Style guide

This style guide covers style, spelling and grammar conventions for Acas content.

For any style points not covered, follow GOV.UK style guides.

This style guide is regularly reviewed and updated, based on evidence and user research. If you have any style questions or insights, email digital@acas.org.uk

Acas

Acas, not ACAS. (Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, although we usually do not need to explain it's an acronym.)

Acas is singular. For example, 'Acas is an independent public body that receives funding from the government.'

Acas's, not Acas', to follow correct grammar for using a possessive apostrophe. For example, 'St James's Park' or 'the boss's decision'.

acronyms and initialisms

The first time you use an acronym or initialism on a page, explain it in full.

For example: 'You might be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). If you're not eligible for SMP, you might be able to get Maternity Allowance.'

Do not use acronyms or initialisms in headings.

names of organisations and other exceptions

Some acronyms and initialisms are very well known, for example UK or EU. You do not need to explain these and can use them in headings. 

Some organisations are known by their initials. You do not need to explain their full name. For example:

  • the CBI – not 'the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)'
  • the CIPD – not 'the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)'
  • the TUC – not 'the Trades Union Congress (TUC)'

Try to follow an organisation's own style. For example, for HMRC write 'HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)' the first time, then just 'HMRC'.

acts of law, legislation, regulations

Refer to legislation by name when it's useful for users.

If you're referring to the same legislation more than once on a page, you do not need to name it each time.

For example: Disability is one of 9 'protected characteristics' covered by discrimination law (Equality Act 2010).

Further references to the Equality Act 2010 on the same page could just say 'by law'.

addresses

Follow the pattern of our Acas office addresses, where appropriate.

addressing a representative

When you're addressing a representative in conciliation content and you refer to the claimant or respondent they represent, use 'the person you represent'.

adoption and surrogacy

For adoption or surrogacy, use:

  • 'intended parent' when someone is adopting a child or having a child through surrogacy but is not yet the legal parent
  • 'legal parent' when someone has successfully applied for an adoption or parental order to become the child's legal parent

advice

advice, not guidance.

Because:

  • it's plain English
  • we do not just give guidance on what the law says, we advise people on good practice and how best to implement the guidance in the workplace

Our page on legal advice differentiates between advice from Acas and 'legal advice'.

For press releases and news stories, use 'advice' whenever possible. But use 'guidance' if it helps to reach a larger audience.

adviser

For consistency, spell it 'adviser' not 'advisor'.

ampersands (&)

Do not use '&' for 'and', unless it's part of a company's name as it appears on the Companies House register.

and/or

Do not use. Use 'and' or 'or', whichever is more appropriate, or rephrase the sentence so it's clear what you mean.

apostrophes

Use 'straight' apostrophes, not ‘curly’ (slanted) ones, for consistency.

Do not use an apostrophe for the plural of an acronym as it's grammatically incorrect. For example, 'MPs', not 'MP's'.

archive content

Since the decommission of the archived Acas website, we link to any content that has yet to be transitioned on the UK Government Web Archive. We say it is 'on an archive website'. For example: suspension.

argue

Avoid using 'argue' in advice content. Use calmer language instead.

For example, 'You could argue that…' could be softened by saying 'You could explain that…'

asking or making a request

Use 'ask about' or 'ask for' when talking about an informal request someone can make.

Use 'make a request' for formal requests. For example 'make a flexible working request' or 'make a subject access request'.

bereavement

Use the plainer terms instead:

  • 'death'
  • 'when someone has died'

They're simpler and easier for people to understand when in a stressful situation. This is except if it's for an official term, for example 'bereavement leave'.

See more under death.

birth parent

Use 'birth parent' instead of 'father' or 'mother' where appropriate, for example when talking about Shared Parental Leave, maternity or paternity leave. This is to be as inclusive and clear as possible, for example a child might have 2 mothers.

blogs

When drafting or publishing a blog, follow our blog guidelines.

Britain

Only use 'Britain' when talking about our vision 'Making working life better for everyone in Britain'.

In other contexts use 'England, Scotland and Wales' instead. This is because users might not know which countries are in Britain.

Also for consistency, put the nations in the above order wherever you are referring to them.

bullet points

Use our content pattern for bullet-point lists

capitalisation

Use lower case for the following:

  • early conciliation
  • employment tribunal
  • helpline, for example the Acas helpline
  • trade union

For official regions use upper case, for example the North East.

