HMICFRS style guide

Published on: 12 October 2022

About this guide

This style guide is intended for HMICFRS staff writing, editing and proofreading documents and reports. It gives guidance on common questions of style (for example: abbreviations; capitalisation; numbers and measurements). Its ultimate aim is to make sure our documents are professional and consistent.

This guide doesn’t give general advice on writing. Our tone of voice writing guidelines cover that.

Our style guidelines apply not just to published external reports but also to internal reports and other internal documents, letters to interested parties and others, and web text.

Questions?

This guide doesn’t aim to give a solution to every problem. For any questions that aren’t covered in this style guide, please consult New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide.

If you have any other questions about the guide, or on anything to do with language, style or grammar, please get in touch with our editor-in-chief (e-mail address).

Guidelines A to Z

A

‘A’ or ‘an’

Use ‘an’ before an acronym if the first letter starts with a vowel sound, such as ‘an FLO’. But use ‘a NATO strategy’ because NATO is pronounced as a word.

For words beginning with ‘h’, use ‘a’ if the ‘h’ is pronounced (‘a hotel’) and ‘an’ if the ‘h’ is silent (‘an hour’).

Abbreviations

If you shorten a word, don’t put a full stop at the end. For example, don’t use full stops in page references:

  • p7 or pp11–17
  • not p.7 or pp.11–17

Only abbreviate ‘page’ and ‘paragraph’ to ‘p’ and ‘para’ in footnotes. Spell out the words in full in the report’s main text.

Versus is abbreviated to ‘vs’ (‘v’ when referring to legal cases).

NB (nota bene) is always capitalised, with no full stops.

Don’t use ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’. ‘For example’ and ‘that is’ are clearer (especially if you’re writing for the public).

Use a comma before ‘etc’ but no punctuation afterwards, unless it ends a sentence.

Initials and titles

Don’t put full stops after initials. Put one space between each initial. So:

  • Mr A C Smith

(Not Mr A.C. Smith or Mr AC Smith.)

For King’s Honours and other titles that are often abbreviated, see ‘Honours’.

Acronyms

Acronyms don’t have full stops (HMICFRS, PCSO, PSNI, ACPO, USA). Note that some acronyms are a mix of upper and lower case (TfL) and some are lower case with initial capitals (Ofsted).

Don’t abbreviate the names of organisations that are only known by their full names. For example, don’t abbreviate the Bank of England to BoE.

You don’t need to spell out familiar abbreviations (such as GP or MP).

Just because you can shorten a term into an acronym, it doesn’t mean you should. Using a lot of acronyms can make text harder to read. If the term only appears a few times and other acronyms are being used in the text, consider whether using the full term throughout would make text clearer.

For example, there’s no need to abbreviate terms like these:

Acronyms: ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’

Whether there’s a ‘the’ before an acronym depends on the organisation’s preference (if it’s their name) and/or common usage (so ACPO and HMICFRS, but the BBC, the CPS).

Use ‘an’ if the first letter starts with a vowel sound, such as ‘an FLO’. But use ‘a NATO strategy’ because NATO is pronounced as a word.

Abbreviations in headings

Avoid using abbreviations in a chapter title or heading, unless it is a familiar acronym (such as UK). If it is unavoidable, spell it out at the first mention in the text.

Abbreviations in areas for improvement, causes of concern and recommendations

Spell out abbreviations in areas for improvement, causes of concern and recommendations in our reports (even if they have been previously defined). But don’t add the abbreviations in brackets after them. These sections can then be read as standalone.

When to use abbreviations

Spell out abbreviations at first mention, adding the abbreviation in brackets after it:

You don’t need to define an acronym at first mention in every chapter, unless the report is likely to be read out of sequence (such as in our thematics).

Ampersands

Avoid ampersands (&) in your writing unless they’re part of an organisation’s name (Marks & Spencer, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham).

In our name, use an ampersand: His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. But when talking about fire and rescue services generally, don’t use an ampersand.

