What is it?
This guide sets out the rules for tone of voice, style, and use of language including the punctuation, spelling and formatting to be used in all our print and digital publications.
The guide aims to address the most common queries that arise when producing copy for the University. The aim is to achieve consistency across all areas of the University. Our spelling guidelines are based on the Oxford English Dictionary
Who is it for?
It should be used by all University staff, external suppliers, and freelance copy-editors.
How is it compiled?
The guide is compiled by the Digital and Print Publications Team within Global Marketing and Student Recruitment. It is revised periodically to take account of changes in conventions and usage, as well as to adapt to the changing needs of the University, its staff and its students.
We are happy to consider suggestions, additions and amendments. If you have any language or style queries that are not addressed here, please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the full guide here:
When writing for the website, please ensure that you refer to the Digital Accessibility Guidance for Staff which will help you to ensure that our web pages are accessible to as many people as possible.
You might also want to refer to Fair Access by Design, which was produced jointly by the qualifications regulators in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Departments should consult this document when developing copy, If you are developing copy for prospective students and/or applicants of the University, you can contact the Digital and Print Publications team for guidance: email@example.com
Any copy written for alumni and/or donors can be passed to the Development & Alumni Relations team: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re writing targeted mailings (electronic or print) please ensure that you contact the person in their language of choice (if known). If you do not know the language preference of the person, produce bilingual materials.
Our Welsh Language Standards provide a brief description of the standards staff must comply with. For guidance on style and grammar when writing in Welsh, have a look at the Welsh Government’s Welsh language style guide (Yr Arddulliadur).
Outside of Wales
Produce English materials for circulation outside of Wales, unless you are certain the audience in mind speaks Welsh as a first language.
Translation and proofreading
You can send a translation request to the translation unit within the Centre for Welsh Language Services via the online system. Alternatively, you can draft your own Welsh copy and request that the translation unit proofreads it.
Be mindful of the fact that people read copy on screen and in print in very different ways. This will have an impact on the way you write.
Here are a few basic rules:
Print advertising (eg poster, exhibition materials)
- Make sure that messages are clear and concise.
- Use short, punchy statements.
- Use bullets wherever possible to break up your copy.
- Avoid clichés and jargon.
- Focus on making key words, benefits and calls to action stand out.
While readers are happy to read long sections of copy in print, they tend to scan it on screen. In general:
- reduce your web copy by 50 per cent compared to print copy; keep paragraphs short (about three to five lines of text) and try to cover just one point in each
- avoid long pages of text that requires your reader to scroll continuously
- break up the text with clear, meaningful subheadings and bulleted lists
- keep your copy objective, rather than overtly promotional
- always include information on what to do next by providing contact details, web links or an instruction
- make each page comprehensive without the need to refer to other pages on the site
- put the most important message at the top of the page and key information and action words at the beginning of sentences where possible.
Promotional literature (eg prospectuses, leaflets)
You can adopt a more natural flow of language in promotional literature, but use paragraphs, bullet points, subheadings, charts, tables and so on to break up the text and hold the reader’s attention. In general:
- keep a consistent format throughout the document where possible (eg each page has a heading, a bulleted list and two body paragraphs)
- consider your document format when writing your copy (eg a postcard will obviously need much shorter paragraphs than an A4 booklet)
- include calls to action and links to further information consistently
- use clear subheadings to signpost your reader to the information they need
- consider other ways to present your information which may have more impact than plain running text (eg tables, charts, case studies, profiles and bulleted lists).
There are a few hard and fast rules for writing copy that is both easy to read and inspires action. Here’s a summary of the basics.
Think about your audience
Effective copywriting is all about making a connection with your audience and establishing a rapport. Be clear, welcoming and empathetic by following these rules:
- Address the reader as ‘you’.
- Use inclusive language where you can – ‘we’ rather than ‘the University’.
- Think about what the audience wants and how to meet their needs.
- Put warmth into your writing and aim to be open and supportive.
- Try reading it out loud to see if you’ve hit the right tone.
Keep it simple
Nobody has time to navigate reams of copy, so focus on your message and get to the point quickly. Stick to short sentences and avoid waffle and repetition.
