The Local Government Association (LGA) style guide provides guidance for everyone creating written content on behalf of the LGA – whether writing copy for webpages, printed publications or social media platforms.
If you would like a pdf version of this style guide, go to "Print this page" and choose "save as pdf" as your destination.
By setting out rules in a corporate style guide we can ensure consistency across our written communications, which in turn helps to engage our different audiences. It is not about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but about having one single way of doing things.
A style guide is a living document which can evolve over time. For example, when considering language related to ethnicity, sexuality or disability, we have chosen the most widely-used and accepted terms and have consulted with the relevant LGA networks, but further feedback is always welcome (email [email protected]).
The LGA has introduced a ‘digital first’ approach to publishing. To reflect this, our house style has removed many of the distinctions between writing for print and writing for the web. Annex A [INTERNAL LINK] covers the specialist area of writing research reports, where the conventions remain different.
This style guide provides a comprehensive resource for those creating copy for the LGA. There is also a shorter ‘top tips’ guide which briefly covers some of the key style points [INTERNAL LINK].
An abbreviation is a shortened word or phrase, such as ‘cllr’ for councillor or ‘LGA’ for Local Government Association.
Use the full word or phrase the first time you use it, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. Do not use full stops in abbreviations. For example:
- Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
You can use abbreviations in headings, where brevity is important. In this case you should write out the full version the first time you mention it in the text, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. This includes the LGA itself.
There are a few exceptions which do not need to be spelt out. These are abbreviations that are better known than the expanded version, such as:
- BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
- UK (United Kingdom)
- EU (European Union)
- MP (Member of Parliament)
- ICT (information and communications technology)
- GP (general practitioner).
In general, shortened versions of words (such as ‘approx’ for approximately or ‘Jan’ for January) should not be used. The exceptions are:
- ‘cllr’ for councillor, which can be used in certain circumstances (see the ‘councillor’ section of this guide)
- when writing for social media.
Abbreviations are usually capitalised, but some organisations choose a different version – such as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). If in doubt, check the organisation’s website.
Abbreviations can be used in social media without first spelling it out, as long as the meaning will be widely understood. In ‘first’ magazine, the abbreviation LGA can be used in all instances without being spelt out.
Accessibility in this context means writing and designing content that is accessible to everyone who wants to access it, regardless of any impairment or disability they may have.
Public sector organisations, including the LGA, have a legal duty to make sure websites and apps meet accessibility requirements. These are set out in the ‘Web content accessibility guidelines’ (known as WCAG 2.1), an internationally recognised set of recommendations. The Government has published guidance on this.
While these guidelines focus on web content, it is important to consider accessibility when creating any written communications.
All LGA documents, webpages and social media communications should be accessible in order to meet the standards of the Public sector equality duty (part of the Equality Act 2010).
The WCAG 2.1 guidelines explain how to make digital services, websites and apps accessible to everyone, including users with impairments to their:
- vision (people who are sight impaired or have colour vision deficiency)
- hearing (people who are deaf or hard of hearing) mobility (for example people who find it difficult to use a mouse or keyboard)
- thinking and understanding (such as people with dyslexia, autism or learning differences).
This involves thinking about the different ways that people interact with content. For example, they may:
- use a keyboard instead of a mouse
- change browser settings to make content easier to read
- use a screen reader to read content out loud
- use a screen magnifier to enlarge part or all of a screen
- use voice commands to navigate a website.
The following points can help you to create content that is accessible.
- Write in short, simple sentences and plain language – avoid jargon and too many abbreviations.
- Avoid using colour alone to convey meaning in charts or graphs, and remember to provide ‘alt text’ (alternative text) for all images (see the ‘images, graphs and diagrams’ section).
- White space makes information easier to read – do not overcrowd a page, and make sure you leave sufficient space between paragraphs and lines.
- Screen reading technology will not understand bold or italic text. Bold font can be useful for emphasising text, but use it sparingly.
- Do not use italics or underlining at all, as they make text more difficult to read.
- After creating your content, run the automated accessibility checker to help you make simple changes that will improve the accessibility of the document.
There is further guidance on 'Working accessibly with the LGA' and Government Communications Service webpage Planning, creating and publishing accessible web content.
Use lower case for act, bill, white paper and green paper in general. Only use upper case when referring to a specific bill, act, green paper or white paper. For example:
- the Localism Act 2011
- the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021.
The first time you mention a green or white paper, write the name in full. Specify what it is and, if necessary, what sector it refers to. Use title style and single quote marks for the names of white and green papers.
- the planning White Paper ‘Planning for the future’
- the ‘Public service procurement’ Green Paper
- the ‘Skills for jobs’ White Paper.
In subsequent mentions you can refer to the legislation as the White Paper, the Green Paper, the Bill or the Act.
Try to use the active voice wherever possible, but remember there are times when it is better and less accusatory to use the passive. For example:
- you didn’t carry out the work properly (active)
- the work was not carried out properly (passive)
- we made a serious error (active)
- a serious error was made (passive).
Be cautious about using passive language when writing about issues such as violence against women and girls. Passive language can give the impression that violence just 'happens to' certain groups of people, rather than focusing on the behaviour of the perpetrator.
See ‘images, graphs and diagrams’.
