Digital content guidelines

This is an online style guide for employees of the University of Strathclyde. It is part of the University’s brand guidelines and ensures that we present ourselves in a clear and consistent style across all digital content.

  1. Writing for the web
  2. The Strathclyde 'voice'
  3. Tone
  4. Points of style A to Z
  5. Glossary of words

Writing for digital

The rules of good writing apply equally to online content as they do to print. However, writing for digital requires a different approach.

Online content is accessed from many devices, through a wide range of software and viewed in different ways. Users may sometimes view content on the move, but are just as likely to read content in more traditional ways.

We need to respond to multiple needs and provide users with headings, sub-headings, images, hyperlinks and appropriately written text to guide them through our content.

Accessibility

By law, the University website must be accessible. This means that the copy we write online should be easy to navigate and consume by users with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability. Some areas of accessibility that you should consider include:

  • short paragraphs and sentences to make content easy to scan and understand
  • write hyperlinks so that they make sense out of content (more guidance on hyperlinks)
  • write emails in an accessible format
  • structure pages with proper heading tags
  • use italics and bold sparingly

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The Strathclyde ‘voice’

Our ambition is to be a leading international technological university.

Strathclyde students, staff and alumni are experts in their fields. We're enterprising and get things done in partnership with organisations and businesses across the world.

Our research is helping to solve global challenges. We discover new technologies and different ways of working. We are the place of useful learning and approach new challenges in a creative and confident way.

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Tone

Keep written content conversational in tone, with a focus on our expertise and professionalism. It should be serious but not pompous.

Picture our audience – everyone from school pupils, to funders, to other academics – and write as though you are talking to them with the authority of someone who can actively help.

All of our audience groups should understand our content. This helps to widen access.

Talk to people, not at them.

Remember that we have a global audience. Use language that is easy to understand and jargon-free.

Keep our users in mind at all times – what’s in it for them? Address our users as ‘you’. Use ‘we, our and us’ wherever possible.

We should:

  • use contractions. For example, can’t instead of cannot
  • use the active voice. For example, Our researcher discovered the light source … not The light source was discovered by our researcher …
  • aim for one idea per paragraph
  • use short, simple sentences – if it is possible to cut out a word, do so
  • make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible – use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’ etc

Use Hemingway App to cut your text. Hemingway helps you make your writing more concise and clearer. It’s great fun to use and can help make you a more conscious writer.

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Points of style A to Z

Abbreviations / acronyms

Always ensure you have referred to an acronym or abbreviation title in full before introducing them unless they are well known, eg UK, MSP, VAT.

The first time you refer to one, explain it in full on each page, then use the initials. For example:

  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

This must be followed for all faculties, departments, programmes and facilities.

Don’t use an acronym if you’re not going to use it later in the text.

Honours and decorations should be spaced without use of commas or stops. For example: The Rt Hon Lord Smith of Kelvin.

Professor should be written in full and not abbreviated to ‘Prof’.

If a PhD is listed, the preface 'Dr' is not needed.

Plurals and dates should be written without apostrophes. Examples: MPhils or 1990s.

There is no full stop required for place names with abbreviations of Saint. For example: St Andrews.

Do not use full stops in abbreviations – AFRC, not A.F.R.C.

The abbreviation for million is M.

The abbreviation for thousands is k.

Eg, etc and ie. Don’t use full stops after or between these notations. Remember that not all users will be familiar with these abbreviations. Everyone will understand their meanings written in full.

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Americanisms

Don’t use Americanisms. For words which can be written with either s or z, use the s version. Examples: realise, organise, recognise.

Program can be written in this way when writing about computer programs. Otherwise, it should be programme.

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Ampersands (&)

Ampersands should be used in circumstances where a corporate body or department prefers to use the abbreviation. Use ampersands in charts, tables and where there is a long list containing a lot of 'ands'.

Example: The Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering.

