How to write for our website

Find out how to write new web copy or documents for our website. Learn how to create content that as many people as possible can understand.

Web content

The average reading age in the UK is 9 years old. When we write copy, we aim to make it understandable to a 9 year old. This way, we make sure we're producing easy to read content.

There are apps like Hemingway editor that can help.

Web copy tips

Make sure you:

  • write for your reader
  • use simple vocabulary, plain English and no jargon
  • use short sentences
  • use the active voice
  • use personal pronouns
  • break up lists and long sentences by using bullet points
  • use sub headings
  • follow our style guide
  • don’t use URLs in sentences - use an descriptive hyperlink instead, for example - to apply for a passport visit GOV.UK

PDFs

We now convert new PDFs into web documents (HTML), as PDFs are not always accessible.

If you want us to upload a document to the website, we'll ask for:

  • you to follow our web copy tips
  • data to display text or simple tables
  • original copies of images
  • alt text for all images

Images

All images must be have alternative text (alt text).

Alt text is for screen readers to describe images to visually impaired people.

When you write alt text, imagine you’re reading out the content of the page on the telephone. When you get to the image, what would you say about it to help the listener understand the point the page is making?

If you use an image that’s purely decorative, you do not need to describe it with alt text.

Videos

You must give us one of the the following with all videos:

  • a transcript
  • captions
  • subtitles

More information

The digital content design team can work with you to create accessible content and give you information on accessibility.

Send an email to webcontent@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

Fix common issues in your content

Abbreviations and acronyms

The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym, explain it in full on each page unless it’s well known, like UK, DVLA, US, EU, VAT and MP.

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

E.g., etc. and i.e.

E.g. can sometimes be read aloud as ‘egg’ by screen reading software.

Instead, depending on the context, use:

  • for example
  • such as
  • like
  • including

Etc. can usually be avoided. It's best to avoid using it altogether.

Instead start with:

  • for example
  • such as
  • like
  • including

And never use etc. at the end of a list starting with these words.

I.e. - used to clarify a sentence - is not always well understood. Try writing sentences to avoid the need to use it.

If that is not possible, use an alternative like:

  • meaning
  • that is
  • in other words

Active voice

Using active voice emphasises the person or thing who performs an action. This makes content clearer and easier to read.

It's much clearer who is doing the action when you use active voice: 'We will send you a letter with more details' instead of using passive voice: 'A letter will be sent to you with more details.'

Find more examples of active and passive voice.

Ampersands - &

Can be hard to understand. They are allowed in logos, but not in body copy. Some people with lower literacy levels also find ampersands harder to understand. 

The only exception is when writing Brighton & Hove or Brighton & Hove City Council. These should always use an ampersand, not the word ‘and’.

Bullet lists

Make sure:

  • you always use a lead-in line
  • each bullet makes 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, don't use colons or semicolons
  • you do not use bold text or brackets
  • you do not put ‘or’ or ‘and’ after the bullets
  • you do not put a semicolon at the end of a bullet
  • there is no full stop after the last bullet

Capital letters

Begin page titles and headings with a capital letter and continue in lowercase. For example: 'Apply for a school place' not 'Apply For a School Place'. 

Never write in all capitals, it looks like shouting and it's hard to read. The exception to this is when using acronyms or initialisms, like ACS, DVLA or HMRC.

Don't capitalise:

  • government
  • council - unless it's written in full, like Brighton & Hove City Council
  • councillor - unless it's referring to a specific councillor, like Councillor Jane Smith
  • chair - chairperson, chairman, chairwoman

You can find a more detailed list of what should and should not be capitalised in the capitalisation section of this document.

Dates and times

Dates

Write dates in full. For example, 10 January 2021.

Do not use ordinal numbers, like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on.

Times

Do not use 24-hour clock. Use 5pm, not 17.00.

Use midnight and midday, not 12am and 12pm.

Use ‘to’ in time ranges, not hyphens or dashes. For example, 10am to 11am, not 10-11am.

Sentence and paragraph length

People with moderate learning disabilities understand sentences of 5 to 8 words. By using common words, we can help all users understand sentences of no more than 25 words.

Paragraphs should only be 1 or 2 sentences long. The font size we use on the website means paragraphs longer than this become large blocks of text that are hard to read.