Only use the ampersand when is part of a company or organisation’s formal name, such as Ernst & Young. Only three councils use ampersands in their official names:
- Telford & Wrekin Council
- Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
- Brighton & Hove City Council.
Currently, all other councils use the word ‘and’, even if they use an ampersand in their logo.
A&E (accident and emergency) and Q&A (question and answer) are the only other acceptable uses of ampersands.
Ampersands can be used in social media where characters are limited.
Use apostrophes to indicate possession or the omission of one or more letters. For example:
- the council’s new leader
- the Government’s policy
- the councillors’ cars.
As in the final example above, words that end in ‘s’ usually have an apostrophe at the end to indicate possession. This is not always the case with names, where you should use the possessive ‘s’ wherever possible (Burns’s, Jones’s, Charles’s). However, this is not set in stone and you can be guided by pronunciation.
For the names of organisations, use the style they use – for example, St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Apostrophes are not used in the possessive ‘its’ (in its own time; on its merits). They are used if you are shortening ‘it is’ (it’s at nine o’clock; it’s not).
Try not to use contractions such as it’s, they’re, don’t or can’t in formal documents and reports. Contractions can be used in articles or forewords written in the first person, in reported direct speech, in bulletins and in social media.
Brackets are useful for including information that doesn’t quite fit with the main structure of a sentence, or as an aside or comment to the reader. Usually, the full stop goes outside the brackets. It only goes inside the brackets if the whole sentence is in brackets. For example:
- This is the procedure you should follow (under normal circumstances).
- The meeting ended. (Some councillors thought it should have carried on.)
Square brackets should only be used for explanatory notes in reported speech.
You can use bullet points to make text easier to read. If using bullet points to present a list of words or sentences, make sure that they follow on from a lead-in line. In this case:
- the bullet points must not end with full stops, commas or semi-colons
- each bullet point must begin with a lower-case letter, unless the word is a proper noun
- each bullet point should be short
- the symbol used should be round (not square or any other shape)
- the final bullet point should end with a full stop.
When bullet points include more than one sentence or are full sentences on their own (without a lead-in line), each must begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, as in usual sentence structure. For example:
- The sports day will include running, jogging, sprinting and swimming. We hope this will encourage children to try a range of activities.
- The sports day will begin with athletics and will then feature swimming in the afternoon.
- The total number of children competing is around 100, and all parents are encouraged to attend the entire day.
To create a bullet point within an already bulleted list, follow the example below using hollow bullet points:
Although bulleted lists are preferred, numbers can be used as points where there is reference to a numbered list – for example, the LGA’s seven-point offer. Always ensure there is a full stop after each number (not a bracket) and that each point ends with a full stop. For example:
- Local accountability tools.
- Peer challenge.
- Peer support.
Letter lists are not usually used in LGA copy except in legal documents, for example:
The council’s aims are to:
- increase frontline services
- minimise redundancies.
Avoid bulleting complete paragraphs. Do not number paragraphs unless writing a technical/legal document and it is necessary.
Keep everything in lower case unless it is a proper noun – that is, a specific name. For example:
- There are many councils, and Tamworth Borough Council is one of them.
- There are many parliaments including the UK Parliament.
- There were many chief executives at the meeting and Mo Iqbal, Chief Executive of River City Council, led the session.
Use lower case for government or council strategies, terms and organisations in general, if not being used as part of a proper name. For example:
- service level agreement
- local enterprise partnership
- local strategic partnership
- health and wellbeing strategy
- combined authorities.
Use capitals for proper nouns, including people’s names, days of the week and months. Some other examples of when to use capitals follow.
- Job titles only when used in the same sentence as a name: ‘Mo Iqbal, Chief Executive of River City Council’ or ‘Councillor Paula Bridges is Mayor of River City’.
- The Government only when referring to the current UK Government.
- Proper names or organisations, institutions, committees and so on.
- Named government departments and services, such as the Treasury and the Civil Service.
- General Election (only when referring to the UK Parliament General Election).
- Specific ministers’ roles such as Minister for Housing, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor, Secretary of State for Transport; but lower case ‘minister’ in other contexts.
- Titles such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Mx, Dr.
- Specific organisations such as Hastings Local Strategic Partnership, West Midlands Combined Authority.
- Historical or historic events such as World War II, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
- Titles of specific acts or bills, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021; the Equality Act 2010.
- Well-known government or national schemes and initiatives (but cap down the word ‘scheme’, ‘programme’ or ‘inquiry’), such as National Minimum Wage, Right to Buy, Green Deal, Troubled Families programme, Industrial Strategy, COVID-19 inquiry.
- LGA programmes and initiatives such as Corporate Peer Challenge, Digital Inclusion programme, Behavioural Insights programme (again, cap down ‘programme’).
Do not capitalise:
- Job titles in general, including mayor, councillor, senior adviser, police and crime commissioner.
- General terms such as consultancy, best practice, council, agency, department, team, minister, public sector, public health.
- The police, ambulance service, fire and rescue service.
- Compass points and regions – north, south and so on, except where they are part of a specific name or UK region – for example South Shields, the West Midlands (see ‘geography and regions’).
- State benefits such as universal credit, statutory sick pay, pension credit, personal independence payment, housing benefit.
- Named taxes such as council tax, income tax, business rates, capital gains tax, national insurance.
