Writing style guide

Anything you write for print or web as part of your work at the University becomes part of its public face. Your writing needs to be clear, serious (but not pompous), and accurate.

In general

Good writing, whether in print or on the web, is clear and concise.

  • Avoid longer words or phrases when shorter ones would do just as well.
  • Keep sentences fairly short and don’t get tangled up in clauses and sub-clauses.
  • The same goes for paragraphs.
  • Wherever possible, avoid the passive voice (eg ‘It was decided by the Committee’ is better written as ‘The Committee decided’ -- fewer words and less stilted).
  • Use plain English that avoids jargon, and always assume that readers will have no specialised knowledge of the subject matter.
  • Proofread! Read the whole thing back to yourself.

Things to avoid

  • Exclamation marks
  • Chumminess
  • Adjectives that express opinion (eg ‘this fantastic discovery,’ ‘a brilliant team’), unless they’re part of a quoted remark.

Grammar guide

Want to improve your grammar skills? Try the Faculty of Arts online grammar tutorial.

House style

The Public Relations Office has a house style guide that it regularly revises. Use the house style for any (non-academic) writing you are doing for web or print.

Among the main points are the following:

  • The institution’s name is the University of Bristol, not Bristol University (which is in Anaheim, California).
  • Avoid using an ampersand (&) to replace ‘and,’ unless it forms part of a formal name (eg Procter & Gamble, Marks & Spencer).
  • Always write ‘Professor’ out in full (not, for example, ‘Prof O’Brien’).

See the full house style guide.

Writing for the web

  • Put the main message as near the beginning as you can.
  • Keep everything short and simple.
  • Make only one major point per paragraph; if you change topic, start a new paragraph.
  • Use subheadings to draw attention to the most important paragraphs.

Read more about how to write effective web copy.

Writing news items

‘Front-load’ the news item, with a short opening paragraph that includes the key points. Use a neutral tone (eg ‘Professor X has been awarded the X Medal’ rather than ‘Congratulations to Professor X’).

Try to avoid clutter. If there’s some crucial information about, for example, funders or project partners, or event details, think about adding this at the bottom in a separate paragraph. Make use of the ‘Further information’ field in the news page template.

Writing mass emails

Read the University's mass-email guidelines on how to write effectively when sending emails to more than ten people.

If you only look at one good book on writing, make sure it's this one:

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

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