This style guide is based on good practice and is aimed at content writers and editors who are writing for the web.
It has guidance on:
- specific points of style, such as how to write link text, email addresses and telephone numbers
- writing Cambridge specific words and phrases
- how to layout text using headings, subheadings and bullet points
Accessibility and inclusivity are essential to writing good content. We've written this guide with accessibility in mind.
We're happy to receive your suggestions for entries to this guide. Email us: email@example.com.
Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms
Write abbreviations in full when you use it for the first time on a page and then put the abbreviation in brackets. For example, University Information Services (UIS).
Exceptions to this are very well-known initialisms like UK and USA. Initialisms are pronounced as individual letters.
Acronyms are words formed from initial letters but pronounced as a word for example, Nato. Write acronyms with an initial capital letter.
Do not use full stops or spaces in abbreviations.
See eg, etc ie
Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice. For example, 'We opened a new centre' not 'A new centre was opened'.
Address the user
Be direct. It's easier for our users to understand when we speak to them directly. 'You can contact us via email or phone', for example.
Separate each line of the address and do not use punctuation. Where there is a specific department or office, ensure that you include 'University of Cambridge'.
University of Cambridge
The Old Schools
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 337733
See email addresses and telephone numbers
Include weeks, months, and years. Use these formats:
'aged 6 years'
'aged 15 to 16 years'
'aged 7 months'
If you refer to the age of something or someone, include hyphens. For example, '30-year-old' or '25 to 30-year-old women'.
Use numerals for decades when referring to an age, for example, 'men in their 60s'.
Age restriction limits should use 'aged 18 years and over' or 'aged under 16 years'. Do not use the plus sign, for example 40+
Alumni are former students of the University. Consider using 'former student' or 'graduate' for some audiences.
Alumni has different forms, use:
- alum for a one gender-neutral graduate
- alums for plural gender-neutral graduates
- alumna for one female graduate
- alumnae for plural female graduates
- alumnus for one male graduate
- alumni for plural male or plural mixed gender graduates
For example, Jane Bloggs is an alumna of the University.
Use lower case for all its forms unless the word is part of a proper noun, for example X College Alumni Association.
We do not release details about students or former students without their consent. This includes their college, matriculation date, qualification or subject of study.
With consent, you can write their name with college and date of matriculation in brackets. Use the format: Jo Bloggs (X College 2020).
American and UK English
Use UK English spelling and grammar. For example, use 'colour' not 'color' and 'realise' not 'realize'. Use American English spelling in American proper nouns, for example, Pearl Harbor.
Avoid using &. Always write 'and' unless it's part of a name.
Use an apostrophe to show that a letter is missing or that 2 words have been joined together. For example, I'm (I am) or we're (we are).
Apostrophes also show the possessive. If the noun is:
- singular, add 's. For example, 'Cambridge's history'
- singular and ends in s, add 's. For example, 'The glass's stem was broken'
- plural add 's. For example, 'The women's clothes department'
- plural and ends in s, just add an apostrophe. For example, 'We asked for the teachers' and students' feedback'
- a person's name that ends in s, you can add an apostrophe or 's. For example, 'Chris's team worked on the new website' or 'Carys' team was based in Cambridge'
Do not use an apostrophe in plural nouns that are not possessive. For example, I have 2 cats is correct. I have 2 cat's is incorrect.
Also see contractions
Limit the use of bold text. Use front-loading, bullets and headings to emphasise content instead.
Use (round brackets) if needed. Do not use brackets for things that could be singular or plural, like 'Give any middle name(s)' instead use the plural 'Give any middle names'.
Bullet points make text easier to read.
Make sure that:
- you always use a lead-in line
- the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
- there is a space between the lead-in line and the bullets
- there are 3 or more bullets
- each bullet starts with a lower case letter
- there is no 'or', 'and', or punctuation at the end of the bullet
- the bullets are short
If bullet points follow a heading or subheading, they need:
- a capital letter at the start
- a full stop at the end
- to be one sentence only
- There were 20,426 applications for undergraduate places in 2020.