- Currencies including the pound, dollar and euro.
- Seasons of the year, unless included in a title: ‘The Spring 2021 edition’.
- Many ICT-related words such as internet, intranet, home page, website, email, e-government, online.
- General words and phrases such as ‘programme’, ‘scheme’, ‘peer challenge’, ‘behavioural insights’.
At the beginning of a case study include the name of the council, area or region, if applicable. The LGA has a case studies template which can be used to format a case study. Otherwise, use the usual style guidelines.
Colons introduce something: an idea, a list, an explanation, or a spoken or written remark. Always use a simple colon, not a colon followed by a dash. Colons should always be followed by a lower case letter unless the next word is a name, quote or title. For example:
- They came up with three ideas: a jumble sale, a barbeque and a dance.
- She said: “The office will be closed for a week.”
Semi-colons separate complete but closely-related sentences. For example:
- That is your job; this is mine.
- Hand the cheque to the bank; hand the cash to me.
Semi-colons can be used to add clarity in complex lists. For example:
- There were 15 council representatives at the event: three from Munich, Germany; two from Stockholm, Sweden; four from Dublin, Ireland; and six from various cities in the UK.
Use commas to link words in a simple list. For example:
- District council services can include housing, planning, recycling, refuse collection and leisure facilities.
‘Bracketing commas’ usually come in pairs and surround a clause which could, in principle, be removed from the sentence. For example:
- The reporter, who was meant to be covering the council meeting, was fast asleep.
- The reporter who was meant to be covering the council meeting was fast asleep.
The traditional rule of not using a comma before ‘and’ or ‘or’ is not rigid. You may need it to avoid ambiguity, or where you want to give each item in a list equal weight. For example:
- They proclaimed a government of, by, and for the people.
An ‘Oxford comma’ can be used when the last item in a list contains the word ‘and’. For example:
- The restaurant served chicken pie, lasagne, and fish and chips.
Please ensure you write all contact details as in the following example:
Local Government Association (LGA)
020 7664 3000
18 Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ
Contact details can be shortened to just name, email address and phone number where brevity is important, such as on webpages.
For telephone numbers, use the following formats:
020 7664 3000
0300 355 7000
Council names should always be spelt out in full on first mention. Subsequent mentions can be shortened as follows:
- Merton District Council, then ‘the council’ or just ‘Merton’.
- Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, then ‘the council’ or just ‘Trafford’.
Do not use abbreviations such as ‘Merton DC’ or ‘Trafford MBC’.
Council departments and teams should be capped down. For example: Surrey’s public health team, Ryedale District Council’s planning department, Herefordshire Council’s economy and place directorate. The same goes for other organisations, including teams within the LGA.
LGA preference is to use ‘councillor’ rather than ‘elected member’.
When referring to councillors in general, ‘councillor’ should be used in full and not abbreviated to cllr or cllrs. It should have a lower-case ‘c’ except when used as a title next to someone’s name. For example:
- On Monday, Councillor Paula Morales was the first of the councillors to arrive.
When referring to a specific councillor, use ‘Councillor’ and their full name at first mention, and ‘Cllr’ and their surname subsequently. For example:
- Councillor Paula Morales saw the events unfold. Later that evening, Cllr Morales wrote down what she had seen.
Exceptions to this include parliamentary briefings, writing for webpages and bulletins with a less formal style. In these cases it is acceptable to use the abbreviation ‘Cllr’ with the full name at the first mention (for example Cllr Paula Morales). In ‘first’ magazine, ‘Councillor’ is used in bylines then ‘Cllr’ in body text.
‘Cllr’ and ‘cllrs’ can be used in social media instead of the word ‘councillor’ in all instances.
LGA preference is to use the word ‘council’, as the term ‘local authority’ can refer to a broad range of other organisations which operate at a local level. Using the word ‘council’ reduces the risk of confusion.
However, the terms ‘local authority’ or ‘local authorities’ can be used to avoid multiple repetition of council/councils in lengthy text, once it has been established that the organisations being referred to are councils.
Never shorten local authority to LA, even in social media, because this is ambiguous (it could, for example, mean ‘licensing authority’).
Refer to COVID-19 at the first mention. After that you can use COVID-19 and coronavirus (lower case) interchangeably (bear in mind that COVID-19 is one of many coronaviruses). Cap up the name of variants but cap down the word variant itself: for example ‘the Omicron variant’.
Write dates in full using the ‘dd month yyyy’ format. Do not name days unless it is absolutely necessary. For example:
- 14 September 2020 (not 14th September 2020).
Only use the endings st, nd, rd and th when referring to centuries, anniversaries or positions. Never use the ‘superscript’ version (for example 14th). Most Word packages automatically convert to this version, but this auto-correct can be turned off.
It is important to specify the time period in question, rather than saying ‘this year’ or ‘last month’. Information goes out of date very quickly and expressions such as ‘now’, ‘last year’ or ‘recently’ may confuse the reader. The exception to this is in time-specific publications such as ‘first’ or bulletins with a clear date of publication.
‘Year on year’ should be used when comparing two years or financial years. Do not use abbreviations for days or months such as Mon, Tues, Jan, Feb.
For financial years and academic years write 2020/21 – not 2020-21, 2020-1, 2020/1 or 2020-2021.
