These simple guidelines will help you write useful content for this site.
Our audience are mainly parents – either with children at the school, or looking to send their kids here. They are our primary audience and we should put their needs first.
We also speak to other professionals, suppliers, staff and volunteers.
It’s helpful to consider the pressures our audience are under when they visit our site.
Our audience might:
- be in a hurry
- be stressed
- not be reading in their first language
- have limited reading ability
By knowing who our audience are and what stresses they face we’ve developed some simple guidelines to help write more effectively for them.
To our audience we’re always:
These five key guidelines help us achieve the ideal voice and tone for our audience:
Write as we speak
Imagine speaking to users directly.
Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalese, and explain any technical and unfamiliar terms.
Use the active voice
Use active verbs as much as possible - ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’.
When we use the active voice, we take ownership: ‘We made a mistake’ rather than ‘mistakes were made’.
Make a note of key points first.
Prefer short words. Keep sentences to about 15 to 25 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a paragraph.
It’s fine to use contractions like we’re, you’re, can’t and won’t. Sometimes people worry that this doesn’t look ‘businesslike’, but actually it helps us achieve a confident, informal tone.
Address people directly
Use we, us, our to refer to the school. Use you, your, yours when addressing our audience.
Give special attention to titles and search descriptions. Many people will arrive at site page from a search engine, which will have used the page title and description in the search results. Keeping continuity between the search engine results and the site makes people confident they’ve arrived at the right place.
Write titles in ordinary sentence case – don’t capitalise each word unless the word would normally be capitalised.
Titles should be:
- short – Search engines will truncate them after about 65 characters
- unique, clear and descriptive
- ‘front loaded’ – put important information first
- active – ‘Apply online’ rather than ‘Online application page’
Links should explain themselves and shouldn’t interrupt the flow of text.
Use verbs in links if you’re linking to something people can do:
Apply for a place on the trip…
Click here to apply online for a place on the trip…
Otherwise, describe the thing you’re linking to:
…or download the trip application form.
… or click here to download the application form
‘Front-load’ links with the most important information first. Often, people are scanning the page to find a link rather than actively reading the text.
Avoid making people download documents if at all possible.
Most people will see your page on a mobile device. This site was designed to fit on a mobile screen, but if you formatted your document for an A4 page, it will be difficult to read on a phone.
Export documents you’re going to upload in pdf format unless you’re certain that anyone interested in the document will have the application needed to view it. The site will generate thumbnail previews for pdf documents, but not any other type of file.
Give documents a short descriptive title. You can use any mix of upper and lower case, numbers and punctuation. You can safely remove the extension from the filename.
Dates & times
Use a consistent format for dates and times.
We use 3 date formats on this site:
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Thu 14 Sep
Write times in am/pm format:
Separate time ranges with a single dash:
10:15am - 2:30pm
Always use one of these formats when you write dates and times, and be especially careful when you copy and paste from another source.
Use notes to draw attention to important information in a page. It’s best to phrase notes as simple, direct instructions.
There are two kinds of notes available – An ‘info’ note that looks like this:
You must let us know if you’re unable to attend.
And a ‘caution’ note that looks like this:
Label biscuits that are not to share.
Even pink wafers.
Use caution notes sparingly for situations where there may be legal or financial consequences.
Use a ‘lede’ paragraph
A ‘lede’ is an introductory paragraph that’s emphasized with a larger type size or brighter colour.
Use it to summarise the page. Make sure each important item on the page is mentioned.
It’s usually easier to write this paragraph last, once you have a firm idea of everything that needs to be on the page.
‘Metadata’ describes the information contained in each page that users don’t see; but search engines, Facebook and Twitter do.
You can edit the page’s metadata in the ‘promote’ tab of the editor.
Abbreviations & acronyms
Explain an abbreviation in full the first time, unless it’s universally understood such as BBC or VAT.
...our Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) provision works. Our EYFS leader...
Use capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as individual letters: EYFS. Write it out with an initial capital if it’s pronounced as a word: Ofsted.
Use (round brackets), not [square brackets]. Only use square brackets for explanatory notes in reported speech.
Don’t use round brackets to refer to something that could either be singular or plural, like ‘Check which document(s) you need to sign.’ Always use the plural instead, as this will cover each possibility.
Bullet points and lists
Bullet points and numbered lists help to make text easier to read provided that we:
- always use a lead line
- use lower case at the start of each item
- don’t use more than one sentence per item - use commas or dashes to expand on an item
- don’t use a full stop after the last item
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS. It looks like you’re losing your temper. Use bold or italic, but not both at once.
eg, etc and ie
Screen reading software used by people with vision problems often reads these abbreviations literally. Instead use ‘for example’ or ‘such as’.
‘ie’ - used to clarify a sentence - isn’t always well understood. Use it as a last resort if rewriting the the sentence doesn’t work.
- re- words starting with e, like re-evaluate
Don’t use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it, for example, a little used-car is different from a little-used car.
As a verb means to collide, strike, compress, or compact.
Always write instructions in the active voice.
Break complicated instructions into simple parts.
- Choose a date
- Sign the form yourself
- Return it to us by Friday, 8 December
The form must be returned to us indicating your choice of date no later than 8/12 signed by yourself.
Use a consistent format for money:
- use the £ symbol: £50
- don’t use decimals unless pence are included: £50.75 but not £50.00
Write numbers in a consistent format:
- words for numbers one to nine, digits for 10 up.
- beyond 999 insert a comma for clarity: 1,000
- use ‘to’ rather than hyphens in number ranges: 49 to 53 Blossom Street
- use proper mathematical symbols: +, –, ×, ÷ and =
All organisations are singular:
The Local Authority has funded the scheme…
But use ‘they’ as their pronoun:
…and they are looking for partners…
Quotes & apostrophes
Use proper quotes and apostrophes (‘“”’) rather than feet and inches ("')!
“That’s a ‘magic’ hat”
"That's a 'magic' hat"
Don’t be afraid to use a technical term where there isn’t an everyday alternative but avoid jargon and legalese.
As with abbreviations and acronyms explain the term in plain English the first time you use it.
Use links to expand on unfamiliar terms. This is especially helpful when referring to official policies and publications.