Style guide

Our style guide covers style, spelling and grammar conventions for both online and offline content, arranged alphabetically.

Abbreviations and acronyms

Use the full phrase the first time you use it, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in brackets. After that, use the abbreviation or acronym by itself. Don’t use full stops in abbreviations or acronyms.

Examples

Regulation of Investigatory Powers [Scotland] Act (RIPSA)

Additional Support Needs (ASN)

Renfrewshire Learning Disability Service (RLDS)

Cost of training incl buffet lunch is £30.00

Active and passive voice

Active writing

Use active language. This makes your content more engaging and your sentences simpler. It is closer to speech.

Active writing puts the subject at the start of the sentence.

Examples

You can apply for free school meals if your annual income is below £8,000.

The Licensing Board meets on Friday.

We carry out emergency repairs every day.

Passive writing

Passive is the opposite of active writing. Passive language can seem bureaucratic and does not focus on the person responsible for an action.  Sometimes it can be a tactful choice for that reason.

Use active language most of the time and passive only if there is a reason to use it.

Examples

Funding to the hostel is to be cut.

An interview was conducted under caution.

The application must be approved by the committee.

And or ampersand (&)

Only use the “&” symbol in place of “and” when it forms part of a brand name and logo. Otherwise, always use “and”.

Examples

H&M

Renfrewshire Health & Social Care Partnership

Environment and infrastructure

Apostrophes and when to use them

Apostrophes

Use apostrophes to show something belongs to something or someone.

Examples

Three years’ experience

The PDF’s title

2020’s top rated festivals (the top-rated festivals in the year 2020)

Personal pronouns

Use personal pronouns, instead of nouns, to show something belongs to something or someone: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours or theirs. These do not have an apostrophe.

Examples

The committee gave its approval

The nursery place is hers

The allotment is theirs

Plurals

Do not use an apostrophe to show something is plural, even if it is the plural of an acronym.

Examples

FAQs

1990s (the whole decade)

The councillors

To show something is missing

Contractions are when you leave letters out. You put in an apostrophe in the place where you’ve removed some letters or joined words together. Using contractions like “you’ll” and “we’ll” is less formal and can seem friendlier.

Avoid negative contractions, like “shouldn’t”, “can’t” and “don’t” as many users find them harder to read or understand. Use “cannot”, instead of “can’t”.

Avoid “should’ve”, “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “they’ve” too. They can be hard to read.

Examples

You’ll be able to pay by debit or credit card (for “you will”)

If you were born in the ‘90s (for “the 1990s”)

It’s easy to register for text alerts (for “it is”)

Bold and italic text

Bold

If you are putting together a guide to a system, you can use bold to refer to specific menu links or buttons.

Examples

Select Continue. The Transaction complete window opens.

If you use bold too much, it’s difficult for people to scan your content for keywords. Instead of using bold for emphasis, you can:

  • put keywords towards the beginning of sentences
  • use headings and subheadings
  • use bullets.

Italics

Do not use italics. Use ‘single quotation marks’ if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.

Examples

‘Right for Renfrewshire’

‘Team up to clean up’

‘Spend local’

Bullets and steps

Bullets

When you are adding a bulleted list:

  • start your list with a line of introductory text ending in a colon
  • make sure that each bullet makes sense when read this the line of introductory text
  • use lower case at the start of each bullet unless the first word is the name or a person, place or organisation
  • keep bullet points short but you can use commas or dashes to expand on an item
  • do not put “on” or “and” after a bullet
  • do not put a semi-colon after each bullet
  • end the list with a full stop.

Examples

We’ve made decisions on priorities based on:

areas used for outdoor exercise

safety of pedestrians

safety of road users.

Bullets point that are sentences

Bullet points should be short and easy to scan. If your bullets are complete sentences, review the content and turn it into short paragraphs with descriptive subheadings instead.

Steps

You can use a numbered list to guide people through a process. In this case you do not need an introductory line of text.

Each step is a complete sentence and ends in a full stop.

Examples

Becoming a foster carer:

  1. Give us a call.
  2. We’ll do an initial home visit.
  3. You’ll take part in a preparation group where you will hear from carers and young adults.
  4. A social worker will find out more about you and the type of placement you can offer.
  5. The fostering panel will reach a decision about your suitability based on the recommendations of your social worker.

Capital letters

Do not use block capitals for large amounts of text. It’s hard to read.

Sentence case for headings and subheadings

In headings and subheadings use sentence case by putting a capital on the first word but not on the others unless a word is a proper noun.

Names that identify a particular person, place or organisation should have capital letters.

Examples

Inchinnan Primary School is one of the smaller primary schools in Renfrewshire.

We are boosting the local economy and tackling unemployment through Invest in Renfrewshire.

