How to write like Essex

To write like Essex you’ll need to understand how we speak - our tone of voice and our house writing style.

Our tone of voice is just what we sound like when we speak. Our voice is part of our Essex personality, a result of who we are as an organisation, so it helps if you take some to time to understand our Essex story and what we stand for. But for everyday writing there’s only one thing you need to remember... WRITE BOLDLY.

Our tone of voice guidelines

Our house writing style guide

Our house writing style guide sets out the basic rules for language use to achieve a consistent writing style our audiences can become familiar with and recognise quickly across all University communication channels.

Abbreviations

  • Avoid unnecessary abbreviations.
  • It is not grammatically necessary to place full stops after abbreviations where the last letter of the abbreviation is the last letter of the spelt-out word: Mr, Dr, St (for street or saint), Ltd, Bros.
  • It is not necessary to use full stops in or after abbreviations where there is no likelihood of confusion: BT, eg, ie, etc, am (time), AM (frequency), GCSE, BSc, MA, PhD, UN. But is advisable to include them in: W.H.O. (World Health Organisation), no. (number).
  • Spell out what an abbreviation stands for the first time you use it in text.
  • When used in text, '&' should be spelt out in full as 'and'. Exceptions are in tables, headings, when writing notes, use of term 'Q&A' or when you need to save space.
  • The '@' symbol should only be used in an email address or Twitter and Instagram social media handles. Never use it to represent the word 'at'.
  • For abbreviations of qualifications and awarding institutions, see the Association of Commonwealth Universities guidelines (available from the Research and Enterprise Office).
  • We avoid use of 'uni'.

Apostrophes

  • Use apostrophes to show possession (the student's notes, the University's history).
  • Add only an apostrophe if the things or people possessing already end in 's' (Students' Union, lecturers' offices).
  • Do not use apostrophes after plural 's' unless the 's' denotes possession (in the 1960s, MAs, Masters, PhDs).
  • Contractions are permitted. Use an apostrophe to show that a letter is missing (isn't, can't, don't, they're, it's). 'Its' indicating possession does not require an apostrophe.
  • Pronouns like his, hers, ours, yours and theirs don't need apostrophes.
  • Exceptions are permitted when needed to avoid ambiguity (mind your p's and q's, a list of do's and don'ts).

Bullet points 

Do not use bullet points for aesthetic reasons; their purpose is grammatical, to aid our readers' comprehension. For example. on a web page, a hyperlink has enough stand-out to draw the eye in; it doesn't also need a bullet point which adds visual clutter.

  • Bullet points are square. Square options can be set as standard in Microsoft packages. Where this is not available, they can be set using a lower case 'n' in Wingdings.
  • They should be set at 80% of the text size.
  • Align bullet points to body copy and no indentation
    • Sub-bullets should take the form of a dash and should be indented as shown.
  • As the font size increases so should the indentation space. For 12 pt font size, indention size (tab) is 4.5mm.
  • Colour can be applied to bullet points to add visual interest.
  • Text should be left justified on bullet points.

For bullet points that follow a colon

Start each bullet point with lower case. No punctuation is required at the end of the bullet points. For example:

Our Careers Centre will help you by:

  • offering interview guidance
  • reading your applications
  • arranging employer fairs

For bullet points that don't follow a colon

Start each bullet point with upper case and end the line with a full stop. For example:

The Southend Campus

  • Southend-on-Sea is situated on the South Essex coast. Just 50 minutes from London, Southend is served by excellent transport links.
  • Our Students' Union offers the perfect location to spend free time and access advice and guidance.

Capitalisation

Do not use a capital letter unless it is absolutely required.

Capitalisation overuse is the most prevalent type of spelling error there is. They are also reputed to be 13-18% harder for users to read. Psychologically, it is difficult to resist using capitals to emphasise what we think is important in a sentence.

We often see examples of capitalising liberally to Grab Your Attention And Sell You Things, but this is a bad habit we should avoid in our writing. Use sentence case in headlines: eg Teachers from local schools learn how Essex really works (not 'Teachers from Local Schools Learn how Essex Really Works').

Carefully capitalising only proper nouns will enhance the readability of your writing - after all, your readers have spent years of their lives being educated in English conventions. Extra capital letters are unnecessary.

Do not use capitals when referring to:

  • subject areas (linguistics, psychology, electronic engineering)
  • career areas (insurance, banking, marketing, advertising)

There are the following notable exceptions where we do use capitals:

  • Christmas Day, Valentine's Day
  • Courses: BA English Language, BSc Psychology
  • Clearing
  • Departments, schools and centres: Language and Linguistics, Psychology
  • Modules: Applied Linguistics, Brain and Behaviour
  • Qualifications: Bachelors degree, Masters degree, Diploma, Certificate
  • Terms: Autumn Term, Spring Term, Summer Term
  • Titles, including job titles, research papers, studies, lecture series: seminar titles: Vice-Chancellor, Graduate Director, Public Relations Officer, The Great Recession and the Distribution of Household Income Essex Explores
  • University (when referring specifically to the University of Essex, whereas it would be universities or university when referring more generally to the sector).