For areas such as 'north' or 'south' use lower case, for example the north of England.

For teams, upper case if it's a specific, named team. For example, Customer Services team. Always lower case for 'team' and generic names like press team and digital team.

For more information, see:

challenge

Avoid using 'challenge' in advice content. Use calmer language instead.

For example, 'You can challenge the employer's decision' could be softened by saying 'You can ask the employer to reconsider their decision'.

Code of Practice

Use title case, not code of practice.

When referring to a specific Acas Code of Practice, use its full name in the first instance, then 'the Acas Code' or 'the Acas Code of Practice' after that.

For example, use 'the Acas Code of Practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures' and then 'the Acas Code' or 'the Acas Code of Practice'.

colleague

To be clear in advice, use 'someone you work with' or 'anyone you work with', instead of 'colleague' or 'co-worker'.

This is because in user research some users were confused about who a colleague might be, for example if it's someone on the same level as them.

But it may be appropriate to use the word 'colleague' in non-advice content, for example a blog.

contact details

Do not include other organisation's contact details on the Acas website. Instead, link directly to the organisation's website and give a brief description of who they are.

For example, 'Refuge – national domestic abuse charity, also provides a 24-hour helpline.'

coronavirus (COVID-19)

Write as 'coronavirus (COVID-19)' when it's in a title.

Write as 'coronavirus (COVID-19)' when you first mention it in the text, then as 'COVID-19' after that.

In link text, follow the same rule. For example, 'COVID-19 guidance on GOV.UK' (if 'coronavirus' has already been mentioned in previous text).

You can use 'during coronavirus (COVID-19)' where there's limited space, for example in a page title. Otherwise use 'pandemic', for example 'during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic' or ‘during the pandemic’.

Use the GOV.UK COVID-19 A to Z when you're writing about COVID-19, unless the Acas style guide says something different.

See also:

county court

lower case and not 'civil court'.

dates

Use the format 4 December 2020. Do not add a comma between the month and year.

For date ranges, be as specific as possible. For example, 'financial year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021'.

For more, see the style for dates on GOV.UK.

death

Use clear, plain language:

  • 'if someone has died'
  • 'when someone dies'
  • 'after a death'

Avoid euphemisms and unplain language such as:

  • 'bereavement' (except for official terms you introduce, like 'bereavement leave')
  • 'loss'
  • 'passed away'

Avoid assuming how people will be feeling when there's been a death – do not use emotional language like 'sad', 'upset', 'loved one', 'difficult time'.

Research shows that when people have experienced a death, they need plain, simple language to help them get the task done under stressful circumstances.

Euphemisms and unplain language are also more difficult to understand by people with low literacy levels or who speak English as a second language.

Useful evidence and resources:

disciplinary procedure

Not disciplinary process. Because it's formally recognised or official.

early conciliation is free and confidential

In content about early conciliation, including content sent to claimants during conciliation, use our content pattern for explaining that early conciliation is free and confidential

elearning

Use 'online training' wherever possible as more widely used and understood. If you do use 'elearning', no hyphen.

employee assistance programme

All lower case. Add (EAP) the first time it's mentioned as this is a term some people search for. Do not use EAP on its own.

employer and employee

Refer to 'your employer' or 'your employee' where possible to add a more personal feel. Avoid things like 'the employer or employee' if you can use 'your'.

employee

Use 'employee' or 'worker' sensitively because they have specific legal meanings.

We use 'employees' colloquially when rights apply to anyone with employee or worker employment status. (If needed, say explicitly that a right applies whether legally classed as an employee or worker)

If it only applies to those with employee employment status, we say it only applies if you are legally classed as an employee, or does not apply if you are legally classed as a worker.

Employment Rights Act 1996

An act of law. Title case, with the year. Not 'the employment rights act'. 

employment tribunal

Our style is: 'make a claim to an employment tribunal'.

See more in our content pattern on making a claim to an employment tribunal.

Not 'at employment tribunal', 'court', 'take to court' or 'make a court claim' when referring to making a claim to an employment tribunal.

en dashes

– (not hyphens or em dashes).

Use en dashes for public consultation titles. For example, 'Title – Acas response'.