Use Plain English
Write how you would speak, choosing shorter, more modern words instead of lengthy, dated alternatives, eg ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘before’ rather than ‘prior to’.
Create a clear structure
Split your copy into manageable paragraphs which each focus on one idea. Sentences and paragraphs can and should vary in length: this will help to keep readers engaged, and lets you focus on delivering your message as clearly and efficiently as possible.
When planning your writing, use headings, subheadings and notes to plan what you’re going to say and the order in which you’re going to say it.
Use headings and subheadings
Headlines for chapters, pages, subsections and paragraphs create a narrative. These act as signposts for busy readers and means they’ll probably absorb the majority of the messages, even at a glance.
Heading and subheadings are a great way to ‘signpost’ information, but they can be used to provide information too. Compare the following examples:
How to apply
The deadline for applications is 31 August
This is a great way to ‘front-load’ information, and works especially well when your message is simple and straightforward.
Edit, edit, edit
Editing is as important as writing itself. Aim to be concise, but don’t cut it back so far that the language has no personality.
Use the active voice
The active voice is more direct and personal, which means that readers understand the meaning more quickly. Compare the following examples:
The students were welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor.
The Vice-Chancellor welcomed the students.
Your letter will be replied to in due course.
We’ll reply as soon as we can.
The active voice:
- makes writing more concise and efficient
- easy easier to read (and write!)
- helps prevent grammatical mistakes.
Think about how you use data
Use market research data only if relevant. Some data can be helpful, eg database reports, surveys, or transcripts of focus groups but, if possible, go and find someone in your target group and meet them in person. Figure out what they want and how we can meet that need. When you start to write, you’ll have a huge advantage.
Lead with the benefits
Empathise with the reader and write with their needs in mind. Focus on the benefits, not just the features or services we offer, and put what you think is the key benefit for your audience first. Make it a heading if possible.
Copy full of clichés suggests that the writer is lazy and lacking in original thought. It reduces personality in copy and tends to make the reader switch off. Here are some examples of clichés you might be tempted to use:
- address the issue
- all things considered
- blue-sky thinking
- ballpark figure
- behind the scenes
- chain reaction
- deliver best practice
- each and very
- experts agree
- from start to finish
- golden opportunity
- when all is said and done
Always provide tools for the next step
Remove any guesswork and make it easy for the reader to do what ultimately you want them to – whether that’s attend an open day, make an enquiry or apply to the University.
Word list and common terms
This should only be used in an email address or Twitter username and never to represent the word ‘at’.
abbreviations and acronyms
- Use Aberystwyth for prospective students who don’t have a knowledge of the area, but the shortened ‘Aber’ is an option for current students, alumni and donors.
- The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym explain it in full on each page unless it is well known, eg UK or BBC. Thereafter, refer to it by initials.
- Do not use an unfamiliar acronym if you’re not going to use it again later in the text; just use the long version.
- Do not abbreviate Professor to ‘Prof’ unless absolutely necessary.
- Use ‘please respond/reply’ rather than RSVP.
- Use p22 for a single page number reference, or pp8-9 when referring to multiple pages. In continuous prose use ‘the article appeared on page five’, ‘the Vice-Chancellor referred to pages 60-62 of the annual report’.
accents and diacritics
A loanword is a word adopted from another language without translation, such as café, karaoke and entrepreneur. Microsoft Word’s UK English dictionary will autocorrect certain words with accents or other diacritical marks, like café, cliché, façade and naïve. When this happens, allow the change to stand.
accolades and rankings
Here are some of the commonly used rankings, and how to present their names:
- The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020
- National Student Satisfaction survey (NSS) 2019
- WHATUNI? STUDENT CHOICE Awards 2019
- The Guardian University Guide
- TEF Gold
You can find the latest rankings on the Why Aberystwyth? page.
Alumnus is singular; alumni is plural.
Use ‘and’ rather than an ‘&’ unless part of a department or brand name, eg the Department of English & Creative Language.
Use ‘s to indicate possession after single nouns and after plural nouns that do not end in s. Use the apostrophe alone after plural nouns ending in s, eg Students’ Union.