Ampersands might be appropriate for labels on tables and graphs where space is limited.

B

Brackets

If the whole sentence is in brackets, put the full stop inside the brackets:

  • (Four forces couldn’t give us this information.)

If the sentence begins outside the brackets, and the part immediately before the end of the sentence is within brackets, put the full stop after the end bracket:

  • We reviewed 60 case files (90 files in the four largest forces).

Use square brackets to indicate that words within the quotation marks aren’t strictly part of the quotation, but that you’ve added to make the quotation complete in its context.

  • The report said: “All forces have a chief officer mental health lead. Their role is to make sure the force has the right systems and processes in place to help people [with mental health problems].”

Bullets and numbering

There are three main ways of punctuating bullet points.

For a list of short items, it’s fine to have no punctuation except a final full stop.

  • We inspected these forces in February:
    • Norfolk
    • Suffolk
    • Surrey.

When the bullet points complete a sentence, use a colon at the end of the line that introduces them. Then use semi-colons at the end of each bullet point (except the last one, which has a full stop) and add ‘and’ or ‘or’ before the last point, depending on the context.

  • The force has shown improvement in:
    • its detection rates;
    • its strategy; and
    • how it relates to the community.

The third style is where each of the bullet points is a complete sentence in its own right, in which case they start with capital letters and end with full stops.

  • The force’s detection rate has increased to 30 percent.
  • It has implemented a new strategy.
  • The local community feels more involved.

Our style is to use bullet point lists rather than numbered lists. There are two exceptions to this:

  1. If you’re setting out a process, which has various numbered steps; or
  2. If you’re listing a defined number of items (as in this list).

C

Capital letters

Capital letters are more difficult to read than lower case letters. Use them sparingly.

In both publications and correspondence, avoid using ALL CAPITALS or ‘Title Case’ (that is, where every word in a heading or sentence is capitalised) in headings or body text.

Generic vs specific

A rule of thumb is to use lower case when you’re talking in generic terms, and initial capitals when you’re being specific. So:

  • police service; police officer; police staff; police force; fire service; probation service (generic); but Sussex Police (specific)
  • local authority; London boroughs (generic); but London Borough of Tower Hamlets (specific)
  • area commander; firearms commander; chief constable; assistant chief constable (generic); but Chief Constable John Smith (specific)
  • government departments (generic) but the UK Government (specific).

In titles and headings

For our own publication titles, use sentence case (and, if you’re referring to them in text, use italics):

  • Making it fair: a joint inspection of the disclosure of unused material in volume crown court cases

In chapter headings and subheadings, use sentence case:

  • Our child protection inspections

Always lower case

Initial capitals

  • proper nouns and names of people, places (countries, cities, etc), official organisations, nationalities and religions
  • Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND)
  • Ministry of Defence Police (MDP)
  • Ministry of Defence (MOD)
  • specific operations, initiatives or campaigns (such as Operation Lynemouth)
  • Airwave (national police radio)
  • titles of Acts of Parliament (such as the Police Act 1996)
  • terms related to the UK Parliament (such as Members of Parliament, the Houses of Parliament)
  • Chief Constables’ Council and Crown.

Capital letters, references

When you’re referring to other publications by name, use the case they use in their publication. See ‘Cross-references’.

Use italics for the titles of Government Green and White Papers:

  • The White Paper Building Partnerships for Prosperity.

Confusing words

Affect/effect

As verbs:

Affect means ‘have an influence on, produce an effect on, concern’.

  • These new rules affect everyone.

Effect means ‘bring about, cause, produce, result in, have as a result, accomplish’.

  • This is the best way to effect change.

As nouns:

Effect means ‘a result or influence’.

  • These new rules will have a profoundly negative effect.

Affect as a noun is a technical term in psychology, meaning an emotion or feeling. We almost certainly would never need to use it in this way.

Enquiries/inquiries

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • To enquire means to ask
  • To inquire means to investigate.