Commonly used words in the University house style 

  • University of Essex (this should not be written as Essex University). Note, we do not split the text "University of Essex" in artwork, but it is ok to split in body copy.
  • Colchester Campus/Loughton Campus/ Southend Campus (with upper case C for Campus). If referring to more than one campus, or when not twinned with the place name, this should be a lower case c, eg "our Colchester and Southend campuses", "our three campuses", or "on campus".
  • The Gateway Building.
  • Vice-Chancellor.
  • Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
  • BSc Biological Sciences, not BSc in Biological Sciences.
  • Honorary Degree Honorary Graduand Honorary Graduate.
  • Professor (no abbreviation).
  • Dr (no full stop).
  • First or 1, Upper Second or 2.1, Lower Second or 2.2, Third or 3, Fail.

Contact details

The examples below are the preferred formats for contact details.

In print and email signatures

University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

T 01206 873333
E someone@essex.ac.uk
www.essex.ac.uk

On websites

University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

Telephone 01206 873333
Email someone@essex.ac.uk
Website www.essex.ac.uk

Email addresses

Email addresses can be written out in full.

Dates

  • Friday 14 November 2021 (no 'th' and no comma).
  • Century numbers are usually spelt out (the fourteenth century or fourteenth-century if used as an adjective). In tables or headings, figures may be used (14th century or 14th-century).
  • Decades should be expressed as 1960s (not 1960's or '60s) or thirties (not 'thirties).
  • 2021-2022 and ensure there are no spaces either side of the hyphen (not 2021/2022) to denote an academic year.

Exclamation marks

Keep the use of exclamation marks to a minimum; too many devalue their own impact. This applies both when using multiples or using them singularly too often.

The exclamation mark is the selfie of grammar. Especially on social, it's like signing off a tweet with a shriek!

It is certainly the mark of the internet: email, chat forums, social media and comment threads have all engendered a culture of multiple exclamation mark usage and abusage. It’s really interesting!!! The more you use them, the more you need to use them!!!!!! The more you need to use them, the more you increasingly make no sense!!!!!!!!!!!

Hashtags

Use 'camel case' when writing social media hashtags.

Camel case is the practice of capitalising the first letter of each word when writing compound words or phrases, with the exception of the first word. Examples include: #WeAreEssex, #ActsofKindness, #HolocaustMemorialWeek

Camel case is an important accessibility requirement. It will make your hashtags accessible - improving understanding and readability for everyone. Screen readers cannot identify the individual words in a hashtag without camel case.

Hyphenation

Our style is to use one word wherever possible. Hyphens tend to clutter up text, so do not use a hyphen unless it's confusing without it (eg a little used-car is different from a little-used car.) See the following examples:

  • decision making (noun), decision-making (adjective
  • first year (noun), first-year (adjective)
  • no one (not no-one)
  • A-level (not A Level, 'A'-level or 'A' Level)
  • full-time (adjective)

Italics

  • Use italic for the names of courses and module titles when written within a body of text, but don't use italic in web links.
  • Use italic for titles, ie films, published books and periodicals.
  • Use italic for foreign words which have not become part of the English language (so pro forma, ibid, ie, eg should not be in italic) but not for proper names or for foreign quotations.

Numbers 

  • Except in mathematical formulae and accounts, readers prefer no more than three figures at a time; so for 123,456 write 123,000; for 1,234,567 write 1.23 million or £1.23m (no space between the figure and m).
  • Write out in words all numbers at the beginning of a sentence, all numbers up to and including ten, and all numbers if any one in the sentence is spelt out (between nine and fifteen, not between nine and 15). The same applies to ordinal numbers.
  • In tables use numerals.
  • Numbers (including ordinal numbers such as 1st, 2nd, etc.) may be used for short bullet points/statements and in headings, but should not be used in full sentences. For example '4th in the UK for international outlook' is OK but 'We are ranked 4th in the UK for international outlook in the Times Higher World Education Rankings 2021' is not.
  • When currency has to be expressed, use figures (£12).
  • Fractions are hyphenated as adjectives (one-third full), but not as nouns (one third of the population).
  • Use commas for numbers of four or more digits (1,000).
  • Telephone numbers should not have parentheses around the STD code. Eg 01206 874227.
  • Add '+44' and put parentheses around the first 0 when writing telephone numbers for a non-UK audience. Eg +44 (0)1206 874227.
  • Years of courses should be referred to as first year and second year or Year One and Year Two (not Year 1 or 1st Year).

Numbering system

The text of a work must be presented in such a way that a reader finds it easy to follow. In order to present a well-structured work that is not crammed and confusing, the text can be broken down into divisions and subdivisions, with general advice being to stick to the decimal system eg

1. MAIN HEADING
1.1 Secondary heading
1.1.1 Sub-heading
1.1.2 Sub-heading
1.2 Secondary heading
1.2.1 Sub-heading
1.2.2 Sub-heading
1.2.2.1 Sub-sub heading

From an accessibility point of view, the use of bullet points and dashes is widely understood to denote an unordered list. Equally, Roman numerals will confuse some screen readers so they are best avoided. Numbering/lettering is best used sparingly, the risk being that the whole document could be outputted with paragraphs tagged as lists, which is confusing and frustrating for the reader.