To refer to an expanse of time, use, for example, 2020 to 2025.
Write the time using numbers, with a full stop (rather than a colon) to separate hours and minutes. Always use a 12-hour clock, for example:
- The workshop runs from 2.30pm till 5.15pm.
- The motion was carried at 3.53pm and councillors left the chamber at 4.00pm.
- The breakout workshop on public health will begin at 10.30am.
More flexibility can be used when writing dates and time for social media, as appropriate – such as abbreviations for days and months, and references such as today, now or last week.
The word ‘disability’ is commonly used for any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or interact with the world around them. Someone’s impairment may be physical, mental, intellectual or sensory, or a combination of these.
Some people with disabilities prefer to use the word ‘impairment’, as in the social model of disability. This model says that people are disabled by barriers in the environment and society, not by their impairment or difference. The social model can help us to recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people, including barriers to accessing communications.
Some people reject the idea of being labelled as ‘disabled’ or ‘impaired’. According to the British Deaf Association, for example, most deaf people do not view their deafness as a disability or a problem that needs to be fixed.
The word ‘neurodiverse’ can be used to describe people who have a range of conditions including attention deficit disorders, being on the autism spectrum, and learning differences such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. People who are not ‘neurodiverse’ are ‘neurotypical’. One common misconception is referring to autism as a learning disability. It is not, although people with autism may also have a learning difference.
Use ‘disabled people’ not ‘the disabled’ as a collective term, and ‘disabled person’ as the singular. Avoid negative phrases like ‘suffers from’, ‘victim of’ or ‘confined to a wheelchair’. Someone with a mobility impairment might ‘use a wheelchair’ or is a ‘wheelchair user’. Someone ‘has’ asthma, they do not ‘suffer from’ asthma.
Avoid mentioning an individual’s impairment or condition unless it is relevant to what is being written about. Don’t use ‘able bodied’ if you need to explain that someone does not have a disability, use ‘non-disabled’.
A useful short guide has been published by the Cabinet Office Disability Unit – Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability.
In general, it is a good principle to write about people in the manner of their choosing. So, when writing about/for people with a specific impairment, consult the experts. National organisations representing people with specific disabilities or impairments are a great source of information and guidance.
These abbreviations should be avoided wherever possible. Instead, you can use:
- ‘and so on’ rather than etc
- ‘for example’ rather than eg
- ‘that is’ or ‘in other words’ rather than ie.
In social media and informal forms of writing, or where space is an issue, these contractions can be used where appropriate (without full stops).
Local government and other local elections (such as elections for mayors or police and crime commissioners) take lower case, for example:
- There will be local government elections in May.
- He chose not to run in this year’s mayoral election.
General elections lower case, but upper case if referring to a specific UK election. For example:
- The 2017 General Election was held in May.
- There should be a general election by 2024.
- France had a general election in 2017.
There are restrictions on what can and cannot be said during a pre-election period. This includes print, the web and social media. Advice and guidance can be found in the LGA document A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period.
An ellipsis ‘…’ can be used to indicate that you have omitted some text from a quote. Use three dots, with no space before or after them: like…this.
Email addresses should be written out in full, entirely in lower case. They need to be written in full because some people do not use a web browser that is tied into their email software. For example:
- Send an email to [email protected]
is more helpful than
- Send an email to John Smith.
Improving our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the LGA’s purpose and role. We need to listen and respond to diverse perspectives to better reflect the needs of councils and their communities.
Reflecting this diversity has to run through everything the LGA does, including all the communications it publishes – from the shortest social media post through to the most complex research report.
The ‘Public sector equality duty’ (PSED) applies to public authorities including councils. They are required to:
- eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and any conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it
- foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not share it.
The protected characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
While the PSED does not technically apply to the LGA, as with many other duties we seek to abide by it when possible and practicable.
To support our approach, we have developed an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy [link]. Anyone producing written content for the LGA should be familiar with the strategy.
See also the sections in this guide on disability, ethnicity and race, and gender identity and sexuality.
The preferred way to refer to all ethnic groups except the white British group is ‘ethnic minorities’, not ‘minority ethnic’.
Only use BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) for specific initiatives (if it is in the title of a group or report, for example). It is most appropriate to be as specific as possible when it comes to ethnic origin. If used, BAME does not need to be spelt out as it is a widely understood abbreviation.
Names of ethnic groups should always begin with a capital letter, including Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller. ‘Traveller’ on its own is not the name of an ethnic group so is not capped up. As ‘black’ and ‘white’ do not refer to specific ethnic groups, they also take lower case if being used as general terms.
For print and digital copy, the corporate typeface is Arial size 12. Please do not alter, expand or condense it. Always keep the sizes and styles of the typography consistent throughout a document and use at least 12 point for body copy.
The exception to this is ‘first’, where typeface sizes and styles are different and variable.
See also the ‘headings and titles’ section of this guide.
Avoid using footnotes wherever possible. If the use of a footnote would be to provide further information, consider whether a hyperlink can be used or whether the information can be incorporated into the main text.
Footnotes can be used in research reports (see Annex A [INTERNAL LINK]).
A list of references and resources can be put at the end of a digital or print publication as endnotes. See ‘referencing’ for further details.
