Hantsweb voice and tone
- Be concise
To keep content understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:
- clear and concise
- brisk but not terse
- incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words) – but remain human (not a faceless machine)
- serious but not pompous
- emotionless – adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin
Words ending in -ion and -ment tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than they need to be
- use contractions (eg can’t, don't)
- not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar – eg say ‘You can’ rather than ‘You may be able to’
- use the language people are using – use Google Trends to check for terms people search for
- not use long sentences – check any sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them to make them clearer
- not use 'please' when notifying the user of something, or asking them to do something. For example, say 'You will be charged for this service', rather than 'Please note, you will be charged for this service'
- 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, eg ‘You can contact HantsDirect by phone and email’ or ‘Pay your library fines’.
- Capitalisation, italics and underlines
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR LARGE AMOUNTS OF TEXT. It's hard to read.
Don't use italics for the same reason.
Never underline a piece of text for emphasis. Users may think it's a link and get frustrated when it doesn't go anywhere.
Use positive contractions such as we'll and you’ll.
Avoid negative contractions like can’t and don’t - research shows that many users find them harder to read, or misread them as the opposite of what they say.
- Dates, times and money
Date and times
Use the 12 hour clock (include 'am or 'pm' with no full stops after them), eg 9am, 3:30pm
Use a colon between the hour and minutes, not a full stop, eg, 7:30pm not 7.30pm. People are used to seeing colons on digital clocks.
If it is a complete hour, don't add zeros at the end, eg use 8am not 8:00am
Use midday rather than 12 noon or 12pm
For time or date periods, use 'from' and ‘to’ instead of a dash or slash, eg 7:30am to 5pm. This is quicker to read than a dash, and it’s easier for screen readers.
Always explain what your date range represents, eg ‘tax year 2013 to 2014’ or ‘September 2013 to July 2014’. Date ranges can be the academic year, calendar year or tax year. This is why date ranges must be very clear.
If you’re comparing statistics from 2 different tax or financial years, use ‘Comparing the financial year ending 2011 and that ending 2012, there was a 9% decrease’.
If a price is a round number don't include a decimal point or additional zeros, eg £20 not £20.00 or £20:00
If not a round number then use a full stop £8.50.
- Use of 'click'
When referring to an action taken by a user such as selecting a link or button, use 'press' or 'tap'.
Don't use 'click' - this is relevant for users who are using desktop or laptop computers, but not for those using mobile devices.
- Eg, etc and ie
Latin abbreviations such as 'ie', 'eg' or 'etc' might not be read properly by screen readers. Some site visitors may not know what these mean.
When quoting examples, use 'such as', 'like', 'including' or 'for example'. Never use etc at the end of a list starting with these words.
Try (re)writing sentences to avoid using 'ie'. If that is not possible, use an alternative such as ‘meaning’ or ‘that is’.
- Gender-neutral text
Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’ etc.
- Plain English
Plain English is mandatory.
Plain English is the whole ethos of Hantsweb. It’s a way of writing and GOV.UK have a list of plain English (or words to avoid) list. This isn’t just a list of words to avoid. The list isn’t exhaustive. It’s an indicator to show you the sort of language that confuses users.
Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.
We also lose trust from people if we use ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We can do without these words:
With all of these words you can generally get rid of them by breaking the term into what you’re actually doing. Be open and specific.
Write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-to-one but with the authority of someone who can actively help
- When to use we
In ‘about us’ sections lead with ‘we’ – it will be very obvious who the ‘we’ is on this page.
In policies, ‘we’ is also used, for example, ‘We announced our intention to do x as part of the coalition agreement.’
However, it’s not obvious who ‘we’ is in all content. For example, in a publication or detailed guide, users might enter the content in the middle of a page. They could arrive at an H2 heading from the navigation bar on the side, or skim read from the top until they find the section they want.
Using ‘we’ is fine, as long as you’re making it clear as much as possible who the ‘we’ is. Don’t assume the audience will know. Each time you use ‘we’, make sure you’ve already used the full name of the department or service in that specific section.
- Writing about disability