A to Z: Editorial Style Guide for the Software Sustainability Institute

Typewriter
Photo by Bernard Hermant.

Editorial style reference to ensure copy written for the Software Sustainability Institute brand is consistent across our online and printed platforms.

Use this editorial guide as a reference whenever you’re writing or producing content for publication on the Institute’s website or on behalf of the Institute. 

About this guide

This A to Z style guide is a reference tool for Software Sustainability Institute staff, guest writers, and freelance copyeditors. It outlines standards of English usage for all Institute content, whether online or printed. 

This guide is managed and updated by the Institute’s Communications team. If you have a question or suggestion, please contact us at info@software.ac.uk. 

How to use this guide

Read the guide once to get a feel of its content. You may disagree with some of the rules. However, this is the baseline for consistency across our printed and online platforms. 

All texts will be edited following these guidelines.

Use this guide together with our Writing for the Software Sustainability Institute guide

Other resources

Plain English guide

Oxford English Dictionary


A to Z

A

Unless in an email address, the @ symbol should never be used to represent the word ‘at’.

abbreviations

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase: EU for European Union, kg for kilogram. 

Well-known abbreviations (UK, USA) do not need to be spelt out on the page.

On the first mention of lesser-known abbreviations, spell out the whole word or phrase and follow with the abbreviation in parentheses: Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC). After this the abbreviation can be used on its own. 

Don’t use full stops between abbreviated initials. 

Plurals of abbreviations should have no apostrophe: URLs, GPs

access

When giving directions to a building or other part of the University, always include information about access for people with disabilities.

acronyms

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words or a set phrase. Acronyms you know your audience will recognise don’t need to be written out. Others should be written out in full once (per text/page) with their abbreviation between parentheses. After this, the acronym can be used on its own.

adjectives and adverbs

An adjective describes a noun: red, tall. An adverb modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb or other adverb: gently, very, well. 

Use hyphens after short and common adverbs, or when the phrase could be ambiguous: a well-read book, English-language learners v English language learners.

active v passive

Avoid using passive verbs as they result in a vague, over-formal tone. 

am

No full stops. See times for more details.

americanisms (see -ise endings)

Use British English spelling. If in doubt, consult the Oxford English Dictionary: organisation not organization; centre not center (unless in official names, such as Center for Open Science). 

amid

Not amidst. 

among

Not amongst.

ampersand (&)

As a general rule, use the word and over the ampersand symbol. You can use & in a long title, but always consider shortening the title instead.

alternative text (see captions)

For accessibility purposes, always write relevant alternative text to images uploaded on the website. 

apostrophes

Use with time periods when the time period modifies a noun: three weeks’ time. 

Don’t use when the time period modifies an adjective: 15 years old, 

Singular possessive

Where an object or objects belong to one person or a thing, the apostrophe goes before the s: Fellow’s workshop. 

The exception to the rule is the pronoun its: We published a guide with its contents summarised at the top. 

Plural possessive

Where an object or objects belong to more than one person or a thing, the apostrophe goes after the s: Fellows workshop. 

For plural nouns that don’t end in s, the apostrophe is placed before the s: women’s rights. 

B

benefited, benefiting

Not benefitted, benefitting

Better Software Better Research

Use sentence case (first letter capitalised, then lower case). 

billion

Spell out the words in full where possible. Use bn as an abbreviation only if necessary (e.g. in a long title to save space).

brackets/parentheses

If the sentence is logically and grammatically complete without the information contained within the parentheses, the punctuation stays outside the brackets. When a complete sentence is within brackets, the full stop stays within the brackets as well. Always consider removing the brackets from a complete sentence unless it makes complete sense to have it as an aside comment. 

Square brackets are used when an interpolation [a note from the writer, not the speaker] is added.

bullet points

See lists.

C

capital letters

As a main principle, use initial capitals (each word begins with a capital letter) for: 

• proper nouns (people’s names, towns and cities, countries, organisations);

 • nationalities, languages and religions; • days of the week and months of the year; 

• job titles, course titles, names of institutions 

 

The ‘t’ in ‘The Software Sustainability Institute’ should be capitalised when appearing by itself without surrounding text. However, the ‘t’ should be lower case when the definite article is included within copy: Welcome to the Software Sustainability Institute’s Collaborations Workshop. 

captions (see alternative text)

When uploading an image on the website, make sure to have the right permissions to publish it. Add those permissions as a caption to the image. 

collective nouns

There is no firm rule about the number of a verb governed by a singular collective noun. It is best to go by sense – that is, whether the collective noun stands for a single entity: The staff wishes all a Merry Christmas; or for its constituents: the staff are at each other’s throats. 

