Top tips for writing in house style

Keeping our content consistent

Research has shown that our users like consistency, from how we present the website visually to the language we use in all of our releases. A user-friendly website and consistent tone of voice go hand-in-hand when it comes to familiarising our audience with our identity as an organisation and the important messages we deliver. 

The most effective way of ensuring that all the content we publish remains consistent is by following a style guide, making it easier for the majority of our users to read and understand it. Style.ONS is a one-stop shop for all of our guidance on producing content, but we are aware it can take some time to get to grips with all the detail. In this post we’ll talk about the top 10 style points we look for when proofreading.

Top 10 style tips

Detailed guidance on all of these points is available at Style.ONS.

The golden rule – keep it simple

Writing simply in plain English, using short active sentences and concise language without jargon will mean it is easier for all users to read, absorb and understand the information you are presenting. 

The way we write can also affect how accessible our content is for users of all abilities, including those who use tools like screen readers and voice activation software to view the website.

Numbers and units

Write all numbers 10 and over as numerals, up to 999,999. Write numbers zero to nine as words unless they are technical or precise, such as dates, figure or table titles, or relate directly to the statistics being presented. There are some exceptions, see the full guidance on writing numbers for more details.

Use metric units of measurement, except in specific cases where imperial units are still used as standard, and write in full in their first use. 

Titles

Release titles should clearly describe the statistics in the release in plain English so users will know what to expect, and include the coverage and time period they relate to. They should be frontloaded so that users are able to find your release easier in search results (around 65 characters). Section titles should be short, concise and in the present tense.

Figure titles should be descriptive and highlight the main story, including the geography and data period in the subtitle.

Months

Months should always be written in full in the release title, text, table and figure titles. Where you will be using quarters, always upper case “Quarter” and define the months of the quarter where it is first used in a section so users are aware of the date span. After the first use you can just use the quarter and year – for example, Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2018 for first use and Quarter 1 2018 for further uses.

Dates and date spans

For specific dates, use the format 12 August 2020, with no “st”, “nd” or “rd”. 

There are a number of different ways to show date spans and refer to financial, tax and academic years, for detailed guidance see our section on dates on Style.ONS.

Bullet points

Bullet points should only ever be one sentence in length, but if this cannot be avoided you can use a semicolon to join two sentences. 

Where bullet points follow a subheading without a lead-in sentence, they should start with a capital letter and finish with a full stop. 

Where bullet points do follow a lead-in sentence, they should start with a lower-case letter and have no full stop or punctuation at the end.

Special characters

Special characters should be written out in full so that users can understand what they mean and they can be read by accessibility software. This can apply to equals (=), and (&), more than (>) and less than or fewer than (<). 

We can use % and currency symbols within the text, but “percentage points” should be written in full. En dashes (–) rather than hyphens (-) should be used as a separator in a sentence.

Link text

Avoid using “click here” or “in this article” as link text, instead make it meaningful and describe where the link will take you. Users respond better to action words and are more likely to click a link if they will find the destination informative. Descriptive links are also more helpful for users viewing the website with a screen reader.

If your link will include a download, the file type and size should be included in the link text – for example, “Eurostat also published their latest estimates of the volume of retail trade (PDF, 457KB)”.

Acronyms

Spell out an acronym when it is first used in each section so that it is clear what it means and all users are able to understand it, whether they have knowledge of the subject or not. The acronym should be included in brackets after the full spelling – for example, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE).

Casing

Capital letters should always be used for proper nouns, at the beginning of sentences and in acronyms. As capital letters are more difficult to read, do not use them in any other context.

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