How to write and style content for Acas.
Write in the Acas tone of voice: factual, easy to understand, and knowledgeable.
Use this style guide to be consistent with:
If something is not in the Acas style guide, follow the Government Digital Service (GDS) style guide.
Find out more:
If you have any questions or suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Use 'Acas', not 'ACAS'. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, but 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.'
When referring to something belonging to Acas, use Acas's, not Acas'. This is because the extra 's' is pronounced when spoken. For example, 'St James's Park' or 'the boss's decision'.
acronyms and initialisms
Use all capitals if an abbreviation is an initialism (pronounced as the individual letters), for example CEO and VAT.
If it's an acronym (pronounced as a word) spell it out with an initial capital, for example Unicef. If the word is considered to be an everyday word you do not need a capital, for example covid.
If the acronym or initialism is well known
Some organisations and things are more well known for their acronym or initialism. You do not need to write these out in full. For example:
- the CBI – not 'the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)'
- the CIPD – not 'the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)'
- the EU – not 'European Union'
- the TUC – not 'the Trades Union Congress (TUC)'
- TUPE – not 'Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006'
- the UK – not 'the United Kingdom'
- VAT – not 'value added tax'
You can also follow an organisation's own style. For example, use 'HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)' the first time, then 'HMRC' after.
Using acronyms and initialisms that are not well known
Some acronyms and initialisms are not well known as the name of something. For these, write out the full name and provide the acronym or initialism in brackets after.
Continue to write out the full name and do not use the acronym or initialism throughout the rest of the page.
For example, 'Your employer might have an employee assistance programme (EAP)… If your employer refers you to the employee assistance programme, you can…'
This is because acronyms and initialisms that are not commonly used might not be easy to read or accessible. But some users might search for them so it's still good to include them once.
If you have limited space, you can use the acronym or initialism instead of the full name. For example, in tables.
Do not use acronyms or initialisms that are not well known in headings.
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'.
Write each part of the address on a new line. Do not use punctuation.
8th Floor Windsor House
50 Victoria Street
adoption and surrogacy
- 'intended parent' when someone is having a child through surrogacy and is applying for a parental order to become the legal parent
- 'legal parent' when someone has been granted an adoption or parental order to become the child's legal parent
Use lower case for parental order.
Use 'advice', not 'guidance'.
- it's plain English
- it's a shorter word
- guidance is effectively Acas's advice on how to do something
Use 'adviser'. Not 'advisor'.
Do not use '&' for 'and', unless it's part of a company's name as it appears on the Companies House register.
Do not use 'and/or'. Use 'and' or 'or', whichever is more appropriate, or rephrase the sentence so it's clear what you mean.
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'.
Since the decommission of the old 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: retirement.
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'.
Use plainer terms instead, for example:
- 'when someone has died'
They're simpler and easier for people to understand when in a stressful situation. You can use 'bereavement' for an official term, for example 'bereavement leave'.
When writing a blog for the website, follow the blog guidelines.
Only use 'Britain' when talking about Acas's 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.
When using callouts on the Acas website, use the callouts content pattern.
capitalisation and title case
Use lower case for most things. For example:
- statutory sick pay (SSP)
- statutory maternity pay
- early conciliation
- trade union
Use title case when writing anything that is officially title case. For example:
- an act of law
- the name of an organisation
- National Minimum Wage
Also use title case in some contexts for:
- job titles
- team names
- regions of England
Capitalising job titles
Use lower case when writing about a type of job. For example:
- 'speak to an adviser'
- 'company directors'
- 'as a content designer'
Use title case when writing about a specific person. For example:
- Jay Surname, Helpline Adviser
- Acas's Chief Executive
- 'in their role as Senior Content Designer'
Capitalising team names
Use title case when writing about a specific, named team within an organisation. For example, Acas's Customer Services team.
Capitalising regions of England
Use title case for official regions in England. These are:
- East Midlands
- East of England
- North East
- North West
- South East
- South West
- West Midlands
- Yorkshire and The Humber
For areas such as 'north' or 'south' use lower case. For example, the north of England.
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'.
claimant, respondent, representative
You can use these terms when writing about early conciliation:
- 'claimant' – the person considering making a claim to an employment tribunal
- 'respondent' – the organisation or person the claim is against
- 'representative' – someone acting on behalf of a claimant or respondent, for example a lawyer
Explain what they mean the first time you use them.
Take care with 'respondent' and 'representative' – users can confuse them.
Code of Practice
Use title case: 'Code of Practice' 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.
