Skip to main content

Style guide

These style points apply to all content published on



The first time you refer to an organisation whose name is abbreviated, you should write the name in full with the abbreviation in brackets. After that, use the abbreviation. The same applies to acronyms.

It's acceptable to abbreviate some council services, for example ELC (Early Learning and Childcare) providing the abbreviation is written in full the first time it is used. 

Don't abbreviate North Lanarkshire Council to NLC.

Well known abbreviations - BBC, UK, NHS - are acceptable, but don't use full stops between the letters.

When the abbreviation is used as a word or acronym, use the initial capital followed by lower case: Cosla, Nato.


Don't use any punctuation in addresses and use the format:

Civic Centre
Windmillhill Street


Don't use Americanisms. For example, you 'fill in' a form, not 'fill out' a form. You should make exceptions where a name already contains an Americanism.

Be careful not to use American spellings, like the suffix '-ize' instead of '-ise'.

Make sure your programme's spell-checker is set to the 'English UK' default, not the 'English US'.


Use the word 'and' instead of the ampersand symbol, '&', unless it's part of a logo or brand name. Never use '&' in a page name or title.


Apostrophes indicate possession. You always use an apostrophe after the subject unless it's plural, in which case you put the apostrophe after the last 's'.

For example, you should write:

  • the councillor's vote (for a single councillor)
  • the councillors' votes (for multiple councillors)

The only exception to this rule is the word 'its', which doesn't have an apostrophe to show possession, such as 'the council used its vote'. This is because the word 'it's' is a contraction of 'it is', like 'it's time to vote'.

You don't need to put apostrophes after abbreviations or years, like 'MPs' or 'the 1990s' unless it denotes ownership.


Use the article 'an' before a word that starts with a vowel sound in spoken English, and use 'a' for anything else. For example, 'We can fix a house in an hour'.



Limit use of bold to a few words, not whole sentences. Large blocks of bold text can be distracting and difficult to read. Avoid using bold text for links, or to highlight specific sections of content.

Avoid using italics or underlining. We use headings or bullets instead to emphasise particular words or sections.


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

"Thank you [chief executive officer] Des Murray."

Don't use any brackets if you want to show the possibility of something being plural, such as 'Check which document(s) you need'. Make the noun plural instead to cover both possibilities: 'Check which documents you need'. The full stop comes outside the bracket unless what is inside is a full sentence. Any sentence in which you use a bracket should still make sense if the bracketed information is removed.

Bullet points and lists

Use bullet points to make text easier to read, break down information clearly.

  • always use a lead-in line, which should end with a colon (:)
  • if the text is a sentence fragment, don't start with a capital letter or end with a full stop
  • if it is a complete sentence, begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop
  • don't put 'or', 'and' or use semicolons at the end of a bullet point
  • each item should be of a similar length as this is easier to scan

If you're listing out steps in a process, use a numbered list instead of bullet points. A lead-in line is not required for these because each step should be a complete sentence that ends in a full stop. Links and downloads can be included in steps.



Capital letters should only be used at the beginning of a sentence or for a proper noun (name).

Don't use block capitals in your content, headings, or sub-headings - they're difficult to read and can be perceived as shouting. You should use lowercase most of the time, but use capital letters for:

  • titles (like Mr, Mrs, Dr, Rt - don't use full stops)
  • brand names
  • place names
  • buildings
  • faculties, departments, institutes and schools
  • Parliament, the House
  • North Lanarkshire Council
  • Councillor (if you are referring to, for example, Councillor John Smith)
  • heading cells in a table
  • titles of acts, bills or legislation (like the Housing Reform Bill)
  • titles of well-known government schemes (like the Right to Buy scheme)
  • government departments and their associated abbreviations (like the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ministry of Defence (MOD), and the Cabinet Office (CO))

Don't capitalise:

  • the council. Don't capitalise the 'C' as it is not a proper noun
  • the board, the government, service, or executive board
  • policy themes, such as sustainable communities and local enterprise zones
  • group and directorate, unless referring to a specific group or directorate, such as the Commercial Directorate
  • when referring to jobs or positions, for example, head teachers, social workers, councillors 
  • the seasons of the year - spring, summer, autumn, winter
  • common digital words such as email and website and outlets such as leisure centres and libraries

Colons and semicolons

Colons introduce something: an idea, a list, an explanation, or a quote. Always use a simple colon, not a colon followed by a dash (:-).

