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Style guide

As a council, it is essential that we communicate clearly and consistently with the communities we serve. This style guide has been produced, together with a set of visual identity guidelines, to ensure that all our documents and online content are written, formatted and designed in the same way.

Last updated 18 June 2020

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A

abbreviations, acronyms

Phrases or titles abbreviated to acronyms or initials must be spelt out in full the first time they are used, with the abbreviation in brackets afterwards, for example, Transport for London (TfL). Thereafter, the abbreviation can be used. Exception: where the abbreviation is better known than what it stands for (Aids, Nato, mph, CCTV, BBC).

addresses

There is no need to include Surrey in any Merton address. Since 1965 Merton has been in Greater London, not in the jurisdiction of Surrey. Write: Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden SM4 5DX.

Do not abbreviate Street (St) or Road (Rd) – write them out in full.

adviser

Not advisor.

affect, effect

Affect is the verb, meaning to have an influence on. For example, the weather affected our plans.

Effect is the noun, which means the result of a change. For example, exercise can have an effect on your mood.

ages

For ages, use hyphens where the age is used adjectivally before a noun. For example, ‘a three-year-old child’ but ‘the child was three years old.’

A levels

No hyphen. Lower case level.

alley gate

Noun; alley-gating verb. Not alleygate or alleygating.

American English

Check that your spell checker is set to ‘English UK’ and not ‘English United States’, or you could end up inserting misspelt words into your text like center or neighbor.

ampersands (&)

Do not use. Use ‘and’ instead. Exception: companies whose formal names includes an ampersand, like Marks & Spencer.

and

Do not start a sentence with the word and.

and/or

Avoid using ‘and/or’ – just use ‘or’.

anti-social

Hyphenate.

apostrophes (’)

Used to show possession, or to indicate that letters are missing from a word.

For example:
Mr Jones’s house
London Councils’ report
It’s raining today

B

biannual, bimonthly

Avoid. Use ‘twice a year’ or ‘every two months’ instead.
​bold

​Use bold text sparingly for emphasis.

Large blocks of bold text should be avoided, as they can make reading harder for people with dyslexia or a visual impairment.

book, article and report titles

Should be in italics. As should all titles of plays, songs, films, exhibitions and paintings.

For example:

The Director of Public Health's report, Tackling Diabetes in Merton, has been printed.

The Wimbledon Times published an article headlined The Queen opens new homes for veterans in Morden.

Film Merton are screening Beethoven in Mitcham Library Arts Space.

See capital letters

borough

Lower case unless used in full: ‘London Borough of Merton’.

Brexit

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Upper case.

bullet points

See lists

Business Rates

Use upper case for all names of taxes and benefits.

bylaw

No hyphen. Not byelaw.

C

cabinet

Lower case except when part of a title, for example: ‘Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Schools and Adult education, Councillor Eleanor Stringer, said…’

capital letters

Only begin a word with a capital letter when absolutely necessary.

Use when a full, specific proper name is used, for example the London Borough of Merton.

Job and role titles should be capitalised when referring to a specific person, but lower case when used generically, for example, ‘the Chief Executive, Ged Curran, met other chief executives at a conference.’

For headings, headlines and page titles, use upper case for the first letter of the first word and proper nouns only. For example ‘Better opportunities for young people in Morden’ not ‘Better Opportunities for Young People in Morden’.

Organisations, government departments and places, as well as the titles of books, reports, consultations, newspapers and magazines should all be written in title case.

Small words (such as ‘in’, ‘at’, ‘of’, ‘for’, ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘on’) are only capitalised if they’re the first word in a sentence – even in titles.

Use capital letters sparingly and don't write whole words in capital letters, which readers can perceive as SHOUTING and is hard for people with visual impairments to read. Use bold text to emphasise a word, but never underlining, as this can be mistaken for a website address.

Use lower case for the names of documents when talking about them in general, for example, ‘a penalty charge notice’, ‘temporary event notices’, ‘building regulations’. Use upper case when talking about a specific document, for example The Building Regulations 2010.