But for publication titles, for example research and commentary publications, use colons. For example, 'Domestic abuse: a workplace issue'.

entitlement

Although not plain, we use 'entitlement' if users are familiar with the word as part of a well-used term. For example, 'your holiday entitlement', 'your National Minimum Wage entitlement'.

But where it's likely to be less understood, replace with 'rights'. For example, 'your employment rights'.

Equality Act 2010

An act of law. Title case, with the year. Not 'the equality act'.

filenames

Make sure all filenames:

  • are descriptive and succinct
  • are in lower case
  • use dashes between words (no spaces or underscores)
  • do not contain punctuation marks or other special characters (other than dashes between words and a single full stop before the file extension)

For example, recruitment-checklist.odt

fire and rehire

Use 'dismiss and rehire', not 'fire and rehire'.

In the first instance, we can give the legal term 'dismissal and re-engagement' and say this is sometimes known as 'fire and rehire'.

We avoid using 'fire and rehire' because Acas does not encourage fire and rehire practices.

furlough

Use 'on furlough' or 'put on furlough', not 'furloughed'.

Link through to our furlough advice when first mentioning furlough in the text.

Do not use 'furlough (temporary leave)'. There's no need to explain what furlough means if you're linking to the furlough guide.

Do not use 'furlough leave' because furlough means leave.

Do not use 'furloughed worker' because 'worker' could be confused with the employment status.

Do not use inverted commas around the word furlough.

GDPR or UK GDPR

Use 'GDPR' when talking about data protection generally.

For example, ‘You should check all relevant policies, including data protection (GDPR)'.

Use 'UK GDPR' if you’re referring to the specific legislation.

For example, 'This privacy notice explains how and why Acas processes your personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR)'.

gender neutral language

Use gender neutral and inclusive language such as 'they', 'them' and 'their'.

In examples also use gender neutral names such as 'Alex' and 'Robin'.

See more under:

good practice

Not 'best practice'. After advice from an SME that this is the more commonly used term now, we use 'good practice' unless it sounds strange or is in an authored blog or publication as that's up to the author.

grievance procedure

Not grievance process. Because it's formally recognised or official.

When referring a user to our advice on raising a problem at work, use our content pattern for raising a problem or formal grievance at work.

guidance

advice, not guidance. See advice.

headings

Follow the GOV.UK style guide for headings.

Write short, descriptive headings. Try to keep the H1 heading under 60 characters.

Use H2 and H3 headings to structure a page. If a page has multiple heading levels, follow each heading with some paragraph text to help explain the section. Do not go straight from a H1 to a H2, or a H2 to a H3, without any text in between.

helpline

When referring to the Acas helpline:

  • always use 'Acas helpline' – never just 'helpline'
  • use 'contact the Acas helpline'

Avoid phrases like 'call the Acas helpline' or 'speak to an adviser'. 'Contact the Acas helpline' is more inclusive and more accurate – if someone cannot use a phone or Relay UK to call us, they can contact us by email.

When referring to the Acas helpline on our website, use the Acas helpline content pattern.

homepage news and updates boxes

Use our content pattern for homepage news and updates boxes when updating the boxes on the website homepage.

home working

Use 'working from home'. Do not use 'home working' or 'homeworking'.

You can use 'home' if you need to shorten a title. For example, 'Home and hybrid working' instead of 'Working from home and hybrid working'.

See working from home

hybrid working

When addressing employers, use 'hybrid working':

  • as a noun, preferably
  • as a verb, only when unavoidable

Do not use:

  • 'hybrid work' or other derivatives – for example, 'as a hybrid worker'
  • 'hybrid' separately – for example, 'in a hybrid way'
  • 'hybrid working' prefixed by 'do', 'doing' or 'done' – for example, 'if you're doing hybrid working'

Avoid using 'hybrid working' when addressing employees. Consider using 'working from home' or 'flexible working' instead.

See working from home

hyphenated words

Use hyphenated words when it's an adjective. Some commonly used Acas examples:

  • 4-week notice period
  • full-time or part-time work
  • lay-offs
  • pro-rata
  • rolled-up holiday pay
  • short-time working
  • zero-hours contract
  • work-life balance

But not if you work full time or part time.

For more, see hyphenation in the GOV.UK style guide.

inverted commas or 'quote marks'

Use 'inverted commas' for legal or official terms being introduced for the first time. Do not use them after that.

