Our recommended writing style
When we’re communicating verbally, the tone of our voice can say much more than the words we use. It’s estimated that tone of voice accounts for around 30% of the messages we give when we’re talking to someone. Our writing tone is just as important. When we communicate with our customers, we want them to feel that we’re here to support them, and that they can trust us.
Our tone and choice of language should therefore be friendly, welcoming and empathetic. We can achieve this by using the following techniques:
1. Be conversational
Imagine your reader sitting in front of you. How would you talk to them? To create a connection, you should write like you talk.
Keep sentences short and use contractions like ‘we’re’ instead of ‘we are’ and don’t rather than ‘do not’.
There’ll be times when a little formality is needed, for example when you’re writing about rent changes or antisocial behaviour. In these situations, it’s important to put yourself in the reader’s shoes and be friendly and approachable in your writing.
2. Use plain English
Everything we write should be clear, easy to understand and free of technical language. Without being patronising, we should assume the reader knows little about the range of services we offer.
We should always aim to substitute jargon and difficult words with simpler ones and keep sentences short. Here are some real-life examples we’ve found:
The team’s role is to perform problem definition and resolution.
The team defines and resolves problems.
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.
If you have any questions, please ring.
Words to avoid
afford an opportunity
as a consequence of
has the capability
in conjunction with
in order to
ease, reduce, lessen
money, amount of money
even if, despite, still, yet
Tip: Ways to make content easy to digest
Keep sentences short. The longer your sentence, the quicker someone will read it or scan over it. Use fewer than 20 words ideally. Vary sentence length. It helps you to make your points more powerfully. Create more paragraphs. Bitesize chunks, with spacing in-between are easier to consume than big blocks of text.
3. No discriminatory language
We work with a diverse range of people and communities. We want to show that we value that diversity in all our writing. To do this, don’t use ‘he’ or ‘his’ where the gender of the person is unknown. Instead either rewrite the sentence or use the plural ‘they.’
Avoid words that suggest maleness is the norm or superior by using gender-neutral terms. Businessman, headmaster, chairman or manageress should be replaced with businessperson, headteacher, chair and manager.
There are also preferred words and phrases to reflect race, disability and age.
Don’t lump people into categories. Different groups have different histories, challenges and needs.
A catch-all term such as BAME or BME can mask diversity and allow inclusion to become a tick box exercise. It can also create a false indication of progress when it comes to racial equality.
Instead of BAME or BME, refer directly to the particular ethnic or race group in question. E.g. Black Caribbean, Eritrean, etc.
Here are some other recommendations for your writing:
older person, senior
When referring to disabled people, also avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ – say ‘has’. And instead of ‘confined to a wheelchair’ – say ‘wheelchair user’.
You can get more guidance on words to use and avoid when writing about disability, here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inclusive-communication/inclusive-language-words-to-use-and-avoid-when-writing-about-disability.
Use active language
Sentences that use an active rather than a passive voice are easier to understand, especially when English isn’t someone’s first language.
When you use active language your reader knows straight away who’s performing the action. An active voice gives your writing energy and pace – and this keeps your reader engaged.
‘A large donation was made by us.’
Change to (active):
'We made a large donation.’
‘The sign-up process for new tenants has been improved by us.’
Change to (active):
‘We’ve improved the sign-up process for new tenants.’
There are times when you could use a passive voice. For example, if you want to sound less hostile, ‘this bill hasn’t been paid’ sounds softer than ‘you have not paid this bill.’
Most of your writing should be active.
Favour first and second person
First person is: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours. Second person is: you, your, yours. Third person is: he, she, it, they, the organisation.
In line with our friendly, welcoming and empathetic tone of voice, we should concentrate on using first and second person. For example, if we want to tell people what a good year we’ve had, we should use first person rather than third person so a sentence might read:
‘This year we helped 200 people into work.’
We should avoid saying: ‘This year Bolton at Home helped 200 people into work.’
When writing a customer newsletter or information leaflet, always use second person so that you’re speaking directly to the reader.
For example, we would say: ‘If you’re having problems paying your rent, contact us straight away.’
We wouldn’t say: ‘If a customer is having problems paying their rent, they should contact us straight away.’
Writing in third person should only be used in certain types of communication such as press releases, where information has to appear objective. For example, this type of communication might start: ‘Bolton at Home has launched a new initiative to get people back into work.’