- We made 4,710 offers.
- Over 84% of offers were accepted.
Do not use bullets if you're explaining a process or anything with a fixed order. Instead use a numbered list.
Do not use block capitals. It's hard to read.
Use this in social media hashtags. For example, #CambridgeUniversityApplicant or #UseCamelCase. The upper case letter helps users to read words that are not separated by a space.
This is where the first letter of each significant word is upper case, such as: A Semantic Analysis of Fourteen Novels by Charles Dickens. It's common in academic titles but should be avoided for wider audiences.
Use title case for:
- proper nouns such as people and place names
- job titles for example, Admissions Tutor and Director of Studies
- organisation names - try to follow the organisation's own convention
- qualifications for example, BA Honours in history
- term names - Michaelmas term, Lent term and Easter term
- College names, even when referring to the 31 Cambridge Colleges collectively
- talks or publication titles that follow the pattern [Title] [colon] [subtitle], for example, Antipodean Archaeology: A very short introduction
This means starting the sentence with a capital letter but using lower case for the rest.
Use sentence case for:
- the majority of your content
- page titles
- headings and headlines (and also remember to use lower case after a colon)
- academic subjects, for example 'engineering students' or 'art historian Professor A...'
Check the context
Sometimes, you'll need to choose which case to use. This depends on whether the context is specific or general. Here are some examples:
University has a capital letter U when referring to 'the University of Cambridge'. If you use university in a general context, it should have a lower case u. For example, 'a place at university'.
Use this approach when referring to specific departments or faculties in this University such as 'Faculty of Education' but use lower case in general use.
Again, use this approach for matters of governance, for example, 'X College's Governing Body will decide ….' but 'the Regent House is the governing body and …'.
For directions, capitalise the points of a compass only if they are part of a name for example, Eastern Europe and North Yorkshire. Do not capitalise when they refer to direction or general descriptions for example, the north of Scotland or go east.
Always use upper case for initialisms, for example, GCSEs, UCAS and USA. Do not use full stops.
Always use lower case for phrases such as cleantech, medtech, fintech. Notice that there are no hyphens.
Use a colon to introduce a quotation, list or an idea that is a continuation of the one before the colon. For example,
The Vice-Chancellor stated: "Cambridge Zero will help us imagine and deliver a better, healthier zero-carbon future."
The statistics incorporate varied data: housing, schooling and population information. (Example from Office of National Statistics)
There is one thing you need to know about statistics: they are fascinating. (Example from Office of National Statistics)
The clause before the colon must be a full sentence. After the colon, start with a lowercase letter.
Use a comma to separate three items in a list. If more than three items are mentioned, consider using bullet points.
Use a comma to separate an introductory part of a sentence from the main part.
You can use comma before 'and' to avoid confusion. For example, 'The jumper is available in green, yellow, and black and white.'
Use simple contractions. They make your content more conversational. You can use contractions like:
User research has shown that some contractions are harder to read than others. These include negative contractions and contractions using have ('ve).
For example, you should avoid using:
- can't and don't
- should've, they've and would've
- won't and wouldn't
Copyright and credits
Your content must follow copyright and credits guidance. Find out what you need to do about Copyright Compliance from the Legal Services Division.
Use the British English name for each country. Refer to the GOV.UK country register for the current list of countries and use the commonly used name rather than the official name. Sometimes countries, cities or regions names change. Ensure they are up-to-date in your content. List sequences of names in alphabetical order.
Avoid using dashes. Keeping punctuation simple makes text easier to read. Do not use dashes in date ranges or in place of commas.