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.
Do not include any 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.'
Write as 'covid' when it's in a title.
Write as 'covid-19 (coronavirus)' when you first mention it in the text, then as 'covid' after that.
In link text, follow the same rule. For example, 'covid guidance on GOV.UK' (if 'coronavirus' has already been mentioned in previous text).
Only use a capital C for 'covid' if it's at the start of a sentence.
Use 'pandemic' when referring to the pandemic period itself. For example, 'during the covid pandemic' or 'during the pandemic'.
Use lower case: 'county court' not 'County Court'.
Do not use 'civil court'.
When writing for the Acas website, use the Acas customer services content pattern.
dashes and hyphens
Hyphens should only be used to join words together.
In other cases use an en dash, for example when separating groups of words.
An en dash (–) is longer than a hyphen (-) but shorter than an em dash (—).
It's important to consider whether you definitely need to use an en dash. An en dash draws attention to what comes after it, so a comma or full stop might be more appropriate. Using an en dash can also make a sentence longer than necessary.
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')
- '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.
detriment for enforcing a right
When you need to explain that employees must not experience a detriment, use the content pattern for detriment for enforcing a right.
We use the social model of disability, that says people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.
Where possible, use language like:
- 'disabled person'
- 'someone who's disabled'
Where it fits better in context, you can also use things like:
- 'someone who has a disability'
- 'because of someone's disability'
- 'your / their disability'
Do not use words that are offensive or negative, for example 'suffering from', 'handicapped', 'special needs', 'wheelchair-bound'.
Read more about:
- the social model of disability from Scope
- inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability – GOV.UK
Also check the style for:
Do not use 'disciplinary process'. We use 'procedure' because disciplinary procedures are formally recognised or official.
Use 'discrimination' and 'discrimination at work' as broad terms. Where it's relevant, make it clear that harassment and victimisation are types of discrimination.
- 'Discrimination law (Equality Act 2010) protects people against discrimination at work – this includes harassment and victimisation.'
- 'You should try to work out the type of discrimination you've experienced.'
Do not use 'treated unfairly' or 'unfair treatment' when you're defining discrimination. These terms can be subjective.
For direct discrimination, use 'put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably'.
Avoid 'discrimination, bullying and harassment' where possible. This is because harassment is a type of discrimination, and bullying is not covered by discrimination law. However, it's okay to use it when:
- you're talking about a policy, for example 'Your organisation might have a policy on discrimination, bullying and harassment'
- you have limited space and need to make it clear that what you're writing about includes bullying and harassment
Also check the style for:
Use lower case, not 'Early Conciliation'.
In content for claimants, use the content pattern for explaining that early conciliation is free and confidential.
early conciliation certificates
Use 'early conciliation certificate' for the certificate Acas issues when someone needs to take their case to an employment tribunal.
When referring to a COT3 – an agreement reached between parties during early conciliation – use:
- 'conciliation agreement (COT3)' on the first mention
- 'COT3' on following mentions
Use 'online training' wherever possible as it's more widely used and understood.
If you have to use 'elearning', do not use a hyphen – 'elearning' not 'e-learning'.
If you want to direct users to an email address, make sure it's at the end of a sentence. Do not use a full stop because users might accidentally copy this as part of the email address.
If you need the template in a different format, or you cannot download it, email email@example.com
Also check the style for:
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 you need to refer to a specific employment status, use the phrase 'legally classed as an employee' or 'legally classed as a worker'. Link to our page on types of employment status.
For example, 'This does not apply if you are legally classed as a worker.'
employee assistance programme
Write as 'employee assistance programme (EAP)' when you first mention it in the text, then as 'employee assistance programme' after that. Use lower case. Do not use EAP on its own.
employer and employee (your)
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'.
Employment Rights Act 1996
This is an act of law. Use title case, with the year. Not 'the employment rights act'.
Use the phrase 'make a claim to an employment tribunal'.
Do not write 'at employment tribunal', 'take to court' or 'make a court claim'.
When writing for the Acas website, use the content pattern for making a claim to an employment tribunal.
employment tribunal form ET1
Use the following:
'form ET1, for making an employment tribunal claim'.
employment tribunal time limits
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
This is an act of law. Use title case, with the year. Not 'the equality act'.
Use examples to make things clearer. Do not rely on them – users can skip examples, so the content needs to make sense without them.
Use gender-neutral and diverse names, and the neutral pronoun. For example, Alex, Jian, Kayo (they, their).
