Style guide

We have provided the following style guide in an A to Z format for ease of reference and to encourage consistency across NIHR channels and communications.

Advice on style is also available on the Government's Digital Service A-Z and in The Guardian style guide



Spell out all names in full in addresses presented in letterheads and contact details in documents and publications. Acronyms should not be used under any circumstances. For example:

Title Name Surname, Designations

Communications Manager

National Institute for Health Research

Central Commissioning Facility

Grange House

15 Church Street

Twickenham TW1 3NL

Tel: 020 8843 8072



For example: special adviser. Not advisor, but advisory is the correct adjective.



When stating someone’s age alongside their name it should be written as: John Smith, 70 years old or John Smith, in his 70s.


Acronyms and abbreviations

Explain acronyms and abbreviations by writing them out in full the first time you use them. The exception to this is that you can refer to the National Institute for Health Research as the NIHR. Do not use jargon and buzz words unless they are commonly used outside the NIHR.

If an abbreviation can be pronounced (for example UNESCO and UNICEF), it does not generally require the definite article. Other organisations, except companies, should usually be preceded by ‘the’ (the BBC, the NHS, the UNHCR and the NIESR).


Ampersands ( & )

Avoid using ‘&’ except in universally recognised abbreviations, such as A&E or R&D.



Always lower case unless it’s part of a proper title: so upper case for the Judicial Executive Board, but lower case for the DFT’s management board.


Bold: Print

Bold can be used for headlines and subheadings. Do not use bold in paragraphs or sentences. Rewrite a paragraph or sentence to emphasise a point.

Bold: Online

Avoid bold text because it can be interpreted as a link, creates visual clutter and draws attention away from other information.


Use brackets for acronyms or abbreviations after they have been mentioned for the first time, for example: Clinical Research Network (CRN). Do not use brackets as an aside to explain something further. If something needs to be in the text it should be a full part of the text.


British English

Always use British English, rather than American English. Examples of this include: ‘centre’ not ‘center’, ‘colour’ not ‘color’ and ‘focusing’ not ‘focussing’. Spell words such as generalise, emphasise, organisation and visualisation with an ‘s’ and not a ‘z’.


Bullet points and numbering

You can use bullet points to make text easier to read. Make sure that:

  • you use standard round bullet points
  • you always use a lead-in line
  • the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
  • you use lower case at the start of the bullet
  • you do not use more than one sentence per bullet point - use commas or dashes to expand on an item
  • you do not put ‘or’ or ‘and’ after the bullets
  • if you add links they appear within the text and not as the whole bullet
  • you do not put a semicolon at the end of a bullet
  • there is no full stop after the last bullet point

The above apply for numbered points as well.


  • Capitals can seem LOUD and AGGRESSIVE. Keep capitals to a minimum.
  • Use title case rather than upper case for page title, page heading, official document title, or name of a place, person or organisation.
  • Use title case for specific job titles, for example: Senior Clinical Trials Manager. Generic job titles should not be capitalised, for example: the research administrators. nor should director general (no hyphen), deputy director, director, be capitalised unless in a specific job title.
  • Use capitals for a specific trust, for example: Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Write general terms, such as hospital trusts, in lower case.
  • Research studies should be capitalised, for example: Resonance Imaging of Lung Nodules.
  • ‘Government’ should be lower case unless it’s a full title, for example: ‘UK Government announced yesterday’.
  • Regions should be written in lower case, for example: northern England, south west London.



Always insert one space after a comma. Exception: when writing out numbers, for example 12,500.


Corporate publications

Publication title, publisher. Year of publication.  Edition number. Page numbers.

Use brackets in a sentence when referencing a chapter or pages in the same publication, for example as mentioned earlier in this chapter (p 24-26).