Use the format: 8 August 2021
- upper case for days and months: Tuesday 8 August
- shortened months like Mar, Apr if there's little space, for example in tables
- shortened days like Mon or Tues, only if space is limited, for example in tables
- 'to' in date ranges, for example:
- Monday to Friday
- 1 January to 5 April
- September 2021 to June 2022
- January to June 2020
Do not use:
- commas or abbreviations like st, nd, rd, and th
- dashes or hyphens in date ranges
- Jun and Jul - use the full month name
Decades should only have an apostrophe when they are a possessive. For example: A 1970's child attended school in the 1980s.
For centuries use ordinal numbers, for example, 19th century.
eg, etc and ie
Avoid using these. Use alternatives that make sense in each context: like, such as, for example, that is.
Email and web addresses
Write email addresses and URLs in lower case, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.cam.ac.uk.
Do not include http:// or https:// at the beginning. End with a full stop if the address appears at the end of a sentence.
Software should automatically add the hyperlink. You should not need to underline email addresses or URLs.
Do not use exclamation marks unless they appear in a direct quote.
Do not use FAQs. If a question is frequently asked, then it should form part of the main content. Do research to find out what your users need from your content.
Use a full stop at the end of a sentence. Do not use them after initials, abbreviations or acronyms. Titles, headings and subheadings should not have a full stop.
Headings and subheadings
Headings give your page structure. Headings and subheadings are important because they allow a user to scan the page and they improve Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
You should write clear and concise front-loaded headings using keywords that are meaningful to the user. Use statements rather than questions.
For example, 'Apply to study law' rather than 'How to apply to study law' or 'How do I apply to study law?'
Screen reading software will scan pages according to labels you apply in the content management system or with code if you use HTML. An example of a label is 'H1'. Your page title is H1. There should only be on H1 per page. Each subheading should be H2 and if you need to add sections under your subheading, use H3.
H1: Apply to study law
H2: Entry requirements
H3: International qualifications
Use hyphens to join words that form an adjective before a noun. For example, 'a ninth-century castle'. Do not use a hyphen when the adjective follows a noun or pronoun for example, 'a castle built in the ninth century'.
Use hyphens in words to avoid awkward or confusing combinations of letters. For example, use a hyphen in:
We also use a hyphen in:
However, we do not use hyphens in the abbreviated forms VC and PVC.
Do not use a hyphen in:
startups (in relation to companies)
Do not use italics. People with dyslexia can find italicised words harder to read. This is because letters may have a jagged outline, the words lean and can seem to run together.
Some scientific terms need to use italics.
Never use 'Click here' or 'Read more' as link text. It's not accessible and it does not tell the user where the link will go. Screen reader users may scan the links on the page and will only hear 'Click here' or 'read more'.
Instead, front-load your link text with the relevant terms and make them active and specific.
For example, The Student Advice Service provides free, confidential and impartial advice to students.
If you're linking to external websites let the user know by using the name of the website in the link. For example:
- Get advice from AbilityNet about making your device easier to use if you have a disability.
- GOV.UK's linking policy gives more detail on how to write effective links.
Follow the International System of Units (SI) as a guide for units of measurement.
Write out measurements first, then abbreviate them. If it's only mentioned once, do not abbreviate. For example, 'The load was 15 kilograms (kg). There was 10 kg of sand and 5 kg of cement.'
Commonly used measurements include: cm, mm, km, g, l (litre), MB, GB, kHz, MHz, KB. If your source material uses imperial units, always include the metric equivalent in brackets.
Always write out 'miles' and 'metres' in full to avoid confusion.
Abbreviations should not have full stops and are always singular. Ensure there is a space between the number and abbreviation, except with one-letter abbreviations. For example, write 50g not 50 g. Write 75 km not 75km.
In popular scientific writing, it's good practice to include an easily understandable relative size such as nano-scale comparisons to the 'width of a human hair' and a millionth or billionth of a metre.
Use the £ symbol or any other currency unit before the amount. Do not use decimals unless pence is included. For example, write £9,250 not £9,250.00.
However, if you're writing a sequence of numbers, use the same number of decimal places. For example, 'We increased the price from $15.50 to $16.00.'
Always write million and billion in full. For example, write £129 million.
