Guidelines for writing consistent, easily read content for this site.
Our users are mainly parents – either with children at our school, or looking to send their kids here. They are our primary audience and we should put their needs first.
We also speak to other professionals, suppliers, staff and volunteers.
It’s helpful to consider the pressures our users are under when they visit our site.
Our audience might:
- have limited reading ability
- speak English as a second language
- be stressed
- have a tight deadline
By knowing who our users are, and what stresses they face we’ve developed some simple guidelines to help write more effectively for them.
Get the voice & tone right
To our users we’re always:
These five key guidlines help us achieve the ideal voice and tone for our users:
1. Write as we speak
Imagine speaking to users directly.
Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalese, and explain any technical and unfamiliar terms.
2. Use the active voice
Use active verbs as much as possible - ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’.
When we use the active voice, we take ownership: ‘We made a mistake’ rather than ‘mistakes were made’.
3. Be concise
Make a note of key points first.
Prefer short words. Keep sentences to about 15 to 25 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a paragraph.
4. Use contractions
It’s fine to use contractions like we’re, you’re, can’t and won’t. Sometimes people worry that this doesn’t look ‘businesslike’, but actually it helps us achieve a confident, informal tone.
5. Address users directly
Use we, us, our to refer to the school. Use you, your, yours when addressing users.
Parts of a page
Give special attention to titles and search descriptions. Many people will arrive at site page from a search engine, which will have used the page title and description in the search results. Keeping continuity between the search engine results and the site makes people confident they’ve arrived at the right place.
Write titles in ordinary sentence case – don’t capitalise each word unless the word would normally be capitalised.
Titles should be:
- short – Google will truncate them after 65 characters
- unique, clear, and descriptive
- ‘front loaded’ – put important information first
- active – ‘Apply online’ rather than ‘Online application page’
Edit the alternative page titles and description in the ‘promote’ tab of the page admin.
Use the ‘menu title’ field to give the page an abbreviated title in the menu.
See also: Headings
Avoid making people download documents if at all possible.
Most people will see your page on a mobile device. This site was designed to fit on a mobile screen, but if you formatted your document for an A4 page, it will be difficult to read on a phone.
Export documents you’re going to upload in pdf format unless you’re certain that anyone interested in the document will have the application needed to view it. The site will generate thumbnail previews for pdf documents, but not any other type of file.
Give documents a short descriptive title. You can use any mix of upper and lower case, numbers and punctuation. You can safely remove extension from the filename.
Dates & times
Use a consistent format for dates and times.
There are 3 date formats that the site uses on the calendar page:
Write times in am/pm format:10:15am
Separate time ranges with a single dash:10:15am - 2:30pm
Always use one of these formats when you write dates and times, and be especially careful copying and pasting from other sources.
Use notes to draw attention to important information in a page. It’s best to phrase notes as simple, direct requests.
There are 2 kinds of notes available – An ‘info’ note that looks like this:
And a ‘caution’ note that looks like this:
Use caution notes sparingly for situations where there may be legal or financial consequences.
Use a ‘lede’ paragraph
The word ‘lede’ is journalist jargon for the introductory paragraph of an article. It’s often emphasized with a larger type size or brighter colour.
Use it to summarise the page. Make sure each important item on the page is mentioned.
It’s usually easier to write this paragraph last, once you have a firm idea of everything that needs to be on the page.
Abbreviations & acronyms
Explain an abbreviation in full the first time, unless it’s universally understood such as BBC or VAT.
...our Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) provision works. Our EYFS leader...
Use capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as individual letters: EYFS. Write it out with an initial capital if it’s pronounced as a word: Ofsted.
Use (round brackets), not [square brackets]. Only use square brackets for explanatory notes in reported speech.
Don’t use round brackets to refer to something that could either be singular or plural, like ‘Check which document(s) you need to sign.’
Always use the plural instead, as this will cover each possibility.
Bullet points and lists
Bullet points and numbered lists help to make text easier to read provided that we:
- always use a lead line
- use lower case at the start of each item
- don’t use more than one sentence per item - use commas or dashes to expand on an item
- don’t use a full stop after the last item
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS. It looks like we’re losing your temper. Use bold or italic, but not both at once.
eg, etc and ie
Screen reading software used by people with vision problems often reads these abbreviations literally. Instead use ‘for example’ or ‘such as’.
ie - used to clarify a sentence - isn’t always well understood. Use it as a last resort if rewriting the the sentence doesn’t work.
Follow the guidelines for titles when writing headings.
Try to keep headings concise and think about how they will appear split over several lines on a small screen.
- re- words starting with e, like 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.
As a verb means to collide, strike, compress, or compact.
Always write instructions in the active voice.
Break complicated instructions into simple parts.
- Choose a date
- Sign the form yourself
- Return it to us by Friday, 8 December
rather than:The form must be returned to us indicating your choice of date no later than 8/12 signed by yourself.
Use a consistent format for money:
- use the £ symbol: £50
- don’t use decimals unless pence are included: £50.75 but not £50.00
Write numbers in a consistent format:
- words for numbers one to nine, digits for 10 up.
- beyond 999 insert a comma for clarity: 1,000
- use ‘to’ rather than hyphens in number ranges: 49 to 53 Blossom Street
- use proper mathematical symbols: +, –, ×, ÷ and =
All organisations are singular:The local authority has funded the scheme…
But use ‘they’ as their pronoun:…and they are looking for partners…
Quotes & apostrophes
Use proper quotes and apostrophes rather than feet and inches!
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|’||closing single quote||alt 0146||option + shift + ]|
|“||opening double quote||alt 0147||option + [|
|”||closing double quote||alt 0148||option + shift + [|
rather than:"That's a 'magic' hat"
Don’t be afraid to use technical terms where there isn’t an everyday alternative but avoid jargon and legalese.
As with abbreviations and acronyms explain the term in plain English the first time you use it.
Use links to expand on unfamiliar terms. This is especially helpful when referring to official policies and publications.