Gender identity means how people feel or present themselves, distinct from their biological sex or sexual orientation. People can choose their gender identity (such as man, woman or non-binary) and their pronouns (such as she/her, he/his, they/theirs). When writing about an individual, wherever possible use the terms that they prefer.
Gender-neutral terms should always be used for job titles and roles, for example firefighter, refuse collector, spokesperson.
When using the terms ‘chair’, ‘chairman’ and ‘chairperson’ within the context of the LGA, councils or councillors, the post-holder’s own preference should be used. This is because the different political groups have specific preferences. If referring to post-holders outside of the local government context and where the individual’s preference is unknown, the word ‘chair’ should be used.
The abbreviations LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and LGBTQIA+ (which includes people who identify in other ways including queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, gender neutral and asexual) are widely understood and do not need to be spelt out.
The word ‘gay’ can apply to people of both sexes, but the LGA’s usual practice is to refer to gay men and lesbians. The word ‘homosexual’ can be considered offensive if used outside of a historical or legislative context. Use the term ‘same-sex marriage’ rather than ‘gay marriage’.
Use ‘transgender’ to refer to people who are transgender, not any variant such as trans, transsexual, transmale or transwoman. The terms ‘transgender women’ (people born male who live as females) or ‘transgender men’ (people born female who live as males) can be used where appropriate.
The words ‘they’ and ‘theirs’ can help to ensure that communications are inclusive. ‘They’ and ‘theirs’ may be chosen as the preferred pronouns of a person who is transgender or non-binary, and should always be used when a person’s gender is unknown. Phrases such as ‘he or she’ exclude people who identify as neither.
Use lower case for compass points (north, south, east, west, and so on), except when they are part of a name or recognised region (see list below). Do not use a hyphen if using compass directions such as ‘north east’ or ‘south west’ as an adjective.
There are nine official regions of England that can be capped up when specifically referring to that region:
- North East
- North West
- Yorkshire and the Humber
- West Midlands
- East Midlands
- East of England
- South West
- South East
- Greater London.
So you would say, for example, north of England, south west London, southern Wales, central southern England and so on.
The LGA also covers Wales, so cap up the four regions recognised by the Welsh Government: North Wales, Mid Wales, South West Wales and South East Wales.
Cap down ‘government’ in general, cap up if referring to the UK government in office at the time of writing. For example:
- The Government announced the change in this year’s Budget.
- This legislation was introduced in 2007 by the then government.
- There was a coalition government in place at the time.
- The German government is not taking this approach.
Parliament: upper case if specifically referring to any of the UK Parliaments (UK Parliament, Welsh Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly). Lower case in other instances, for example:
- Some people would like to see a devolved English parliament.
- The Swedish parliament is based in Stockholm.
Parliamentary is capped down – so parliamentary committee, parliamentary report, parliamentary papers and so on, unless in a proper name, for example the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Local Government.
Specific parliamentary committees take upper case, for example: Education Select Committee, Public Accounts Select Committee. Following first mention you can use ‘the committee’ or ‘the select committee’.
Spending Review – upper case for the annual review of a government’s spending plans, lower case in other contexts. A multi-year government spending review is a Comprehensive Spending Review.
Budget – upper case for a government’s annual financial statement, lower case for other contexts.
These should be in sentence case, with a capital letter used for only the first word of the heading. Follow the usual LGA style on capitalisation for other words such as names. Quotes within headings and sub-headings should be avoided if possible and should be in single quotation marks. Try not to make headings too long, especially when writing for webpages.
Headings give a screen reader user the opportunity to jump sections and go directly to the sections that interest them on, for instance, webpages or newsletters.
In HTML, headings are therefore marked differently to paragraph text, and documents constructed in Word or other Microsoft products will also need headings marked correctly. Rather than using bold text or a larger font, the headings ribbon must be used (in Word you can find it in the ‘styles’ pane in ‘home’).
The title of a document will always be 'Header one' (H1) and the next level of heading is 'Header two' (H2), and so on. Each heading nests under the next in terms of importance and there should only be one ‘Heading 1’ in each document.
Using the heading styles will give the appropriate size and colour to them and will ensure that they are in the right format for a screen reader to pick out.
When adding your title as a header or footer within internal documents, use the full title (and subtitle if it is not too long) on every page.
Use accessible hyperlinks for documents that are going to be published online only as webpages.
When you create a hyperlink, use meaningful text as links. This makes your content accessible to people using screen readers: Avoid uninformative link phrases such as ‘click here’ or ‘read more’. Do not use shortened versions of URLs (web addresses) such as TinyURLs or Bitly (with the exception of ‘first’ magazine). For example:
- Read our e-government case studies.
is more helpful than
- Click here for more information.
Screen readers will tell users when they encounter a link. You do not need to use the words ‘link’ or ‘links to’. Screen readers read URLs (web addresses) letter by letter, so avoid using them as link text.
The only exception to this is if the content is designed to be printed or if writing for ‘first’. In those instances, hidden hyperlinks are of no use and URLs should be typed out in full. If a URL includes ‘www’ you do not need to include ‘http://’ in the address.
Hyphens should only be used to make the meaning of a sentence clearer. Use the short hyphen symbol ‘-’ to hyphenate words, not the longer en-dash ‘–’ (also known as a long dash).