- Do not use an apostrophe in possessive pronouns – note the difference between ‘it’s raining’ (a contraction of the phrase ‘it is raining’) and ‘the University and its partners’ (a possessive meaning ‘belonging to it’).
- Do not use the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ (eg lettuce’s instead of lettuces) when writing plural nouns.
- You can use bold to explain what field a user needs to fill in on a form, or what button they need to select. For example: ‘Apply Now.’
- Do not use bold to emphasise words or phrases. Instead, front-load sentences or use headings or bullets.
We usually use bullet points between paragraphs of text and in this case:
- use a lead-in sentence followed by a colon
- make sure that each point reads correctly from the introductory phrase
- write consistently and do not mix the style of bullet points
- use lower case at the start of each bullet, unless you are referring to a place name, degree name, or some other phrase that would usually start with a capital letter
- do not use full stops within bullet points – instead use commas or semicolons to expand, or start a new bullet point
- use end punctuation in the last bullet point.
Where you use bullet points after a heading, use the following example as a guide:
Using bullet points as a heading
- Start each point with a capital letter.
- Finish with a full stop.
- Keep it short (no more than one sentence).
Never use BLOCK CAPITALS for large amounts of text as it can be difficult to read.
- the ‘U’ when using the University’s full title and when referring to the University specifically, but use a lower case ‘u’ when referring to universities in general, and do not use a capital ‘T’ for ‘the’ University of Aberystwyth unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence
- formal titles of office holders (note: Vice-Chancellor is hyphenated)
- formal award titles, but not subjects
- faculties, departments, institutes and schools
- names of groups and directorates, for example University Executive Group
- titles of specific acts or bills: Employment Rights Act 1996 or Constitution Reform Group’s Act of Union Bill (but use ‘the act’ or ‘the bill’ after the first time you use the full title)
- names of specific, named university or government schemes known to people outside, for example Year in Employment Scheme, EU Settlement Scheme
- Non-negative contractions such as ‘they’ve’ and ‘we’ll’ are acceptable but avoid using ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’, ‘would’ve’ as these are hard to read.
- Negative contractions such as ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’ should be avoided. Evidence suggests that users misread these and risk making the wrong decisions.
Treat as a singular noun, eg the data is stored on a secure server. Note that data is always plural in Welsh.
dates and times
- Use upper case for months; no ‘th’ or ‘st’ and no comma between the month and year, eg 14 September 2020.
- Do not abbreviate the month or year.
- If you are including days, write out the day in full and without punctuation.
- Use ‘to’ (not hyphens or dashes) in date ranges, eg academic year 2020 to 2021; Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, 15 June to 24 July.
- When referring to today (as in a news article) include the date: ‘The Vice-Chancellor announced today (14 June 2020) that…’
- Academic and financial years are elided with a slash /, eg 2020/21.
- Use the 24-hour clock, using a colon to separate hours and minutes, eg 10:00; 15:15.
- Use numerals for durations, eg 15 minutes or 1 hour and words for periods of time like half an hour; mix these when appropriate, eg 2 and a half hours.
degrees and degree classes
- Bachelors degree; Masters degree.
- Do not capitalise ‘degree’, eg Honours degree.
- Describe taught degrees and diplomas as ‘courses’ in market-facing promotional copy.
- Use abbreviations, eg BA rather than Bachelor of Arts, BSc rather than Bachelor of Science.
- No full stops, eg MA (Hons).
- Use colons to separate degree classes, eg 2:1; 2:2.
Lower case except when in the title, eg Department of Computer Science.
Correct titles for our academic departments:
- Aberystwyth Business School
- Aberystwyth School of Veterinary Science
- Department of Computer Science
- Department of English and Creative Writing
- Department of Geography and Earth Sciences
- Department of History and Welsh History
- Department of Information Studies
- Department of International Politics
- Department of Law and Criminology
- Department of Mathematics
- Department of Modern Languages
- Department of Physics
- Department of Psychology
- Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies
- Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies
- Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences - IBERS in short
- International English Centre
- Healthcare Education Centre
- Learn Welsh
- Lifelong Learning
- School of Art
- School of Education
Use ‘disabled people’ and never ‘the disabled’.