Invest in Renfrewshire is based in the Russell Institute.

Renfrewshire Council, the Council, councils

Use capitals when referring to Renfrewshire Council or the Council, meaning Renfrewshire Council.

If you are talking about councils, in general, use lower case.

Examples

Renfrewshire Council has secured a Scottish Government grant of £341.9million

The Council set up a graffiti removal team in response to residents’ concerns

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) is the national association of Scottish councils

Your council tax bill includes a separate charge for water

Councillor and councillors

Use a capital when mentioning a particular councillor and a lower case when talking about councillors in general.

Examples

Contact Councillor Burns

There are 43 councillors in Renfrewshire

Colons, semicolons and hyphens

Colon

Use a colon before a quote or a bulleted list.

Semicolon

Semi-colons separate complete but closely related sentences. Try to shorten your sentences instead of using semicolons to link ideas. This will make your content easier to read.

Hyphen

Use hyphens sparingly, for example, where a word might be difficult to read or pronounce without the hyphen.

Examples

co-operate

co-ordinate

pre-empt

Or to avoid confusion when the same word has a different meaning, without a hyphen.

Examples

re-cover and recover

re-sent and resent

re-sign and resign

Downloads (PDF documents)

Information published in a PDF format is harder to find, use and maintain than standard HTML web content.

This is because PDFs:

  • do not resize to fit the browser
  • are not designed for screen reading
  • are harder to track on analytics
  • can be harder for people to access than standard web content
  • are harder to reuse when sharing content across different platforms
  • can make it harder for users to navigate and orientate themselves
  • are less likely to be up to date.

eg, etc and ie

eg, etc and ie are abbreviations from Latin. Try not to use them in your content because they aren’t always understood.

eg and ‘for example’

Instead of eg, use

  • for example
  • such as
  • like

Examples

You can bring any id that provides proof or you address, such as a recent utility bill or your driving licence.

etc and ‘other similar things’

If you want to explain that a list is not exhaustive, try putting “for example”, “such as”, “like” or “including” in front of the items on your list.

Examples

You can put products like cereal boxes, newspapers and cardboard into your blue recycling bin.

Ie or ‘that is’

ie is often used to clarify a sentence but you can use alternatives such as “meaning” or “that is”. Focus on writing content which is clear and easy to understand and then you won’t need to explain it in more detail.

Email addresses

Write email addresses in full, in lower case and as active links. Do not put any other words in the link text.

When using an email address in a sentence (for example, when explaining how people can contact you), write “email us at” before the email address.

Examples

FAQs

When people are looking for answers, they tend to use search. They do not browse lists of FAQs because that is not the most efficient way to find the answer to their query. If all your subheadings begin with “how” or “what” or “when” or “why”, they are hard to scan. You can make answers easier for people to find by having keywords at the start of headings.

Do not use the FAQ format. Focus on what someone needs to know and organise your page using descriptive headings, links and bullets so that information is easy to find.

Examples

Exemptions for council tax

Digital manufacturing foundation apprenticeships

Street naming and numbering

Headings and subheadings

Headings and subheadings should be as descriptive as possible. Have keywords appearing as close to the start of the headings as possible.

Examples

Needs assessment

Home adaptation grants

Private tenants

Using heading styles

Make sure that you apply the right heading styles to headings and subheadings as these elements will give your digital content a structure and make your content more accessible than if you just format a heading using bold.

Examples

Page title is heading 1

Sub heading is heading 2

Sub heading of sub heading is heading 3

Inclusive language

Use language that puts people first. If you are talking about a condition that someone has, or referring to their disability, refer to the person before their disability or the condition that affects them. See Gov.uk advice on inclusive language.

Examples

People with dementia

Person with epilepsy

Young person with dyslexia

Links

Link to relevant content on our websites but also to third party websites and services where these meet a user need.

Link text should make sense out of context when you read it in isolation. It should be descriptive and include relevant keywords. It should also uniquely identify a specific page so you shouldn’t have two links with the same link text going to two different pages. Do not use “click here,” “tap here,” “read more” or “download here.”

When linking to a third-party website, include that website’s name in brackets within the link text.

Examples

Council house rents 2020-2021

If you are unable to vote in person, you can apply for a proxy vote. This means that you can ask someone else to vote on your behalf.

Consider using your garden waste in home composting (Recycle Now’s website).

You can pay your council tax by direct debit.

Download Flexible Working Policy (PDF version – 37KB)

Numbers including dates and times

0 to 9

Use numerals for 0 to 9, just like you would for numbers 10 and up. This differs from some style guides, which say to spell out the full words for o to 9. Using numerals makes it easier for everyone to understand and skim your content.