Always use the singular when referring to the Institute: The Software Sustainability Institute is organising a workshop not The Software Sustainability Institute are organising a workshop. 

colons

Use colons to indicate the beginning of lists in sentences and to introduce examples. Colons can also be used to separate statements in a sentence, when the second statement explains the first: The event was a success: everyone talked about it for days. 

compare with/compare to

To compare with is to draw attention to differences. To compare to is to stress similarities.

comprise/compose

Comprise: To be made up of (not “comprised of”): The flat for rent comprises entrance hall, living room, kitchen, one bedroom and bathroom.

Compose: The parts compose (make up) the whole: The image on the poster is composed of a series of tiny photographs.

contractions

A contraction results from letters being missed out (an abbreviation is a shortened version): Prof stands for Professor, she’ll stands for she will. 

Avoid contractions when writing formal copy, but do use them when writing a blog post (to make the text sound more approachable and easier to read).

cooperate/coordinate

No hyphen or space.

D

dashes (see hyphens)

dates

Follow this style:

 

5 June 2019

5–7 July 2020

Thursday 27 June 2019

2010–2015 or between 2010 and 2015, not 1991–3

days of the week

Days of the week should be written in capital letters (Monday, Tuesday, etc.). Don’t abbreviate unless they’re part of a table. 

different

Different from, not different to or different than.

e–

Lowercase and hyphenated in most cases: e-science, e-learning.

e.g. (see also i.e.)

Abbreviation of latin exempli gratia. Commonly read out loud as for example. Where possible, write for example/for instance or other alternatives. Don’t use a comma after e.g.

ellipsis

Three full stops, not two. Use a space before and after an ellipsis. It can be used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished thought or a silence at the end of a sentence.

email

Not e-mail or Email.

emphasis

Don’t be tempted to over-emphasise and end up saying the same thing twice: added bonus

enquiry v inquiry

enquiry: the act or instance of asking or seeking information; 

inquiry: an investigation, especially an official one.

etc./etcetera

Full stop at the end of abbreviation. Where possible, try to avoid writing etcetera and write a full or comprehensive list or use alternative phrases. 

exclamation mark [!]

Use sparingly. It is unlikely this will be needed, even in direct speech. 

F

focused, focusing

Not focussed, focussing. Style is to use a single s, even if British spelling allows ss.

G

gender-specific suffixes

Avoid the use of suffixes such as –ess or –rix: manager not manageress.

government

lower case, unless referring to a specific government: the Scottish Government.

H

headings and titles – formatting

Use sentence case. Never use all capital letters. The use of sentence case should follow normal grammatical rules where capital letters are used for the first letter of the first word and for names, proper nouns (such as people and place names) and abbreviations / acronyms. (See also capitals.) Headings must also omit the full stop at the end.

headings and titles - writing

Where you use headings to break up text, make sure the most important word is at the front: Applying for the Fellowship Programme rather than How to apply for the Fellowship Programme.

hi-res

Not high-res. 

however

Should always be followed by a comma: Applications are closed; however, you can register your interest at… 

hyphens

Keep usage to a minimum and introduce only to avoid ambiguity: ‘four year-old children’ has a different meaning to ‘four-year-old children’ 

Do use hyphens: 

• to form compound adjectives: three-year deal, top-ranking institution, first-degree programme; 

• in compound nouns containing prepositions: brother-in-law; 

• between some prefixes and root words: co-author, non-controversial. 

Don’t use hyphens after adverbs ending in -ly or the adverb ‘very.’

I

i.e.

Id est. Commonly read out loud as that is or in other words. Where possible, write the alternatives instead of using the abbreviation. Don’t use a comma after i.e.

Institute

The first time you refer to the Institute in any piece of writing, you should use our full name (the Software Sustainability Institute). After the first mention, you can use Institute (with a capital i) to abbreviate our name. Do not be tempted to use the contraction SSI unless it's absolutely necessary. 

-ise endings (see Americanisms)

-ise endings should be used in preference to -ize endings: recognise, economise, organise.

italics

Use italics for:

 

  • Titles of publications (books, newspapers, magazines, journals, brochures), campaigns, television and radio programmes and advertisements, plays, films, conferences, CDs, works of art, exhibitions and vehicles (ships, aircraft, spacecraft and locomotives). 

  • Essay, article, song and short poem titles should be roman and in single quotes: 

    • The article ‘Chicken Genomics’ appears in the journal Nature

its

It’s means it is. 

Its denotes the possessive. 

L

latin plurals

Use common plurals of latin words (data, criteria). Other less-known terms should be pluralised using s (forums rather than fora).

licence, license

Licence: noun

License: verb

Exception: Certain licences, such as the GNU General Public License or the Creative Commons License, use the American spelling. In these circumstances, use the American spelling of the name.

lists

Avoid lists in descriptive writing. That is, where the focus is on discussing a subject and weighing up its benefits. Under no circumstances should a list be the only thing that appears under a heading. Take the list, expand it into sentences and provide the linking logic between the facts.