So we’d talk about police doing ‘house-to-house enquiries’ but an ‘inquiry into allegations of child abuse’. We also use ‘lines of inquiry’.

Fewer and less

Normally, ‘few’ and the comparative adjective ‘fewer’ are used with countable nouns. That is, with nouns that have both a singular and a plural form (book/books; so fewer books, few books, a few books); or with collective nouns (fewer people, few people, a few people).

Less is used with uncountable nouns or mass nouns: in other words, ‘less’ refers to quantity and is the opposite of ‘more’ (less affection, less power, less time, etc). Don’t use ‘less’ or ‘few’ with the word ‘number’. A number is small, smaller or very small, not less or few(er) or very few.

You can sometimes use ‘less’ with plural nouns, especially for distances (it is less than 70 miles to London), periods of time (five minutes or less), sums of money (costs less than £50) or other statistical units.

Principal and principle

Principal (as an adjective) means ‘main or most important’. For example: ‘This is not the principal aim of the study.’

But, generally speaking, we should use ‘main’: it’s shorter and simpler.

Principle (noun) means a fundamental idea or general rule that is used as a basis for a particular theory or system of belief. For example: ‘Peel’s philosophy is underpinned by nine principles.’

Verbal/oral

A verbal communication is one which uses words. Words aren’t necessarily written. Most are spoken, and most agreements aren’t in writing. If the agreement is unwritten, it’s an oral agreement.

Don’t write: ‘He told me this verbally’ or ‘He gave me a verbal assurance’ when you mean that the communication was spoken and not written. In these examples, ‘verbally’ should be ‘orally’ and ‘verbal assurance’ should be ‘oral assurance’.

If the communication is in writing, say: ‘The confirmation was given in writing.’

Contractions

Using contractions, or the shortened version of words (for example, ‘isn’t’ rather than ‘is not’), makes our writing sound more fluent and natural.

For reports or other public-facing documents, use contractions involving the word ‘not’ to soften the tone. For example, ‘the force couldn’t give us this data’ sounds more natural and less critical than ‘the force could not give us this data’.

Doing this also means we have the option to use the full form for emphasis:

  • This cannot continue.

For things like internal communications, web copy and emails, use whichever contractions sound natural. (As you can see, we’ve used contractions freely in these guidelines.)

For certain official documents (for example, the Inspection Programme and Framework), it might not be appropriate to use contractions. Check with the editor in chief if you’re not sure.

COVID-19

Use COVID-19’ and not ‘Covid-19’. We also talk about ‘the pandemic’ and not ‘the global pandemic’ or ‘the COVID-19 pandemic’.

Cross-references

Italicise the title of other publications when you’re referring to them by name. But don’t use italics for shorthand references to long titles (for example, ‘the Smith report’). Use sentence case, as you would with our own publications (see Capital letters: In titles and headings) – the same applies to quotations from other documents.

Be consistent with cross-references – if you start by using page numbers, don’t switch to paragraph numbers. If the document has a thorough paragraph numbering system, opt for this rather than page numbers.

When referring to chapters or sections, use an initial lower case (chapter 4, section 6). If you want to refer to the chapter/section heading as well, use sentence case:

  • See chapter 7, Building your own library.

D

Data

Treat the word ‘data’ as grammatically singular (for example, ‘the data shows’).

Don’t use the words ‘significantly’ or ‘statistically’ in the narrative of a report when talking about data directly or indirectly.

Dates

The standard date style is day, month, year, in that order:

  • 4 November 2018

not

  • 04 November 2018
  • 4th November 2018
  • 4, November 2018
  • 04.11.18.

If you need to include the day of the week, don’t put a comma after the day:

  • Monday 12 October 2018

If you’re promoting a specific event on a specific day, and the year isn’t mentioned elsewhere, include the day, date, month, year and time in that order.

For example:

  • Policing in austerity speech
  • Friday 9 July 2019 at 9.30am

Years

To avoid ambiguity, put the year at the beginning of the sentence. Compare these two sentences:

  • We propose to carry out a thematic inspection focusing specifically on counter-terrorism in 2016/17.

and:

  • In 2016/17, we propose to carry out a thematic inspection focusing specifically on counter-terrorism.

