Guidance on content style, based upon the Government Digital Service GOV.UK editorial style guide and suitable for use creating content on mygov.scot.
Guidance on content style for mygov.scot, based upon the Government Digital Service GOV.UK editorial style guide.
mygov.scot is the place for people in Scotland to access public services that are easy to find and simple to use – services so convenient, people choose digital first.
We aim to work closely and in partnership with public sector organisations to put user needs at the forefront of service delivery and design. It will mean that people can quickly and easily find the service they need without having to know who provides it.
Only user-led, service-oriented and customer-focused content makes it onto mygov.scot. It is a place for Scotland’s people, not policy.
Citizens will visit mygov.scot only if they have a need to know or do something. They want to find out how to answer that need as quickly and as easily as possible.
Users are ‘reading to do’.
Every item of content on mygov.scot serves a specific purpose, directly answering user needs quickly and clearly. Each content item should explain just enough to complete the immediate task – and no more.
We don’t give out general information.
Research shows that citizens’ digital queries usually begin with a search engine. All content on mygov.scot must be optimised for search engines so that citizens can find the correct information as quickly as possible.
The role of content designers is to turn complex information into content that is easy to understand and to provide clear ‘how to’ styled instructions.
Content items should directly respond to user needs that have been verified through the discovery process. A user need is a specific question that we know users ask in relation to a topic. Each need has been verified through the use of analytics, user research and stakeholder engagement, and it has been allocated a unique identifying number.
Generally, user needs appear in the form of a sentence:
want to know how much daycare costsso that
I can decide if I can afford daycare for my child.
Because this is very large project, this user need is rather general. In fact, the true story of a user is much more personal and probably looks something like this:
low-income single working mom, I
need to know how much day care costsso that
I can figure out how to have my child cared for whilst I am at work.
Reading into a user need in this way allows you to empathise with the real people that will be using mygov.scot.
Always remember that there is a real person behind every user need. Write to that person.
Some content items may answer multiple needs. These will often be presented in the format of a guide, or as an article containing several headed paragraphs along a single theme.
Content designer assesses a content item to ensure that it meets the:
Depending on the source, quality and complexity of the content, the designer then edits, revises or re-writes the content along the lines with mygov.scot editorial guidelines.
These can include:
Pass to a peer to review for you.
Ensure the content item is factually accurate, either by fact checking with a stakeholder or within the team.
Ensure the content item has been signed off.
Trust and confidence in mygov.scot are paramount, so the fact-checking and sign-off processes must be followed appropriately.
Content that is too specialised for inclusion on mygov.scot should instead be referenced or signposted.
We have used the GOV.UK content style guide as the starting point for our own guide. GOV.UK content will appear on or be accessible from mygov.scot and it makes sense to draw on the extensive user testing and analysis carried out by Government Digital Service (GDS), the team behind GOV.UK.
We have reproduced, revised and added to the information made available by Government Digital Service under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0.
Consistency is important: users can find and process what they need more easily if webpages behave the way they expect them to – in terms of design, structure and content. Using this style guide will help us to make all mygov.scot content readable, understandable and accessible.
We take all of the writing for the web points into account when we write for mygov.scot. Then we add the following points:
Use the active rather than passive voice – it’s more direct and engaging. This will help us to write concise, clear content that is easy for the user to understand and act on.
Example: Write ‘you can’ rather than ‘you may be able to’.
Every piece of content on mygov.scot has a purpose. We respond to user needs with specific information or instructions. We don’t give out general information. We certainly don’t offer our opinion or give advice.
Get straight to the point, without being abrupt.
Write conversationally. Use contractions and keywords that you know the audience actually uses. Use analytics and other sources to help you decide which terms are most appropriate.
Don’t be too informal. It’s important to retain an air of authority and dependability and overly chatty familiar or informal text makes the site appear unprofessional.
Example: use ‘call us’ instead of ‘give us a ring’.
Address the user appropriately. Use ‘you’ wherever possible, without being too insistent. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to citizens and businesses to get involved or to take action.
Example: ‘You can contact HMRC by phone or email’ or ‘Pay your car tax’.
Refer to the Scottish Government as ‘we’. Be clear and consistent. Avoid using complex words or sentence structures that could confuse the reader. Users must feel they can trust mygov.scot to be ultimate authority on all matters devolved to Scotland.
Duplicate content confuses the user, damaging the credibility of content. If there are two pieces of information on a subject, how can the user be sure there’s not a third item that they’ve missed? Users will end up calling a helpline because they aren’t certain they have all of the information.
If something is written once and links to the relevant information easily and well, people are more likely to trust the content.
Look around. What are you and other teams across central government, NDPBs, health boards and local authorities publishing? Will mygov.scot users see a coherent view of public services in Scotland? Are they organised in a logical fashion?
When writing a content item for mygov.scot, first check that the user need hasn’t already been covered somewhere else on the website. Each user need has a unique number that identifies it. Search for this in the publishing tool to see if it is already answered somewhere else. Then you can decide which content is best for the site.
It’s important to note that search engines regard duplicate content as an indicator of a low quality site. Including duplicate content could therefore harm the search performance of mygov.scot as a whole.
If a user need is answered with one content item, which links to related information easily and well, people are more likely to trust mygov.scot content.
So that content is easily understandable, concise and relevant, it should be:
Use short, clear, complete sentences (Note: words ending in ‘–ion’ and ‘–ment’ tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than they need to be.)
Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use ‘them’, ‘their’ and ‘they’, and choose gender-neutral job titles, e.g. firefighter, police officer, etc.
Much of this guide is based on a lot of user testing. By keeping to the style guide, we:
GDS undertook research on the impact of style guidesand is worth reading.
Users don’t stop understanding text because it’s written clearly, but less educated users may not understand if you use complex language. This also applies to new speakers of English who are still developing their vocabularies.
mygov.scot is for everyone.
As government, we can’t discriminate because of education, age or nationality, so use plain English to make it accessible to as many people as possible. This isn’t just a list of words to avoid; it’s a way of writing.
Don’t use formal or long words where easy or short ones will do.
|complete||fill in, finish|
|during which time||while|
|eligible for||can get|
|establish||find out, set up, show|
|in lieu of||instead of, in place of|
Avoid any semblance of jargon, whether in the form of specific words or overly complex sentence structure.
We will also lose trust from users if we write in ‘government speak’.
Words that are too general and vague can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text.
We can do without these words:
Always avoid metaphors. For example:
You can generally get rid of any of these words by breaking the term down into what you’re actually doing. Be open and specific.
Write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you’re talking to them one-to-one but with the authority of someone who can actively help.
All audiences should understand our content. It’s not about ‘dumbing down’; it’s about making public services in Scotland easily accessible by all.