Do not use £0.xx million for amounts less than £1 million.
Include the GBP equivalent of non-GBP currency amounts.
Names and titles
The Acting Vice-Chancellor's full title is Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Anthony Freeling.
Use spaces (not full stops) after initials. For example, write Dr M P S Handley.
Do not add a comma between a name and any letters after the name for example, Dame Jane Goodall DBE.
The correct format for knighted professors is Professor Dame Louise Johnson or Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton. Use the full title first, then use Dame Louise and Sir Nicholas.
Above all, consider how the individual would like to be addressed. For example, some people prefer using their academic titles instead of their peerage.
When writing names in alphabetical order remember:
- Mac appears before Mc
- du Plessis appears under D
- Spanish names appear under the first family name, for example, M Rangel Archila de Novais comes under Rangel
Use a numbered list to show the steps in a process or order of events. You do not need to use a lead-in line.
Ensure each numbered item is a full sentence with a capital letter and full stop or question mark.
Use a consistent sentence structure. If one sentence begins with verb, all sentences should start with a verb. For example,
How to submit your application
- Go to example-website.com.
- Enter your email address and password.
- Complete the application form.
- Make the payment.
- Submit your application.
- Always write 'one' in full and write all other numbers including 2 to 9 as numerals.
- If you're writing points in a list, use numerals, for example 'Step 1'.
- Use words in common phrases, like 'one or two of them'.
- Use words if a number starts a sentence, for example, 'Thirty members of staff…'
- Use a comma for numbers over 999, for example, 8,765 and 9,750,300.
- Use a 0 for decimals less than one for example, 0.5.
- Write out common fractions like one-third and use a % sign for percentages.
- Use numbers in tables.
- For ordinals, write first to ninth in full but after that use 10th, 11th and so on.
- Use 'to' in number ranges for example, 150 to 200 students or 12 to 18 Park Road.
- Use MB for anything over 1 MB: 2 MB not 2005 KB and use KB for anything under 1 MB: 569 KB not 0.57 MB.
- Keep numbers as accurate as possible and use the number of decimal places that are relevant to the context.
- Avoid using Roman numerals unless they form part of a title or proper noun. The University's Statutes and Ordinances are an exception to this.
Also see dates
Page titles and summaries
The title and summary on each web page are very important. They appear in internet search results and help the user decide if the content is what they are looking for.
To help the user decide, page titles should:
- be 65 characters or less
- be unique, clear and descriptive for that page
- use the vocabulary that your users do
- be front-loaded and optimised for search
- have a colon to break up longer titles
- not contain dashes, slashes or acronyms
- not have a full stop at the end
- cover the main point or topic of the page
- be 160 characters or less
- be clear and specific
- not repeat the title or body text
- end with a full stop
Each paragraph should cover one subject and have a maximum of 5 sentences. It should lead with a sentence that introduces the information contained in the paragraph.
If a page is made up of several paragraphs, organise the page with subheadings. This will help users to scan content and indicate what the paragraph is about.
Writing simply and clearly helps our users to understand our content with minimum effort. Each sentence should have one idea.
Write simply by choosing short words instead of longer, more complex words. For example, use 'buy' not 'purchase' and 'use' not 'utilise'.
Do not use metaphors in your content. Some users find them very hard to understand.
People that do not speak English as their first language can find phrasal verbs hard to understand. So, avoid using them in your content. Some examples of phrasal verbs are:
- put off (postpone)
- put out (extinguish)
- put together (assemble)
- put up with (tolerate)
Read about plain English on GOV.UK.
Be clear and consistent who you're referring to when using pronouns like 'you' 'me' and 'we'.
When the service or website is giving instruction or describing something to the user, use 'you' and 'your'.
When the user is interacting with the service or website, use 'me' and 'my'.
For example, 'Enter your student ID and password' - The service is giving instructions
'I've forgotten my password' (link) - The user is interacting.
When using 'we' make sure it's obvious who you're referring to. It can be confusing when you're writing about different groups, organisations or people in the same content.