Avoid using lots of names in one example. It can be clearer to name one person and then refer to their 'employer', 'manager', or 'colleague'.
Using company names
Avoid using names for a company or organisation.
If you need to use them to make examples clear:
- check they're not real company or organisation names
- do not portray the company negatively
- make the names as different from each other as possible, to avoid confusion
Examples in website advice
When writing examples for the Acas website, use the content pattern for examples.
fire and rehire
Use 'dismiss and rehire', not 'fire and rehire'.
The first time we mention it on a page 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.
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)'.
Use gender-neutral and inclusive language, for example 'they', 'them' and 'their'.
In examples use gender-neutral names, for example Alex, Jian, Kayo.
Also check the style for:
Not 'best practice'.
Not 'grievance process'. We use 'procedure' because grievance procedures are formally recognised or official.
Use 'advice', not 'guidance'.
Make it clear that harassment is a type of discrimination covered by discrimination law (Equality Act 2010). This is relevant for 7 of the 9 protected characteristics.
The law on harassment does not cover the protected characteristics 'marriage and civil partnership' and 'pregnancy and maternity'.
Also check the style for:
Do not use:
- technical terms unless you've already explained them
- 'introduction' as your first section – users do not want an introduction, just give the most important information
Write short, descriptive headings.
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.
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 writing for the Acas website, use the content pattern for the Acas helpline.
Use 'holiday entitlement', not 'annual leave', as the default term.
Use 'holiday entitlement' to refer to statutory holiday entitlement. If referring to non-statutory holiday entitlement, follow the enhanced and contractual holiday entitlement pattern.
You can use slightly different language if the context requires it. For example:
- 'paid holiday' when you need to be specific about the pay aspect
- just 'holiday' when referring to the generic concept of holiday, for example 'taking holiday'
- just 'holiday' where it's clear from the preceding content that you mean 'holiday entitlement', to avoid repetition
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.
Use hyphenated words when they form an adjective. For example:
- 4-week notice period
- rolled-up holiday pay
- short-time working
- work-life balance
- zero-hours contract
Someone can 'work full time' (no hyphen) or do 'full-time work' (hyphen).
inverted commas or 'quote marks'
If the term is a link, we do not put inverted commas. For example: constructive dismissal
Use 'straight' inverted commas, not ‘curly’ (slanted) ones.
Do not use italics because:
- they can make text more difficult to read
- people who use screen readers will not get any meaning from them
lawful and unlawful
Avoid using 'lawful' or 'unlawful'.
Instead of using 'lawful', use 'legal', 'by law' or 'following the law'.
Instead of using 'unlawful', use 'against the law' or 'not following the law'.
This is because users do not always understand the difference between 'legal' and 'lawful' or 'illegal' and 'unlawful'.
You can use 'lawful' and 'unlawful' if:
- it's part of the name of a legal claim, for example 'unlawful deduction from wages'
- you're speaking to someone about their specific situation, for example on a helpline call
Use 'legal advice'. Do not use 'legal opinion', 'independent advice' or 'professional advice'.
Avoid linking to the legal advice page. The Acas helpline is almost always a better next step.
Use 'inverted commas' for legal or official terms being introduced for the first time. Do not use them after that.
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:
'Failure to make reasonable adjustments' is a type of discrimination. It can happen when an employer does not make reasonable adjustments for someone who needs them.
length of service
When referring to situations where someone needs to have worked for their employer for a certain length of time, use the content pattern for length of service.
When adding links, use the content pattern for linking.
Use 'long covid'.
Only use a capital 'L' if it's at the start of a sentence.
Avoid using 'may' if it could be wrongly interpreted as permission to do something. Use 'might' instead.
Use 'mental health' as a broad term, for example when you mean both good or poor mental health.
Use 'mental health problems' as a general term for when poor mental health affects day-to-day life.
You can also use:
- 'poor mental health'
- 'mental health condition' – when you're writing about a diagnosed condition
- 'mental ill health' – this is a term often used in Human Resources
Use language like:
- 'someone who has schizophrenia'
- 'someone with depression'
- 'someone with poor mental health'
Do not use 'mental impairment' unless you need to quote the law.
Do not use words that are offensive or negative. For example 'suffering from depression'. Instead use 'someone who has depression'.
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'.
mother or birth parent
Use 'mother or birth parent' when talking about someone who is pregnant or gives birth.
Take care when using 'birth parent' in a different context as it can have a wider meaning. For example, 'birth parents' can mean the parents of a child who's being adopted.
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'.