It is important to recognise that people with people with health conditions or impairments may be sensitive about their conditions, and it is vital that we do not assume that they are defined by them. A person who uses a wheelchair is still a person, they just
|(the) handicapped, (the) disabled||disabled people||The word ‘disabled’ is a description not a group of people. Many people who need disability benefits and services do not identify with this term.|
|afflicted by, suffers from, victim of||has [name of condition or impairment]||Phrases like ‘suffers from’ which evoke discomfort or pity and suggest constant pain and a sense of hopelessness.|
|confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound||wheelchair user||Wheelchair users may not view themselves as ‘confined to’ a wheelchair, this presents a negative image. Try thinking of it as a mobility aid instead.|
|mentally handicapped, mentally defective, retarded, subnormal||with a cognitive or learning disability||Be careful: the presence of a learning disability does not mean a person has a cognitive impairment or low intelligence; in many cases it’s quite the opposite. It simply means they do not learn in a conventional way|
|cripple, invalid||disabled person||Avoid negative terms that imply weakness or helplessness|
|spastic||person with cerebral palsy||Make sure the language used does not reinforce a negative stereotype.|
|able-bodied||non-disabled||Try not to highlight differences between people with and without physical challenges|
|mental-patient, insane, mad||person with a mental health condition||Judgemental descriptive terms are unhelpful|
|deaf and dumb, deaf mute||sensory impairment, impairment||Antiquated terms can alienate users|
|the blind||people with visual impairments, blind people, blind and partially sighted people||A disability should never be used to define a user|
|An epileptic / diabetic / depressive, etc.||person with epilepsy / diabetes / depression or someone who has epilepsy / diabetes / depression||Labelling users by their disabilities suggests their conditions define them|
|dwarf, midget||someone with restricted growth or short stature||Respect is paramount, and many terms have a negative and hurtful impact on individuals|
|fits, spells, attacks||seizures||Avoid melodramatic and highly descriptive terms|
Replace a negative form with a positive one wherever possible.
|not pay attention to||ignore|
Legal content can still be written in plain English. It’s important that users understand content and that we present complicated information simply.
Where evidence shows there’s a clear user need for including a legal term (e.g. ‘bona vacantia’), always explain it in plain English.
Where you need to use technical terms, you can. They’re not jargon. You just need to contain them within single quotes and explain what they mean the first time you use them.
Our need isn’t necessarily to acquire website traffic for mygov.scot. We need to get government information to where Scotland’s people can find it, whether on mygov.scot itself or in a search engine results page. Google will frequently ‘scrape’ sites for the answer to common questions, e.g. the price of a British passport.
Most people want to know the price of a passport before they apply. Well-structured content, with the answer included in the summary, means the price will appear in the search results. This means users don’t need to leave Google to get their information.
When they’re ready, users can click a link, read the rest of the information and apply. If you have a simple answer to a question, try to put it in the summary.
Refer to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition (Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2011) for spelling and hyphenation.
Read each content item aloud and check there’s nothing superfluous. Always keep in mind the specific user need.
Not all content on mygov.scot will appear in the form of long text. We don’t just write copy, we ‘design content’.
As a content team, we work with visual designers and developers to find out how best to present the information that will answer the user need. A tool, graphic or video may work better than copy in some cases.
Remember that a lot of people you will deal with have no knowledge of user behaviour. They won’t understand why you want to change the legal language they’ve been using for the past 15 years to something in plain English.
Your content may answer user needs simply and succinctly, but no one will read it if it’s too difficult to find.
Research shows that search engines are where most users start their search for information.
When designing content it’s important to identify words and terms that people are actually entering into search engines to try to find what they need, and to include those terms at various key points within the content.
You’ll have to use the vocabulary they use, and that starts with your page title, summary and first paragraph, so that users can find it.
As part of mygov.scot’s SEO strategy, a broad keyword control list identifies the two or three most common keywords associated with a broad content category, e.g. ‘unemployment benefit’, ‘jobseeker’s allowance’.
Use these keywords to guide your identification of the exact keywords for a particular content item.
Use search tools like SEMrush, Google Trends and Google AdWords Keyword Planner to find the keywords that people are searching for in external search engines like Google. What you’re calling the need might not be what your users are calling it
SEMrush will show you the terms that people are using to search for a particular subject, and how popular they are. It is particularly helpful for identifying any related terms or synonyms.
For example, users looking for financial support whilst unemployed may enter the term ‘jobseeker’s allowance’ most frequently, but ‘JSA’ and ‘unemployment benefit’ could also receive a significant amount of traffic.
To check the popularity of your preferred term, enter it into the SEMrush search field. Make sure results are filtered for the UK.
Volume figures aren’t exact, so focus on trends and relative popularity over numbers. Use multiple tools to make big decisions based on data, like which keywords to use in a title.
Google Trends allows you to compare alternative keywords, and shows seasonal trends.
The Google AdWords Keyword Planner can help to finalise the keyword selection for a particular content item, as it shows detailed search level data around a particular keyword.
For example, the tool shows that ‘claim jobseeker’s allowance’ is searched for more frequently than‘get jobseeker’s allowance’ or ‘apply for jobseeker’s allowance’.
This would help to confirm the selection of ‘how to claim jobseeker’s allowance’ as the primary keyword phrase for that piece of content.
Once you know the most popular keywords you can prioritise them in the:
You can cover more than one keyword. For example, you can use ‘jobseeker’s’ and ‘allowance’ throughout the page but also include ‘JSA’ and ‘unemployment benefit’ in the first sentence, since a lot of people also search using these terms.
As well as the keywords that people are using in search, you can uncover the specific themes that people are searching for within a subject with the search tools above.
For example, the Google AdWords Keyword Planner also shows you terms related to ‘jobseeker’s allowance’. In its report, the long list of keywords is aggregated into themes, and you can click on each theme heading to get the different keywords.
The report shows that the following topics should be addressed within this content item:
A meta description is a short summary of a web page, which search engines return in their results pages. A meta description also helps you to clarify the purpose of a page to the user.
Keywords included in meta descriptions will be displayed in bold in search engine results pages when these match a user’s query. This helps to confirm the relevance of the content item to the user before they decide to click and follow the link.
Provide a brief overview that front-loads popular keywords, and then list other popular keywords in the format below. You can use meta descriptions to clarify ambiguities around audience, or to differentiate titles that are similar:
Example: Holiday entitlement or annual leave – information for employers and workers on entitlement, calculating leave, taking leave, accruing leave and disputes.
Use the first sentence if it adequately sums up the content and includes popular keywords. If it doesn’t, consider changing the first sentence – it should be focused and optimised.
FAQs are bad. We don’t like them. If you write content by starting with user needs, you won’t need to use FAQs.
This is because FAQs:
The best way to create an accessible PDF is to create an accessible source document.
A source document is tagged when it’s converted into a PDF. The PDF tag tree reflects the structure of the document, and it’s this structure that assistive technologies like screen readers use to navigate the document.
