Grammar and Presentation When Writing Digital Content

Grammar and Presentation When Writing Digital Content

You and us

Unless you need to do so formally, refer to your service, organisation, or the council in general, as ‘we’ and ‘us’. Refer to the readers as ‘you’ where appropriate so they feel we’re talking to them personally, but avoid using ’our’ and ’your’ which can create confusion.

Remember the council is referred to as a singular term. For example:

“council x is launching a new service”,

and not

“council x are launching a new service”.

Abbreviations and Jargon

Unless legally required to do so, avoid using council or professional jargon.

If you must use an abbreviation or acronym, then follow these principles:

Well-known abbreviations and acronyms (e.g. BBC, UK) are acceptable If possible, include a Popover to explain what an acronym, abbreviation or piece of jargon means - always spell out acronyms or abbreviations in full the first time you use them Don’t use an abbreviation or acronym if you’re only referring to something once Use a shorter form of the phrase instead of an acronym or abbreviation if possible Don’t use full stops in abbreviations – BBC not B.B.C. Avoid referring to forms or documents by numbers (e.g. ‘Form 21B’) – give them a ‘friendly name’ based on their title and what they are used for; only include a reference number if it’s widely understood as shorthand by both customers and the council.

Bullet points

Bullet points make text easier to read. Here’s how to use them:

  • Always use a ‘lead-in’ sentence before starting the list off – as we’ve done above
  • Bullets should always make sense running on from the lead-in sentence
  • Don’t use full stops within bullet points – where possible start another bullet point or use commas, dashes or semicolons to expand on something
  • Don’t put ‘or’, ‘and’ after the bullets
  • Don’t end bullets with a full-stop

Contact information

Frequently published physical addresses, members, senior officers, services and teams should have their own page on your site.

This is:

  • So that the customer can find out more information, such as opening hours or a location map where applicable
  • To avoid having to keep many instances of the same information up to date

You can find more about this in Section 2.8.

People and teams

Unless talking about a member or senior officer, avoid using individual names or other personal contact details. Refer instead to the contact details of their team or service. This is to make sure that any correspondence is answered as quickly as possible.

An exception to this is in promotional material such as news items, when a quote from a named officer may be used. When you do refer to an individual, use their post title. For example:

“Chief Executive Officer Jane Smith”.

After that, refer to them by name only. For example:

“Jane Smith”

Links and email addresses

Links to other pages should always be in the text, though you can include them in a collection of related links somewhere else on the page too.

Never use phrases like ’click here‘ on their own, as a screen reader would just miss this text out. Always make the link text flow within the sentence on the page but describe what you’re linking to, for example:

Our human resources policy was first introduced in 2008 and is periodically reviewed to ensure that it’s up-to-date.

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

Once you’ve linked a document, page or resource once using a phrase in the text, don’t repeat this each time the same phrase is used afterwards.

Telephone numbers

Use ‘Telephone:’ or ‘Mobile:’ not ‘Mob:’ or ‘Tel:’. Use spaces in the number between the city dialling code and local exchange.

Ampersands

For accessibility reasons, avoid using the ampersand (&). Avoid using any special characters in titles.

Capital letters

Don’t use block capitals - it’s hard to read and customers interpret this as shouting!

Keep everything in lower case unless it’s a proper noun. For instance:

“[add council name here] Council”

is capitalised as it refers to the formal name of the organisation.

When referring to ’the council’ in a general way, don’t capitalise the ‘C’. It is not a proper noun, and also implies the council is a stuffy and formal organisation rather than simply the collective term for accessible, friendly people providing services to our customers!

Dates and times

Use the following formatting:

Tax year 2012 to 2013

5:30pm (not 1730hrs)

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

10 November to 21 December

10am to 11am (not 10–11am)

When referring to ‘today’ (for instance in a news article) make sure you include the date as well. For example:

“The minister announced today (14 June, 2012) that…”

Only use the endings st, nd, rd and th when referring to centuries, anniversaries, or positions. For example:

He lived in the 19th century

For financial years, sports seasons and school years write 2012/13 not 2012-13, 2012-3, 2012/3 or 2012-2013. For example:

Funding is available for 2012/13

‘e’ as a prefix

Where the prefix ‘e’ refers to electronic, it should always be lower case with a hyphen. For example:

  • e-business
  • e-government
  • e-learning
  • e-procurement

The only exception to this is Email.

