GovWire

A to Z

Government Digital Service

November 19
17:03 2019

About the A to Z

These style points apply to all content published on GOV.UK.

It includes:

  • guidance on specific points of style, such as abbreviations and numbers
  • GOV.UK style for specific words and phrases, in terms of spelling, hyphenation and capitalisation

If theres a point of style that is not covered here, check The Guardian.

You can search the style guide by:

  1. Selecting open all.
  2. Pressing Ctrl+f on your keyboard if youre using a PC or ?+f if youre using a Mac.
  3. Typing the word or search term that youre looking for.

A

A*, A*s

The top grade in GCSEs and A levels. Use the symbol * not the word star. No apostrophe in the plural.

A level

No hyphen. Lower case level.

Abbreviations and acronyms

The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym explain it in full on each page unless its well known, like UK, DVLA, US, EU, VAT and MP. This includes government departments or schemes. Then refer to it by initials, and use acronym Markdown so the full explanation is available as hover text.

If you think an acronym is well known, please provide evidence that 80% of the UK population will understand and commonly use it. Evidence can be from search analytics or testing of a representative sample.

Do not use full stops in abbreviations: BBC, not B.B.C.

the academies programme

Lower case.

academy

Only use upper case when referring to the name of an academy, like Mossbourne Community Academy. See also Titles.

academy converters

Lower case.

academy order

Lower case.

academy trust

Lower case.

Access to Work

Upper case when referring directly to the actual programme, otherwise use lower case.

accountancy service provider

Upper case when referring to the business area covered by Money Laundering Regulations. Do not use the acronym.

Accounts Office

Upper case.

Activation PIN

Upper case. Activation PIN has been changed to Activation Code on outgoing correspondence from the Government Gateway. Until all hard-coded instances of Activation PIN have been removed from the Online Services pages, use Activation Code (also known as Activation PIN).

act, act of Parliament

Lower case. Only use upper case when using the full title: Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, for example.

Active voice

Use the active rather than passive voice. This will help us write concise, clear content.

Addressing the user

Address the user as you where possible. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to citizens and businesses to get involved or take action: You can contact HMRC by phone and email or Pay your car tax, for example.

Adoption Register

Upper case when referring to the national Adoption Register.

Lower case in subsequent mentions that do not use the full term: the register.

adviser

For example, special adviser. Not advisor, but advisory is the correct adjective.

ages

Do not use hyphens in ages unless to avoid confusion, although its always best to write in a way that avoids ambiguity. For example, a class of 15 16-year-old students took the A level course can be written as 15 students aged 16 took the A level course.

agile

Upper case when referring to the Agile Manifesto and principles and processes, otherwise use lower case.

al-Qaida

Not al-Qaeda or al-Qaida.

alternative provision

Lower case.

Americanisms

Do not use Americanisms. You fill in a form, not fill out a form.

Exceptions include where its part of a specific name: 4th Mechanized Brigade, for example.

Use the -ise rather than -ize suffix: organise not organize, for example (this is not actually an Americanism but is often seen as such).

Ampersand

Use and rather than &, unless its a departments logo image or a companys name as it appears on the Companies House register.

animal health

Lower case.

antisocial

No hyphen.

applied general qualifications

Lower case.

apprenticeship programme

Lower case.

A-road

Hyphenated.

armed forces

Lower case.

arms length body

Apostrophe, no hyphen.

assembly ministers

Lower case.

Attendance Allowance

Upper case.

B

Bacs (Bankers Automated Clearing System)

Acronym should come first as its more widely known than the full name. Please note that the acronym has changed to Bacs.

backend

Used in a technical context, not back-end or back end.

Bank details

When adding bank details in content about paying a government body:

  • use spaces rather than hyphens in sort codes - 60 70 80 (not 60-70-80)
  • do not use spaces in account numbers - 10025634

Banned words

See Words to avoid

baseline

One word, lower case.

Behavioural Insights team

Upper case if its a specific, named team. Always lower case for team and generic names like research team, youth offending team.

Bereavement Payment

Upper case.

Blind Persons Allowance

Upper case.

blog post

Use 2 words when referring to an article published on a blog. A blog is the site on which a blog post is published.

board

Always lower case unless its part of a proper title: so upper case for the Judicial Executive Board, but lower case for the DFTs management board.

bold

Only use bold to refer to text from interfaces in technical documentation or instructions.

You can use bold to explain what field a user needs to fill in on a form, or what button they need to select. For example: Select Continue. The Verify Certificate window opens.

Use bold sparingly - using too much will make it difficult for users to know which parts of your content they need to pay the most attention to.

Do not use bold in other situations, for example to emphasise text.

To emphasise words or phrases, you can:

  • front-load sentences
  • use headings
  • use bullets

borough council

Lower case except in a name: Northampton Borough Council.

Brackets

Use (round brackets), not [square brackets]. The only acceptable use of square brackets is for explanatory notes in reported speech:

Thank you [Foreign Minister] Mr Smith.

Do not use round brackets to refer to something that could either be singular or plural, like Check which document(s) you need to send to DVLA.

Always use the plural instead, as this will cover each possibility: Check which documents you need to send to DVLA.

Brexit

Not EU Exit.

Britain

See Great Britain

BTEC National Diploma

Upper case.

Bullet points and steps

You can use bullet points to make text easier to read. Make sure that:

  • you always use a lead-in line
  • the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
  • you use lower case at the start of the bullet
  • you do not use more than one sentence per bullet point - use commas or dashes to expand on an item
  • you do not put or or and after the bullets
  • you do not make the whole bullet a link if its a long phrase
  • you do not put a semicolon at the end of a bullet
  • there is no full stop after the last bullet point

Bullets should normally form a complete sentence following from the lead text. But its sometimes necessary to add a short phrase to clarify whether all or some of the points apply. For example, You can only register a pension scheme that is (one of the following):

The number and type of examples in a list may lead the user to believe the list is exhaustive. This can be dealt with by:

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