How we write
Everything we write follows these general principles.
Qualified clinicians check our clinical information and check that it's accurate, clinically safe and has been developed using relevant evidence-based guidance.
Our content is factual, neutral and unambiguous. We do not use metaphors - we say what we mean.
We avoid making subjective statements. Use words like "good", "bad", or "easy" with care. For example, don't talk about "a good chance of recovery".
We do use "good" and "bad" where our users do to describe their symptoms, for example "bad pain" or "bad breath".
We also use them when there's a good evidence base. For example, we talk about "a good source of iron" or "lack of sleep is bad for your health".
|We would say:||We would not say:|
|It takes X weeks to get an appointment||It can take a long time to get an appointment for X|
|4 out of 5 people recover fully in a week||You have a good chance of recovery|
|A 250ml glass of red wine||A large glass of wine|
|(More precise symptoms like) stomach ache, cramps, feeling sick, diarrhoea||Upset stomach|
We use language that our users understand. We use plain English and do research to find out which words work best for them.
We aim for a reading age of 9 to 11 years old. But we recognise that, with some medical information, it's not easy to achieve this. In this case, try to make sure that an 11 to 14-year old will understand.
We avoid medical jargon and technical terms. We do use medical terms to help with understanding and search, but explain them when they're not commonly known.
We use a plain English term first, then the medical term. Example: piles (haemorrhoids).
We use the same style for specialist audiences like health professionals.
Research has shown that most people prefer to read plain English, and that the more specialist a person's knowledge is, the greater their preference.
Read our guidance on health literacy to see why it's important to create content that's simple to read.
We keep content to the point.
We use short words. For example, we prefer "have" or "get" to "experience" in phrases like "if you experience headaches".
We use short sentences - up to 20 words. We use short paragraphs - up to 3 sentences.
We use subheadings and bulleted lists to help users find what they need.
We use the active voice - "find a pharmacy" rather than "a pharmacy can be found".
Get in touch
If you’ve got a question about the NHS digital service manual or want to feedback, get in touch.
Updated: August 2019