per cent or percent, for example 97%.
Always use figures for percentages, even if the number is smaller than 10, for example 3%.
Percentage is one word.
Capital P, lower case h, capital D. No full stops.
Write in a clear and concise manner using everyday language where possible. All digital content should be easily understood by anyone who reads it.
Always try to use:
Use simple words when simple words will do.
Always ask yourself:
One word, no hyphen.
You should present postal addresses as:
One word. All lower case. No hyphen.
One word. All lower case. No hyphen.
Use italics for the titles of reports, newspapers and books.
Use italics sparingly as they can be difficult to read on screen. For long titles you should use single quotes rather than italics, for example ‘Death, the phoenix and Pandora - end of life ships, chock-chocky furniture and the Bangladeshi middle class consumer’.
Use lower case for grant and output titles and don't italicise them.
Use double quotation marks (“…” ) for opening and closing quotes.
Use single quotation marks (‘…’) inside a quotation when it is already encased in double quotation marks.
Place punctuation marks (full stops and commas) inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the full stop should be outside.
Also use single quotes for pullouts and captions or when you need to place special emphasis on a word, perhaps signalling its ambiguity or unusualness.
The research specifically targeted ‘empty-nesters’ among the middle to older population.
Include a dash or to between the numbers, for example 134-146 or four to five days.
You can also use ‘between’, for example between the ages of 12 and 17.
Try to minimise the use of references in web copy as they can look cluttered and break the flow of text.
Use either of the following styles for references:
Always use initial capital letters for research council names. The correct titles are:
Don’t use ‘the’ with research council acronyms, for example don’t say ‘the STFC’.
Never use ‘the Council’.
Use ‘research councils’ (all lower case) when referring to research councils in general.
Always use the particular research council’s acronym with the title of a programme or project. For example, the ESRC Violence Programme.
High search rankings are never guaranteed but there are some simple things you can do to increase the chances of users finding your content in search engines.
All lower case: winter, spring, summer, autumn.
Use semicolons sparingly. It is often better to use full stops or bulleted lists instead.
For example, this sentence would work better as a bulleted list:
The organisation set out to answer some key questions: how to improve security; how to achieve more interaction between production processes; how to integrate new staff into the existing workforce; and how to improve overall productivity.
Never use semicolons at the end of list items in bulleted lists.
Keep sentences short and simple. You should aim for an average sentence length of about 15–20 words.
Break up long sentences into two or more separate sentences.
Sentences that contain lists of items can often be restructured as bullet points.
Vary the length of your sentences to make content appear less uniform. The occasional sentence with two, three or four words is perfectly acceptable.
Organisations such as individual research councils and government departments are singular, for example NERC is based in Swindon.
Use English plurals for Latin words, such as forums and consortiums.
Avoid using slashes (/). They are used to denote alternatives and generally mean ‘or’. However, this symbol is much abused and is sometimes misinterpreted as meaning ‘and’ rather than ‘or’.
Try to spell out the alternatives in full by using ‘and’ or ‘or’ to avoid confusing the reader.
Use rules and regulations rather than rules/regulations.
If you need to use a slash, don’t include spaces, for example: weekend/holiday arrangements.
All text must be single-spaced. Don’t use double spaces after full stops or elsewhere.
Always use British spelling rather than American spelling.
Take particular care to use ‘-ise’ (and ‘-isation’) rather than ‘-ize’ (and ‘-ization’) at the end of words, for example use:
Use the Concise Oxford Dictionary as the best reference for spelling.
Ensure that your spell checker in Word (and other programs) is set to check UK English. Always spell check your work before publishing it.
Be aware that spell checkers don’t always identify all misspellings, particularly where a misspelt word can create a correctly spelt alternative word. For example, Word would not identify that you typed ‘I often sue my local leisure centre’ instead of ‘I often use my local leisure centre’.
It’s fine to use split infinitives, but they can sometimes be ugly.
Use subscript and superscript as required for scientific formulas and units, for example m3.
Don’t use superscript with th and st, for example use 12th meeting and 21st century.
Use CO2 for carbon dioxide.
You should only use tables to display data (for example financial information or timetables), and they should never be used to design web page layouts.
Ensure that all tables have descriptive, bold column headers in the top row of cells.
For most UK numbers, use a 5-6 format, for example 01452 123456.
For numbers beginning with 02, separate the first three numbers and use a 3-4-4 format, for example 020 1234 5678.
For other area codes, separate the numbers into a 4-3-4 format, for example 0113 123 4567.
For international numbers, include the country code in brackets after a +, then type out the rest of the number including the initial digit of the area code in brackets, for example +(353) (0) 1 456789; +(44) (0) 1793 123456.
For mobile numbers use this format: 07777 123456.
For non-standard numbers (for example 08 numbers) you should indicate the call charges, for example:
Two words. All lower case. No hyphen.
Use the 24-hour clock for times. You should:
Use the following format for titles (with no full stops):
Use Professor rather than Prof.
You can use Ms if you do not know the marital status or title of a woman. However, it is often preferable to use no title in these cases, for example use Sonya Doyle rather than Ms Sonya Doyle.
Use Theresa May or Sir Bobby Charlton on first mention, thereafter Mrs May, Sir Bobby.
To find out how to address earls, lords or other titles and honours, see the Debretts website.
Initial upper case for Twitter. Use lower case for tweet and tweeting.
Do not underline any words, as underlined words could be mistaken for hyperlinks.
Don't include a space between the digits and the abbreviation, for example use 13mm or 12kg. Be consistent and use the following formats:
Use the Universities UK members list to find the correct titles for institutions. up to date
Three separate words. No hyphen.
Produce a clear title, description and caption for all videos. You should also provide a transcript if your research council requires you to do so.
Use words such as we, you and our as they help to make the content more engaging and active, particularly where they are used with active (rather than passive) verbs.
Always use we instead of ‘the Council’ or your research council’s name, unless there are clear and specific reasons for not doing so, for example: we are pleased to announce that we have launched a new funding call.
One word. No hyphen.
If an address does need to be shown:
One word. No hyphen.