Use the styles and features available in Word to format your content and give it structure. This will make it easier to convert your source document into a PDF because it lays the groundwork for the PDF tag tree.
Use headings Use the heading styles in Word to create a logical document structure. Don’t increase the size of text or make it bold to create the appearance of headings.
Treat your document like a book. It should have one title (level one heading) and multiple chapters (level two headings). Within each chapter there may be multiple sections (level three headings) and subsections (level four headings).
Use lists Use the list styles in Word to group together related items. Use a numbered list where the items follow a specific sequence. Don’t use punctuation or other markers to create the illusion of a list.
Create a table of contents If your document is longer than a few pages, use Word to automatically create a table of contents based on your heading structure. Don’t use lists and links to manually create a table of contents.
Use readable body text
Use good colour contrast Use foreground/background colours for text that have a good contrast ratio. 4.5:1 ratio recommended by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 is a good minimum.
Don’t use colour or shape as the only way to identify something in your document. Use text labels or descriptions instead.
Use data tables Use tables with column headings to display data. Don’t use tables to make cosmetic changes to the layout of the document.
Provide text descriptions Use Word to add text descriptions to all important images in the document. Make sure the text description includes all of the information contained within, or conveyed by, the image.
Use Adobe Acrobat Pro to convert your Word document into a PDF. Use the Convert to PDF option under the Adobe menu in Microsoft Word to do this. This will make sure that Acrobat picks up the accessibility you have built into your source document.
Set the document language Set the language of the document. Go to File > Properties > Advanced and select a language from the Language menu.
Check the tag tree All content must be tagged, marked as an artefact (background content) or removed from the tag tree. Use the Tags panel to review and edit the tag tree. If the PDF was converted from a well structured Word document, the tag tree should require little editing.
Check the tab order If the PDF contains form fields, use Advanced > Accessibility > Touch up reading order to check they can be navigated with the tab key in a logical order. If the tab order needs improving, use the Order panel to drag and drop the fields into the correct order.
Check the reading order Use the Tags panel to review and edit the reading order of the PDF. Don’t rely on the visual order of the PDF. The reading order is based on the structure of the PDF tag tree, which may not match the visual content order.
Check the reflow order Use View > Zoom > Reflow, then check that the PDF still has a logical reading order. Note: It can sometimes be difficult to guarantee a logical reflow order for PDFs with complex content.
Check text descriptions Go to Advanced > Accessibility > Touch up reading order and check that all images have text descriptions. If the text descriptions were present in the source Word document and the Convert to PDF option was used, the text descriptions should already be present in the PDF.
Remove empty tags Remove empty tags from the tag tree. Use the Tags panel to highlight and delete any empty tags from the tag tree.
Set decorative content Tag decorative content elements as artefacts. Use Advanced > Accessibility > Touch up reading order to select a decorative element, and use the Background button to make the element an artefact.
Check data tables
Use the Tags panel to check the structure of data tables. The
<td> tags should be used to give data tables the proper structure.
Use the Tags panel to check that links are active. Active links should be tagged with the
Check high contrast Use File > Preference > Accessibility to set a high contrast colour scheme, and check that the PDF remains readable. Note: It may not be possible to make the high contrast mode work in all PDFs, in which case you should be prepared to make a high contrast version available on request.
Display document title Display the document title instead of the file name. Go to File > Properties > Initial view and select Document title from the Show dropdown menu.
Before publication Once all of the above steps are complete, the PDF should be checked before it is published.
Full Adobe accessibility check Go to Advanced > Accessibility and select Full check. The PDF should pass the full check for WCAG 2.0 Level AA without any warnings.
Quick screen reader check Ask a screen reader user to read through the PDF. If no one is available to do this, use one of the following options instead.
Use NVDA Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) is a free open source screen reader for Windows. It can be installed on the desktop or run from a portable USB thumb drive.
With NVDA running, open the PDF and use the following commands to check the PDF:
Numpad 2to read the PDF from top to bottom and check the reading order
Tabkey (repeatedly) to move through the PDF and check the tab order
Hkey (repeatedly) to move through the PDF and check the heading structure
Gkey (repeatedly) to move through the PDF and check for text descriptions
Note: These commands will also work with the Jaws screen reader from Freedom Scientific.
All Apple Macs have VoiceOver built in. Turn VoiceOver on (or off) using
F5. With VoiceOver running, open the PDF and use the following commands to check the PDF: from the top of the PDF use a double finger down swipe, or Control +
A to read the PDF from top to bottom and check the reading order use the
Tab key (repeatedly) to move through the PDF and check the tab order.
Note: VoiceOver does not provide shortcut keys for navigating by headings or graphics.
Do not use a full stop after abbreviated titles, such as Dr, but do use full stops as shown for these Latin abbreviations:
User testing has shown that some people are unfamiliar with such abbreviations, so consider your audience before abbreviating.
If you want to use the long form (‘for example’ instead of ‘e.g.’, ‘specifically’ instead of ‘i.e.’, etc.) then this is at the content designer’s discretion.
You can use an acronym to replace a name or term that appears frequently in a single content item (e.g. an article or guide). Don’t include an acronym unless you will use it several times later on in the same text.
Spell out the acronym in full the first time it is used, putting the acronym in brackets immediately afterwards. (Don’t use full stops in acronyms – BBC, not B.B.C.) From then on, use only the acronym in that specific content item.
Acronyms can be used for common nouns as well as proper nouns – e.g. gross domestic product (GDP).
There’s no need to spell out acronyms in common usage, e.g. DVLA, EU, HMRC, MSP, UK, USA, VAT. This includes government departments and schemes.
Quick reminder: Freedom of Information – you can make an FOI request but not a request under the FOI Act.
Don’t use Americanisms. You ‘fill in’ a form, not ‘fill out’ a form. You ‘wait for’ a reply, not ‘wait on’ a reply.
The ampersand symbol (&) should only appear in the logo image of an organisation or department. Always use ‘and’ in headings, subheadings and body copy.
Use (round brackets), not [square brackets]. Avoid using brackets within brackets.
Make good use of bullet point lists – they scan easily. Limit a single list to six or seven bullet points, and try to fit each bullet point to one line (and never more than two).
You can use bullet points to make text easier to read. Make sure that:
Don’t use full stops at the end of bullet points unless each is a complete sentence that can stand alone. (If this is the case, introduce the bullet points with a heading only and use sentence case throughout, starting each bullet point with a leading capital letter.)
Use numbered steps instead of bullet points to guide a user through a process. You don’t need a lead-in line and you can use links and downloads (with appropriate markdown) in steps. Each step ends with a full stop because each step should be a complete sentence.
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR LARGE AMOUNTS OF TEXT, AS IT’S QUITE HARD TO READ.
Use sentence case for headings and subheadings.