Words can be hyphenated to turn them into adjectives. For example:
- The council joined up different departments to improve efficiency.
- The joined-up departments found the new guidance helpful.
Other words are hyphenated to turn them into nouns. For example:
- The police had to call for back-up.
The LGA uses hyphens for:
- 16 to 17-year-olds, three-year-olds, over-60s and so on (see ‘ages’)
Where the prefix ‘e’ refers to electronic, it should be lower case with a hyphen: e-business, e-government, e-learning, e-procurement. The exception to this is email.
Avoid using these ‘e-’ words at the beginning of a sentence. If they must be used, capitalise the first letter of the word that follows the ‘e’ rather than the ‘e’ itself. e-Government, for example. Again, email is an exception and the ‘e’ would be capped up.
Use hyphens for the following when used as adjectives:
- long-term (but ‘in the long term’)
- looked-after (children)
- one-stop (shop)
- short-term (but ‘in the short term’)
- year-end, year-to-year.
Do not use hyphens for:
- antisocial behaviour
- asylum seeker
- decision makers
- frontline (worker, but ‘on the front line’)
- policy maker
- think tank
Councils that use hyphens in their names:
- Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council
- Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
- Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council
- Stoke-on-Trent City Council
- Stratford-on-Avon District Council.
Generally speaking, hyphens are not used when part of the adjective is an adverb ending in ‘ly’ – for example ‘newly published report’, badly written text’.
Hyphens are not used as punctuation, the long dash ‘–’ (also known as the en-dash) is used instead. You can use the en-dash to take the place of commas, brackets or colons. Some auto-format programmes in Word will insert an en-dash in the right context.
Do not use italics – they make text more difficult to read. Use single quotation marks if you want to emphasise a word or for titles of books, reports, films and so on.
Try not to use italics in referencing in formal reports, again use single quotation marks if possible.
Always provide alternative text (‘alt text’) for non-text content such as images and graphics. This is a short written description of the image, which makes sense of it when it cannot be viewed for some reason.
Alt text is the first principle of web accessibility as it provides a text alternative to non-text content in webpages. It has several functions, including making the information available to screen readers. You can add alt text in all of the Microsoft applications, PDFs and social media platforms.
Alt text works best when it clearly and succinctly describes the relevant features of the image. A sentence or two is the maximum required. You do not need to start with the words ‘image of’ or similar.
Sometimes it is not possible to provide a short text alternative for a complex image such as a chart, graph or map. In that instance, the alternative text should be provided elsewhere. It can often be presented within the context of the page, such as in an adjacent data table or a paragraph of longer descriptive text.
Online, the alternative text can also be provided by linking to a separate webpage that provides the longer description. The link can be adjacent to the image, or the image itself can link to the description page.
Images and accessibility
Images and graphics can greatly enhance a reader’s ability to understand information. Images should be clearly labelled, with high contrast and appropriately used colours.
If writing for the web, provide the digital team with an image sized at least 600 pixels in width. They will be able to appropriately optimise it for a website. You must also provide alternative text for the image.
Colour should not be the sole method used to differentiate data. Sometimes it is difficult to find enough colours to differentiate data. Correct labelling of the key to a map/graph will solve this problem.
Reliance on colour in an image, graph or diagram can be confusing for people with colour vision deficiency, who may find it hard to tell the difference between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens.
When captioning or creating alt text for a photograph, take care to ensure that your descriptions of any person or people pictured are inclusive and appropriate. For example, where it is contextually appropriate to refer to a person or group’s sexuality, gender, ethnicity or disability, be guided by this style guide in writing the caption. Where relevant and possible, use the terms preferred by an individual.
Clear presentation and logical ordering can make a big difference to the quality and effectiveness of your writing.
- Use headings and put them in a logical order (see ‘headings and titles’).
- Use at least 1.5 line spacing (the minimum requirement for accessibility).
- Use a single space after full stops.
- Text should be aligned left, not justified.
- Paragraphs should cover one theme, and should be about four to six lines long where possible.
- Use bullet points for lists where appropriate (see ‘bullet lists’).
Always spell out Local Government Association (LGA) at first mention in a document. In social media and ‘first’ magazine you can always refer to the LGA, as long as it will be widely understood within the context.
The noun is licence (driving licence, taxi licence, alcohol licence). The verb is to license (licensing authority, licensing committee, licensing officer). So if someone is a licensed taxi driver, the council has licensed (permitted, allowed or authorised) them to drive a taxi – but they hold a taxi licence.
Links (web) – see ‘hyperlinks’.
Personal names should be used in full on the first mention. After that the person’s title and surname should be used (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Mx, Cllr, Dr, Professor and so on). Use the title that the person uses/prefers where possible. In less formal contexts, for example in bulletins, there is scope to use a less formal style from second mention on.
In formal publications, always use the full names and titles of MPs and peers on first mention, including the honorific ‘Rt Hon’ where relevant. For example, ‘the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’. It can then be shortened to ‘Mr Gove’ or ‘the Secretary of State’. This applies to all formal communications including reports, promotional material for events and letters. Always cap up ‘Minister’ and ‘Secretary of State’ when referring to a specific individual. In less formal publications (such as bulletins, briefings or ‘first’ magazine), a shorter version of the name and title can be used.