    Web page content

    Page titles

    Most people who use the council website start with a search engine. Use the same vocabulary as your audience so they can find your content. 

    Use active verbs where possible, like Submit or Apply, if you use the page to do something.

    Titles should provide full context so users can easily see if they’ve found what they’re looking for.

    Consider if the title makes sense by itself. For example, ‘Regulations’ does not say much, but ‘Regulations for landlords’ does in search results.

    Titles should be 65 characters or less, including spaces (unless it’s essential to make it clear or unique) because:

    • Google cuts off the rest of the title after 65 characters
    • long titles are hard to understand

    Sentences

    People with moderate learning disabilities understand sentences of 5 to 8 words. By using common words, we can help all users understand sentences of no more than 25 words.

    Subheadings

    Users read 20 to 28% of a web page. Web-user eye-tracking studies show that people read a web page in an ‘F’ shape pattern. 

    What this means is that we need to put the most important information first. This is what we mean when we talk about front-loading subheadings, titles and bullet points.

    Headings are important for SEO (search engine optimisation), so use the same vocabulary as your audience so they can find your content. 

    Use active verbs where possible, like submit, apply, request.

    Links

    Front-load your link text with the relevant terms and make them active and specific.

    The link text should be understandable as a stand-alone piece of text, and tell the user what the link is for. So consider if the link makes sense by itself.

    Always link to online services first. Offer offline alternatives afterwards, when possible.

    Good examples of link text

    'To report a lost dog to our Animal Wardens, complete the online lost dog report form.'

    'You can find out more about our council tax fees in our terms and conditions.'

    'Find out how we make traffic regulation orders.'

    'Find out what you can do in your local community to make a difference.'

    Bad examples of link text

    'If you've lost your dog, please use our lost dog report form to report this to our Animal Wardens.'

    'Read the terms and conditions to find out more about fees.'

    'Find out how traffic regulation orders are made.'

    'Find out what you can do in your local community to make a difference.'

    Bullet lists

    Use bullet points to make text easier to read. 

    Make sure:

    • you always use a lead-in line
    • each bullet makes 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, don't use colons or semicolons
    • you do not use bold text or brackets
    • you do not put ‘or’ or ‘and’ after the bullets
    • you do not put a semicolon at the end of a bullet
    • there is no full stop after the last bullet

    Bullets should form a complete sentence following from the lead text.

    Sometimes we need 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):

    Good example:

    At the activity centre you can:

    • swim
    • play
    • run

    Bad example (repetition): 

    At the activity centre:

    • you can swim
    • you can play
    • you can run

    Numbered lists

    Use a lead-in line, start in uppercase and no full stops.

    For example, 'You will need to:

    1. Gather the required information 
    2. Fill in the application form
    3. Return it to us

    Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

    If you write content by starting with user needs, you will not need to use FAQs.

    All the questions a user might have should be answered within the logical flow of the text on the page.

    Plain English

    Internal terminology and jargon

    Try to use words people use every day, not internal terminology or jargon. 

    For a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) use ‘fine’ instead.

    For other types of sanction say what will happen to the user, for example you’ll get points on your licence, go to court and so on. Only say ‘civil penalty’ if there’s evidence users are searching for the term. 

    Describe what the user might need to do, rather than what government calls something.

    Words to avoid

    Do not use:

    • app - use form or service
    • agenda - unless it’s for a meeting
    • administer - use give or provide
    • advancing
    • assist - use help or support
    • Britain or Great Britain, say UK or United Kingdom
    • collaborate - use working with
    • combating
    • commit/pledge - we need to be more specific, we’re either doing something or we’re not
    • countering
    • deliver - use provide 
    • deploy - use put in place, unless it’s about software
    • dialogue – use speak instead
    • disincentive and incentivise
    • eligible and eligibility - instead, try to say who can or can’t do or get something
    • empower
    • facilitate - instead, say something specific about how you’re helping
    • focussing
    • foster - use help, unless it’s about foster care
    • inform - use tell or give
    • impact - do not use this as a synonym for have an effect on, or influence
    • initiate - use start
    • key - use important instead
    • leverage - unless in the financial sense
    • liaise - use speak to, or work with
    • overarching
    • progress as a verb, instead tell the user what you’re actually doing
    • promote - unless you’re talking about an ad campaign or another marketing promotion
    • request - use ask or get
    • robust
    • slimming down - tell the user what you’re actually doing
    • streamline
    • strengthening - tell the user what you’re actually doing
    • subscribe - say sign up
    • tackling - unless it’s about sport
    • transforming – tell the user what you’re actually doing to change it
    • utilise
    • whilst - use while instead

    Don’t use metaphors – they do not say what you actually mean and lead to slower understanding of your content. 