Always use ampersands for department and course names.*

Examples: Civil & Environmental Engineering, Computer & Information Sciences, Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management

Always use ampersands for headings on web pages.

Examples: Learning & teaching, Fees & funding, Modules & courses

*Use ampersand for single honours. Joint honours should use the ampersand to join two courses; if one of the courses has an & this would change to and. For example:

Business Analysis & Technology
Business Analysis and Technology & Economics

Journalism, Media & Communication
Journalism, Media and Communication & Law

English & Creative Writing / Politics & International Relations
English and Creative Writing & Politics and International Relations

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Bullets

Use bullets to make text easier to read. Make sure that:

  • you always use a lead-in line (as above)
  • the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
  • you use lower case at the start of the bullet
  • you don’t use full stops within bullet points – where possible start another bullet point or use commas, dashes or semicolons to expand on an item
  • you don’t put ‘or’, ‘and’ after the bullets

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Capitals

When referring to the University, always use an initial capital. When referring to universities in general, use lower case. Use capital if referring, in full, to another university.

Other than headings, initial capitals should only be used when they act like proper nouns.

Examples:

  • Last month, the Principal of the University of Strathclyde visited Edinburgh.
  • Last month, several university principals visited Edinburgh.

Use capitalisation for:

  • titles eg Professor Tim Bedford, Ms Jane Smart
  • buildings eg Graham Hills Building
  • place names eg Glasgow
  • brand names eg Apple, Microsoft
  • faculties, departments, institutes and schools eg Strathclyde Business School
  • names of groups, directorates and organisations eg Professional Services
  • titles of publications eg Annual Review
  • job titles eg Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering

If you are talking about a job title in general, do not capitalise.

Examples:

  • A number of engineers are available for research opportunities.
  • There are many jobs available for qualified teachers.

Exception: If you are writing a number of job titles in a bulleted list, use capital letters:

  • Management Accountant
  • Business Analyst
  • Commercial Manager

Please note that if you are writing about a Faculty, please write its name in full.

Example: Faculty of Engineering, not Engineering Faculty

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Commas

Use a comma when you’re providing excess information and the sentence would make sense without it. For example:

The University of Strathclyde is based in Glasgow city centre, and ranks in the worldwide top 50.

Not The University of Strathclyde is based in Glasgow city centre and ranks in the worldwide top 50

Course abbreviations

Course abbreviations should be written without full stops: PgCert, PgDip, MSc, MLitt, MPhil, UG, PGT, etc. Masters should be written with upper case ‘M’ and is not possessive, for eg: a Masters degree in Chemistry.

Abbreviations for UG courses:

  • BA (Bachelor of Arts)
  • BEng (Bachelor of Engineering)
  • BSc (Bachelor of Science)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB)

Abbreviations for Postgraduate courses:

  • DBA (Doctor of Business Administration)
  • DEdPsy (Doctorate in Educational Psychology)
  • DPharm (Doctor of Pharmacy)
  • EdD (Doctor of Education)
  • EngD (Engineering Doctorate)
  • LLM (Master of Laws)
  • MArch (Master of Architecture)
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • MLitt (Master of Letters)
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
  • MRes (Master of Research)
  • MSc (Master of Science)
  • PgCert (Postgraduate Certificate)
  • PGDE (Postgraduate Diploma in Education)
  • PgDip (Postgraduate Diploma)
  • PhD (Honorary Doctorate)

When listing available degrees in related courses blocks on course pages use a comma between each course.

Examples:

  • Advanced Architectural Design (MArch, PgDip)
  • Climate Change Law & Policy (LLM, PgDip, PgCert)

For the course title on course pages you should use a forward slash between each course.

Examples

  • MSc/PgDip Counselling
  • MSc/PgDip/PgCert Global Public Health

Preferences - writing about courses - as tested with our students:

  • Class (not module)
  • Elective (not optional)
  • Compulsory (not mandatory)

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Dates & times

Dates should appear as: 7 July 2014; 28 August 2017 etc

Always put the day before the month:

  • The clocks change on 22 March. Don’t use ‘th’ etc with dates – just use the number and month.