Use upper case for all names of taxes and benefits, such as Business Rates, Council Tax Support, Universal Credit.

captions

Captions of photographs should always highlight the names of councillors and also include their post title, if they are a member of the cabinet or the Mayor of Merton.

civic centre

Lower case unless used in full: Merton Civic Centre.

clichés

Should be avoided like the plague.

C of E

Not CofE. Spell out in full initially: Church of England.

collective nouns

are generally singular. For example, the 'council is' or 'the Government has'. However, sports teams are plural.

commas

Use commas in numbers over 1,000.

Use a comma in a list where you could also write ‘and’ or ‘or’. For example: 'The most commonly spoken languages in Merton are English, French, Italian and Spanish.'

When using a comma to join two complete sentences into a single sentence, the comma must be followed with a suitable connecting word - ‘and, or, but, while’ or ‘yet’. For example: ‘We must respond to the press enquiry by Tuesday, or they will publish the article without our comment.’

Use a pair of commas, like this, to mark off parts of a sentence that contain extra information.

Only use a comma before the word ‘and’ (an ‘Oxford comma’) where it is necessary to avoid ambiguity. For example, ‘Sara is pictured with her parents, the Queen, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’ has a different meaning to ‘Sara is pictured with her parents, the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

compass points

Lower case, for example south west London, unless they are distinct geographical areas such as West Barnes or the East End.

complement and compliment

Complement means to go well together and compliment means to give praise. Complimentary tickets are free of charge.

controlled parking zone

Lower case. Abbreviate to CPZ on second mention.

co-operate,
co-ordinate

Hyphenate.

​coronavirus (COVID-19)

​Coronavirus is the virus that causes the illness COVID-19. Write 'coronavirus' in lower case. Use the full term 'coronavirus (COVID-19)' when you first mention the illness but after that use 'coronavirus'.

council

Lower case unless writing the name in full: Merton Council.

Council Tax

Use upper case for all names of taxes and benefits.

councillor

Lower case unless used with the name of a specific councillor as a title. Write in full to begin with, for example, Councillor Tobin Byers, and then abbreviate on second mention to Cllr Byers.

D

dates

Our style is: 1 December 2019 (day, month, year; no commas or letters st, nd, rd, th after dates. Do not use only numbers, for example 11.10.19. Decades are written 1990s with no apostrophe.

disabled people

Not ‘the disabled’. Say ‘uses a wheelchair’ (not ‘wheelchair-bound’ or ‘in a wheelchair’), deaf people (not ‘the deaf’), blind people, visually impaired people, people with epilepsy.

Follow the GOV.UK guidance on inclusive language

discreet and discrete

Discreet means tactful, for example, 'the Mayor discreetly signalled to the council officer to bring over the scissors for the ribbon cutting.'

Discrete means distinct and separate, for example 'the consultation about the air quality strategy is a discrete piece of work.'

departments

See capital letters

dependant, dependent

A dependant is a person; dependent means reliant on.

E

ebook

Lower case, no hyphen. ‘Ebook’ when used at the start of a sentence.

eg

Avoid using. Replace with ‘such as’ or ‘including’.

email

Lower case with no hyphen. Email addresses may contain upper case letters before the ‘@’ sign.

enquiry, inquiry

Enquiry – small-scale, for example in a letter ‘Thank you for your enquiry.’

Inquiry – large scale, for example ‘conducting a public inquiry’.

etc

Should be avoided. Replace with ‘including’ or ‘includes’, for example: replace ‘The course covers maths, English, science, geography, etc’ with: ‘The course includes maths, English, science, and geography.’

exclamation marks(!)

Use sparingly, and never more than one.

F

financial years

Write as 2019-20. These are for budget purposes and run from 1 April to 31 March. Do not confuse with calendar years, which run from January to December or municipal years, which run between the Annual Council Meetings each May.

fixed penalty notice

Lower case. May be abbreviated to FPN.

flu

Not ’flu.

fly-tipping,
fly-posting

Hyphenate.

focus, focused, focusing

One ‘s’.

