A-Z of web content rules

Avoid use of the ampersand. Use ‘and’ instead. Restrict ‘&’ to brand names like Marks & Spencer.

Don’t overuse them. It looks silly!!!

A or an
Write what sounds best:  a hero, a house, an RSPCA inspector.

Try to avoid abbreviations and acronyms as people may not always know what they stand for. If you do use them, put in capitals, with no full stops – NSPCC, LDF, ABI, MRU. Spell out in full first reference, with the abbreviation in brackets, for example Mr Alf Miller, secretary of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said …or the files are stored at the Modern Records Unit (MRU). Delete plc and Ltd with company names. If the acronym is easily spoken as a word, just use an initial capital letter, such as Ofsted. Abbreviations using a mixture of upper and lower case do still require full stops as in Ph.D., or D.Phil.

Omit them from Anglicised words like cafe.

Active not passive
The use of active verbs and sentences shows the council to be decisive and proactive – but passive sentences can have the opposite effect. Active sentences are emphatic, have greater clarity, are easier to understand and use fewer words. Example: ‘The cabinet meets next week.’ This reads better than: ‘A meeting will be held by the cabinet next week.’

Keep as simple and clean as possible: avoid commas and full stops. If writing a postal address on one line, separate it with commas but do not punctuate between the town and the postcode. If there is a house number, do not use a comma as in 35 Hafod Road. Use words like Road and Street in full, not Rd or St.

Spell out ages from one to nine, put 10 and upwards as digits. Use hyphens when saying a four-year-old boy, but not when you are saying Andrew, who is four years old. On some occasions, the age of the person may be crucial. Always consider whether it is necessary to refer to the age of a person.

Avoid the ‘st’ at the end of words like amongst, amidst, whilst.

There is no apostrophe in the plurals of groups of letters and numbers, such as MPs, not MP’s, 1990s, not 1990’s, PCs, not PC’s. An apostrophe is also used to show the possessive, as in ‘the council’s vans’. But for plurals ending in ‘s’, you need to put the apostrophe after the s and leave off the final s, as in six months’ time or David Jacks’ bike. For plural nouns without an s, you need to put the apostrophe before the s, such as children’s services. But don’t use phrases like “it’s a nice day” unless it is a quote or a feature, say it is, or what is, not what’s. One of the most common errors is the confusion of ‘it’s’ (the contraction of it is) and ‘its’ (belonging to it). Do not use an apostrophe before words that, although shortened, have become accepted as words in their own right, such as phone, flu or bus.

Capital A.

A baby is from birth to 11 months. A toddler is 11 months to around three.

Bank holiday
Use bank holiday or bank holiday Monday.

Write ‘between x and y’, not ‘between x-y’.

(If the whole sentence is inside brackets, so is the full stop.) Try to avoid brackets within brackets.

Bullet points
If the sentence you are writing contains a list of items you should use bullet points. If you are writing for the web this is important because using a bulleted list makes information easier to read on screen.

Capital letters
A string of words all starting with capital letters looks ugly and makes the council appear self-important. Use as sparingly as possible.

Use capitals for proper nouns – just when they form part of an organisation’s name as in Monmouthshire County Council. It is ‘the council’ when used in any other sense.

Use capitals for titles when essential – the Prime Minister, the Mayor, the Government (when referring to the Government of the day, rather than government in general), but not for Secretary of the Local Branch of the Stamp Society. Simply say Fulham Stamp Society secretary.

Do not use capitals for seasons (autumn, not Autumn), or directions (north, not North).

Do not use capitals for service or team names, like trading standards, or children’s services.

Do not use capitals for titles of officers and elected members. Therefore, chief executive, leader of the council, cabinet member, prime minister or marketing officer are in lower case. However, the formal address is retained for letters.

The ‘county’ is lower case.

Proper names such as ‘Caldicot Leisure Centre’ or place names, like ‘Abergavenny’ require capitals.

Types or species of animals or plants should be lower case, such as ‘brown rat’ or ‘golden retriever’.

Never use capital letters for EMPHASIS. It is equivalent to shouting on email and websites and is more difficult to read, particularly for people who are partially sighted.

Health conditions such as cancer and cerebral palsy should be lower case.

The exceptions to this are job titles in the NHS and health services such as Oncology, Pharmacy and Orthopaedics.

Not Xmas.

Do not use – they look unprofessional. So, at the end of the day, we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel and avoid cliches like the plague!

Collective nouns
Companies, clubs, societies, committees are expressed as a singular – the council is, the hospital is, the staff is, the society is, the Post Office is, the Government is, rather than are. Although you should use members of staff are and police and sports teams take the plural – police are hunting a man … Arsenal are set to win the league.

When writing an introductory sentence for a list use a colon rather than a dash at the end of the sentence.

Use sparingly. It is better to divide sentences into two sentences than use commas in a long sentence. Remember, most people don’t like reading from a screen!

Use lower case for committees, as in ‘scrutiny committee’ or ‘cabinet’.

Use without an initial capital letter, unless you are referring to a specific councillor. There were ‘six councillors on the committee’ not ‘six Councillors on the Committee’.  The first time you mention a councillor, use title and name in full: Councillor Joanna Backbencher; in subsequent mentions use Councillor Backbencher. Do not abbreviate councillor to ‘Cllr’ or to ‘Coun’ or to anything else.

Use ‘the council’ not ‘the Council’. The formal name should still be Monmouthshire County Council. See the capital letters section for further information.