In the first, the counter-terrorism is taking place in 2016/17. In the second, it’s clear that the inspection is taking place in 2016/17. The latter is what the writer meant.

Write a financial year as 2018/19, and ranges of years should be 2010–15 (this needs an en dash, which is longer than a hyphen – in Word, hold down the Ctrl key then use the dash at the top right-hand corner of the number pad).

Instead of writing ‘the 2006–2010 period’, consider omitting the word ‘period’ and simply write ‘from 2006 to 2010’ or ‘between 2006 and 2010’.

It’s the 1980s (not the Eighties or the 1980’s) and the 20th century (not the 20th century or the twentieth century).

Definitions and interpretations in our reports

We have standard definitions for many of the terms we use in our inspection reports, which are found on our definitions and interpretations page. Please use a hyperlink to the term on our definitions and interpretations page the first time a word appears in each section, not every time.

If there isn’t a standard definition for a term you would like to include on our website, please email the editor-in-chief with your suggested wording. They will then make sure it is uploaded on our website.

Dictionary

Our house dictionary is the Cambridge Dictionary. If you’re unsure of certain spellings or whether to use a hyphen or not, you can look it up on the Cambridge Dictionary website.

E

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F

Font

Use Arial for all documents, including letters and emails.

Font size should never be smaller than 12pt for readability (except for footnotes, which should be 10pt).

Footnotes and endnotes

Only use footnotes when absolutely necessary (they aren’t accessible for people using assistive technology, such as screen readers). When text is published directly on a webpage, such as for IPA and FRS reports, it isn’t possible to include footnotes.

If possible, use hyperlinks instead of footnotes. See ‘Hyperlinking’ for further guidance.

Number footnotes consecutively throughout the document. If the footnote relates to the entire sentence, the number should follow any punctuation in the text:

  • There are some excellent sources for this.1

If the footnote only relates to some of the sentence, the number should come after the last relevant word (and any punctuation):

We use endnotes in very few cases; for example, in our annual reports, State of Policing and State of Fire and Rescue.

Citations in footnotes

The order should be:

  • Title of document (in italics)
  • Author
  • Publisher
  • Date of publication (date, month and year, if applicable)
  • Paragraph or page number

So rather than simply: ‘Edmund-Davies report para [xx]’, it should be:

  • Report of the Committee of Inquiry on the Police (chairman Lord Edmund-Davies), Cmnd 7283, July 1978, para [xx].

or:

  • Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration and Conditions: Part 1 Report, Cmnd 8024, March 2011, para [xx].

An example of an academic or printed book reference is:

  • Handbook of Policing, Tim Newburn, Willan Publishing, 2008, p299.

Where publications are available online, use hyperlinked citations instead of a footnote. See ‘Hyperlinking’ for further guidance.

Citations (repeated)

If the footnote is a reference to the same document as the previous reference, just put ‘As before, para [xx]’. But if in the sequence of footnotes there has been a reference to something else since the last reference to (say) Edmund-Davies, you’ll need the full Edmund-Davies citation again, with the new paragraph number.

Citations for submissions

  • Submission from the Association of Chief Police Officers, [xx] November 2010, para [xx].

Citations for published sources

  • Study of Police Resource Management and Rostering Arrangements, Accenture plc, October 2004, para [xx].

G

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H

HMI

You can use ‘HM Inspector’ or just ‘HMI’ rather than the full title.

HMICFRS

Generally speaking, we should avoid talking about ourselves in the third person. Use ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead.

If you need to use the possessive of our name, it’s HMICFRS’s. (But use ‘our’ unless there’s a specific reason to use the third person.)

Never use ‘the HMICFRS’.

Treat HMICFRS and all other organisations as singular: ‘HMICFRS is…/has…’ and ‘it’, not ‘they’.