At the beginning of a sentence, capitalise the first letter of the word that follows the e, rather than the e itself. For example:

  • e-Business
  • e-Government
  • e-Learning
  • e-Procurement

Again, there is only one exception - ‘Email’ at the start of a sentence must be capitalised.

Eg and ie

Don’t use full stops after or between these notations. This was once necessary when print-setting, but now makes text less user-friendly to read with modern documents and digital screens.

Geography and regions

Compass directions are all in lowercase: the north, the south of England, the south-west, north-east Scotland, south Wales. The only exception is where these are part of a particular name, such as North Yorkshire, East Croydon, the West Midlands.

Numbers

Numbers up to and including ten are written in full (three, five, nine). 11 and over are given in figures unless they start a sentence, eg:

“Thirty-two people visited the…” Numbers over 1,000 have comma separators, eg: 1,962 not 1962. Percent should be written in full in the text: in graphs and tables use %. Use ‘200 to 400’ and not ‘200–400’.

Millions and billions

Always use the relevant word when referring to money, eg £138 million. Use the word millions in phrases, eg: “millions of people”.

Money

Use the £ symbol – £75 Don’t use decimals unless pence are included, eg: £75.50 but not £75.00. Write numbers less than £1million, in full rather than as a fraction, eg: £700,000 rather than £0.7million. Write out ‘pence’ in full, eg: ‘calls will cost 4 pence per minute from a landline’.

Images

Use images only when they add useful additional meaning or information.

A generic picture of a computer keyboard when talking about online services is unlikely to add anything to the page, or to the message you’re trying to get across.

However, using an attractive, high-definition picture of a new state-of-the-art school in your area which provides online services is useful – this gives a strong impression of the council’s commitment to online services, and to providing high-quality facilities, and will probably support the content on the page.

Think about the appearance of the page as a whole, and the context you’re placing an image into. Pictures and images should be consistent, useful and clear, and not clash with the overall look-and-feel of the your organisation’s website.

Don’t simply use images sourced from search engines or taken from other websites– there are intellectual property and copyright considerations. Make sure that you own the image, or you have explicit permission to use it.

Alt Text

Alt text is the term for descriptive text used as an alternative to an image, for people who use screen readers. It is different to any caption you display alongside the image on the web page as it is not displayed for most customers automatically. Think of alt text as text which sits ‘behind’ the image. If the image isn’t shown, the alt text needs to describe usefully what is there.

Alt text isn’t necessary for all images.

For example, you don’t need to apply alt text for a logo on the page – this usually adds nothing to the understanding of the content. However, if there is a picture of a new school building, put in an appropriate description, for instance:

“Photograph of Councillor Jane Smith in front of the new Willink School computer facility in Burghfield Common”.

Google will also rank lower any pages with images that don't have good alt text; another reason to make sure it’s included.

Search engine optimisation

Page titles

Keep it short: eight words will appear in search, so think about which eight words are going to best convey your information.

Make it snappy: 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!).

Front-load keywords: You can use ‘if’ if really necessary but be very careful, front-loaded statements are faster to read. For example: “Licences for Firearms” or “Firearms Licences” Is better than “Applying for and Obtaining a Licence for a Firearm”

Does it stand up on its own? Your page may be seen out of context from related pages. Make sure the title makes sense on its own. Don’t rely on ‘implied context’.

Meta-description points

Some content management systems allow authors to edit metadata associated with the page. If this is the case:

Don’t just repeat the title, meta-descriptions should cover the scope of the content item and sell it to the intended audience Include popular keywords found with keyword tools Think laterally – customers may use search terms or keywords that don’t correspond to internal jargon or references Optimal length for meta-descriptions is around 150 characters Use dashes and commas but don’t use full stops.

All content in this guide is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0, except where otherwise stated.