Dates and times

  • Dates are structured 5 March 2016. Do not use th, st, rd or nd.
  • Do not use 05 March 2016. However, it can be 05/03/2016 or '05' where a template defaults to this.
  • Use ‘from’ and ‘to’ or ‘between’ to describe date ranges, for example from July to November 2011 or between 2008 and 2009, except when referring to short date ranges such as 24–26 August.
  • Dates must be used to demonstrate the timeliness of the content and not the date the information was published.
  • An oblique should be used for dates, for example 16/09/2016 or 2018/19.
  • Times are structured: ‘from 9.30am to 4.30pm’, ‘Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm’.
  • Put different days on a new line and don’t separate with a comma.
  • When space is an issue, for example in tables, publication titles, etc you can use truncated months: Jan, Feb, Mar, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.
  • 5.30pm (not 17.30hrs)
  • Midnight, not 00:00
  • Midday, not 12 noon, noon or 12pm
  • 10am to 11am (not 10–11am)
  • Don’t use ‘quarter’ for dates; use the months, for example: ‘[dept] expenses, Jan to Mar 2013’.



Write decades in numerals followed by an ‘s’, for example 1970s.

Decades can be abbreviated, for example the 60s, the 90s, but not ‘60s, ‘90s, 60’s, 70’s.

The possessive form of decades should include an apostrophe, for example 70s’ style.


Ellipses ( …)

Avoid using ellipses except in a very conversational style, for example ‘The study provided support to parents and families … We achieved a high rate of retention, which was down to the strength of these relationships.’



Avoid using the term. Write either ‘and other’ or specify what you mean. ‘Etc’ is open to misinterpretation.



Megabytes should be abbreviated to MB, for example 2,000 MB.

Gigabytes should be abbreviated to GB, for example 200 GB.

Portable document format should be abbreviated to PDF not Pdf.



Lato is the NIHR’s standard font. Arial can be used if Lato isn’t available. A minimum of 11 point font size should be used for publications to external audiences.


Fractions and decimals

Decimals should be used instead of fractions. Decimals and written fractions should not be mixed together.


Full stops

Use only one space after a full stop. This is the standard practice for both online and print publishing.


Hyphens are used to link compound words, for example walk-in, build-up. Use words rather than hyphens to describe ranges, for example between 10 and 20 percent, not 10-20 percent. Hyphens can be used when writing a short date range, for example 24-26 August.



  • re- words starting with e, like re-evaluate
  • co-ordinate
  • co-operate


Do not hyphenate:

  • email
  • multidisciplinary
  • reuse
  • reinvent
  • reorder
  • reopen

i.e. and e.g.

In a written document the abbreviations ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ should be avoided, if possible. Instead, write them in full – ‘that is’, and ‘for example’ respectively. When i.e. and e.g. are used they should be punctuated with a dot after each letter and not written in italics.



Do not use italics to emphasise a point. Italics should only be used when referring to publication titles. They are hard to read on screen, especially for those with visual impairments.


Always left justify your document. Never use full justification; this makes documents hard to read. Exception: document titles may be centred.

Measures and Units

Lower case should be used to refer to kg, km, mph and other measures. Spaces should not be included between numbers and units, for example: 100mph, 35mm, 78rpm.


Generally, lower case should be used for Système International (SI) units except those named after individuals, for example:

  • Watt = W
  • Newton = N
  • Pascal = Pa


k, m and M are standard international metric abbreviations for thousand, one-thousandth and million respectively. Therefore:

  • watt = W
  • kilowatt = kW
  • milliwatt = mW
  • megawatt = MW



  • Use the £ symbol: £75.
  • Do not use decimals unless pence are included: £75.50 but not £75.00.
  • Do not use ‘£0.xx million’ for amounts less than £1 million.
  • Write out pence in full: calls will cost 4 pence per minute from a landline.
  • Always use million in money (and billion): £138 million.


