Screenshot from the new version of the style guide

Style v2

One of the first headings in the GOV.UK editorial style guide is ‘Ever-changing style guide’. And it has just changed again.

Biggest change for GOV.UK

The biggest change is more guidance on writing policy pages. Neil Williams posted about having policy content on GOV.UK in February 2012.

We tested the Inside Government part of GOV.UK earlier in the year, with content from 10 government departments. We’re now working with all departments to produce all of government’s policy pages.

Janet Hughes leads the work to produce policies for the Inside Government part of GOV.UK.(@janethughes). She co-ordinates and works on all the policy content that will be moved onto GOV.UK later this year and says:

“Right now, if you want to know what the government is doing on a subject, you need to know which department is responsible. You’ll probably need to go to a number of government sites to find all the information you want. You’ll have to read white papers, research papers, consultation documents, speeches, news releases, blogs, web pages, minutes of meetings, and more – all covering the same subject but in very different ways.

“We are working with government departments to produce a comprehensive, consistent set of pages that will explain the government’s policies to anyone who is interested. We are making them easy to find and presenting them in a consistent format so it’s much quicker and simpler to find what you are looking for.

“Plain language is an important part of what we are doing on GOV.UK. We want to provide information that is useful and relevant for experts and anyone else who might be interested. We are not removing the detail from policies – we are making it clearer.”

Words to avoid

We have included a list of words that shouldn’t be used on policy pages.

These words are often used in a way that is perfectly understandable to others in the same industry, organisation or peer group, but can have very different meanings to anyone outside of those groups. By using this sort of language, we are excluding people from understanding what government is doing.

Take ‘land’ for example. I think of grass, fields and possibly landing aircraft. For some in government, ‘land’ means getting widespread agreement.

The guide is still changing. We learn with every round of testing and there’s a list of things we want to look at so now we will start all over again. Have a look at the current version and expect another update soon.


  1. While I personally disagree with the decision to use -ise endings rather than -ize endings (as I prefer following Oxford Spelling rather than taking on the influence of French), I understand that a policy has to be decided. However, describing it in a section title ‘Americanisms’ is misleading, as this policy has nothing to do with American spelling but rather more to do with deciding which British English policy to follow (OED or Cambridge University Press). I appreciate the decision to select -ise is likely for consistency with EU policy and mainstream newspaper policies, which more closely match the target audience of than, say, scientific journals which frequently standardize on -ize.

    Having raised an objection to the use of ‘Americanisms’ regarding -ize and -ise, I would suggest that it should be noted in this section that there is definite preference for -yse rather than -yze which *is* an Americanism. -yse is the only etymologically correct form of these words as it is part of the Greek stem, rather than a suffix.

  2. The EU translation/interpretation service published a great guide to plain English a few years ago – great because it was written with the needs of non-native speakers in mind. Not sure whether it’s still easy to find, but worth looking at if you can

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