HMICS

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland should be abbreviated to HMICS. The Chief Inspector is HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland.

Hyperlinking

Use embedded hyperlinks in text. Don’t write out hyperlinks in full, as they can make life difficult for screen reader users. Instead, apply links to relevant text in the body of the report.

For example:

Make sure the display text is meaningful and gives the user enough information about what you’re linking to. Don’t use phrases like ‘click here’. It makes our content less accessible for people using assistive technology, such as screen readers.

Landing pages

Wherever you can, link to a landing page rather than directly to a PDF document. Links to a landing page are less likely to change and if they do, there will be other ways for the user to locate the content. Links to a PDF will just break if the name changes.

For example, see our Cleveland national child protection inspection link above. It links to the landing page:

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/publications/cleveland-national-child-protection-inspection/

not directly to the PDF:

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/wp-content/uploads/cleveland-national-child-protection-inspection.pdf (PDF document, 505.98 kB)

As a general rule of thumb, try and avoid linking to anything which ends .pdf, .doc, .docx, .ods, etc.

I

Inclusive language

This section is based on the Home Office inclusive language guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, focus on people. Talk about young people, older people and people with mental health conditions or disabilities – not the young, the elderly, the mentally ill or the disabled.

Gender

Avoid terms that ignore the existence of women (use chair not chairman, police officer and firefighter rather than policeman and fireman, staff or people rather than manpower).

Avoid using ‘man’ as a verb (‘work’, ‘staff’, ‘operate’, ‘cover’, ‘run’, ‘organise’ and ‘guard’ are among the many neutral alternatives).

Use ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’, etc when you don’t know a person’s gender:

  • A victim of hate crime may have been targeted because of both their religion and their race.

Or use the plural:

  • Victims of hate crime may have been targeted because of both their religion and their race.

Don’t use:

  • ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘(s)he’; or
  • ‘he’ to cover people of all genders.

Some people may identify as non-binary or gender fluid and use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of him/her, as well as the honorific ‘Mx’ instead of Miss/Mrs/Mr.

Race/ethnicity

Avoid using ‘BAME’. Wherever possible, use the specific ethnic classifications of the Census.

Where it is absolutely necessary to group together people from different ethnic minority backgrounds, we should say ‘ethnic minorities’ or ‘people from ethnic minority backgrounds’.

Term  Guidance 
Arab  Usually fine to use 
Black  Usually fine to use as an adjective (‘a Black person’ or ‘the Black community’). Don’t use it as a noun (‘Blacks’). 
Chinese/Japanese/south east Asian  Usually fine to use 
Irish ethnic origin  Usually fine to use 
eastern European   Usually fine to use 
dual/mixed parentage/heritage  Usually fine to use 
mixed ethnicity, mixed race  Sometimes considered misleading or offensive since it implies the existence of a ‘pure race’. 
Minority  This is fine to refer to a group rather than an individual 
half caste  Not appropriate 
Coloured  Not appropriate 
Oriental  Not appropriate 
non-White  Not appropriate and can be offensive in that it categorises people by what they aren’t, rather than what they are.  
West Indian, Afro-Caribbean, African Caribbean  This is a historical term, which means someone of African descent, living in or from the Caribbean. It may be offensive to people who were born in Britain. 

Disability 

Avoid  Use 
(the) handicapped, (the disabled)  disabled (people), people with a disability 
afflicted by, suffers from, victim of  has [name of condition or impairment] 
confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound  wheelchair user 
mentally handicapped  with a learning disability (singular) with learning disabilities (plural) 
cripple, invalid  disabled person, person with a disability 
deaf and dumb; deaf mute  deaf, user of British Sign Language (BSL), person with a hearing impairment 
mental patient, insane, mad  person with a mental health condition. If there is a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis, this should be mental illness 
the blind  person with visual impairments; blind people; blind and partially sighted people 
an epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so on  person with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression 
dwarf; midget  someone with restricted growth or short stature 
fits, spells, attacks  seizures 