Semicolons separate complete but closely related sentences. For example: 'The centre will open; time to be confirmed'.


Use commas to separate words or groups of words to indicate a brief pause. Commas make text easier to read, but be careful not to use too many - they can sometimes make sentences long and unclear.

The Oxford comma (a comma before the "and" in a list) should not be used. An example of using the Oxford comma would be to write 'We empty green, brown, and black recycling bins' instead it should be written 'We empty green, brown and black recycling bins'

Contact information

We want to encourage people to use online instead of offline channels, so give contact details in this order:

  • online link or website URL
  • email
  • phone (use 'Phone' instead of 'Mobile', 'Mob' , 'Tel' or 'Telephone')
  • address
  • fax (if applicable)


Use contractions where you would normally use them if you were speaking to a colleague. Some contractions fit naturally into sentences, for example:

  • 'you are' becomes 'you're'
  • 'they are' becomes 'they're'
  • 'do not' becomes 'don't'
  • 'will not' becomes 'won't'

In some situations, contractions can come across as too informal or awkward. For example, don't use 'shan't' as a contraction of 'shall not'.

Please remember:

  • 'could've' is a contraction of 'could have', not 'could of'
  • 'should've 'is a contraction of 'should have' not 'should of'


It's fine to start sentences with a conjunction if you think it makes sense, such as 'but', 'and' or 'however'. For example:

'You should put out your bins on Wednesdays. But if you are an older person, we can offer assisted collection.'

Use the word 'however' sparingly as it can make a sentence sound too formal which isn't in line with our North Lanarkshire Council tone of voice.

Don't use the word 'therefore' as it is very formal and isn't something you will typically say when having a conversation.



Don't write 'th' after dates, just use the number, month, and year. For example, write '24 February 2020'.

Use 'to' in date ranges instead of using a dash: it should be '25 July to 13 September 2020'. You should always include the year when you mention a date.

State which months you're referring to if you refer to a 'quarter' when mentioning dates as financial quarters may be different to annual quarters. For example, write 'from July to September 2020' instead of 'throughout the third quarter of 2020'.

Only use abbreviated month names, such as 'Sept' for 'September' and 'Dec' for 'December', if you're writing into a table and space is an issue; full month names are still preferred.


Write out days in full, for example 'Monday' instead of 'Mon'.

Only abbreviate days if you are writing them in a table, such as a collection schedule.

Disability (writing about disability)

We follow the guidelines found on GOV.UK when writing about disability.


eg, etc and ie

Screen reading software can read out eg, etc and ie in a way that would be unfamiliar.  For example, sometimes eg is read out as 'egg', which wouldn't make sense for some of our users. To avoid confusion for those using screen reading software, we should use alternatives of eg, etc and ie.

eg - instead use 'for example', 'such as', 'like' or 'including' - use what works best in the specific context.

etc - is vague and can usually be avoided. Try using 'for example' or 'such as' or 'including'.

'The items we will collect include sofas, armchairs and mattresses' is better than 'We will collect sofas, armchairs and mattresses etc'.

Never use 'etc' at the end of a list starting with 'for example' or 'such as' or 'including'.

ie - used to clarify a sentence that isn't well understood. Use 'meaning' or 'that is'.

From the Inside GOV.UK blog: Changes to the style guide: no more eg, and ie, etc

Email addresses

Write email addresses in full, using lowercase, and as active links. Email addresses should be for the service, not personal.

Geography and regions

Use lowercase for compass directions (like north, east, and south-west), except if it's part of a title or organisation like North Lanarkshire Council.  The phrase 'North Lanarkshire' refers to the area of land, not the council itself.