- In most cases, these phrases will be lower case and hyphenated, eg e-learning, e-book.
- Do not use at the beginning of a sentence but if it can’t be avoided, capitalise only the ‘e’ and not the letter after the hyphen, eg Conference on e-learning 2019 (preferable) E-learning Conference 2019 (acceptable).
Upper case for the Earth, Planet Earth and Earth sciences, with lower case for ‘the’.
eg, etc and ie
- Do not use full stops.
- Avoid etc if possible, and use ‘for example’ or ‘such as’ or ‘like’ or ‘including’. Never use etc at the end of a list starting with these words.
- Avoid ie, which is not always well understood, and rewrite sentences or use an alternative such as ‘meaning’ or ‘that is’.
email and email addresses
- Write email as one word. Note that there is a hyphen in the Welsh (e-bost).
- Write email addresses in full, in lower case and as active links, and do not include any other words in the link.
- Use European Commission in full to distinguish from the European Community.
- Avoid using European Economic Area (EEA) as it is not widely understood, and say ‘the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein’.
- When rules covering the EEA also cover Switzerland, say ‘the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein’.
- European Union vs European Community: use EU when talking about EU member states, eg EU countries, EU businesses, goods exported from the EU; use EC when talking about EC directives, EC Sales List.
- Write euros, the euro in lower case.
Faculties should not be mentioned to external audiences. We are marketing courses, so the academic department should be referenced and not the faculty within which the department sits.
Fewer refers to number; less to quantity, eg fewer than 20 people; fewer than eight departments; I had less than £5; less than half the population.
Not Fresher’s Week.
Avoid the use of suffixes such as -ess: use actor not actress; manager not manageress; chair not chairman.
Write in lower case, unless referring to a specific government, eg the Welsh Government.
Headings and titles
Follow the conventional way of using capital letters (sentence case) for report titles, headings and subheadings. Never use all capital letters.
Do not use a full stop at the end of headings, eg
Upcoming events and open days
Apply for 2020 study
Put the most important word at the front when you use headings to break up text.
Avoid mixing questions and statements in headings. Be consistent.
It is usually used at the beginning of a sentence, and is followed by a comma.
However, if you would like to discuss your accommodation requirements further, please contact the Accommodation Office.
But it can also be used in the middle of a sentence, with commas either side.
Students should ensure, however, that they are available to take the resit exams.
Or it can be used at the end, after a comma.
The point was valid, however…
When two words are put together to form an adjective and come before a noun, a hyphen is usually used, eg first-year student, three-year course. This does not apply when the first word ends in -ly.
We also use a hyphen for co-operation, cross-curricular and en-suite.
For further guidance, have a look at the Plain English Campaign’s advice.
To infer is to deduce something from evidence; to imply is to hint at something (and wait for someone to infer it). The speaker implies; the listener infers.
Avoid this. If you mean University, say University. If you mean something else, say what that is.
Use lower case.
Avoid italics on the web. They can be very hard to read on screen.
Use common Latin plurals such as alumni, data, criteria. Avoid those that are not widely used, since they sound pompous.
Avoid this term when referring to course materials. Be specific and refer to reading lists, textbooks, course notes and so on.
- Use numerals for cash amounts, eg £600. Use commas to clarify figures of four digits or higher (as in numbers).
- Do not use decimals unless pence are included, eg £15, but £22.50 and do not use £0.xx million for amounts less than £1 million.
- Spell out million and billion in full wherever possible, eg £7 million. Use mn and bn as an abbreviation only if necessary.
- Currency symbols should always come before the figure, eg £167.
- Write out foreign currencies such as dollars, euros, yen (no initial capitals) except where they appear in a table.
names and addresses
- When writing postal addresses without punctuation in a block of text, display as follows:
- Where an address is written as run-on text, punctuate with commas for clarity, eg Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK, SY23 3DD.
- Do not include ‘http://’ when writing web addresses unless it is a requirement (eg https:// for secure addresses).
- Use initial capitals for official building names.
Do not use. Information that might follow ‘NB’ should be incorporated into the main text, but if this isn’t possible, use ‘Please note:’.
numbers – figures/words
- Use words for numbers up to ten in running text.
