House style

Our identity

We are Sawston Scene. Sawston Scene is singular, I think, but we rarely talk about ourselves in that way: we prefer to write as individuals. We like every piece to have a named author, and every picture to have a credit if possible.

We talk about other organisations in the plural: 1st Sawston Scouts are having a jumble sale; Sawston Free Church are celebrating; the Parish Council are holding a meeting. This isn’t strictly grammatical (if you care), but it’s informal and friendly.

We generally address our readers as you (talking about ‘readers’ can sound pompous).

Bullet lists

A bullet list is usually made of:

  • single words
  • short phrases
  • parts of a sentence.

No initial capital is needed, and no end punctuation is needed except a full stop after the final bullet point.

If a bullet list is made of complete self-contained sentences, each has an initial capital and an end stop.

Capitalisation

Avoid ‘Random Capitals’ as they reduce readability, and look fussy.

Headings use sentence-case capitalisation, not title-case, which means that only the first letter is capitalised.

Formatting

Never underline text. Use bold or italic for emphasis.

Don’t use double spaces (they are a hangover from the days of monospaced fonts on typewriters).

Numbers, dates, times, addresses

Write numbers as words – it makes the copy flow better. Put commas to separate thousands, so three million is written as 3,000,000. Write first, second and so on, not 1st or 2nd, except for dates.

No spaces between numbers and abbreviated units of measurement: 2lb, 500g.

Write dates in the form 3rd January 2011 – no superscripts (3rd). For events, give the day as well as the date (Wednesday 3rd January 2011), so readers don’t have to look it up.

Write times using the 12-hour clock: 8am, 7.30pm and so on. No extra noughts: write 7pm not 7.00pm. No extra noughts in prices either: Tickets £5, not £5.00.

For address outside Sawston, give postcodes so people can find them on Google maps and suchlike.

Punctuation

Don’t use full stops in abbreviations: VAT, Mrs.

A comma before and is fine if it helps readability. If you have a long, complicated list, use semi-colons instead.

Use a colon to introduce an explanation of what you’ve just said: like this.

Use single quotation marks (quotes) for ‘odd words’ (but think about whether you really need to – journalists call them ‘sneer quotes’). Use double quotes for anything someone has said or written. Quotes within quotes alternate.

Never use apostrophes in plurals (not a style, just wrong!): LEDs, 1970s, CDs.

Hyphenate to avoid ambiguity – co-ordinate, co-operate – and in compound adjectives: energy-saving light bulbs. Verbs are never hyphenated: you log in from the log-in screen.

Don’t use more than one exclamation mark on a page. (They’re very tiring to read; typographers call them ‘screamers’.)

Sex

Don’t assume a certain kind of person is male or female (such as parents, or managers). Use neutral nouns such as ‘chair’ rather than ‘chairman’.

In sentences, use neutral pronouns, make the subject plural, or change to the second person (‘you’). The last one is best, as it’s simple and direct.

Further reading

Love all this? You may also enjoy:

The Guardian’s Style Guide and @guardianstyle on Twitter

The Economist’s old style guide, now archived

George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ – never bettered. His six rules for writing are:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.