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Writing style

You can use this section to familiarise yourself with the style guide we follow in all of our writing at BrightMinded. It’ll help focus how and what you write across any of our communications.

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How people read

When people read, they don’t tend read one word at a time. They bounce around, especially online. They anticipate words and fill in the gaps and sentiment.

As children, we quickly learn to read common words (this is typically up to 5,000 words, and generally the ones we use most). As we develop our skills we being to stop reading these words in full and instead, start recognising them by their shape. This approach to reading, normally happens by the time we’re 9 years old. And allows us to read much faster.

Did you know your brain can drop up to 30% of the text and still understand the word. As our vocabulary develops as we age, our reading skill from childhood stays as with us into adulthood. So you don’t need to read every single word to understand what is written. This is why you may have seen that it’s advisable to write your content for a 9 year old using plain English. You can read more about plain English principles further down the page.

While the same grammar rules and conventions should be followed whether you are writing for the web, print, a social post, or any other channel of communication. But how you structure your writing, and the length you may choose for an online audience is very different. People will want to find the information they need quickly. Research from the Nielsen Norman Group shows people read differently on the web than they do on paper. They may also be distracted by other things around them when consuming digital content. So particularly for website copy, try to ensure you keep your key points at the top of the page and use the inverted pyramid.

Get more tips from GDS

Remember your audience

Always think about who you are writing for. Ask yourself the following questions before you start hammering that keyboard.

  • Who am I writing this for?
  • What do they already think about the subject?
  • Might they have any preconceptions or bias you can either work with or, dispel?
  • What is the type of communication eg a blog post, long form proposal, short social media post?
  • Where do they work, are there likely to be distractions or are they time-poor?
  • How do you want them to feel, inspired, bored or excited to work with us?
  • What actions do you want them to take after they’ve read your communication?

General guidance on punctuation

Avoid unnecessary punctuation that elongates a sentence. For example, semi colons and dashes in the middle of sentences. Instead try to use shorter complete sentences. For maximum readability the average length of your sentences should be 15 to 20 words.

Try to avoid slashes, dashes and other punctuation which can make text look like it is in note form.

Ampersands. In general we prefer not to use ampersands. Please always write ‘and’ instead. They can be handy to use in things like navigation or short titles.

Brackets. While there may be times your sentences need brackets, in general we prefer to avoid them. They make sentences more difficult to comprehend. Instead break your text down into smaller complete sentences.

Bullet lists.  For slide decks / keynotes and long form copy, it can be helpful to write lists as bullet points rather than within a paragraph, as the purpose of bullet lists is to simplify information. This makes it much easier to take in key information.Try to stick to a small number of points in a list – around 6 is ideal.

Depending on the use case, you should try to introduce bullet lists with a colon and capitalise the first letter of every item on the list.

If the individual items in your list are not full sentences, you should not use full stops anywhere in the list. If the list contains full sentences, then you should use a full stop at the end of each item.

We never use semi colons at the end of each item, as this can be difficult for screen readers to process.

Commas. Avoid writing long sentences with lots of commas. Writing in concise sentences is one of the most important elements of plain English. An Oxford comma is the final comma in a list of things, coming before the ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a sentence. In many lists it is not necessary, but sometimes it can help to make the meaning of a sentence more clear. You do not need to use the Oxford comma in every list of 3 or more items, but if you think that it will help to clarify your meaning then please do.

Forward slash. ( / ) While we may use them in code. When we’re writing, especially for the web, we tend to put a space either side of the forward slash, like this  / . The reason being, is to ensure words wrap correctly on mobile devices. And it’s also something proof readers tend to get really uppity about.

Dashes and hyphens. Avoid using dashes and hyphens where possible. Instead of using dashes in the middle of sentences, break the text down into smaller sentences. This makes your writing easier to scan. If you must use a dash, it’s generally used as a pause for related material. It can function like a comma, a colon or parenthesis. When using dashes in this way, we prefer to use en dashes, which look like this (–). And not hyphens (-) which are shorter, and used they’re connecting for words like this Shoreham-by-sea.

Double spaces. It’s not the 80s! And we all use computers, not typewriters now! So please don’t use double spaces after full stops. This outdated convention was necessary when manual typewriters were used, but is no longer needed. If you find a legacy document with them in, use the find and replace function to remove them.

Exclamation marks. These should be used sparingly. Too many in a body of text can alter the tone of your writing and overusing them reduces their impact, or makes your writing look like an overly excited tween.

Full stops. Full stops should not be used at the end of titles or headings. And they should not be used on subheadings unless they are full sentences.

Writing in plain English

Using plain English means writing clear and concise information to communicate a message effectively. The aim is not to reduce the amount of information we are giving our clients, team or users, it’s to present it in a way that is easy to understand and navigate.

Alway try to avoid formal, ‘corporate tech speak’ and use conversational, natural language instead. This doesn’t just sound more human, it’s easier to understand too. Sometimes we need to use specific technology-based terminology. When we do, think about the audience and whether all of them will understand it. If not everyone will be familiar with the term, include a short, plain English definition of it. Once you’ve done that, you can revert to using the technical term on its own.

