Make content easier to read
For writing in general, always refer to the Chicago Manual of Style. However, here are some recommended guidelines.

Acronyms

Use words that everyday members of the public will know. Acronyms can often confuse users. If you must use acronyms, as in technical documents written for a specific audience, spell out the words the first time you reference it, then use the acronym afterward. For example:
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a professional association for electronic engineering and electrical engineering. IEEE produces over 30% of the world's literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields.
When you're writing on the web or for print materials, always spell out the acronym. Writing simply and accessibly generally reduces the need to use acronyms.

Active voice

Writing should be direct and engaging. This helps keep content simple and concise.
A fun way to remember this is adding “by Willie Nelson” after the verb in the sentence. If the sentence makes sense, it’s passive voice, which should be avoided.
Another day was selected (by Willie Nelson) for the Council meeting.
If you add “by Willie Nelson” after the verb, and it doesn’t make sense, it’s active voice.
City Council selected (by Willie Nelson) another day for their meeting.

Addresses

When writing addresses, spell out street names. However, abbreviate states when spelling out a full address.
  • Do
    • 5100 North Lamar Boulevard
    • 1520 Rutherford Lane
      Austin, TX 78754
  • Avoid
    • 5100 N. Lamar Blvd.
    • 1520 Rutherford Ln
      Austin, Texas 78754

Job titles

We follow the Chicago Manual of Style rules on job title capitalization.
  • Lowercase titles in running text:
    • The city manager has the right to revoke an event permit...
  • But capitalize when preceding
    • I spoke with Mayor Steve Adler.

Academic degrees

We follow the Chicago Manual of Style rules on academic degrees and similar.
  • Lowercase degrees:
    • Stephanie is a licensed master level social worker

Capitalization

  • Do capitalize proper nouns, including names of individuals, places, and agencies.
  • Don’t capitalize personal titles unless they precede a name.
    • “Please call the city manager.”
    • “Nice to meet you, City Manager Smith.”
  • URLs should be lowercase unless they start a sentence.
    • "Alpha.austin.gov is a work in progress."

Complete sentences

  • Write in complete sentences. This ensures you are communicating a complete and clear statement to residents.
  • Avoid writing sentence fragments.
    • “Shows no signs of improving after the input session.”
  • Avoid writing run-on sentences.
    • “The City will be requesting resident input on the new master plan residents have asked for meetings to be held after 6 p.m. in multiple locations to have all voices heard.”

Conscious style

  • Avoid using “citizen,” as many government programs serve non-citizens. Instead, use:
    • People
    • The public
    • Users
  • Use gender-neutral text, like “they” and “them.” Change “fireman” to “firefighter.”
See tips from the Conscious Style Guide to create inclusive content.

Context

When users visit your page, they should be able to understand what is on the page, the purpose of the page, and what actions they can take. Avoid writing your content in a way that assumes the user is already familiar with your content.
A user should easily be able to answer the question: “What is this?” If they have to read the entire page first to understand what it is, then the page is lacking context.
For example, let’s say a department creates a page to offer classes to residents, the content below would not be clear as to what the page is about from first reading it:
Learn
  • Grow your skills.
  • Become a better you.
  • Our instructors are certified and qualified. Learn more.
A better way to start this page and give this content context would be:
Take a Ceramics Class
Learn hand-building techniques for sculpting clay, and create beautiful works of art in this 4-week course. Beginners are welcome. The next class starts March 20. Sign up for the ceramics class here.

Design-agnostic

A page’s layout will change depending on the size of the user’s device. It’s important to not include any language that references an item’s position on a page to ensure the content doesn’t conflict with what the viewer is seeing on their device.
  • Avoid: “For time and location, view the class details to the right.”
  • Do: “For time and location, view the class details.”
One of the easiest ways to ensure the longevity of your content is to make sure it doesn’t specifically reference the design of the page. As layouts or colors and type change in the future, having design-agnostic content will ensure that every time a design change is made, a content change isn’t also needed.
  • Avoid: “Click the green “Enroll” button to start the enrollment process.”
  • Do: “Click the “Enroll” button to start the enrollment process.”

Emphasis

  • Don’t use all caps, as it looks as if you are yelling at the user.
  • Avoid italics, as they are hard to read online.
  • Don’t use underlines, unless it is for a hyperlink.
  • Don’t center text, as it is hard to read.
  • When using bold to emphasize text, use it sparingly.
  • Do not use colored text.
    • The color of the text has been carefully chosen to meet accessibility guidelines. By adding a custom color or by using colors differently from other parts of the site, you risk making the content inaccessible and confusing for users.

Headings

Use header formatting to break up content. Do not use bold for headings. Users with visual impairments use screen readers to read websites, and screen readers do not recognize bold as a heading.