If on a link, make sure they are outside the link. For example: 'furlough'.

Use 'straight', not ‘curly’ (slanted) ones.

italics

Do not use italics. Use 'single quotation marks' if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.

job titles

Use capitals for 'Chief Executive' when it's mentioned directly before or after the person's name. For example:

  • Chief Executive Susan Clews
  • Susan Clews, Acas Chief Executive

In the same way, use capitals for:

Use lower case if these jobs are mentioned in any other ways. For example, 'our chief executive said…'

For all other jobs, use lower case. For example, 'Acas conciliator John Smith' or 'Acas adviser'.

lawful and unlawful

Do not use 'lawful' or 'unlawful'.

Instead of using 'lawful', use 'legal' or 'by law'.

Instead of using 'unlawful', use 'against the law' or 'breaking the law'.

Users do not understand what the difference is between legal or lawful and illegal or unlawful.

legal advice

Use 'legal advice', not 'legal opinion', 'independent advice', 'professional advice' or otherwise, so that we're clear and consistent.

legal terms

When using a legal term, put the legal term first, followed by the plain English definition. Avoid putting definitions in brackets where possible.

Example in a bulleted list:

  • 'express terms' – specific terms agreed in writing, such as the employee's pay and working hours

Example in a paragraph:

'The law says your employer must not 'subject you to detriment'. This means your employer must not treat you unfairly because you've asked them to provide or update your written terms.'

length of service

When referring to situations where someone needs to have worked for their employer for a certain length of time, use our content pattern for length of service.

links

Our content should be the one point of info for people, and linking to GOV.UK or other external sites should be supplementary only.

So:

  1. Link to Acas content in the first instance and where appropriate.
  2. If the relevant content does not exist on the new Acas website yet, then link to the archive site, unless we know:
    • there are inaccuracies
    • it's out of date
    • it does not exist
  3. GOV.UK, NHS and Citizens Advice and other official government sites or organisations are usually the best sources of information if we've exhausted Acas.

When using links, follow our content pattern for linking.

long COVID

Use 'long COVID'.

Only use a capital 'L' if it's at the start of a sentence.

This matches the NHS advice on long COVID.

making clear a press release has out of date advice

Use our content pattern for making it clear when a press release has out of date advice

might

If you use 'might', try to explain how it would apply.

For example, 'You might be able to take an employer to a county court if their reference was misleading or inaccurate' is more useful than 'You might be able to take an employer to a county court'.

must

Use 'must' if there is a legal obligation for someone to do something.

Use 'can' or 'should' if something is guidance or good practice.

Where possible use active sentences, for example 'you should'.

negative contractions

Do not use negative contractions in advice content.

Negative contractions to be amended or avoided (as in GOV.UK guidance):

  • can't – cannot
  • couldn't – could not
  • didn't – did not
  • don't – do not
  • haven't – have not
  • isn't – is not
  • shouldn't – should not
  • won't – will not or might not, depending on context
  • wouldn't – would not

Research shows that many users find them harder to read, or misread them as the opposite of what they say.

In blogs and press releases, avoid using negative contractions whenever possible.

If this affects tone of voice in a blog, try to find other ways to say things. If this is not possible, use negative contractions sparingly.

numbers

Use numerals for all numbers (1, 2, 3) for:

  • measurements
  • time
  • statistics
  • steps in a list

People find numerals easier to read and they scan for them.

You can use numbers at the start of a sentence, but if it looks confusing, consider rewording your sentence.

Spell out 'one' when it means 'a' or to avoid repeating a word. For example: 'Having a workplace policy is better than not having one.'

Also spell out numbers in phrases like:

  • one or the other
  • one or two
  • one of the most common
  • one at a time
  • one-way
  • two-way

See also numbers, measurements, dates and time in the NHS style guide.

ok

Use 'ok' (lower case) when it's part of a sentence. The word 'ok' is a more popular Google search term than 'okay'.

Use 'OK' (upper case) for buttons.

organisation

Use 'organisation' instead of 'business', 'company' or 'workplace'. This is to include non-commercial employers like charities.

You can use 'workplace' where it means an actual place of work, for example a factory, an office or a shop.

See also workplace.

payslip

Not pay slip.

please

Avoid using 'please' in calls to action. 'See the full CIPD report', not 'Please see the full CIPD report'.