Use the following conventions for UK Government departments/Scottish Government directorates and NDPBs. A department/directorate/NDPB using an ampersand in its logo image is fine but use ‘and’ when writing in full text.
Use a colon to introduce a list of bullet points. Elsewhere consider using an en dash, which is less formal and can help the copy to flow better.
Avoid using semicolons.
Write the way you speak. Use simple contractions like ‘they’ve’ (they have), ‘we’ll’ (we will), ‘don’t’ (do not). Avoid using ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’, ‘would’ve’, etc. as these are hard to read.
Never use ‘we’ve got’ or ‘you’ve got to’ – it’s ‘we have’ or ‘you have to’.
Take care not to confuse the possessive pronoun ‘its’ with the contraction ‘it’s’ (it is).
We use ‘to’ in date and time ranges – not hyphens, en dashes or em dashes. For example:
When referring to ‘today’ (e.g. in a news article) make sure you include the date as well. For example: ‘The minister announced today (14 June 2012) that…’
Write email addresses in full, in lower case and as active links. Don’t include any other words as part of the link.
You can use an en dash (but not a hyphen) in place of a colon or brackets, or to add emphasis. Include a single space on either side of an en dash.
Choosing en dashes over brackets can give text a more contemporary feel. This is appropriate when writing progressive text in place of a colon:
Examples: You can fill in the form – paper or online version – to tell us about a change. It’s important to tell us about any changes immediately – so act now.
Don’t underline words or use italics. Use ‘single quotation marks’ when referring to a document, scheme or initiative.
Don’t overdo the bold or it will lose its effect.
Use a full stop at end of every sentence, including in summaries, except where the sentence ends on a website URL or an email address.
Compass directions are all in lower case: the north, the south of England, the south-west, north-east Scotland, south Wales.
The same applies to wider regions: the west, western Europe.
Note the following: East End, West End (London), Middle East, Central America, North America, South America, Latin America, South East Asia, the Far East, the West/Western (when referring to Europe and North America).
If in doubt, refer to the New Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors.
Always write out the full name of the area the first time you use it. You can use a capital for a shortened version of a specific area or region if it’s commonly known by that name, e.g. ‘the Pole’ for the North Pole.
Great Britain refers only to England, Scotland and Wales, and excludes Northern Ireland. If telling users about multiple areas, use ‘Scotland, England and Wales’ instead.
Use UK and United Kingdom in preference to Britain and British (UK business, UK foreign policy, ambassador and high commissioner). Note: British embassy, not UK embassy.
Use a leading capital letter for only the first word in a header or subhead – except where a proper noun (name) also appears.
If a header includes a colon the word that follows immediately after should also have a leading capital letter.
Hyphenate ‘re-’ words starting with ‘e’, e.g. re-evaluate
If in doubt, check the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition (2011) or the New Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors (2005). If you’re still unsure, don’t use a hyphen unless omitting it would cause confusion.
Use hyphens for phrasal adjectives that come before the object, e.g. ‘up-to-date report’ (but not after – ‘the report is up to date’).
If you’re talking about a legal requirement, use ‘must’. For example, ‘your employer must pay you the National Minimum Wage (NMW)’.
If you feel that ‘must’ doesn’t have enough emphasis, then use ‘legal requirement’, ‘legally entitled’, etc. For example: ‘Once your child is registered at school, you’re legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly’.
When deciding whether to use ‘must’ or ‘legally entitled’, etc., consider how important it is for us to talk about the legal aspect as well as the overall tone of voice. If a requirement is legal but administrative, or part of a process that won’t have criminal repercussions, then use: ‘need to’. For example: ‘You will need to provide copies of your marriage certificate’.
This may be a legal requirement, but not completing it would just stop the person from moving on to the next stage of a process, rather than committing a more serious offence.
Front-load your link text with the relevant terms and make them active and specific. Always link to online services first. Offer offline alternatives afterwards (where possible).
Use numerals and spell out measurements at first mention.
Abbreviating kilograms to kg is fine – you don’t need to spell it out.
If the measurement is more than 1 word, e.g. ‘kilometres per hour’ then spell it out the first time it is used with the abbreviation. From then on, abbreviate. If it is only mentioned once, don’t abbreviate.
Use Celsius for temperature, e.g. 37°C.
Write all numbers in numerals (including 1 to 9) except where it’s part of a common expression and it would look strange, e.g. ‘one or two of them’. Use common sense.
‘One of the 13 words in this sentence is causing problems: this 1.’
This sentence would be better with ‘one’ as the final word.
If a number starts a sentence, write it out in full (‘Thirty-four hula hoops found in researcher’s filing cupboard’) except where it starts a header or subheading.
For numerals over 999 – insert a comma for clarity. ‘It was over 9,000’. Spell out common fractions, such as one-half, but use a % sign for percentages, i.e. 50%.
Use ‘500 to 900’ and not ‘500–900’ (except in tables).
Use MB not KB for anything over 1MB, e.g. 4MB not 4096KB. For under 1MB, use KB, e.g. 569KB not 0.55MB.
Keep it as accurate as possible and up to 2 decimal places. For example: 4.03MB.
Addresses: use ‘to’ in address ranges, for example: 49 to 53 Cherry Street.
Always use million in money (and billion), e.g. £138 million. Use millions in phrases, e.g. ‘millions of people’.
Spell out first to ninth. After that use 10th, etc.
In tables, use numerals throughout.
Use the £ symbol – £75. Don’t use decimals unless pence are included – for example use: £75.50 but not £75.00.
Don’t 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’.
An organisation is a single entity, so takes the singular form of a verb. E.g., ‘The Scottish Government is the devolved government for Scotland.’
The definite article can be used when referring to the organisation by its full name, but shouldn’t normally be used with the organisation’s acronym.
Example: You should contact the Driving Standards Agency. You should contact the DSA.
The definite article shouldn’t have a leading capital letter unless it’s part of a proper name, e.g. The Netherlands, The National Archives.
Use of the indefinite articles: use ‘an’ with silent ‘h’ words not hard ‘h’ words, e.g. ‘an honour’, ‘a hotel’.
Use ‘local council’ instead of ‘local authority’ where possible.
Avoid using the Oxford comma except where doing so will help to prevent confusion.
Examples: Include your completed form, driving licence and a copy of your birth certificate. Find out information about holiday entitlement, calculating leave, taking leave, accruing leave, and disputes.
Some nouns have an irregular plural form. If in doubt, refer to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th edition (2011).
Although datum is the proper singular form of data, it is rarely used. Use data for the singular and plural noun. Data agrees with the singular verb, however.
Examples: Your data is kept securely in our system. We will use your data if it helps us to progress your case. Noun plurals never take an apostrophe unless the possessive is being used.
Example: Watch MSPs take part in debate. Discuss the MSPs’ performance after the debate.