Punctuation

  • A comma is usually unnecessary before 'and', although there are exceptions where the insertion of a comma will help the reader to see how the sentence is constructed, and to put a pause exactly where it should be.
  • Don't use more than one full stop; if the last word in a sentence is an abbreviation, you don't need an extra full stop.
  • Do not confuse hyphens (-) with dashes (–). Dashes are longer and have different uses, ie to show ranges and can be used instead of colons.

Inverted commas (quotation marks)

  • Use double inverted commas for direct speech, ie when writing a student profile eg "I decided to come to the University of Essex because it offered me the perfect course.".
  • Use single inverted commas when highlighting a word in a sentence eg At Essex 22% of research is rated as 'world-leading'.
  • Always add a full stop at the end of the sentence when it ends with a web address. When writing web addresses outside of a sentence, eg as part of contact details, there is no need for a full stop.

Rankings

  • As with other abbreviations, rankings should be written out in full in the first instance, followed by the abbreviation in brackets (written in capitals, without full stops) eg Gold rated in the Teaching Excellence Framework 2017 (TEF 2017); University of the Year, Times Higher Education Awards 2018 (THE 2018).
  • When using abbreviated titles across any channel, consider the context and if the audience are likely to understand what is being referenced. If in doubt, refer to the full text elsewhere as a rule of thumb.

Spelling

General rule - follow the Oxford English Dictionary, using the first version of the word where alternatives are given. Be consistent. Spelling for words which have alternatives and which we use regularly:

  • adviser (not advisor)
  • program (for computer program), programme (programme of events), otherwise programmer (in both cases)
  • practice (noun) but practise (verb)
  • coursework (not course work)
  • website (not web site)
  • helpdesk (not help desk)
  • email (not e-mail)
  • realise, recognise (not realize, recognize)

Times

Use either the 12 or 24-hour clock - not both in the same text.

Writing times for UK audiences

  • If you're writing a page aimed at an audience in the UK, use the 12-hour clock followed by 'am' or 'pm' in lower case. You should write times without spaces, using a full stop to separate the minutes and hours. For example: '9.30am'; not 9:30am, 9:30 am or '12pm (midday)' - we add 'midday' after 12pm to distinguish between that and midnight.
  • Where the top of the hour appears with a fraction of the hour, the time should be written in full, ie 9.00am to 9.30am.
  • Where only top of the hour appears, a shortened version may be used, ie 10am to 11am.
  • Time periods should be written using "to" in body text, eg 9.00am to 9.30am, but it is OK to use dashes in place of "to" in lists or bullet points. Do not use a colon when writing for a UK audience. Spaces should be used before and after the dash. Eg 9.00am - 9.30am.

Writing times for international audiences

If you're writing a page aimed at an international audience, you'll need to consider your audience's time zone. Use the 24-hour clock to state this, which does use a colon to separate the minutes and hours in these instances. For example: 'You can visit our stand at the International Fair from 13:30 PST'.

Writing times for online events

When writing about an event that people can access online across the world, use a colon to separate the minutes and hours and add GMT (or GMT+1 if you mean BST) after the time. Use local time for events hosted for a specific country. For example: 'The live Q&A session will be hosted via Google Hangouts at 14:30 GMT'.

Typefaces

  • Our brand uses the typeface Akzidenz Grotesk.
  • Arial is the font to use on all Microsoft systems, such as Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Word.
  • Arial 12pt is the point size of our chosen system font for use in Word documents.
  • All type should be set ranged left.

Web and email addresses  

Writing web addresses in print materials

Always write web addresses in the shortest way possible. It's acceptable to omit www at the start of essex.ac.uk.

Furthermore, if a web address starts http:// then you do not need to include this. Eg http://www.essex.ac.uk should be written as www.essex.ac.uk. However, if the address starts with https:// then you will need to include this prefix, as the address will not work in web browsers without it.

All trailing slashes can normally be omitted. Eg www.essex.ac.uk/about/ can be written as www.essex.ac.uk/about.

If an address ends with /default.aspx or /index.html then this can usually be omitted. Eg www.essex.ac.uk/about/default.aspx can be written as www.essex.ac.uk/about.

If you are unsure, try typing the address you plan to write on your materials into your web browser and check that it works.

Web links in web pages and emails

If you are writing content for a web page or an email, you should always write a descriptive link (not 'Click here' for example) and embed the link into the text. We don't write out the web address and make that a link. The exception is email addresses where the email address should be written out in full and made into a link.

Web and email link colours

We display hyperlinks on the website in violet to meet both brand and accessibility guidelines. Visited links will appear in red.

Whilst the recognised default colour for hyperlinks in emails is blue, for stylised CRM emailers, we favour the use of violet for alignment across all digital comms. Black is also acceptable for plain text-based emails sent via Outlook.

For more information, contact the Web Editing and Digital Media team at wedm@essex.ac.uk.

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