G

gender

Only refer to someone's gender when necessary. Do not use ‘he’ or ‘his’ as a generic pronoun for all people. If a person's gender is not known say ‘they’ rather than ‘he or she’, for example ‘If you pull a face at your baby, they will copy you’. Use ‘the chair of the meeting’; ‘council spokesperson’; ‘actor’; ‘firefighter’.

general election

Lower case, but upper case if referring to a specific election. For example, the 2019 General Election.

government

Use upper case when referring to ‘the Government’, but lower case when talking adjectivally (government officials, central government funding). Also use lower case when talking about local government.

governor (school)

Lower case.

Greater London Authority, GLA

Made up of the Mayor of London and the members of the London Assembly. It is acceptable to use the abbreviation after spelling out on first mention.

H

half term

headings

See capital letters

headteacher

One word.

honours

People are appointed CBE, OBE and MBE (they stand for Commander, Officer and Member of the Order of the British Empire).

For example, Councillor Edith Macauley MBE.

A person can be made a peer, baronet or knight or receive or be awarded a peerage or a knighthood.

hospital

For the name of a hospital, only use capitals for the place name. For example St Helier hospital or Nelson hospital.

​hyphens

Hyphenate compound nouns such as ‘a build-up of leaves’, but not verbs such as ‘to build up your confidence’.

​Use hyphens to form compound adjectives such as ‘blue-chip company’. Be aware that the adverb could be mistaken for an adjective: a ‘little used car’ is not the same as a ‘little-used car’.

Do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in ‘ly’, for example ‘a constantly evolving process’.

If two adjectives only make sense together then they need to be hyphenated. For example: ‘the strategy was discussed with borough-based, community-led organisations’.

I

immigrate, emigrate

To immigrate is to arrive in a country; to emigrate is to leave.
imply, infer

To imply is to suggest, to infer is to conclude.

initials

Do not use any spaces or full stops in initials, whether they are business or personal, for example WH Smith or JK Rowling.

inquiry, enquiry

Inquiry is large scale, for example, a public inquiry.

Enquiry is small-scale, for example, a press enquiry.

into

One word, but write ‘on to’ as two words.

-ise

Use ‘-ise’, not ‘-ize’, at end of words, for example ‘organise’, ‘maximise’.

italics

Use when quoting book, article or report titles. See book, article and report titles.

Use sparingly for emphasis or clarity.

Large blocks of italics should be avoided, as they can make reading harder for people with dyslexia or a visual impairment.

J

jargon

Avoid jargon – always write in plain English.

K

k

Stands for 1,000. For example £149k is £149,000.

key performance indicators

Lower case, but KPIs when abbreviating.

Key Stage 1, 2, 3

Capitalise and use numerals for government education targets.

L

lamp-post 
LBM

Do not use. Write Merton Council or the London Borough of Merton as appropriate.

Leader

Always capitalise when talking about Merton Council's Leader – for example ‘the Leader of the council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis’. Use lower case when talking about council leaders in general. See capital letters.

licence, license

Licence is the noun, for example, driving licence or off licence.

License is the verb, for example, you can license a café to sell alcohol.

links

​See web addresses

lists
  • Each list item may consist of one or more complete sentences, ending in a full stop, or the whole list may make up one continuous sentence. Don't mix the two kinds in one list.
  • If every item in the list consists of complete sentences, each point should start with an upper case letter and end with a full stop.
  • Only use numbered lists when you are describing steps in a process, or a list of priorities in order. Otherwise use bullet points.
If the list forms a single, complete sentence:
  • start with a lead-in line ending with a colon,
  • use a comma at the end of each bullet point,
  • begin each item with a lower case letter,
  • use 'and' or 'or' between the last two points, and
  • put a full stop after the last point.

If the bullet points are complete sentences, consider whether the bullet points are really appropriate or whether you are simply writing a series of punchy sentences.         

listed buildings

The grades are I, II* and II. For example, the New Wimbledon Theatre is a Grade II listed building

local

Only use when necessary, such as referring to a particular geographic area of Merton. As a council, all of our activity will focus on the local area. Do not use ‘local residents’, as all our residents are local – use ‘Merton residents’ or ‘our residents’.

local education authority

Lower case, but LEA when abbreviating.
local election

Lower case.

log in, login

Log in is a verb; login is a noun or adjective.