LGBTQ+ 

Avoid  Use  Explanation  
Homosexual  gay, gay man, gay woman or lesbian  The word ‘homosexual’ is commonly used but is increasingly considered inappropriate, because of the clinical history of the word and associations with notions that lesbians and gay men are somehow disordered. Avoid using the word ‘homosexual’ except in direct quotes. 
‘homosexual relations/relationship’, ‘homosexual couple’, ‘homosexual sex’, etc  ‘relationship’ (or ‘sexual relationship’), ‘couple’ (or, if necessary, ‘gay couple’), ‘sex’, etc  Avoid identifying a same-sex couple as ‘a homosexual couple’, characterising their relationship as ‘a homosexual relationship’, or identifying their intimacy as ‘homosexual sex’. As a rule, try to avoid labelling an activity, emotion or relationship ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ unless you would call the same activity, emotion or relationship ‘straight’. 
(homosexual/gay) ‘practices’  ‘same-sex relations’  ‘Practices’ is a dated term – avoid it. 
‘sexual preference’  ‘sexual orientation’  The term ‘sexual preference’ is typically used to suggest that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a choice and therefore could be ‘cured’. 
Transsexual  transgender  Many trans people reject the word ‘transsexual’, because it may suggest that being trans is about sexuality, rather than gender identity. 

Faith

Use the faith group name: for example, the ‘Hindu community’, the ‘Jewish community’, etc rather than saying ‘the Hindus’, ‘the Jews’, etc.

Use ‘first name’ rather than ‘Christian name’.

Italics

Use italics for the titles of publications (you don’t need quotation marks), titles of reports, books, newspapers, journals, periodicals, radio programmes and ships.

Don’t use italics for the titles of journal articles or chapters within a book – these all need single quotation marks and sentence case.

Don’t use italics for quotations from reports or books. Large chunks of italicised text are hard to read.

It’s usual practice to italicise foreign words, unless they’re very common in English (like ad hoc or café). But we generally shouldn’t be using words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the average reader: for example, we should say ‘among other things’ rather than inter alia.

J

Judgment

Use the spelling ‘judgment’ (not ‘judgement’).

K

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L

Legislation

Always refer to an Act of Parliament or a statutory instrument by its full correct legal title. The year of its passage (when primary legislation) or making (in the case of secondary legislation) always comes after the rest of the title, and without brackets. For example: the Police Act 1919, not the Police Act (1919) or the 1919 Police Act. If needed, you can look up legislation online.

Primary legislation which has not yet been passed is a Bill (not a bill) and contains clauses, not Clauses and not sections.

When passed, it becomes an Act, not an act, and contains sections, not clauses.

So:

  • An Act contains sections (not Sections) and certainly not clauses; discrete parts of sections are subsections; an Act is usually divided into Parts, not parts, and almost always contains Schedules, not schedules; the constituent elements of Schedules are paragraphs, not Paragraphs;
  • Orders – such as the Railways (Class and Miscellaneous Exemptions) Order 1994 – contain Articles, not articles and not sections, clauses, paragraphs or anything else;
  • Regulations – such as the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 – contain Regulations, not regulations or anything else; regulations are subdivided into paragraphs; they sometimes also have Schedules.

If you need a short form, for example because the document you’re writing contains many references to the same legislation, write it out in full first. Then refer to the legislation by its purpose in lower case. For example, you could refer to the Police (Class and Miscellaneous Exemptions) Regulations 1990 as ‘the exemption regulations’ in subsequent mentions. But when in doubt, refer to legislation by its full title.

M

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N

Names, courtesy titles, ranks and honours

If an organisation or a company has an individual style or preference, you should follow it; for example GlaxoSmithKline, Smith & Nephew, National Fire Chiefs Council (but remember it’s the National Police Chiefs’ Council).

For individuals, use the form of address they use for themselves, if you know it; for example Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Professor.

Don’t use a full stop after titles (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr). First names are more commonly used now than before and should be used instead of initials, where possible; for example Mr Stephen Cox rather than Mr S J Cox.