We might include please if we're asking the user to do us a favour. For example, 'please take part in our survey'.

policy

The rules an employer has for handling a specific issue or situation. The employer's procedure or process for handling a specific issue or situation will be outlined in the policy.

For example, an employer's grievance policy will outline the grievance procedure everyone should follow.

pregnancy and maternity

Use 'and' when you mean the protected characteristic, not 'pregnancy or maternity'.

See also:

procedure

A process that is formally recognised or is an official way of doing something.

For example, a 'disciplinary procedure' is something that's recognised by an employment tribunal.

protected characteristics

Lower case. Use 'protected characteristics' with single quote marks the first time you mention the term. List them in alphabetical order.

publication titles

For public consultation titles, use en dashes. For example, 'Title – Acas response'.

For publication titles, for example research and commentary publications, use colons. For example, 'Domestic abuse: a workplace issue'.

related content

Use our related content links content pattern when adding links in the 'related content' section of a page.

Relay UK text relay

Use 'Relay UK text relay' the first time it's mentioned, then 'Relay UK' or 'text relay' after that.

Include the link to Relay UK in the first mention.

Do not say Relay UK is for people with specific disabilities or conditions. Say 'if you cannot hear or speak on the phone' instead. Find example wording on our contact page.

remote working

Use 'remote working' for definitions. Use 'working from home' in all other instances.

This is because we use 'remote' to be factually accurate in definitions. However, 'working from home' is the most common type of remote working and the most popular search term.

For example, 'Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace and remote working.'

See working from home

references

Research reports use 'Harvard style' references.

We follow the GOV.UK style guide for punctuation and styling.

We differ from GOV.UK in the use of some Latin terms:

  • we use 'et al' (meaning 'and others'), as this is expected in Harvard style references
  • we do not use 'ibid' (short for 'ibidem', meaning 'in the same place'), or replace it with an English alternative – we just repeat the reference

For example, this sentence contains a simple reference (Abbott R et al, 1985). This sentence repeats the same reference (Abbott R et al, 1985).

Find out more:

slashes

Do not use slashes to mean 'or'. For example:

  • 'an employee or worker', not 'an employee/worker'
  • '3 or 4 times', not '3/4 times'

See also and/or.

subject access request

Use 'subject access request (SAR)' instead of 'personal data request' because 'subject access request' or 'SAR' are more popular Google search terms.

surrogacy

See adoption and surrogacy.

telephone numbers

For how to display the digits of phone numbers, see phone numbers in the NHS style guide.

Use 'phone' rather than 'telephone', but use 'call' wherever possible because it's more active and covers more options, including video calls. For example:

  • Call us on: 0300 123 1100
  • Call the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100

test and trace

Use the country's full test and trace service name when talking about each:

If you're referring to all 3 services broadly, use 'an NHS test and trace service'. Always use 'NHS' in this context, not 'a test and trace service' or 'a government test and trace service'.

times

Use the format:

  • 5:30pm (not 5.30pm or 17.30)
  • 10am to 11am (not 10-11am)

For more, see the style for times on GOV.UK.

transcripts

When publishing a transcript for an audio or video file, follow our transcript guidelines.

video meetings or calls

Use 'video meetings' or 'video calls' instead of 'video conference-calling technology'. These terms are easier to understand and are more popular Google search terms.

Avoid giving examples of technology like Zoom, unless it's necessary.

If you need to mention the technology, say 'using', not 'over' or 'through'. For example, 'Acas training is provided remotely using Zoom'.

worker

Use 'employee' or 'worker' sensitively because they have specific legal meanings.

We use 'employees' colloquially when rights apply to anyone with employee or worker employment status. (If needed, say explicitly that a right applies whether legally classed as an employee or worker.)

If it only applies to those with employee employment status, we say it does not apply if you are legally classed as a worker.

working from home

Use 'working from home' instead of:

You can use 'home' if you need to shorten a title. For example, 'Home and hybrid working' instead of 'Working from home and hybrid working'.

workplace

Use 'work' or 'at work' instead of 'workplace' if we’re talking about something that happens while working. For example, 'managing discrimination at work'.

This is because not everyone has a workplace, for example they could be a driver or working from home.

You can use 'workplace' where it means an actual place of work, for example a factory, an office or a shop.

See also organisation.

zero-hours contract or worker

Not 'zero-hour' or 'zero hours'.