Lists and Bullets

When deciding to create a list, evaluate whether keeping details in-line might be the better option. If there are 3 or less items and each item can be explained simply, perhaps a bulleted list is not appropriate. Bullets are better for longer lists, more complex pieces of information, and pieces of information that you want to stand out.
  • Do:
    This class will focus on budgeting, living independently, and reconnecting with family members.
  • Avoid:
    This class will focus on:
    • Budgeting
    • Living independently
    • Reconnecting with family members
Once you decide to use a bulleted list, refer to these guidelines to ensure that your content is in alignment with the site's style policies.
Ideally, list items will be no more than one full sentence.
  • Do:
    Household hazardous waste do’s and don’ts
    • Don't endanger members of your community or the environment by throwing household hazardous waste in the trash or pouring it down the drain.
    • Do bring products in their original containers.
    • If the original container is larger than 5-gallons, please call the Recycle and ReUse Center at 512-974-4343 to find out how to get your products ready for drop off.
  • Avoid:
    Household hazardous waste do’s and don’ts
    • Throwing household hazardous waste in the trash or pouring it down the drain is dangerous and harmful to the environment. Austin and Travis County residents can drop off up to 30-gallons of hazardous waste for free each year.
    • Bring products in their original containers. If the original container is larger than 5-gallons, please call the Recycle and ReUse Center at 512-974-4343 to find out how to get your products ready for drop off.
Always capitalize the first word in a list item, and only end a list item with a period if there is a complete sentence.
  • Do:
    To prevent damage to your property, keep bulk items 5 feet away from your:
    • Trash cart
    • Mailbox
    • Fences or walls
    • Water meter
  • Avoid: To prevent damage to your property, keep bulk items 5 feet away from your:
    • trash cart.
    • mailbox.
    • fences or walls.
    • water meter.
Do not end a list item with a comma.
  • Do: Locations include:
    • Neighborhood centers
    • Barber shops
    • Liquor stores and bars
    • Other easily accesible local establishments
  • Avoid:
    Locations include:
    • Neighborhood centers,
    • Barber shops,
    • Liquor stores and bars,
    • And other easily accesible local establishments
When it is necessary to communicate that only one option is acceptable, give that description in-line. If the list items are more conditional than this, it might be a good opportunity to reevaluate whether a list is the right solution.
  • Do:
    To achieve this goal, choose one of the following options:
    • This first thing
    • This second thing
    • This third thing
  • Avoid:
    To achieve this goal:
    • Do this or
    • Do this second thing or
    • Do this third thing

Numbers

  • Show numbers as numerals to make it easier readers to scan the text.
    • To prevent damage to your property, keep bulk items 5 feet away from your parked car.
  • Use numerals for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc...
  • For amounts of money in cents or greater than $1 million, use numerals followed by words:
    • 7 cents or $1.9 million
  • For amounts of money less than $1 million, use the dollar sign: $20.
  • In titles, subheadings, and interface labels, use numerals instead of spelling out numbers.
    • “7 Grants for Local Small Businesses”
  • Use the en dash with no spacing in number ranges.
    • Yes: Accidental injuries are the leading cause of death among Travis County residents ages 1–44.
    • No: Accidental injuries are the leading cause of death among Travis County residents ages 1 to 44.
    • No: Accidental injuries are the leading cause of death among Travis County residents ages 1 – 44.

Phone numbers

Most mobile devices are able to automatically detect a phone number and turn it into a clickable link. This makes it easy for users to simply tap on the number to initiate a call instead of having to manually type in a phone number. Phone numbers should use the following convention, with the area code offset in parentheses.
  • Do: “Call the Help Desk at (512) 974-4357.”
  • Avoid: Letters for words, like “To call the Help Desk, call (512) 974-HELP.”
3-1-1 uses dashes

Sentence case

We use sentence case for all web page titles, headings, and buttons, which means capitalizing only the first word and proper nouns. Names of departments are capitalized.
  • Do:
    • File a complaint against an Austin police officer
    • How we store and use your information
    • Office of Police Oversight
    • Add another [button]
  • Avoid:
    • File a Complaint Against an Austin Police Officer
    • How We Store and Use Your Information
    • Office of police oversight
    • Add Another [button]

Time

Always use numerals for time. Do not include “:00” for times on the hour. Lowercase “am” and “pm” and do not use periods. There is always a space between the numeral and “am” or “pm.” To indicate a time range, always use the en dash with no spacing instead of "to." Use “noon” instead of “12 pm.”
  • Do:
    • 9 am–5 pm
    • 9:30 pm
    • Noon
  • Avoid:
    • 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
    • 9 am – 5pm
    • 9 am to 5pm
    • 9:30 P.M.
    • 12 p.m.
Last modified 1yr ago