Use single quotes: in headlines for unusual terms that require explanation when referring to titles of publications, for example: Download the publication ‘Understanding Capital Gains Tax’ (PDF, 360KB)
Note: Use roman font (no single quotes) for book and newspaper titles (but use title case, as used by the publication) – e.g. New Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors.
Use double quotes in body text for direct quotations of speech or source material. Enclose punctuation for direct speech inside the double quotes.
Never precede quoted speech with ‘that’. E.g. The First Minister said, “This is great news.”
In long passages of speech, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.
Use a single space only following a full stop – never a double space. Add spaces around an en dash, but not around an oblique – e.g. and/or.
mygov.scot is always all lower case, even when it appears in a header or begins a sentence.
Use ‘Telephone: 011 111 111’ or ‘Mobile:’ not ‘Mob:’. Use spaces between city and local exchange, etc. Here are the different formats to use:
If possible, group the numbers into easily remembered units, e.g. 0800 80 70 60.
Remember all of the search engine optimisation points and use colons to introduce the subclause.
Good example: ‘Income Tax reform: Impact assessment’
Bad example: ‘An assessment of the impact of proposed reforms to Income Tax’
These are pre-transaction pages. Use SEO to define the title, so if people search for ‘registry office’, put that in the summary or body text and then explain the proper term is ‘register office’.
Give one sentence on what the user can expect from the service – this will appear before the button.
‘What you need to know’ section: This is where you put information that the user will need to complete the transaction and information about how long it takes, how much there will be to pay etc.
You can add alternatives to the online transaction at the foot of the page.
Answers assume prior knowledge and answer a popular and specific need (so you don’t need to explain terms or provide context). For example, the answer ‘National Minimum Wage rate’ should only give the rate, not information about what the National Minimum Wage is, how to pay it, etc. (although you should be clearly linking to related content that does).
Stick exclusively to the answer – don’t be tempted to include extra information, however useful this might appear to be.
Make the answer part of a longer guide when it:
Give people what they want to know without going into detail, e.g. the rate and how long it’s paid for.
You’ll meet the user’s need by:
This isn’t a dumping ground. Content still needs to be useful. If you can’t find a place for it, don’t use it.
‘Part 1’ of the guide should contain the most important information that the majority of users will want to read – you can have an ‘overview’ but you don’t have to.
Subsequent parts should have more specific information and content for specialist audiences.
You should break content into sections based on user needs as well as the natural structure of the content.
You don’t have to use parts. If you find that you only have 3 or 4 small parts in a guide, consider simply having a page without parts where users can scroll.
For consistency across the site, these part titles (and order) should be used: Eligibility; Apply for…; Appeal against.
Don’t force a linear reading pattern.
Avoid duplicating information but also don’t assume people have read all parts of the guide.
You can link between different parts of the guide using slugs.
Anyone can put information online, but writing well for the web is very different. Look at popular information sites like the BBC, The Guardian, Oxfam or Lonely Planet. You’ll see their content is easy to read and understand.
This helps users to find what they need quickly and absorb it effortlessly.
The process of finding and absorbing information on the web should follow these steps:
A site only works if users can find what they need quickly, complete their task and leave without having to think about it too much.
Users don’t usually read text unless they want information. When you write for the web, start with the same question every time: what does the user want to know?
Meeting that need means being:
You have a website, so you publish everything there. Right?
Think about where your users go. Do they visit blogs, forums, partner sites or social media? Why not talk to them there too? If all you do is publish on your site, you’re always working to get users to visit it.
This is a traditional ‘rule’: you can’t write effectively unless you know who you’re writing for.
It’s true most of the time.
If you have a specific audience in mind, knowing how they behave can mean the difference between success and complete failure.
You definitely need to know the vocabulary of your users. That’s the one golden rule. If you don’t use the same terms and phrases as them, they may never find your content. You’ve failed.
But what if you don’t have a specific audience? What if your message could be for anyone? Isn’t that what the web is about?
Yes, it is. Whoever your main users are, you need to make your writing as easy to read as possible, so it’s accessible to all. After all, why settle for one audience, when you could speak to everyone?
Can you really write in a way that engages anyone and everyone? The good news is you can.
Traditionally, sites have published lots of information without thinking about the users, ‘pushing’ content at them.
Content that works is information that users want and search for, ‘pulling’ it towards them.
Knowing how users read means you’ll write in a way they can understand easily and quickly.
By the time the average child is 9 years old, they can skip up to 30% of words on a page and still accurately predict the text. That’s not just reading online. If there’s enough context, the mind fills in the gaps. You don’t need to read every word to understand what is written.
Also, online, users don’t read in the traditional way. They don’t necessarily read top to bottom or even from word to word.
Web-user eye-tracking studies show that people tend to ‘read’ a webpage in an ‘F’ shape pattern. They look across the top, then down the side, reading further across when they find what they need.
So ‘front-load’ sub-headings, titles and bullet points. What this means is: put the most important information first.
For example, say ‘Canteen menu’, not ‘What’s on the menu at the canteen today?’
Make sure your bullet points are all in the same tense and verb form, with any common information in the lead-in.
At the activity centre you can:
At the activity centre:
By the time a child is 5 or 6 years old, they’ll use 2,500 to 5,000 common words. Even as adults, we find these words easier to recognise and understand.
When you use a longer word (8 or 9 letters), users are more likely to skip shorter words that follow it (words of 3, 4 or 5 letters). So if you use longer, more complicated words, readers will skip more. Keep it simple.
Look at this sentence: “The recently implemented categorical standardisation procedure on waste oil should not be applied before 1 January 2014.” It’s just an example, but you can imagine people missing that ‘not’. This is a big deal.
How about: “Do not use the new waste oil standards before 1 January 2014.”
Focus on the child’s common word set of up to 5,000 words. This makes it easier to read and understand information quickly.
So now you’re ready to write.
Most users start on a search engine. There’s a good chance your audience won’t even find your page if you don’t use the vocabulary they use for their search in your page title, summary and first paragraph.
You don’t have a lot of space in a search engine to tell your user that the information they want is on your page, so make every word count. Keep all titles to 65 characters (including spaces).
Think about how the title will look in search on mygov.scot and on search engines. Make sure your titles are clear for the content format you are using.
Front-load keywords and use colons to break up long titles (it helps users to scan). ‘Planning appeal procedures: Technical review’ works better than ‘Technical review of planning appeal procedures’.
Explain any unusual terms and keep a friendly, informative tone. It’s not a magazine and we won’t be using slang, etc., but keep the language easy to understand.
Remember that puns or wordplay can make the content difficult to find.
Condense the main point of the page in 160 characters or less. Include the selected search keyword(s), plus any you haven’t included in the page title.
Remember that the meta description – along with the title – is often what users will see in search results. So let them see quickly whether this page will have the information that they want.
Summaries should end with a full stop.
Keep your body copy as focused as possible. Include search keywords where possible – without shoehorning them in.