Examples

There are four different bins for waste collection and recycling services

All homes fall into one of eight council tax valuation bands

The workshop is aimed at 9 to 12 year olds

How to make a cup of tea:

  1. Boil your kettle.
  2. Put a teabag in a mug.
  3. Add boiling water to mug.

10 to 999,999

In text, higher numbers should be written in figures, using commas to show thousands. If a number is used to start a sentence or in a heading or subheading, spell it out in full.

Examples

Seven hundred people attended the job fair

Around 77,000 people live in Paisley

You can apply for the grant if your annual income is less than £6,900

Millions, billions and trillions

Use m for million, bn for billion (one thousand million or 109) or tn for trillion (one million million or 1012) for money and quantities.

You do not need a space between the figure and the unit of measurement.

Use million, billion or trillion in full when the figure relates to people or animals.

Examples

The UK generated 222.9m tonnes of waste

Scots’ household wealth now tops £1tn

This project is part of the £1.13bn City Deal

Scotland’s population is around 5.45million

Decimals

Express decimals as numbers. Use up to two decimal places and add a 0 at the start where there is not a number before the decimal point.

Examples

0.78

0.5

64.32

Percentages

You should use two separate words for “per cent” in most cases but you can use a % sign in a table of figures.

Examples

Women make up around 73 per cent of the Council’s workforce

29.62% (in table)

Ages

Do not use hyphens in ages.

Examples

Ronnie is in his 40s and took part in a workshop to improve his interview skills

All nurseries have places for 3 to 5 year olds

Sheltered housing meets the needs of people who are over 60

Measurements

When giving measurements, use numbers and spell out the unit of measurement the first time that you mention it. After that you can use abbreviations. If it’s only mentioned once, do not use an abbreviation.

Examples

20 kilograms (kg)

37°C

62mm

Dates

Use the format day month year without a comma.

Examples

The Centre opens on 18 June 2020

When you have a timescale that gives a date range use “to” between the two dates and not a dash.

Examples

10 November to 16 November 2020

If space is an issue, for example, in a table, you can use shortened forms of months.

Examples

Date of board meetingStart timeLocation
29 Jan 20202pmCouncil Chambers (Renfrewshire)
27 Feb 20202pmCouncil Chambers (Renfrewshire)

Only use the endings “st”, “nd”, “rd” and “th” if you are talking about a century or anniversary.

Examples

An icon for the 21st century

80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

Decades

If you are talking about a decade, it’s a plural so does not have an apostrophe. It should have an apostrophe at the beginning if it is a shortened version, that is, you leave the century part off.

Examples

Out of town shopping centres, like Braehead, became popular in the ‘90s

There was mass unemployment in Linwood after the car plant closure in the 1980s

Times

For times of day, use digits and the am and pm format. Separate hours and minutes with a colon, if required.

Examples

11:30am

7pm

Midday (not 12 noon, noon or 12pm)

Opening hours

When you have opening times and a time range, use the 12 hour clock and add “to” between the opening hours instead of a dash.

Examples

9am to 4pm

Or, not forward slash

Use “or” to separate options not “/”

Examples

2 or 3 times

text or phone

Phone numbers

When referencing phone numbers, use spaces to correctly format the number.

Hyperlink all phone numbers so people can click them from mobile devices. This also helps us to better track call centre activity.

When using a phone number in a sentence (for example, when explaining how people can contact you), write “phone us on” before the phone number.

Examples

0300 300 0300

If you have any questions, phone us on 0300 300 0300.

Plain English

The Plain English Campaign offers advice on making your writing easier to read. This involves:

  • choosing short words
  • writing in short sentences
  • using active language
  • avoiding jargon
  • explaining technical terms.

See the Plain English Campaign’s A-Z of alternative words.

Quotation marks

Single quotation marks

Use single quotation marks:

  • in headlines
  • for unusual terms
  • to report speech within speech
  • when referring to publication title.

Examples

See the Scottish Government publication ‘Review of additional support for learning implementation: report

Double quotation marks

Use double quotation marks in body text for direct quotations.

Examples

“When I hit 40, I thought, ‘it’s now or never’.”

Quoting chunks of text

If you are quoting paragraphs of text, use double quotes. Use open quotes for every new paragraph but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.

Examples

“My new life is trying to understand what beauty is about, and ‘pretty’, and ’emotions’. The new me is all about making things kind of neat and fun.

“And so this is a Philippe Starck juicer, produced by Alessi. It’s just neat. It’s fun. It’s so much fun. I have it in my house but I have it in the entryway. I don’t use it to make juice.

“In fact, I bought the gold-plated special edition and it comes with a little slip of paper that says: ‘Don’t use this juicer to make juice’. The acid will ruin the gold plating.”

Don Norman, ‘Three ways good design makes you happy’. TED2003.