On this page
- Abbreviations and acronyms
- Hyphens and dashes
- Quotation marks
Abbreviations, acronyms, capitalisation and other content styles.
We explain an abbreviation or acronym in full on its first use unless it's well known, like UK, NHS, GP. Then we refer to it by initials.
Example: A body mass index (BMI) above the healthy weight range can increase your risk of serious health problems.
We use straight, not curly apostrophes. Take care when pasting in text.
We do not use block capitals as they're difficult for people to read.
We always use lower case, including page titles. The exception is proper nouns and examples in the GOV.UK style guide capitalisation list.
Generic drug names start lower case. Brand names get an initial capital letter, except where the brand uses lower case itself.
Conditions are lower-case except where they start with a proper name.
But note: caesarean section.
We use contractions like you'll, we'll, you're and what's. Often contractions make content friendlier and easier to read.
Avoid should've, could've, would've and they've. They can be hard to read.
Also avoid negative contractions like can't and don't. When you’re telling users not to do something, use "Do not" rather than "Don't".
GDS research shows that many users find negative contractions harder to read and they sometimes misread them as the opposite of what they say.
The NHS.UK medicines team observed that, when we're telling people not to do something, they find do not clearer and more emphatic than "don't".
We avoid using hyphens unless it confuses people to leave them out.
We do use a hyphen for:
We do not use a hyphen for:
Avoid using dashes to indicate a pause. Instead use a comma, or write shorter sentences.
We use "to" instead of a dash for ranges of numbers, dates or time.
There are some accessibility concerns with dashes. Assistive technologies read them out in different ways. But GOV.UK research shows that commas are consistently read out with a pause.
People with poor literacy can find hyphens and dashes an obstacle to easy reading. They also find long sentences with lots of commas difficult.
Use lists to make text easier to read.
Bulleted lists should be short and snappy. If possible, limit your list to no more than 6 items. Each item in the list should be roughly the same length.
Use a lead-in line with a colon. The bullets should make sense running on from the lead-in line. In effect, the list is 1 continuous sentence.
"A pharmacist can recommend:
Each bullet point starts lower case and has no punctuation at the end, including after the last point.
Do not include more than 1 sentence at each bullet point.
Avoid ending a bullet point with "and" and "or". Use the lead-in to let people know the options.
We use numbered lists instead of bulleted ones to guide people through a process. Each point starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, without a lead-in line.
We generally use straight double quotes:
Don't overdo quotation marks though. They can be distracting and are often unnecessary.
Use single quotes for:
Updated: August 2019