Honours such as CBE, OBE and MBE can be included next to an individual’s name in the foreword to a report or in other text written in the first person, if the individual wishes to, but should not be used within general text.
For organisations providing NHS or social care services, cap down in general, but cap up when writing the name of an individual provider or organisation.
This includes the following: clinical commissioning groups, integrated care systems, GP practices, public health services, acute trusts, mental health trusts, community trusts, ambulance trusts, nursing homes and care homes. For example:
- He works for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust.
- Representatives from five integrated care systems came to the meeting.
- Dozens of care homes entered the competition, which was won by Hillside Care Home.
Voluntary and community sector (VCS) is the LGA’s preferred term for non-governmental groups of all types. This term includes faith groups, trade unions, charities and mutual societies. Avoid the term ‘third sector’.
Use figures for numbers 10 and above. Write out numbers one to nine in letters, except in the following cases:
- financial sums: £3 million
- time references: 1.00am to 3.00pm (12-hour clock)
- dates: 15 August 2021
- percentages (unless they start a sentence): 2 per cent
- temperatures: 80 Fahrenheit, -3 Celsius
- centuries: the 6th century (do not superscript ‘th’)
- school levels, years and qualifications: key stage 1, year 6, NVQ level 4.
There is an exception to this rule when a sentence begins with a number. For example:
- Sixty users responded to the online survey.
- Fifteen per cent of them agreed with the proposal.
Numerals are used instead of words in images, infographics and animations.
Spell out ‘thousand’, ‘million’ and ‘billion’. For thousands, use commas not spaces, so 1,000 (not 1000 or 1 000); 10,000 (not 10000 or 10 000). For example:
- The initiative has saved the council £16,000.
- This year’s budget will be reduced by £7.5 million.
- UK tax revenue has fallen by £3 billion.
Do not use £0.xx million for amounts less than £1 million – spell out the amount instead (so use £500,000 not £0.5 million).
Write fractions in words. For example, three-quarters; one and three-quarters.
Spell out first to ninth; after that use 10th, 11th and so on.
Always hyphenate ages, whether it is ‘seven-year-old pupil’ or ’50-year-old councillor’ or ‘school testing for eight-year-olds’. For age ranges, use, for example:
- The course is for young people aged between 12 and 15.
- The course is for 12 to 15-year-old pupils.
When writing a document, avoid using page numbers as reference points for the reader (‘see page 6’, for example), as page numbers may change during the design process and are not relevant for webpages. If you need to refer to a particular section of the document, use the section heading rather than a page number.
In social media you can always use numerals, do not spell numbers out. You can also use abbreviations such as ‘m’ for million and ‘bn’ for billion if the meaning is clear and space is limited.
Use ‘per cent’, not percent or %. Only use the symbol in tables, graphs and images, or if a document uses the term so much that you could significantly reduce the word count by doing so. When not quoting a figure, use the word ‘percentage’. For example:
- There is a high percentage of older people in the area.
If the number is less than 10, use numbers, not words (this goes against the usual LGA style for numbers). For example:
- Only 6 per cent of members have responded to the online survey.
The LGA’s monthly ‘Analysis and research bulletin’ can use the % symbol.
Use the % symbol in social media.
Use plain, everyday words as much as possible – sometimes referred to as ‘plain English’.
This is clear and concise language that avoids jargon, overly formal words and technical terms. It also avoids using foreign words (including Latin words and phrases) in place of English equivalents. It makes information more accessible for every reader. Consider your audience and write appropriately for them.
Here are some commonly used words and phrases with their plainer alternatives:
- assist – help
- equitable – fair
- elected member – councillor
- expedite – speed up
- expenditure – spending
- henceforth – from now on
- in lieu of – instead of
- utilise – use
- with reference to – about, concerning
- and therefore – so
- a number of – several, various, certain, some
- at the present time – now, at present
- for the purpose of – to
- in order to – to
- in the event of – if
- in the vicinity of – near
- in view of the fact that – because
- prior to – before
- subsequent to – after
- together with – with
- upon – on.
Use double quotation marks “ ” to indicate direct speech.
With complete sentences, the closing quotation marks go after the full stop. With a single word or very short phrase, the quotation marks go before the full stop. For example:
- Councillor Peterson said: “There has been a terrible misunderstanding.”
- Councillor Peterson said there had been a “terrible misunderstanding”.
In long passages of reported speech, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.
Use single ‘ ’ quotation marks:
- to show the title of a publication, book, film and so on
- for passages and quotes taken from a book, report and so on
- for unusual usage
- when emphasising or referring to a word
- for foreign words or phrases.
- The chief executive’s memoir is titled ‘Never a dull day’.
- We use the term ‘new’ to mean ‘not old’.
- The team reached its ‘stretch’ targets.
Single quote marks are also used when a headline or sub-heading contains or indicates a quote, for example:
- ‘Traffic chaos ahead’, warns council leader.
When using a quote from printed materials, use single quotation marks around the quote. Try to reference the original material within the main text, and only use footnotes if absolutely necessary. For example:
- The LGA Housing Commission highlighted the crucial role that housing plays in supporting health in its 2016 report, ‘Building our homes, communities and future’. It said housing is also of critical importance to the ‘capacity of public services to sustainably support healthy ageing’.