Use ‘to’ in date and time ranges – not hyphens, n rules or m dashes. For example:

  • academic year 2018 to 2019
  • Monday to Friday
  • 9am to 5pm
  • 6 January to 31 March

Use either the 12- or 24-hour clock – not both in the same text. The 12-hour clock uses a full stop between the hour and minute; the 24-hour clock uses a colon.

  • 9.15am
  • 1.30pm
  • 10pm
  • 14:30
  • 20:40
  • midday (not 12 noon, noon, or 12pm)
  • midnight (not 00:00)

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Email addresses

Write email addresses in lower case and as active links. Example: john.smith@strath.ac.uk

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Exclamation marks

Avoid using exclamation marks. If you must use them, keep them to an absolute minimum.

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Formatting

Use bold sparingly to emphasise key points. Overuse will dilute its impact.

Don’t use bold in place of headlines. Use the appropriate headline size.

Avoid using underlines. They will make your content look like a link and may confuse users.

Don't use italics. They are hard to read for some users and therefore breach accessibility guidelines.

If you use colour to show information, make sure that this information can also be understood without colour.

Avoid making reference to the placement of content as this will change in responsive design. For example, don’t refer to an image ‘on the right’.

Don’t add extra spaces between lines.

Extra spaces cause problems for screen readers. Make sure there are no blank spaces between lines in your text. 

Headings

Use headings in order or importance of information

H1- HEADING: This is the heading on your page

H2 - INTRODUCTION: This is the introduction to the next most important piece of information.

H3 - SUBHEADING: This is the heading you’ll use to categorise information underneath your introduction heading

H4 - SUBHEADING: This is the heading you’ll use to categorise information underneath the H3 heading.

H5 - SUBHEADING: This is the heading you’ll use to categorise information underneath the H4 heading.

Use them to break up your content.

Don't use headings to make text BIG or bold. This can confuse readers, especially those who use screen readers.

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All headings should be written in sentence case.

Examples:

  • Why this course?
  • Partnerships with business & organisations
  • Discover more about Strathclyde

Where a heading contain a proper name eg name of course or title of department, then you should use capital letters.

Examples:

  • Journalism & Creative Writing BA
  • Accounting & Business Enterprise BA

The exception is when you’re writing about a subject which is a general term.

Examples:

  • Computer & information sciences
  • Naval architecture

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Hyphens

Here's some examples of hyphenated words (despite the spellcheck):

  • Full-time; part-time; high-tech; non-payment; CD-ROM; re-election; two-thirds.

Some examples of words without hyphens (despite the spellcheck):

  • Postgraduate; multimedia; multidisciplinary; worldwide; cooperate; coordinate; email; taskforce; rearrange; offshore; reuse, reopen; fundraising.

If in doubt, don’t use a hyphen unless it’s confusing without it.

Do not use suspended hyphens. For example, do not use this: part- and full-time workers. Instead, use: part and full-time workers.

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Jargon

Avoid jargon. These words can distance us from our users. They can be vague and meaningless. Sometimes they confuse people. There are numerous guides in this area including the Government Digital Service Content style guide.

Jargon can include technical terms but also some words that people use every day. Within the right context they are fine, but too often they are used to pad out sentences. Words to avoid include:

  • innovate and innovative (unless it really is – words like ‘new ideas’, ‘different’ or ‘make changes’ – might be better)
  • collaborate (use ‘working with us’)
  • facilitate (what are you actually doing?)
  • key (when you mean ‘important’)
  • transform (what are you actually changing?)

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Links

Links should be active and specific. Use meaningful link names that make sense out of context.

Don’t start a link with directional text. For example: ‘click here for more information ‘does not make sense out of context and would not be found by first letter navigation. This makes our content available to users with different requirements and devices.