Hyphens and dashes can be confusing: hyphens are the shorter line, sometimes called 'en dashes'. You should use a hyphen for:

  • co-ordinate
  • co-operate
  • any word that begins with 're-' and the first letter after this prefix is an 'e', like 're-evaluate'

Don't hyphenate:

  • reuse
  • reinvent
  • reorder
  • reopen

Where the prefix 'e' refers to electronic, it should always be lower case with a hyphen. For example:

  • e-business
  • e-government
  • e-learning
  • e-procurement

The only exception to this is email.

At the beginning of a sentence, capitalise the first letter of the word that follows the e, rather than the e itself. For example:

  • e-Business
  • e-Government
  • e-Learning
  • e-Procurement

Don't use a hyphen unless you're describing something. For example, you should hyphenate 'a little-used house' instead of a 'little used house' because they imply different things. Watch out for hyphens used when not as an adjective.



Don't use italics to reference something, use inverted commas instead. For example, if you're referring to a specific document or initiative.


Job titles

Generic job titles, such as director or minister, don't need to be capitalised. You should only capitalise job titles if you're referring to a specific title, like the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.


Legal content

Remove any legal jargon that is likely to confuse the user. Instead, replace legal jargon with plain English to help users understand what the law is and what is required from them.  

We must make it clear to users that they are able to request something. For example: 

'You can access information we hold. The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to request and access this information'.

When describing legal requirements, we should use the word 'must'. For example:

'Your employer must provide sick pay'.

You can put more emphasis by writing it's a 'legal requirement' instead of 'must'.

If a requirement is part of a process that won't have criminal repercussions if a user does not complete this, then use 'need to'. For example:

'You will need to provide a copy of your birth certificate'.

If a user chose not to do this, it would just stop them from moving on to the next stage, instead of committing a criminal offence.

You should consider balancing legal information with the North Lanarkshire Council tone of voice.


Avoid ambiguous terms like 'click here', 'read more' or 'useful links'. These terms are ineffective for a screen reader user. Just as sighted users scan the page for linked text, visually-impaired users often use their screen readers to scan for links. Using descriptive text properly explains the context of the link to the screen reader user.

Instead, embed the link in a sentence, for example: "You can take your recycling free of charge to your nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre" instead of "Click here to find out where you can take your recycling free of charge".

Avoid overcrowding the page with too many links as this can affect readability. 



Spell out measurements when you first mention them, and don't use a space between numbers and abbreviations - so you would write '100 metres' first, then '100m' anytime afterwards.

Use Celsius for temperature instead of Fahrenheit and include the unit 'C' afterwards, such as '37°C'.


Don't use decimal places unless pence are included. For example, you should write '£5' and '£5.50'.

If you're writing about pence, write the word out in full instead of the abbreviation, like '50 pence' instead of '50p'. This also applies to millions or billions, where you should write '£135 million' instead of '£135m'. Don't use '£0.5 million' for amounts less than one million; use '£500,000' instead.

All currencies should be in lowercase.


Names - people and teams

Using individual names or other personal contact details are avoided where possible. We refer instead to the contact details of their team or service. This is to make sure that any correspondence is answered as quickly as possible.

An exception to this is in promotional material such as news items, when a quote from a named officer may be used. When referring to an individual, we use their title. For example:

Des Murray, chief executive officer of North Lanarkshire Council

After that, we refer to them by name only. For example:

Des Murray

Website contact articles or feedback forms should link to a mailbox, not a work email address.

Numbers and ordinal numbers

Write out the numbers one to ten in words and use numerals for numbers greater than ten. There are a few exceptions:

  • when there is a series of numbers describing a similar context, you should write them in numbers, for example '4 cars and 15 lorries'
  • if a number starts a sentence, write it out in full, for example 'Twenty-six people attended the meeting'
  • if you're writing in a table or referring to a step or point in a numbered list, always use numerals instead of words

Use a comma to separate five-digit numerals, like '10,000'.

