Style guide

Guidelines for writing consistent, easily read content for this site.

Our audience

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:

  • clear
  • helpful
  • confident

We’re never:

  • vague
  • bureaucratic
  • defensive

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

Titles

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

Downloads

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.

The same document zoomed in and out.

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:

Thursday, 14 September 2017
Longhand, used whenever possible
Thu 14 Sep
Shorthand, used for term dates
14/11/2017
Abbreviated (day/month/year), used where space is limited

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.

Notes

Use notes to draw attention to important information in a page. It’s best to phrase notes as simple, direct requests.

There are two kinds of notes available – An ‘info’ note that looks like this:

You must let us know if you’re unable to attend.

And a ‘caution’ note that looks like this:

Always label personal biscuits.

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.



Writing tips

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.

Brackets

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

Capitals

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.

Headings

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.

Hyphenation

Hyphenate:

  • re- words starting with e, like re-evaluate
  • co-ordinate
  • co-operate

Don’t hyphenate:

  • reuse
  • reinvent
  • reorder
  • reopen
  • email

Don’t use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it, for example, a little used-car is different from a little-used car.

Impact

As a verb means to collide, strike, compress, or compact.

Instructions

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.

Money

Use a consistent format for money:

  • use the £ symbol: £50
  • don’t use decimals unless pence are included: £50.75 but not £50.00

Numbers

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 =

Organisations

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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"straight double quote""
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closing single quotealt 0146option + shift + ]
opening double quotealt 0147option + [
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“That’s a ‘magic’ hat”

rather than:

"That's a 'magic' hat"

Technical terms

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.