Be mindful of gender bias or stereotypes when writing content. See examples in The guide to gender neutral drafting from InterLaw Diversity Forum.
We plan to add more advice around inclusive writing.
Quotes and speech marks
In long passages of speech, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.
Use single quotes:
- in headlines
- for unusual terms
- when referring to words
- when referring to publications or lecture titles
- when referring to notifications such as emails or alerts
For example: Download the 'Undergraduate Prospectus 2022' (PDF, 5.65 MB).
Use double quotes in body text for direct quotations.
Punctuation in quotes
- Put a full stop inside the quotation marks if the quote is a complete sentence.
- Put the full stop outside of the quotation mark if the quote is only part of the sentence.
- Do not use end punctuation to close a pull-out quote.
Quotes within quotes
If you're using single quotes, the quote inside must have double quotation marks. Use single quotes for quotes within reported speech.
For books, articles and papers, include the authors' name, full title and publication details. If possible include the digital object identifier (DOI) and hyperlink. Get more information about DOIs from the Office of Scholarly Communications
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is the process of making a web page show in a search engine's results. If your page is optimised well, it will appear higher in the list of search results. This happens both in search engines and searches within your website. The three most important sections are the keywords, meta description (or summary) and titles. See Page titles and summaries.
Do not use semicolons as they can be misread. Break up long sentences instead.
Use 'sign in' instead of 'log in' where possible. Research shows that people search for 'sign in' more than 'log in', especially for accounts. 'Log in' tends to be used more for hardware such as PCs. However, users still use 'sign in' more.
Singular and plural nouns
Companies, countries and institutions should all be singular for example, 'AstraZeneca believes that…'
Data, team and software are all singular. For example, 'The team is working on…'
If you are referring to more than one head of school, write 'heads of school'. Also, write 'deans of faculty' when referring to more than one dean. In this example, do not use capital letters for the job title or write 'schools' or 'faculties'.
The slash symbol normally means 'or'. Try to use 'or' because it is easier to understand for screen reader users. If you must use a slash, do not put a space either side of it.
Subscript and superscript
Avoid using subscript and superscript text unless it's essential for example, in mathematical or scientific formulae.
Most screen readers can read the text correctly but it can be difficult to see on screen. Check that your software doesn't automatically add superscript to ordinals. For example, write 19th century not 19th century.
Use Telephone: Do not use Phone: Use Mobile: Do not use Mob.:
Use spaces to separate any dialling codes to make numbers easier to read. Do not use brackets unless the number may be removed. Use these formats:
- 01223 123 456
- 020 1234 5000
- 0800 123 456
- 07771 123 456
- +44 (0)20 1234 5000
- +39 1 33 45 67 89
- the 12 hour clock for example, 5:30pm not 1730hrs
- 'to' in time ranges 8am to 10am (not 8-10am)
- midnight (not 00:00)
- midday (not 12 noon, noon or 12pm)
- 6 hours 30 minutes
There is often confusion around midnight. Consider using '11:59pm' to help users understand which day you're referring to.
Evidence suggests that more people understand the 12 hour clock than the 24 hour clock. Some countries do not use the 24 hour clock.
If you're writing for a technical audience, 24 hour clock may be more appropriate. Limit 24 hour clock to where it’s essential.
Never underline words for emphasis. Underlining normally indicates a hyperlink to somewhere else. To emphasise text, you can use bold occasionally.
For headings on webpages and documents, use the correct heading format for example, H1, H2 to help users navigate the content.
Use the title University of Cambridge. 'Cambridge' and 'the University' can be used to avoid repetition of the full title.
Avoid using Cambridge University unless it's part of a proper noun like Cambridge University Library or official social media accounts.
Do not write Oxbridge. Instead write 'The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge'.
The Acting Vice-Chancellor's full title is Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Anthony Freeling.
Keep the page uncluttered. A page is easier to read if there is more white space and fewer words.