Use single quotation marks for reporting speech within speech, to differentiate the speakers. For example:
- The councillor commented: “It is rewarding when young people tell us ‘I have learnt a lot at this club’ or ‘I’ll never drop litter again’.”
When referencing a book or journal:
- do not use italics
- write out abbreviations in full (for example ‘page’ not ‘p’)
- use plain English and not abbreviations (for example ‘and others’ not ‘et al’)
- do not use full stops after initials
- if the reference is available online and you are writing for the web, make the title a hyperlink
- where you accessed the information on the web, include the date you accessed the online information.
Add endnotes rather than footnotes. It is not possible to add footnotes into a digital publication, although links can be added. Bear in mind that hidden links will be lost when webpages are printed out, so if the link is important it should be written in full somewhere (either in the text or in endnotes).
A list of ‘references and resources’ can be put at the end of a digital or print publication. In a digital publication, these can be simple references with hyperlinks where possible. For example:
IPPR, 2020, Levelling up health for prosperity.
LGA, 2020, A short guide to publicity during the pre-election period.
For printed publications and where a hyperlink is not possible, use a full reference. Use the format: author’s surname and initial, year of publication, title, publishing location and publisher. So, for example:
- Copus, C and others (2017). Local government in England. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Smith, J (2005). Dutch citing practices. The Hague: Holland Research Foundation.
For a journal article:
- Ripley, D and others (2021). ‘Evaluating the impact of food safety training’, Journal of Environmental Health: 83 (8), pages 8-13.
To fully reference a webpage, use: author (this may be the corporate author), year of publication if available (or use ‘no date’), title, the url (without ‘http//’ if the address includes www), and date of access in square brackets. For example:
- LGA (no date). Our improvement offer: www.local.gov.uk/sli-offer [accessed 15 April 2021].
LGA research reports may be about complex and/or technical subjects, so they may need to maintain some of the more traditional publishing conventions. This includes a more formal style of writing, footnotes, formal referencing and tables.
Annex A [INTERNAL LINK] provides a structure and style guide for writing LGA research reports. It is primarily aimed at members of the LGA’s research and information team. However, anyone using or reporting research findings in an LGA report or publication should also refer to it.
Use one space between sentences, not double spacing. Sentences should not be too long: aim for around 15 to 20 words. Text must be aligned along the left margin and not ‘justified’.
The LGA social media policy sets out its approach to social media [INTERNAL LINK], and what is expected from staff and teams managing accounts on its behalf. Anyone who uses or manages social media accounts on behalf of the LGA should refer to the policy.
Generally, the tone for social media can be much less formal than for printed publications or webpages. Many of the usual style rules can be broken, such as using abbreviations and using digits (1-9) rather than spelling out numbers below 10.
However, common sense should be used, the content needs to be accessible, and grammar should not be abandoned altogether. Any message must sound professional and relevant for its intended audience.
Anyone using Twitter on behalf of the LGA should refer to the specific guidance in the document ‘Tweeting for the LGA’ [INTERNAL LINK].
In speech or in writing, we should always be clear, confident and concise.
Our words should:
- say what they mean – give clear information and advice
- speak directly and personally to the reader
- be easy to follow and act on.
We must write so that readers understand us and get the facts or guidance they need in a clear and relevant form.
Here are the main rules for clear writing (though, of course, there are always exceptions).
- Plan a structure, grouping the points you want to make under headings.
- Put the important news early because this will grab the reader’s attention.
- Write short sentences, each making only one point – aim for sentences of 15 to 20 words.
- Keep paragraphs short – ideally four to six lines.
- Use the active voice and avoid abstract nouns, which sound impersonal and wordy (abstract nouns refer to things like actions, feelings, ideals, concepts and qualities).
- Don’t use a long word when a short one will do. If a word is not necessary, cut it out.
- Beware of jargon and only use it if absolutely necessary.
- Use simple, accurate punctuation and bullet lists to make your writing easy to read.
- Keep the style and layout of your document consistent.
People read webpages very differently to printed copy, scanning them rather than reading them word-for-word. Studies have shown that people do not like scrolling down pages. They will usually stop reading rather than scroll down more than once. Research suggests that users only read about 20 to 28 per cent of a webpage.
In terms of style, the LGA uses a single approach across both print and web writing. However, in terms of approach and structure, writing good web copy is different.
When writing for the web, you need to help the reader find the information they want quickly and effectively. To do this, use:
- simple vocabulary and ‘plain English’
- short sentences and short paragraphs
- headings and sub-headings that describe the content that follows
- bulleted lists
- digital accessibility best practice.
- write long-winded prose, putting complicated writing in the way of people’s understanding
- underline web text, as it suggests a hyperlink to another website.
Different types of web content
As we move towards a ‘digital first’ approach, the LGA website will host a wide variety of content, from digital-only publications and case studies to press releases and information on our support offer.
While all of this content will differ in audience, tone and purpose, do keep in mind that even specialist audiences appreciate plain English. While your reader might understand complex specialist language, using plain English will make your content accessible to everyone.
For further questions around writing or adapting content for the web, please contact the LGA’s digital team ([email protected]).
Annex A: Structure and style guide for writing research reports [INTERNAL LINK]
PDF version of the LGA style guide
If you would like a pdf version of this style guide, go to "Print this page" and choose "save as pdf" as your destination.