- Use figures from 11 but use words where a number is at the beginning of a sentence.
- Hyphenate written numbers, eg thirty-five.
- Use 18th birthday, not eighteenth birthday.
- Hyphenate ages when used as adjectives eg 18-year-old students but avoid ambiguity, eg ‘a seminar of 30 18-year-olds’ can be written as ‘30 students aged 18…’.
- With age ranges, use 18- to 21-year-olds or students aged 18-21 or students aged from 18 to 21 BUT NOT students aged from 18-21.
- Spell out fractions in running text.
- Use commas to clarify numbers with four or more digits: 1,000.
- Always use the percentage symbol %, eg 50%.
Avoid using platitudes such as ‘The University welcomes international students.’ Instead, give evidence that the University provides a welcoming environment.
This section covers common questions you might have about how we use punctuation.
parentheses ( ) and
colons : and
double quotation marks “ ” and
A level – no hyphen when used alone but A-level Physics; A-level results
AS level – no hyphen when used alone but AS-level Geography
BTEC National Diploma
When a person is introduced for the first time, use their full title – first and second name, thereafter just the title and second name is required – eg Professor Davies, Dr Evans.
Use lower case: spring, summer.
spelling and grammar
Use the spellchecker on your computer and make sure the settings are for UK English, but do not rely on it. Use the Oxford English Dictionary as your reference.
Use British English and spellings, eg programme not program, centre not center, -ise not -ize. Exceptions: follow the spelling of the organisation in official names, eg World Health Organization, World Trade Center. Use ‘program’ for computer software.
benefited, benefiting: a single ‘t’ is preferred
biannual and biennial
data set rather than dataset
enquiry: the act or instance of asking or seeking information
inquiry: an investigation, especially an official one
focused and focusing: a single ‘s’ is preferred
helpdesk rather than help desk
hi-res and hi-tech NOT high-
judgement rather than judgment
licence (noun); license (verb)
medieval rather than mediaeval
occur, occurred, occurring
on to and onto
on to: meaning ‘continue’, eg Let’s go on to the next point.
onto: a preposition, eg She went onto the table (she climbed on top of the table).
stationary and stationery
stationery: paper, notepads
supersede rather than supercede
under way rather than underway
voicemail rather than voice mail
while rather than whilst
workplace rather than work place
an before words beginning with a silent ‘h’, eg an honour
affect and effect
affect (verb) eg The disorganisation affected their productivity.
effect (noun) eg The changes had an immediate effect.
effect (verb) eg The new manager effected several changes in the company.
it’s and its
It’s = It is, eg “It’s fantastic news that a former Aberystwyth University student has been appointed as an EU Commissioner.” its denotes the possessive, eg Aberystwyth University has pledged to continually reduce its use of single use plastic.
regard and regards
regard (noun) eg She had no regard for rules.
regards (noun) eg Give them my regards.
as regards (concerning): As regards content, the course will cover …
with/having/in regard to: She made enquiries in regard to the post, not in regards to
that and which
Use that in defining clauses and which in non-defining clauses, with commas. For example:
They stopped the exam that was taking place in the hall. / They stopped the exam, which was taking place in the hall.
uninterested and disinterested
uninterested: having no interest in
who or whom
If you can replace the word with ‘he’ or ‘she’, use who. If you can replace it with ‘him’ or ‘her,’ use whom.
Who taught second-year maths? (She did.)
Whom did she teach? (She taught her.)
semesters and terms
The University uses both ‘semester’ and ‘term’ in its calendar. We have three terms:
- Michaelmas Term (which runs between September and December)
- Lent Term (which runs between January and March)
- Easter Term (which runs between April and May)
Our semesters run as follows:
- Semester 1 (September to December)
- Semester 2 (January to May)
You can read more about the University’s calendar on our Dates of term page.
Avoid the temptation to over-emphasise which can lead to saying the same thing twice, eg added bonus, significant landmark. See also unique.
Do not use a full stop after Mr, Mrs, Ms or Dr.
Capitalise job titles when referring to a specific person or role.
Titles of essays, articles, books and poems should be in single quotation marks.
This cannot be qualified by words such as almost, quite or very.