London boroughs

There are 32 London boroughs and the City of London, which is not a borough. Alternatively, you could say 33 London local authorities.

looked-after children

Hyphenate.

M

magistrates' court

The apostrophe comes after the 's'. Capitalise the full name of the court, for example, Wimbledon Magistrates' Court.

mayor

Always capitalise when referring to the Mayor of Merton, but use lower case when talking about mayors in general.

Member of Parliament

Capitalise. MP is preferable. After first mention refer to ‘Mr Hammond’, ‘Ms McDonagh’ or just ‘the MP’. For example, ‘Teenagers from Merton met Morden and Mitcham MP Siobhain McDonagh on Saturday. The MP congratulated them on their achievement.’

members

Do not refer to councillors as members when writing in reports or publications. Always use the term councillors, except in the titles of cabinet members, for example 'Cabinet Member for Women and Equalities, Councillor Laxmi Attawar'.

MEP

Member of the European Parliament or Euro-MP.

Merton Council, or the London Borough of Merton

Merton Council is a single organisation. Use ‘Merton Council is’, not ‘Merton Council are’.

metric

Since October 1995, public sector organisations have had to use the metric system for weights and measures. Failure to do so can result in legal challenges to our claims.

Exceptions are the pint (for beer and milk) and the mile (including miles per hour and miles per gallon). Mile, yard, foot and inch are also allowed for road traffic signs and for related distance and speed measurements.

Metropolitan Police

Capitalise specific force names, but use lower case when talking about police officers or the police. The Metropolitan Police are plural, but the Met is singular, so: the Metropolitan Police are investigating, but the Met is investigating.

minister (political)

Lower case unless part of a specific job title whether in the Cabinet or not, for example ‘Minister for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden’. Give name and full title on first mention, thereafter give their name or just ‘the minister’.

N

names

People aged under 18 should be referred to by their first names, while an adult's full name should be used initially, for example, Jane Jones or Mike Smith, with subsequent mentions as Ms Jones or Mr Smith.

new year

Lower case (for example new year resolutions) but New Year's Day, New Year's Eve.

no-one

 
numbers

Write from one to ten as words and use numerals for 11 and over. The exceptions are percentages, which are always numerals, for example 4%; and weights and measures where the unit is abbreviated, for example, 4.5km, 6kg, 7st 5lbs or £7m. If the unit is written out in full so is the numeral, if it is 10 or under, for example, three miles, seven stone or nine million people.

A sentence should never begin with digits.

Always use a comma when talking about thousands. For example, 5,000.

Fractions are written as words, for example, two thirds.

O

online

Lower case, no hyphen.

over

Use 'more than'. For example, 'more than two thousand people attended the event'.

​Oxford comma

​See commas

P

penalty charge notice

Lower case. May be abbreviated to 'PCN'.
per

Avoid using per, except in miles per hour. Instead, write 'six times a year'.

percentage points

If the crime rate rises from eight per cent to ten per cent, it does not rise by two per cent but by two percentage points (it actually rises by 25 per cent).

political parties

Have capital letters. For example, the Labour Party voted against the amendment put forward by the Conservatives.

postcode

Not post code, nor post-code.

pothole

​One word, no hyphen.

practice or practise

The noun is practice; the verb is practise. For example, the players hold a practice every Monday. They practise for two hours.

principal or principle

Principal means first in order of importance or a school headteacher. A principle is a rule or belief governing someone's personal behaviour.

Q

quotation marks

Double quotation marks should only be used to indicate that someone is being quoted. Put the name of the speaker directly before the start of the quote. For example:

Councillor Stephen Alambritis said: “I enjoyed meeting members of the chamber of commerce at the meeting.”

If the quoted material is a complete sentence or question, punctuation should fall inside the closing quotation mark, as in the example above.

If the quoted material is a single word or phrase, put the punctuation outside the closing quotation mark. For example:

Too many post-16 learners felt they had made ‘false starts’.