Titles and ranks

Many people we correspond with have titles and ranks, which we need to use correctly.

Rank or title  Address  Salutation 
Privy Counsellor
(current and former ministers; note that some, but not all, police and crime commissioners are also Privy Counsellors, because they are former ministers) 
The Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP  Dear Minister 
The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP  Dear Home Secretary 
King’s honours (CBE, OBE, MBE, BEM, KC and KPM)  Miss Drusilla Sharpling CBE  Dear Miss Sharpling 
Mr Geoffrey Robinson KC  Dear Mr Robinson 
Knighthood or damehood  Sir Jonathan Murphy  Dear Sir Jonathan 
Dame Shirley Pearce  Dear Dame Shirley 
Baronies  The Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington  Dear Lord Stevens 
The Baroness Mulcahy of Dunoon  Dear Baroness Mulcahy 
A peer who is also a Privy Counsellor  The Rt Hon the Lord Robertson of Port Lethan  Dear Lord Robertson 

Numbers and measurements

Numbers

In text, spell out numbers up to ten but use numerals for 11 and over. Exceptions are measurements, money and numbers with decimal places, unless you’re quoting from a source document – in which case, stick with what it has used.

Also, if there are references to constituent elements of legislation or other documents where the number is represented in a particular way (for example, page 2 of a letter or section 4 of the Police Act 1919 and paragraph 8 of a document) then keep this as it is written (that is, as a numeral).

Avoid mixing the two formats within one sentence by using numerals, except when combining the formats would clear up possible confusion. Where you have two numbers running together, write the shorter one out in words and use numerals for the longer one: for example, ‘I have a lovely class of 32 seven-year-old children’.

Don’t start a sentence with a numeral – either write it out or rewrite the sentence so it’s not at the beginning.

  • Twenty-four years ago, there were over 50 committees, but now there are only 11.

If a sentence begins with a year, write ‘The year’ before writing out the year in numbers.

  • The year 1849 saw the great gold rush in California.

Don’t use superscript in, for example, 14th. The proper format is:

  • The force was 14th out of 42.

In cases where you’re using a number below ten as part of an adjective (‘Year 6 students’), you can use a figure.

Commas

Use commas in four-figure (and larger) numbers: for example 4,000; 1,673,421.

Figures

Use m for million, but spell out billion, except in charts, where you can use bn to save space: 8m, £8m, 8 billion, €8 billion. (A billion is a thousand million, a trillion a thousand billion, a quadrillion a thousand trillion.)

Don’t use k for thousands; always express as a figure: £4,500. Use ‘1,000 per head of population’ rather than ‘one thousand per head of population’.

Round figures to significant digits wherever you can, for example 1.68m for 1,682,500. Round up financial figures when absolute accuracy isn’t essential, for example £1.7m. We very rarely need to give financial detail to the level of pence.

Percentages

For percentages, spell out percent in text and use numerals (even for numbers below 10), for example 6 percent. You can use % in tables and charts and in notes to either.

Ratios

If you’re using ‘to’ as part of a ratio, you should usually spell it out:

  • They decided, by nine votes to two, to put the matter to the general assembly.

If you’re using a ratio as an adjective and one of the figures is greater than ten, you can use figures separated by an en dash:

  • a 50–20 vote, a 19–9 vote.

Otherwise, spell out the figures and use:

  • a two-to-one vote, a ten-to-one probability.

Fractions

Don’t hyphenate fractions (two thirds of all police officers) except when using them as an adjective (a two-thirds majority).

Measurements

Use metric measurements where appropriate, and watch for consistency – for example, if you start expressing distances in miles, don’t switch to kilometres later on.

When abbreviating measurements, use numerals and leave a space before the abbreviation; for example 62 mm, 87 mph. Note that abbreviations are never plural – mm, oz, lb not mms, ozs, lbs.