When it’s necessary to use a list – for example, to explain a step-by-step process –, the following rules apply: 

 

  • Use numbered lists where there is a clear order to the step, such as with a set of instructions. Otherwise, use a bulleted list.  

  • Lists should have at least three items. 

  • A bulleted list should not have more than nine items, unless there is a clear context understood by the reader, such as an alphabetised list of staff members, or months of the year.  

  • If you need to create an unfamiliar list of more than nine items, consider breaking it up with headings (see headings and titles). 

  • A list should be introduced by a main clause, followed by a colon. The first word of each item should be lowercase, and each item should have the appropriate ending punctuation (either a comma, semicolon or full stop). 

M

million (see billion)

money

£5, €10 not £5.00, €10.00

Unless in a table, write out in full the name of foreign currencies: yen (no initial capitals) If dollars are not US dollars, say twenty-five New Zealand dollars or $NZ25 if in a table.

N

nationwide

Not nation-wide.

no one 

Not no-one.

not only

When followed by ‘but also’, it must either follow the verb, or you must repeat the verb.

numbers

one to nine: write out in full; 10 and above: use digits. 

Over 999: 1,000, 3,500, 23,000. 

If a number is at the start of a sentence, always spell it out in full. Rewrite the sentence if this is problematic.

If, in a range of numbers, one is higher and one lower than ten, be consistent: one in twenty applicants or 1 in 20 applicants, not one in 20 applicants.

numbered lists (see lists)

O

online, offline

No hyphen. 

out of date

Hyphenate only when used as an adjective: An out-of-date website. 

P

parentheses (see brackets)

paragraphs

Use one return in between paragraphs, not two. Don’t indent paragraphs.

per cent

Not percent.

phone numbers

The international format should be used: +44 (0) 131 6512 123 123

plain english

Should be used at all times. It is needed in all kinds of public information that people rely on to make decisions. Avoid extending sentences with redundant words.

programme

Not capitalised unless it is part of a specific title: Fellowship Programme.

Q

questions marks

A question or request should end in a question mark. There should be no space between the last letter of the sentence and question mark.

quotation marks

Direct speech should be contained in double quotes; quotes within quotes, in single quotes. 

When quoting multiple paragraphs, opening quotation marks should be used at the start of each paragraph; closing marks only at the end of the final paragraph. 

Titles of essays, articles, songs and poems should be in single quotation marks. 

ranges (numerical)

1–3 April or from 1–3 April, not from 1–3 April

regard, regards

regard (noun) She had no regard for rules.

regards (noun): Give her my regards.

as regards (concerning): As regards content, the paper will cover three topics. 

with/having/in regard to: He made enquiries in regard to the post not in regards to.

rsvp

Avoid. Use ‘please respond/reply’ instead.

S

semicolons

Used to separate clauses or items in a list, or to indicate a pause longer than a comma and shorter than a full stop. Usually the two parts of a sentence divided by a semicolon balance each other, rather than lead from one to the other (in which case a colon should be used – see colons).

spaces

Double spaces should not be used at the end of a sentence.

T

tautology

A fault in style – particularly in marketing copy where there is the temptation to over-emphasise – which can be defined as “saying the same thing twice”: added bonus, very unique landmark (unique can’t be quantified similarly to other words like almost, quite or very). 

that, which

The overlapping use of ‘that’ and ‘which’ is becoming more acceptable; however, there are instances in which one should be used in preference to the other. Strictly, ‘that’ should be used for defining clauses and ‘which’ for non-defining. Defining clauses have no punctuation, while non-defining clauses must be between commas: He applied for the programme that was advertised last year / He applied for the programme, which was advertised last year. 

times

am and pm should have no full stops and no space between the number and am or pm: 5pm.

Use 24hr clock when writing about event timings.

titles 

Capitalise job titles when referring to a specific person or role. Titles of essays, articles, songs and poems should be in single quotation marks.

U

UK, USA

No full stops between letters.

under way

Not underway

university

Always capitalise when referring to a specific University: University of Edinburgh, University of Manchester.

Always use the official names of universities: The University of Southampton, The University of Sheffield not Southampton University / Southampton Uni.

Use lower case when making general reference to university/universities. 

up to date

Hyphenated when used as an adjective.

url

Avoid if possible, using ‘website address’ or similar instead. 

V

vice versa

No hyphen.

W

web addresses

Never publish URLs as links in web pages. Link text should describe the destination to the user, and make sense without the context of the rest of the copy on that web page.

website

Not web-site or web site.

wellbeing

Not well-being.

which (see that)

while

Not whilst.

worldwide

Not world-wide or world wide.