Use a colon to introduce a longer quotation, or a comma to introduce a short sentence or phrase.

If the sentence continues after the quote, there should be a comma within the closing quotation mark. For example:

“The reduction in fly-tipping is encouraging,” she said.

If a quote continues for more than one paragraph, add the open quote marks at the start of each new paragraph. Close the whole quote with one set of double quote marks.

Do not use single quote marks around the titles of reports or articles, as these should be written in italics.

R

refuse (noun)

Avoid. Use 'recycling' or 'rubbish'.

resident permit

Lower case.

​rivers

Lower case – for example 'river Wandle', 'river Thames'.

Royal Family

Her Majesty is used for the Queen and His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness (HRH) for other members of the Royal Family. Always use a capital letter when referring to our Queen. At first reference, it is Prince Charles or the Duchess of Cambridge; in subsequent mentions, use 'the prince' or 'the duchess'.

S

Saint

Abbreviate to St (no point), for names of towns, schools, churches, and so on, for example:

  • St John Fisher School
  • St Mark's Church
  • St Helier hospital
schools

Capitalise full title, for example Merton Park Primary School.

schoolchildren

One word.

school governor, governor

Lower case.
seasons

Always lower case when standing alone (spring, summer, autumn, winter). Note also: summertime, wintertime, springtime, but British Summer Time (BST).

semicolons (;)

Avoid; they are difficult to read on screen.

sixth form

Lower case and no hyphen.

slashes (/)

Do not use instead of 'or'.

SLLP

Not SLLp (South London Legal Partnership).

spaces

One space after a full stop, not two.

​station

Use lower case for Underground and National Rail stations, for example Morden station, Mitcham Junction station.

T

telephone numbers

For landlines in London write three groups of figures, in the format: 020 8545 4654, not: 0208 545 4654. Outside London, the format is 01234 567890 or 0121 222 3344. For mobile numbers, use 07779 123456.

terrace house

Not 'terraced house'.

TfL

Not TFL.

time

Use midnight or midday and the 12-hour clock. For example 1.20am, 4am, 5pm or 9.30pm. Use a full stop as a separator, not a colon. Do not use the 24-hour clock or insert extra zeros, for example 10.00am. Avoid relative times such as ‘last year’, ‘this year’, ‘next year’, as these can make your content go out of date – except where the date of publication is prominently displayed, such as on a news release.

titles

See capital letters, and book, article and report titles

trademarks

Avoid where possible and use a generic alternative.

Tube

Capitalise. Use the Tube or London Underground. Capitalise the various lines, for example the District Line and the Northern Line.

​Twitter

Twitter users send tweets, also known as tweeting. Don't hyphenate 'retweet'.

U

underlining

Do not use underlining for emphasis or headings as it could be mistaken for a hyperlink, website or an email address.

Universal Credit

Use upper case for all names of taxes and benefits.

URLs

See web addresses

W

web addresses

If a web address comes at the end of a sentence you should not follow it with a full stop, but try to avoid it coming at the end of a sentence in the first place. This avoids any confusion about whether the full stop is part of the address.

Merton's web address must appear on all documents.

Use a specific ‘friendly’ address where possible, such as merton.gov.uk/jobs

Omit ‘http://’, ‘https://’ and, if possible, ‘www.’

Always check that a web address works before including it.

website

One word.

weights and measures

See metric

wellbeing

One word.

which, that

'That' defines, while 'which' gives extra information.

'This is the book that Chris wrote. The illustrations, which Jane drew, are in colour.'

White Paper, Green Paper

Capitalise only when they are issued by the Government. Papers issued by the Opposition are lower case.

wifi

Not Wi-Fi.

Wimbledon Championships

Formally known as The Championships, Wimbledon. Use capitals for the Centre Court, No 1 Court, No 14 Court.

Y

years

Use 'Year 1', 'Year 3', 'Year 12', 'Reception Year', 'Nursery' when referring to school years, but 'nursery' when referring to a nursery setting.

See also: financial years

Z

zig-zag