    For example:

    • drive 
    • drive out 
    • going forward – if you need to highlight what will happen in the future, use from now on instead
    • in order to – unnecessary, do not use it
    • one-stop shop
    • ring fencing

    Abbreviations and punctuation

    Ampersands - &

    Can be hard to understand. They are allowed in logos, but not in body copy. Some people with lower literacy levels also find ampersands harder to understand. 

    The only exception is when writing Brighton & Hove or Brighton & Hove City Council. You should always use an ampersand in these cases, not the word ‘and’.

    Contractions

    Use contractions like you’re and we’ll.

    Avoid negative contractions like can’t and don’t - many users find them harder to read or misread them as the opposite of what they say. 

    Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve and they’ve, can also be hard to read.

    Abbreviations and acronyms

    The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym, explain it in full on each page unless it’s well known, like UK, DVLA, US, EU, VAT and MP. 

    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.

    E.g., etc. and i.e.

    E.g. can sometimes be read aloud as ‘egg’ by screen reading software.

    Instead, depending on the context, use:

    • for example
    • such as
    • like
    • including

    Etc. can usually be avoided. It's best to avoid using it altogether. Instead start with:

    • for example
    • such as
    • like
    • including

    And never use etc. at the end of a list starting with these words.

    I.e. - used to clarify a sentence - is not always well understood. Try writing sentences to avoid the need to use it.

    If that is not possible, use an alternative like:

    • meaning
    • that is
    • in other words

    Hyphenation

    Do not use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it.

    Hyphenate:

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

    Do not hyphenate:

    • reuse
    • reinvent
    • reorder
    • reopen
    • email

    Contact details

    Phone number

    Phone numbers should be split into the 5-digit area code and the final 6 digits split into 2 groups of 3 digits. For example, 01273 123 456, not 01273 123456.

    Though when a number is memorable, you can group the numbers into easily remembered units, like 0800 80 70 60.

    Email address

    Use 'Send an email to' email@address.com, not 'Email the team at' email@address.com.

    Address

    Use 'Write to' and put the address in a single line, or separate lines if it needs to be emphasised on the page.

    For example, 'Write to Brighton & Hove City Council, Hove Town Hall, Norton Road, BN3 3BQ.'

    Or Write to:

    Brighton & Hove City Council
    Hove Town Hall
    Norton Road
    BN3 3BQ

    Capitalisation

    Capitals

    Begin page titles and headings with a capital letter and continue in lowercase. For example: 'Apply for a school place' not 'Apply For a School Place'. 

    Never write in all capitals, it looks like shouting and it's hard to read. The exception to this is when using acronyms or initialisms, like ACS, DVLA or HMRC.

    Don’t capitalise:

    • council, unless it’s typed in full, for example Brighton & Hove City Council
    • government
    • chairman, chairwoman, chairperson
    • privacy notice
    • budget, autumn statement, spring statement - unless referring to and using the full name of a specific statement like ‘2016 Budget’
    • free school meals
    • user ID - lowercase ‘user’
    • direct debit
    • sort code
    • white paper, green paper, command paper

    Always capitalise

    • Council Tax
    • Universal Credit
    • Disability Living Allowance
    • Discretionary Housing Payment
    • Income Support
    • Income Tax
    • Child Tax Credit
    • Jobseeker’s Allowance
    • Community Care Grant
    • Blind Person’s Allowance
    • CO2 - use capital letters and a regular 2
    • CHAPS (Clearing House Automated Payment System) - acronym should come first as it’s more widely known than the full name
    • Word document - upper case, because it’s a brand name
    • Access to Work - upper case when referring to the programme
    • Gypsies - upper case because Gypsies are recognised as an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act
    • Travellers - upper case because Irish Travellers are recognised as an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act - new age travellers is lower case

    If you're unsure whether you should capitalise a word, check GOV.UK's style guide which is organised alphabetically.