Spell out common fractions, such as 'one-half', but use a percentage sign ('%') for percentages in copy, such as 'traffic has decreased by 50%'. Never spell out 'per cent'.

Similarly, write out first to ninth in words, and use numerals like '12th' for numbers higher than ten. Don't add 'th' to dates.

Always use the words 'million' and 'billion'. For example, instead of '£18m', you should write '£18 million'.

For online documents that have a file size over 20MB, include the file size in brackets after the document title correct to one decimal place, such as 'Country walks near Congleton (27.2MB, PDF)'. You should also say the file type, for example 'PDF', 'Word' or 'Excel' instead of 'Microsoft Word' or 'MS Word'.



All organisations are singular. You can use the word 'the' when you write out an organisation's full name, but not if it's abbreviated. For example, you should write 'Contact DSA for help' or 'Contact the Driving Standards Agency for help', but not 'Contact the DSA for help'.


Political correctness

Avoid phrases or terms that could offend, exclude or marginalise a particular group of people, whatever their race, gender, religion, culture or sexual orientation. Write using gender-neutral and politically correct language, such as:

  • 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she'
  • 'older person' when referring to anyone over the age of 65
  • 'wheelchair user' instead of a person 'in a wheelchair'
  • 'disabled people' when referring to anyone with a mental or physical disability
  • 'non-disabled' instead of 'able-bodied' when describing a person without a disability


It's fine to end a sentence with a preposition. Reorganising sentences to avoid putting the preposition at the end often makes them sound awkward and archaic. For example, instead of writing 'For whom is the application?' use 'Who is the application for?'.


Quotations and speech marks

Use single quotations for headlines, unusual terms, in-text links, references and citations, like:

  • Read 'Planning Advice' for more information.

Use double quotations when you write direct quotes in body text, like:

  • Chris said: "I agree in principle," to the application.


References and citations

Use a link as the title if the reference is available online and include the date you viewed the website or document online. Use single quotations instead of italics and write out abbreviations in full. For example:

Higgins, Michael; and others. 'A systematic review of medical practice variation in OECD countries', Health Policy 2014: volume 114, pages 5 to 14 (viewed on 18 November 2014).


Sentence length

Don't use long sentences as they make web pages more difficult for a visitor to scan. Check any sentences that are longer than 25 words to see if you can split them to make them clearer and shorter.


There is only one space after a full stop, not two.


Telephone numbers

Use 'phone' or 'mobile' to list telephone numbers, and the phrase 'contact us' to tell users our contact details. For example, write 'Contact us on 0300 123 55 00'.

Always use service numbers instead of personal phone numbers.

Leave spaces between city and local exchange numbers, for example '+44 (0)16 2500 1240'. Here are the different formats to use:

  • 01273 800 900
  • 020 7450 4000
  • 0300 123 5512
  • 07771 900 900
  • 077718 300 300
  • +44 (0)20 7450 4000
  • +39 1 33 45 70 90

You can also group telephone numbers into memorable groups of numbers, like '01625 777 600'.


Always use the number followed by 'am' or 'pm' without a space; don't use the 24-hour clock format. For 12am and 12pm, write 'midnight' and 'midday' instead.

Use 'to' instead of a hyphen to indicate time ranges, like '10am to 11pm'.

Don't create your own abbreviations, such as 'hr' instead of 'hour'. Always spell out the time unit fully.


You should show the 'bird' tweet icon when referring to Twitter accounts and handles. Use the text 'Follow us on Twitter @yourexample'.



Don't underline text unless it's a link.



Verbs make us sound active, and can show how we're willing to help. For example: 'We'll discuss your options with you' is better than 'We'll have a discussion'.

Formal English uses nouns ('discussion', 'completion', 'arrangement') more than verbs ('discuss', 'complete', 'arrange') and is something we should avoid.

Page last updated:
04 Oct 2022

Help us improve this pageClose

We're sorry this page didn't meet your expectations this time. Please let us know if you have any feedback to help us improve the content.

If you have a question or comment about a council service or would like a reply, please contact us.

Thank you for your feedback