Write dates with date (number), month (word), year (number) in that order, as in 18 July 2003. Do not put commas in dates and never use ‘th’ or ‘rd’ after the number. Always write the month in full. If you need to mention the day, put that first, as in Friday 18 July 2002. Avoid using numerals only for the date, as in 18/07/02, as it is not as clear as using the word for the month and some cultures put the dates and months in a different order. For financial years, sports seasons and school years write 2007/08 not 2007-08, 2008-8, 2007/8 or 2007-2008. For example: Funding is available for 2007/08. Decades are written as 1980s, 1990s.

Use lower case unless part of a proper name – north, south, east and west. Do not use a hyphen for ‘north east’ or ‘south west’. Use ‘south of the county’ not ‘South of the County’.

Should be written as email not e-mail or Email.

Email addresses
Should be written out in full and lower case. They need to be explicit because some people do not use a web browser that is tied into their email software. For example: Send an email to john.smith@monmouthshire.gov.ukis more helpful than Send an email to John SmithIf the email address is the end of a sentence you should refrain from using a full stop at the end of it because a few people might think it is part of the email address. And even for people who know how email addresses work, it’s easy to accidentally copy the end punctuation along with the email address when pasting into an email message.

Full stops and brackets
Full stops should be used to separate sentences within longer text – not after initials or abbreviations. When using a full stop at the end of brackets, put it inside the brackets if all words of the sentence are bracketed, but outside if the bracketed phrase is just part of a sentence. For example: It is a tall building (one of the tallest). Do not use a full stop in headings, addresses or titles of works, even where these take the form of a full sentence.

Use capital G when referring to the Government, for example the Government is planning … but lower case when talking about government generally: for example – we need a change of government.

Headings and titles
Should be in sentence case. This means only the first letter of the title is a capital. For example: ‘Recycling and waste’ not ‘Recycling and Waste’. Do not put a full stop at the end of a heading. Never underline headings on the web- underlining content indicates that there is a hyperlink.

Use when they make reading easier – sub-committee, vice-chairman, but not eye-witness or fire-fighters.

Compound adjectives should be hyphenated, such as ‘24-hour service’. Note that these phrases are only hyphenated when used adjectively. Therefore, as in ‘lines are open 24 hours’, you don’t need a hyphen.

The hyphen is half as long as a dash and has no space either side of it.

Inquire or enquire
Make an enquiry (question) about when the inquiry (investigation) begins.

Internet, intranet, web, website and online
Use lower case for internet, intranet, web, website and online. Note use website not web site or web-site and online not on-line.

Do not use in web content because they are difficult to read on-screen.

Use everyday words your readers are likely to understand. Avoid jargon, technical terms and acronyms. If you do have to use a technical term, make sure you explain it.

Latin words
The use of Latin can appear elitist and exclude others, so its use ad hoc and particularly ad nauseam, is not recommended. Example: use ‘a year’ rather than ‘per annum’ and ‘a head’ rather than ‘per capita’ or ‘a form’ rather than ‘pro forma’. Exceptions: there are a few exceptions, such as ‘per cent’ or curriculum vitae’, where any other term might be confusing.

Clear presentation and logical ordering can make a big difference to the quality and effectiveness of your writing. Use descriptive headings and make sure you put them in a logical order, use single line spacing, use a single space after full stops, text should be aligned left – not justified, paragraphs should cover one theme – and for the web be a maximum of four to six lines when published, use bullet points for lists.

Length of sentences
Keep sentences short. A sentence with more than 25 words can be difficult to follow. You might find it useful to check the readability statistics offered by Microsoft Word at the end of the spelling and grammar check in the tools section. These statistics will tell you the average number of words in the sentences used in your document.

Links on the web
Links needs to be explicit and tell users where they will end up if they click on the link. The link text should be short but explanatory. Never use ‘click here’, ‘here’ or ‘link’. Visually impaired users often use screen-readers, which may read links out of context, so the link should say where it goes. In other words, if you see the hyperlink and nothing else, do you know where it will take you? For example: View the e-government case studiesis more helpful than Click here for more information. Links should be embedded in the text using the insert hyperlink option, rather than displaying the web address.

Spell out one to nine, then use numbers for 10 and above. Unless there is a mixture of numbers under and over ten in the same paragraph, such as ‘the vote was split 9 to 29’. Don’t start a sentence with a number – spell it out. Use the comma in thousands 1,350. Use figures for numbers used with units of measurement (1 mile, 2 per cent, 9am). Use figures for any range of numbers 3-5 years. Write first, second, third – not ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’ or ‘thirdly’. Use ‘£5m’ – not ‘five million pounds’. Use £500,000 – not £0.5m or £500k. In decimals use the full point, such as 7.6 or 0.07 – but not .07.

Say more than (for example ‘more than 50 police officers’).

Don’t use it as in £50 per month. Say £50 a month.

Not referenda, and use forums not fora.

Use lower case autumn, winter, spring, summer.

Use one space after full stops and commas.

Telephone numbers
Telephone: 01432 260000  – no commas, no dashes, no brackets.

6.30am, 7pm (no spaces). And noon and midnight, not 12 noon or 12 midnight.

For a time-span use 9am – 10am, not 9-10am.

Unnecessary words
Examples of unnecessary words and their shorter alternatives include:

  • And therefore = so
  • A number of = several, various, certain
  • At the present time = at present, now
  • For the purpose of = to
  • In order to = to
  • In the event of = if
  • In the vicinity of  = near
  • In view of the fact that = because
  • Prior to = before
  • Subsequent = after
  • Together with = with
  • Close scrutiny = scrutiny
  • Upon = on

Not whilst.

Capital X with a hyphen.


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