Describing the NIHR:

  • When using acronyms to describe the NIHR or organisations it is working with, always ensure the full name is provided the first time you use it, followed by the abbreviation in brackets.
  • Example: The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is working with Public Health England (PHE)… The NIHR will be working with PHE to…
  • Example: Please contact the NIHR Central Commissioning Facility (CCF) on...
  • When a project or study is fully funded by the NIHR you can refer to it as ‘NIHR-funded.’
  • If a partner organisation has provided a significant proportion of the funding, we should refer to it as ‘co-funded’ by the NIHR.
  • If the NIHR has not provided direct research funding for the project or study, but has provided infrastructure or any other kind of support that has gone towards making the research possible, you can refer to it as ‘supported by the NIHR.’
  • In exceptional cases where you need to mention a specific centre, programme or initiative follow the same principle.
  • Supported by vs funded by:



  • Numbers from one to nine should be written in full except for page references and percentages - for example 4 percent and not four percent.
  • Numbers from 10 upwards should be written in numerals, as well as all numbers that include a decimal point or a fraction, for instance: 45, 4.25, 4¼. Exception: when using a mixture of numbers lower and higher than 10, each number should be written as a figure, for example: Deaths from this cause in the past three years were 14, 9 and 6.
  • Spelled out numbers and units should not be used, therefore use 6cm not six cm.
  • Any number at the beginning of a sentence should be written in full, for example: Two thousand were recruited into the study.
  • Millions and billions above 10 should be presented as follows: 14 million, 10 billion. Millions and billions below 10 should be written as follows: three million, six billion. Millions and billions should not be presented as figures, for example: 1,000,000.
  • Millions and billions can be abbreviated to ‘m’ and ‘bn’.
  • Commas should be inserted into figures over 999, for example: 1,500.

Obliques ( / )

Avoid using obliques within text, for example ‘from/to’ should be written ‘from and to’.


Insert one line space between paragraphs.



Use the % symbol instead of spelling out "percent." Avoid mixing fractions and percentages.

  • Yes: The study found 33% of people recovered with a week but 66% still had symptoms up to three weeks later.
  • No: The study found 33% of people recovered with a week but two-thirds still had symptoms up to three weeks later.


Plain English

Write short sentences and use familiar words. Avoid jargon and slang. If you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that people may not understand, explain what it means on first reference. Guidance has been developed for researchers and for board and panel members.

For more information please visit


Public health

Lower case.



Avoid overuse of brackets, dashes, commas and semicolons. Too much punctuation can clutter up text and make it difficult for visually impaired people to read. Stick to short, clear sentences to reduce clutter. See also specific pointers elsewhere in this guide.

Quotation marks

  • Only use double quotation marks when quoting speech. Use single quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation. For example: “Do you know,” he said, “what the abbreviation ‘DNA’ stands for?”
  • Use single quotation marks to enclose an unfamiliar word or phrase, or one to be used in a technical sense. For example:
  • ‘Hermeneutics’ is the usual term for such interpretation.
  • Our subject is the age of Latin literature known as ‘Silver’.

In such cases quotation marks should be used only at the first occurrence of the word or phrase in a document; thereafter it may be considered to be fully assimilated.

  • Do not use ‘scare quotes’. Scare quote is another expression for ‘so-called’, and should be avoided. For example:
  • They have cut down the trees in the interest of ‘progress’.
  • Do not use quotation marks for document titles.


Use the Vancouver system for referencing publications, including in footnotes, as follows:

  • Publications with a personal author:
  • Author(s) name. Publication title. Publisher. Year of publication. Edition number. Page numbers.


Referencing websites

Use brackets when referring to a specific website in a sentence, for example: for the latest news visit the NIHR website (


Strap lines

Do not use a full stop at the end of a strap line.


Do not underline any content as it makes text look like a link.

Rewrite a paragraph or sentence to emphasise a point.



URLs should be in lower case


Use active voice. Avoid passive voice

Be sure that if using the term ‘we’ the reader will know which team, organisation or group of organisations you are referring to.


Website and email links

All links on NIHR websites must be active. Links should always be directly below the relevant content and have descriptive text, for example: NIHR Clinical Research Network rather than the web address,

The phrase ‘Click here’ should not be used. Disability software for screen readers will read every ‘click here’ without telling the user what it links to.



Here are some of words that can have multiple spelling and formats. The NIHR writes them in the following way:

  • Cost-effective
  • Decision-making
  • Fast-track
  • Healthcare
  • Long-term
  • NIHR-funded
  • Wellbeing