Better replaced with: Find out about our library opening hours

Make sure that ‘element’ names are meaningful element names. For example: ‘search box’ and ‘submit form’.

Links should be opened in the same window, and not opened in a new window.

Examples

Below are some best practice examples:

  • View our engineering scholarships
  • In the majority of combinations, accounting is fully accredited for entry to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.
  • The programme is an innovative cross-faculty alliance between the Strathclyde Business School and the Faculty of Science.

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Names

Use first names where appropriate, rather than a string of initials. Example:

  • Dr Jim Brown rather than Dr J L Brown

Give people’s title, forename and surname when first mentioned. On subsequent mentions, use title and surname. Example:

  • Professor Susan Mitchell was the guest lecturer, as was Dr Keith Jones. It was the first time that Dr Jones had spoken to that group.

For someone entitled to a styling such as Sir/Dame as well as an academic title, the academic title always precedes the Sir/Dame in the full first mention. Example:

  • Professor Sir Jim McDonald

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Numbers

As a general rule, use figures for numerals (and ordinals) greater than nine and for all numerals that include a decimal point or a fraction.

Examples:

  • One to nine (first to ninth) and 10, 11, 12, 13th, 14th, 15th and 7.1, 8.2 and 9.3.

The exceptions are percentages (9%), monetary values (£8) and when you begin a sentence with a numeral.

Examples:

  • Twenty-two higher education institutions exist in Scotland.
  • There are 22 higher education institutions in Scotland.

For numbers over a thousand, use a comma: 21,000. It was more than 2,000.

Use ‘500 to 900’ and not ‘500-900’ except in tables.

Also note: 10am; 40mph; 50kg; 18th century

When referring to periods of study, Year 1, for example, use upper case ‘Y’ and the numeral ‘1’. Examples: Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.

If referring to first year, use lower case ‘f’ and ‘y’. For example: first year, second year, third year, fourth year and fifth year. If referring to Honours year, however, use upper case ‘H’.

The same rules apply to semester. For example: Semester 1, Semester 2 etc and first semester, second semester etc.

In tables, use numbers throughout. This includes the key facts table used on course pages.

Use spacing between parts of telephone numbers (international code, area code, phone number) Example: + 44 (0)141 548 2115

Use numerals and spell out measurements the first time that you write them eg 3 centimetres becomes 3cm.

Abbreviating kilograms to kg is fine – you don’t need to spell it out.

If the measurement is more than one word, eg ‘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.

When referring to course grades, use numbers, 2:1 or 2:2 rather than upper Second class or lower Second class.

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Per cent

Always use figures and the symbol %. For example, 20%.

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Quotation marks

Double quotation marks are used to indicate direct speech.

Example:

The Principal said: "I am pleased to announce that the University has secured £10 million in research funding for 2008."

If the whole or major part of a sentence is included before the closing quotation mark, the full stop should come within the quotation marks. If the text in the quotation is not the major part of the sentence, the full stop should come after the closing quotation mark.

Example:

In announcing the University's campus development plans, the Principal declared that "funding would be sought from external sources".

In long passages of speech, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.

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Tables

All tables must have at least a heading row or column. Data within the table must be associated with these heading cells. Don’t use tables for layout.

All tables must have a summary.

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Glossary of words

  • Focused – one ‘s’
  • Handout – one word
  • Honours – not Honour’s or honours
  • Honours degree – no cap for degree
  • Licence – noun, license – verb
  • Masters – not Master’s or masters
  • Masters degree – no cap for degree
  • Myplace – if you are going to write about Myplace, introduce it as ‘our virtual learning environment’ the first time you write it.
  • Non-linear – hyphenated
  • Practice – noun, practise – verb
  • Program – a computer program. Otherwise, it should be programme
  • Policy making, policy maker – two words
  • Transferable – one ‘r’
  • Wellbeing – one word

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