Use the content pattern for navigation boxes.
Use 'okay'. Not 'ok' or 'OK'.
Use 'organisation' instead of 'business', 'company' or 'workplace'. This is to include non-commercial employers like charities.
Use 'partner' to refer to the person someone is in a relationship with whether they're married or not.
Do not use 'spouse' because it's not plain.
If you need to talk about specific types of partner:
- try to use 'married to' instead of 'husband or wife', to be gender neutral
- always include 'civil partner' when talking about being married
- list them alphabetically
One word, no hyphen. Not 'pay slip'.
Avoid using 'please' in calls to action. 'Read the full CIPD report', not 'Please read 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'.
A policy is 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'.
Also check the style for:
A 'procedure' is a process that is formally recognised or is an official way of doing something.
Also check the style for:
Use lower case. Use 'protected characteristics' with inverted commas the first time you mention the term. List them in alphabetical order.
When you need to write out the full list, use this wording:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Check which ones you need to include. For example, the law on harassment does not cover marriage and civil partnership or pregnancy and maternity.
For publication titles, use colons. For example, 'Domestic abuse: a workplace issue'.
For public consultation titles, use en dashes. For example, 'Title – Acas response'.
putting something in writing
Always explain how to put something in writing.
For example: 'You should put this in writing, for example in a letter or email'.
Where it means something different, make that clear. This will depend on the context, for example it could mean writing something in an employment contract or sharing a written policy.
race and ethnicity
Be as specific as possible when you're talking about ethnicity.
Where you need to group people from different ethnic minority backgrounds, use 'ethnic minorities' or 'ethnic minority'. For example 'ethnic minority employees'.
Do not use BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) or BME (black and minority ethnic). Unless you're explaining terms people use.
Refer to race when you're talking about:
- the protected characteristic
- an employee race network or race allies
In most other cases, refer to ethnicity.
When talking about ethnicity, use the guidance on writing about ethnicity from the Race Disparity Unit on GOV.UK.
raising a problem at work
When writing for the Acas website, use the content pattern for raising a problem at work.
Do not use inverted commas.
Always link to the reasonable adjustments advice in website content.
Research reports use Harvard referencing style.
We follow the GDS style guide for punctuation and styling.
We differ from the GDS style guide in the use of some Latin terms:
- we use 'et al' (meaning 'and others'), as this is expected in Harvard referencing style
- 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 more guidance on:
Use the content pattern for related content links 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 the contact page.
Use 'remote working' for definitions. Use 'working from home' in all other instances.
We use 'remote' to be factually accurate in definitions but '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.'
Do not use the verb 'signpost'. Use plain English.
For example, do not write 'signpost staff to any support that's available'. You could write 'tell staff how to get support'.
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'
statutory leave and pay for parents
Always write these entitlements in full. Use lower case and do not use initialisms:
- statutory maternity leave
- statutory maternity pay
- statutory paternity leave
- statutory paternity pay
- shared parental leave
- shared parental pay
- statutory adoption leave
- statutory adoption pay
subject access request
Use 'subject access request (SAR)' instead of 'personal data request'. This is because 'subject access request' or 'SAR' are more popular Google search terms.
Use 'phone' rather than 'telephone', but use 'contact' wherever possible because it's more active and inclusive.
Also check the style for:
When writing about time periods you should follow what the relevant legislation says.
For example, if the legislation uses '12 months', use that instead of 'a year' or '1 year'.
trade union representative
When saying that someone can get advice or support from a trade union representative, use the content pattern for trade union representative.
When publishing a transcript for an audio or video file, follow the transcript guidelines.
When referring to absence trigger points:
- do not use inverted commas
- link to the absence trigger points advice
verbs in guide and chapter titles
Use the active verb ('do') if you're telling the user to do a thing, for example 'Avoid redundancies'.
Use the present participle ('doing') if you're telling the user ways to do a thing, for example 'Checking holiday entitlement'.
Make sure you're consistent with chapter titles in the same guide. For example:
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'.
working from home
Use 'working from home' instead of:
- 'home working'
- 'remote working'
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. It's still best to be specific, for example use 'shop' if the only workplace you're referring to is a shop.
In most cases use 'reasonable adjustments'.
You can use 'workplace adjustments' if you're referring to physical changes at the place of work, for example installing a ramp.
On first mention, write the full legal term 'written statement of employment particulars'.
After that, use 'written statement', not 'written terms'.
zero-hours contract or worker
Not 'zero-hour' or 'zero hours'.