Remember, you’re likely to be battling outside factors for user attention, not least their mood and situation. They might be looking at a smartphone on a train, trying to complete their task online in the middle of a stressful family event, or dealing with any combination of multiple unknowns. If you want their attention, don’t waste their time.
Don’t publish everything you can online. Publish only what the user needs to know so they can complete their task. Nothing more.
Jakob Nielsen ran a study that showed users only read 20 to 28% of text on a web page, so you may think: ‘The shorter the page, the better’.
This is generally true. Remember that the pressure on the brain to understand increases for every 100 words you put on a page. The quicker you can get to the point, the faster a user will consume the information, understand and either leave or engage.
But the main point is to write well.
Word counts don’t help if you write text full of caveats, jargon and things users don’t need to know (but you want to say). You can have a single paragraph on a page, but if it’s not written in a user-centred way then it’s too much.
Users expect information to be accurate and up to date. You can archive news stories, but you’ll need to change any other pages as the content changes or when user testing tells you there’s a better way of doing it.
If you don’t, users will lose trust in your content, and may not visit your pages again.
|Access to Work Scheme||This is an official title when you are referring directly to the actual programme, so is in upper case; if not, then use lower case.|
|accountancy service provider||Use title case when referring to the business area covered by Money Laundering Regulations. Don’t use the acronym.|
|Accounts Office||This is an official title.|
|Activation PIN||Title case. ‘Activation PIN’ has been changed to ‘Activation Code’ on outgoing correspondence from the Government Gateway. Until all hard coded instances of Activation PIN have been removed from the Online Services pages, use: ‘Activation Code (also known as Activation PIN)’.|
|act, act of Parliament, act of the Scottish Parliament||Lower case. Only capitalise when using the full title, e.g. Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.|
|adviser||Not advisor, but advisory is the correct adjective.|
|animal health||Lower case.|
|apprenticeship programme||Lower case, but Modern Apprenticeship programme is an official name.|
|armed forces||Lower case|
|arm’s length body||Apostrophe, no hyphen.|
|assembly ministers||Not a title.|
|Attendance Allowance||This is an official title.|
|Bacs (Bankers Automated Clearing System)||Acronym should come first as it’s more widely known than the full name. Please note that the acronym has changed to ‘Bacs’.|
|Behavioural Insights team||Use capitals if it’s a specific named team. Always use lower case for ‘team’ and generic names like research team, youth offending team.|
|Bereavement Payment||This is an official title.|
|Blind Person’s Allowance||This is an official title.|
|board||Always use lower case unless it’s part of a proper title, e.g. ‘The DFT’s management board’, ‘the Judicial Executive Board’.|
|Burns Night, Burns Supper||These are proper names.|
|business continuity management||Lower case.|
|business plan||Not even in the title of the business plan (publication title).|
|business statement||Lower case.|
|cabinet, Scottish cabinet||The cabinet is lower case, unless referring to a title, e.g. Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, but education secretary.|
|Cairngorms National Park||This is an official name.|
|CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)||More usually known by its acronym.|
|Capital Gains Tax||This is an official title.|
|Care Inspectorate||This is an official title.|
|chairman||Use lower case in text, but capitalise in titles, e.g. (name), Chairman, NMS.|
|CHAPS (Clearing House Automated Payment System)||The acronym should come first as it’s more widely known than the full name.|
|chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials.||Lower case but use caps for the acronym.|
|chief constable||Lower case except where it’s a title with the holder’s name, like Chief Constable (name).|
|Child Benefit||This is an official title.|
|Child Tax Credit||Named benefit, but generic references to tax credits are lower case.|
|Childcare Allowance for Parents||This is an official title.|
|Citizens Advice Bureau(x)||No apostrophe. The bureaux are the actual offices that dispense advice.|
|Citizens Advice Scotland||No apostrophe. This is the charity that oversees all Citizens Advice Bureaux.|
|Civil Contingencies Secretariat||Upper case because it’s the name of an organisation.|
|civil service||Lower case.|
|coalition||Lower case in all instances, including ‘the coalition’.|
|CO2||Use capital letters and a regular 2.|
|coastguard||Not a title.|
|code of practice||Lower case.|
|Comhairle nan Eilean Siar||Local government council for the Na h-Eileanan Siar council area; Scotland’s sole Gaelic-only named council (formerly the Western Isles Council).|
|commercial software||Not ‘third party software’ or ‘3rd party software’.|
|community council||Lower case.|
|Community Health Partnership (CHP); Community Health and Care Partnership (CHCP)||Use capitals when referring to an official name, e.g. NHS Mid Highland|
|Community Health Index (CHI)||Number|
|community planning||lower case|
|community planning partnerships||lower case|
|community resilience||Lower case.|
|conduct of business rules||Lower case.|
|Construction Industry Scheme||Use upper case when referring to the actual Construction Industry Scheme, (‘CIS’, not ‘the CIS’).|
|Construction Industry Scheme Online/CIS Online||This is an official title.|
|consultation responses||Lower case.|
|continuous improvement||Lower case.|
|Corporation Tax||This is an official title.|
|Corporation Tax for Agents|
|online service||This is an official title.|
|Corporation Tax Online||Use uppercase if referring to the actual service, not if you are describing using the service.|
|COSLA||Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, more usually known by its acronym.|
|council||Lower case except when used in an official title, e.g. Glasgow City Council.|
|Council Tax||Upper case.|
|Court of Session||This is a proper noun.|
|credit unions||Lower case.|
|critical national infrastructure||Lower case.|
|Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)||This is an official title.|
|Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)||This is an official title. Note: it is not preceded by the definite article.|
|Customs Duty||This is an official title.|
|defence||Lower case even when referring to the defence team at the MOD.|
|defence team||Lower case.|
|department||Lower case except when in the title, e.g. the Department of Health.|
|devolved administrations||Lower case.|
|Direct Debit||This is an official title.|
|Direct Debit Instruction||This is an official title.|
|director||Lower case in text. capitalise in titles, e.g. (name), Director, NMS.|
|Disability Living Allowance (DLA)||This is an official title.|
|Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)||This is an official title.|
|Duty Deferment Electronic Statements (DDES)||This is an official title.|
|Early Years Framework||This is an official title.|
|EC Sales List (ESL)||The abbreviation is ‘ESL’, not ‘ECSL’.|
|electronic Binding Tariff Information (eBTI)||This is an official title.|
|emergency plan||Lower case.|
|European Commission||Leave unabbreviated to distinguish from the European Community. Write it out in full at first mention, then call it ‘the Commission’.|