Some of the key principles of plain English are:

  • Using everyday English.
  • Avoiding jargon and using words that are widely understood.
  • Using short, simple sentences.
  • Using lists wherever possible to break up information.
  • Using active verbs instead of passive verbs.
  • Meet the user needs.

Writing in plain English is not dumbing down, it is opening up your writing to more people. It makes it easier for everyone to take in information quickly and easily, so that our messages can be easily understood. Even highly intelligent and literate people understand text much more effectively when it is kept concise, simple and jargon free.

Complex sample: Learning about SEO is important to making your website visible.

Plain English sample: Learning about search engine optimization (SEO) is important to making your website visible.

Complex sample: An investigation was conducted, and the conclusion was reached that they was a serious error in the technical architecture of the software.

Plain English sample: We investigated and concluded that they were some problems within the software.


We also have a duty of care to make sure that anything we write is accessible to all of our readers. As a technology company, we take an open and inclusive approach, and our writing needs to reflect this. We need to take into account that some of our clients and end users could:

  • not have English as their first language.
  • Have learning difficulties, or physical or mental conditions which make reading more difficult.
  • Be using a screen reader, or other accessibility software.
  • Be feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.

Writing for our communications – some tips

  1. Be bold. Use bold language that confidently talks about our work and the change we are making happen. We don’t need to be modest about our achievements or our ambitions for the future.
  2. Be inclusive. Give your writing a more personal, human touch by using ‘we’ ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. This helps us sound like real people rather than an impersonal AI bot.
  3. Keep sentences short. Aim to get to the point quickly and don’t overload your sentences with too many thoughts. A useful guide is around 25 words per sentence, around four sentences per paragraph, and around six to eight words per headline. This helps create a clear narrative that people can easily navigate and helps get your message across too.
  4. Use headings, subheading and bullets. Think about how people access and read information today. Reading is rarely an uninterrupted, linear process. People look for the headline, the first few words, a caption or a subheading. Make it easy for them by using short, engaging headlines and subheadings to break up your text. Use pull-out quotes or captions to make clear what comes next.
  5. Be specific. Try to avoid writing in vague, generalist terms. Be specific and illustrate what you say with examples, case studies and real life stories where you can.
  6. Use facts and figures. This isn’t always necessary or appropriate but where we have facts or statistics to back up, evidence or illustrate what we’re writing, use them.
  7. Read your writing out loud. Does it sound a bit stiff? If you’re tripping over your words or feel unnatural saying it, then the tone isn’t quite right.

Swap formal words for everyday words:

  • Additional → extra
  • Advise → tell
  • As a consequence of → because
  • A number of → several or many
  • Complete → fill in
  • Comply with → keep to
  • Consequently → so
  • Ensure → make sure
  • Fatal error → problem or issue
  • Forward → send
  • Furthermore → also, as well
  • However → but
  • In excess of → more than
  • In the event of →  if
  • In conjunction with → with
  • Login → sign in
  • Obtain → get
  • On receipt → when we / you get
  • On request → if you ask
  • Particulars → details
  • Prior to → before
  • Regarding → about
  • Should you wish → if you want
  • Thus → so
  • Until such time as until
  • Whilst → while

Some notes on grammar and spelling

We only ever capitalise:

  • Proper nouns (people’s names, towns and cities, countries, organisations)
  • Nationalities, languages and religions
  • Days of the week and months of the year
  • Headlines and subheads are always sentence case unless it’s a noun
  • And maybe job titles (?)


We use contractions (‘you’re’, ‘we’re’). Some contractions like ‘should’ve’ and ‘could’ve’, are a bit too colloquial (and clumsy) – avoid these. It’s fine to mix contractions and full versions. This mostly depends on the rhythm you want in your writing, and what you want to emphasise. Using contractions means we sound less formal and more approachable as we explored in our tone of voice.

Abbreviations and acronyms

If there’s a chance your reader won’t recognise an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out in in full the first time you mention it. Then use the short version for all other references.

Always follow the lead on how a client talks about themselves ie if they use an acronym it’s fine for us to also follow suit, but if they don’t, do not shorten their name to an acronym.


Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Otherwise, use the numeral. This includes ordinals.

  • Ten new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.
  • Sometimes it feels odd to use the numeral. If it’s an expression that typically uses spelled-out numbers, leave them that way.
  • That is a third-party integration.
  • Numbers over 3 digits need commas 999, 1,000, 150,000.
  • Write out big numbers in full eg one million. But feel free to abbreviate them if there are space restraints, as in a tweet or a chart: 1k, 150k.


Generally, spell out the day of the week and the month. Abbreviate only if space is an issue within the piece you’re producing.

  • Monday 24 January 2020 or
  • 24.01.20


For events and training, we use the 24 hour clock to make sure the start and end times are clear wherever people are in the world.

  • 09.30 – 14.00

If you’re struggling with conventions for different words or the correct use of terminology and inclusivity, we’d recommend using the Guardian style guide as our reference.

If it doubt…

Dan Murray is our resident grammar King and pendent. If you’re unsure about something, drop him a line and he’ll offer some friendly, no-nonsense advice. Or, just use grammarly.