    Location

    Use:

    • south, the south of England, in lowercase
    • south-east, south-west in lower case, hyphenated

    Dates, times and numbers

    Dates

    Write dates in full and do not use ordinal numbers, like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. 

    Use 10 January 2015, not 10/1/15.

    Make sure you:

    • use upper case for months - January, February
    • do not use a comma between the month and year - 4 June 2017
    • use ‘to’ in date ranges, not hyphens or dashes - for example, tax year 2011 to 2012 or 10 November to 21 December
    • do not use quarters for dates, use the months - ‘department expenses, January to March 2013’

    When space is an issue - in tables or publication titles, for example - you can use truncated months - Jan, Feb.

    Times

    Make sure you:

    • do not use 24-hour clock - use 5pm, not 17:00
    • use ‘to’ in time ranges, not hyphens or dashes - use 10am to 11am, not 10-11am
    • write out durations in full, with a space between the numbers and the words - use 6 hours 30 minutes, not 6hrs30m
    • use midnight and midday, not 12am and 12pm
    • separate hours and minutes with a colon, not a fullstop

    Midnight is the first minute of the day, not the last. You should consider using 11:59pm to avoid confusion about a single, specific time. 

    For example, 'You must register by 11:59pm on Tuesday 14 June.' can only be read one way, but 'You must register by midnight on Tuesday 14 June' can be read in 2 ways (the end of Monday 13, or end of Tuesday 14).

    Numbers

    Use ‘one’ unless you’re talking about a step, a point in a list or another situation where using the numeral makes more sense: ‘in point 1 of the design instructions’, for example. 

    Write all other numbers in numerals (including 2 to 9) except where it’s part of a common expression like ‘one or two of them’ where numerals would look strange.

    If a number starts a sentence, write it out in full (Thirty-four, for example) except where it starts a title or subheading.

    For:

    • numerals over 999, insert a comma for clarity - use 9,000 not 9000
    • fractions, spell out common fractions like one-half
    • percentages, use a % sign - use 50% not 50 per cent
    • decimal numbers where there’s no digit before the decimal point, use a 0 - use 0.5 not .5
    • address ranges, use 'to' not a hyphen or a dash - for example, 49 to 53 Cherry Street
    • ordinal numbers, spell out first to ninth, after that use 10th, 11th and so on
    • number ranges, use 'to' not a hyphen or a dash - use ‘500 to 900’ not ‘500-900’
    • tables, use numerals throughout

    Measurements

    Make sure you:

    • use numerals and spell out measurements at first mention
    • do not use a space between the numeral and abbreviated measurement - 3,500kg not 3,500 kg
    • use Celsius for temperature - 37C

    You can abbreviate kilograms to kg, you do not need to spell it out.

    If the measurement is more than one word, like kilometres per hour, spell it out the first time it’s used with the abbreviation. From then on, abbreviate it. If it’s only mentioned once, do not abbreviate it.

    Money

    Make sure you:

    • use the £ symbol, £75
    • do not use decimals unless pence are included - £75.50 but not £75.00
    • do not use ‘£0.xx million’ for amounts less than £1 million
    • write out pence in full, ‘calls will cost 4 pence per minute from a landline’
    • write currencies in lower case
    • always use million and billion in money - £138 million
    • do not abbreviate million to m

    Maths

    For:

    • ratios - do not use space either side of the colon - 5:12
    • symbols - one space each side +, –, ×, ÷ and = for example, 2 + 2 = 4
    • fractions - write out and hyphenate - two-thirds, three-quarters
    • decimal fractions - write as numerals, and use the same number format for a sequence - 0.75 and 0.45

    File names and sizes

    File names

    The ‘thing’, month and year written in full, with hyphens between words and no spaces.

    For example:

    • guide-to-parking-in-brighton-6-may-2035 
    • guide-to-parking-in-brighton-december-2022
    • annual-report-for-housing-2027-2028

    File sizes

    Make sure you:

    • use MB for anything over 1MB - 4MB not 4096KB
    • use KB for anything under 1MB - 569KB not 0.55MB
    • keep as accurate as possible and up to 2 decimal places - 4.03MB