|European Union vs European Community||Use EU when you mean EU member states, e.g. EU countries, EU businesses, EU consumers, goods exported from the EU, EU VAT numbers, etc. EC should be used when it’s EC directives, EC Sales List, etc.|
|Excel spreadsheet||Upper case because it’s a brand name.|
|executive director||Lower case in text. capitalise in titles, e.g. (name), Executive Director, NMS.|
|finance and procurement||Lower case.|
|fire and rescue service||Lower case for generic references to ‘the fire and rescue service’, but use capitals for ‘the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’.|
|First Minister||Use capitals when referring to the holder’s name or as a title only, e.g. ‘First Minister (name)’ and ‘the First Minister’.|
|focuses, focused||Single ‘s’ only.|
|foot and mouth disease||Lower case.|
|free school meals||Lower case.|
|Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA)||This is an official title.|
|fulfil||Ends with a single ‘l’.|
|Full Payment Submission||Upper case.|
|Gaelic/Gàidhlig||This is a proper noun.|
|general election||Lower case.|
|GIRFEC||Getting it right for every child; this approach is more usually known by its acronym.|
|government||Lower case unless referring to a specific government, e.g. Scottish Government, UK Government.|
|government offices||Lower case.|
|government procurement card||Lower case.|
|Green Deal||Upper case because it’s the name of a programme, but note that it’s Green Deal programme, Green Deal team, Green Deal assessment, etc.|
|Guardian’s Allowance||Named benefit.|
|guidance||Not a title, just a descriptor: don’t capitalise any named guidance e.g. national recovery guidance.|
|harbour authority||Lower case unless part of a proper noun, e.g. Wick Harbour Authority.|
|harbour master||Not a title, therefore lower case.|
|Health Protection Scotland||This is an official title.|
|High Court of Justiciary||This is a proper noun.|
|Hogmanay||This is a proper noun.|
|home page||Lower case, two words.|
|human resources||Lower case.|
|Import Control System||This is an official title.|
|Income Support||Names of benefits take initial caps.|
|Income Tax||All names of taxes take initial caps.|
|input tax||Lower case.|
|Intrastat Supplementary Declaration||This is an official title.|
|Jobseeker’s Allowance||This is an official title.|
|law||Lower case even when it’s ‘the law’.|
|legal aid||Lower case. Note: different rules apply in Scotland.|
|liaison officers||Lower case.|
|licence||Noun, e.g. ‘driving licence’|
|license||Verb, e.g. ‘Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’|
|Local Authority Trading Standards Services||Upper case as long as it’s a specific named organisation, not trading standards services in general.|
|local council||Lower case.|
|Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park||This is an official name.|
|Lone Parents Childcare Grant||This is an official title.|
|lottery||Always use the National Lottery if that is what you mean.|
|Machine Games Duty (MGD)||This is an official title.|
|Machine Games Duty for Agents online service||This is an official title.|
|mandatory committee||Lower case for generic term, but capitalise when using the official title of such a committee, e.g. Public Petitions Committee.|
|member states of the EU||The member states are descriptive; it’s not a title.|
|Member’s Bill||This is an official title used by the Scottish Parliament.|
|memorandum of understanding||Lower case.|
|Mileage Allowance Payments||This is an official title.|
|minister – public health minister, environment and climate change minister, etc.||Use upper case for the full title, e.g. Minister for Housing and Welfare, or when used with a name, as a title, such as Minister for Public Health (name). Note that when used without the name, shortened titles are lower case, as in ‘The public health minister welcomed the research team’.|
|MP, MSP, MSYP||Don’t use Member of Parliament or Member of the Scottish Parliament, just MP or MSP. Do spell out Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) the first time it is used, however, as the term is not as well known.|
|money laundering||Lower case when referring to the activity not the regulation.|
|Na h-Eileanan an Iar||Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament constituency area.|
|Na h-Eileanan Siar||The official name of the council area formerly known as the Western Isles.|
|National Insurance card|
|National Insurance contributions(NICs)|
|National Insurance number||Not NINO.|
|National Museums Scotland (NMS)||No ‘of’ in this official title.|
|National Outcomes||This is an official title.|
|National Records of Scotland (NRS)||This is an official title.|
|New Computerised Transit System (NCTS)|
|New Export System (NES)|
|NHS 24||Note the single space.|
|NHS local health board, NHS special health board||Lower case. Note: there are no NHS trusts in Scotland.|
|non-executive director||Lower case in text. Ue capitals for titles, e.g. (name), Non-executive Director, NMS.|
|Nuclear Decommissioning Authority||Upper case because it’s the name of an organisation.|
|occupational pension||This term covers both company and public sector pension schemes. Only use this term if explaining tax rules that apply specifically to occupational pension schemes.|
|Office of the Advocate General for Scotland||This is an official title.|
|Office of the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel||This is an official title.|
|one-year-on report||If used as an adjective, hyphenate and use ‘one’ rather than ‘1’.|
|online services||Lower case unless part of a proper noun. HMRC Online Services should be in title case when referred to in full. Equally if you want to refer to a named service, it should be in title case, e.g. ‘Submit your company tax return using Corporation Tax Online.’|
|opposition||Lower case even for ‘the opposition’. Also for opposition party leader (name).|
|order||Only use capitals if referring to the full title, e.g. Standing Order 22.|
|Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay||This is an official title.|
|Parliament, Scottish Parliament||Upper case.|
|Parliamentary Bureau||This is an official title.|
|Parliamentary committees, Scottish Parliament committees||Parliamentary/Parliament takes an initial capital and committees is in lower case.|
|Patent Box||When referring to the product/relief/regime, then say ‘the Patent Box’. Occasionally the definite article will be dropped. Examples of this are: in calculations - where we use ‘Patent Box deduction’ when using phrases such as ‘Answers to your Patent Box questions’, etc.|
|PAYE/CIS for Agents online service||This is an official title.|
|PAYE Coding Notice||This is an official title.|
|PAYE Online for employers||This can be abbreviated to ‘PAYE Online’ within the ‘PAYE Online for employers’ area of the website.|
|PAYE Settlement Agreements (PSAs)||This is an official title.|
|pension provider||Lower case. Not pension payer.|
|Pension Schemes for administrators||Lower case on administrators.|
|Pension Schemes for practitioners||Lower case on practitioners.|
|performance management||Lower case.|
|Personal Independence Payment||Named benefit.|
|police||Lower case, even when referring to ‘the police’, but use capitals for ‘Police Scotland’.|
|police service||Lower case. Note that ‘police force’ is usually avoided.|
|policy note||Lower case.|
|policy statement||Lower case.|
|PowerPoint presentation||Upper case because it’s a brand name.|
|practice||Noun e.g.GP practice|
|practice||Verb e.g. practice medicine|
|Prime Minister||Use ‘Prime Minister (name)’ and ‘the Prime Minister’.|
|Private Member’s Bill (pl. Private Members’ Bills)||This is an official title used by the UK Parliament.|
|Private Bill, Public Bill, Hybrid Bill||These are official titles used by the Scottish Parliament.|
|procurator fiscal (pl. procurators fiscal)||Lower case unless used with the holder’s name.|
|programme||Lower case, e.g. Sure Start Scotland programme. Use ‘program’ only if referring to computer software.|
|public health||Not a title.|
|Real Time Information and RTI||This is an HMRC programme and should only appear either with initial capitals or as an acronym when referring to the programme itself. When describing customer processes, use common language phrases like ‘send your payroll information to HMRC’ or ‘operate your payroll in real time’, but don’t say ‘send your payroll under RTI’, or use the acronym like ‘in RTI’ or ‘under RTI’.|
|Rebated Oils Enquiry Service||This is an official title.|
|recovery structures||Lower case.|
|Reduced Earnings Allowance||Named benefit.|
|regulations||Use capitals when referring to ‘Regulations’ in a full title, e.g. Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 or the Fruit Juices and Fruit Nectars (Scotland) Regulations 2013, but usually ‘the licensing of animal dealers regulations’. No comma before the date.|
|reform plan||Lower case.|
|regional resilience partnership||Lower case, but use capitals when referring to an official title, e.g. ‘North of Scotland Regional Resilience Partnership’.|
|research team||When a group that has a very generic title (e.g. working group, research team) it should be lower case. Note that ‘team’ is lower case, e.g. youth offending team, Behavioural Insights team.|
|Registered Dealers in Controlled Oils (RDCO)||This is an official title.|
|resilience plans||Lower case.|
|risk assessment||Lower case.|
|risk management||Lower case.|
|Royal Household in Scotland||Upper case when referring to the departments that, collectively, support the British Royal Family.|
|science and technical advice cell||When a group that has a very generic title (e.g. X working group, Y research team) it should be lower case.|
|Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)||Not ‘Environmental’.|
|Scotland Office||This is an official title.|
|Scottish Resilience Division||This is an official title.|
|Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP)||This is an official title|
|Secretary of State for XXX||The Secretary of State for XXX is written in capitals regardless if it’s used with the holder’s name because there is only one. Use common sense to capitalise shortened versions of the UK government Secretary of State titles such as Health Secretary. The rule for ministers is different because there are more than one.|
|section 2||As in part of an act or a strategy.|
|sector resilience plans||Lower case.|
|self-assessment||This compound noun should be hyphenated, unless it’s an HMRC title.|
|Self Assessment for Agents online service||This is an official title.|
|Self Assessment Online||This is an official title.|
|Self Assessment Online for partnerships||This is an official title.|
|Self Assessment Online for trusts||This is an official title.|
|Self Assessment tax return||Use ‘Self Assessment tax return’ the first time it’s mentioned on a page. After that use ‘tax return’.|
|self-directed support (SDS)||Lower case when used as a generic term.|
|self-employment||Hyphenate this noun.|
|services||Lower case, even when referring to the armed forces services or the services.|
|settlor||A settler of trusts.|
|Sewel Convention||This is an official title.|
|Shadow (job title, e.g. Health Secretary)||The Shadow Secretary of State for XXX is capped up whether or not it’s used with the holder’s name because there is only one. Use common sense to capitalise shortened versions of the Secretary of State titles, e.g. the Shadow Health Secretary.|
|Shadow Cabinet||This is an official title when used in relation to the UK Parliament, which has only one Shadow Cabinet (comprised of opposition members). Each of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament forms a shadow cabinet; capitalise only if using the full title of any of these, e.g. the Labour Shadow Cabinet.|
|sheriff, sheriff court, sheriff principal (pl. sheriffs principal)||Lower case, unless used as an official title, e.g. Dumfries Sheriff Court.|
|SMEs||This acronym means small and medium enterprises. Use SME for the singular.|
|special waste||Lower case. Note: this is Scotland’s term for what is known as hazardous waste elsewhere in the UK.|
|Spending Review||When referring to the Spending Review, it is treated as an official title, but if discussing an action e.g. ‘we are conducting a spending review’ only lower case is used.|
|St Andrew’s Day||This is a proper name.|
|Stamp Taxes for Agents online service||This is an official title.|
|Stamp Taxes Online||This is an official title.|
|standards of conduct||Not a title.|
|standing order||Only use capitals if referring to the full title, e.g. Standing Order 22.|
|State Pension||Named benefit.|
|Statutory Adoption Pay||Named benefit.|
|Statutory Maternity Pay||Named benefit.|
|Statutory Sick Pay||Named benefit.|
|strategic national framework on XXX||Not a title.|
|strategic partners||Not a title.|
|strategy||Lower case. Don’t capitalise any named strategy, e.g. national health and welfare strategy.|
|Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM)||Use acronym for promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities.|
|subject committee||Lower case for generic term, but capitalise when using the official title of such a committee, e.g. Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.|
|summary of consultation responses||All lower case.|
|Supreme Court||This is a proper noun.|
|Sure Start Scotland programme||Because it’s the name of a programme. Note that programme is lower case.|
|tax credit||Not a title, but Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits are specific benefits, so use capitals.|
|tax returns||Title case the first time they are mentioned, e.g. ‘Company Tax Return’, ‘Partnership Tax Return’, ‘Employer Annual Return’). After that refer to them in full, or if it’s clear what you’re referring to, simply as a ‘return’. General references to tax returns are always in lower case. When referring to the legal requirement we use ‘deliver’ or ‘file’ the return. Online, we say ‘submit’ the return. For Self Assessment (paper or online) use ‘send’ or ‘file’ the return. ‘Send’ is better.|
|team||Lower case, e.g. youth offending team.|
|Throughcare and Aftercare (TCAC) Service||This is an official title.|
|Tied Oils Enquiry Service||This is an official title.|
|Trading Standards||This is an official title.|
|Trust or Company Service Provider||When used to refer to the business area covered by Money Laundering Regulations.|
|Twitter account||Use upper case because Twitter is a trademarked name.|
|UK government||Never HM government.|
|Universal Credit||Named benefit.|
|VAT for Agents online service|
|VAT EC Sales List (ECSL)|
|VAT EU Refunds|
|VAT EU Refunds for Agents online service|
|VAT on e-Services|
|VAT online services||Used when referring to all the online services for VAT.|
|VAT-registered||Hyphenated when used as a compound adjective.|
|VAT registration number||Lower case, except when it refers to a field within a form.|
|VAT Registration Online||This is an official title.|
|VAT registration threshold||Lower case.|
|VAT Return||Always use ‘VAT Return’ unless it’s very clear from the context which ‘return’ you are referring to (e.g. ‘How to submit your return’ within a guide on ‘VAT Returns’).|
|VAT Reverse Charge Sales List (RCSL)||This is an official title.|
|Widowed Parent’s Allowance||This is a named benefit.|
|Word document||Word is capitalised because it’s a brand name.|
|Working Tax Credit||Named benefit, but generic references to tax credits are lower case.|
|written ministerial statement, written statement||Lower case.|
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