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P

Phone numbers

Express phone numbers like this (note where the spaces are):

  • 020 7035 2500
  • 0113 386 5746
  • 07812 345678

Punctuation

Comma splice (or conflated sentence)

This is when two separate sentences are linked with a comma, like this:

  • The report doesn’t give a complete national picture of how fire and rescue services are doing, it is only a reflection of what we have inspected so far.

Don’t do this. Either use a semi-colon or split it into two sentences.

The Oxford comma

An Oxford (or Harvard) comma is a comma before the final ‘and’ in lists.

Straightforward lists (‘he ate ham, eggs and chips’) don’t need one, but sometimes it can help the reader (‘he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and tea’).

Sometimes, an Oxford comma is essential. For example, compare:

  • I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling.

with:

  • I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling.

Hyphens

Hyphen usage is tricky. If you’re not sure whether to hyphenate something, it’s worth looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The trend in English is towards eliminating hyphens: ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ both used to be hyphenated (‘to-day’ and ‘to-morrow’), which looks decidedly quaint now. And most people now use ‘email’ rather than ‘e-mail’.

There are a few principles you can follow, though.

Use hyphens for compound adjectives before the noun but not when they come after the noun, for example ‘the up-to-date report’, but ‘the report is up to date’.

A few common examples of where you should use hyphens:

  • Short compound adjectives: ‘a well-written report’, ‘a three-year plan’
  • ‘Drug-related crime’, and similar phrases using ‘related’
  • A four-year-old child
  • ‘Co-ordinate’, ‘co-operate’ and similar to avoid doubling a letter (but ‘coordinates’ for mathematical meaning)
  • Where the main word begins with a capital, such as ‘sub-Saharan’
  • All-encompassing, ex-soldier, self-respect and similar
  • To avoid ambiguity – for example, ‘re-sign’ (sign again) vs ‘resign’ (give up); ‘a little used car’ (small second-hand car) vs ‘a little-used car’ (car that isn’t used often)
  • So-called honour-based violence
  • Taser-trained officers or desk-based staff
  • Dyfed-Powys Police

Examples of where you don’t need a hyphen:

  • compound adjectives where the meaning is clear and unambiguous without one: ‘public sector bodies’, ‘financial services sector’
  • many compound nouns: cyber crime, police station, real estate
  • after adverbs ending in -ly (highly skilled workforce, newly married couple)
  • phrasal verbs (let’s catch up, but let’s have a catch-up).

Avoid ‘floating hyphens’ by rewording, or leave out the first hyphen if the meaning is obvious, for example ‘pre and post-war trade’.

Dashes

You can use dashes to separate text – usually a sub-clause or extra piece of information – within a sentence. They also stand in for ‘to’ (for example 3–4 February, with no spaces). They’re longer than a hyphen (see hyphens).

Ellipses (…)

Use these when you leave words out; for example, in quotations when you only want to quote part of what someone has said. In this case, there’s a space before and after the ellipses. They aren’t usually used at the beginning or end of a quotation because it’s clear that the quotation is only an extract.

Quotation marks

Use double quotation marks only when you’re quoting from a publication or speech (it must be 100 percent accurate and an exact copy of the thing being quoted). Don’t put them in italics.

To introduce a direct quote, use a colon, introduce the double quotation marks, start the quote with an initial capital and put the full stop before closing the quote. For example:

  • A member of staff said: “It’s a great idea in theory, but another thing in practice.”

Use single quotes when you’re not quoting someone else (for example the ‘4 Cs’). But as a general rule, keep single quotes to a minimum and don’t use them just for emphasis. For example:

  • the period immediately after a crime has been committed, which the police call the golden hour.

For long quotations (that are, for example, a paragraph long), put it in quotation marks, start with an initial capital and indent it as a standalone paragraph.

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S

Singular and plural

Organisations are singular:

But ‘the police’ is plural: 

  • The police usually arrive promptly.

After a plural possessive, the noun is usually plural. For example:

  • Every year, thousands of people take their own lives

(rather than take their own life)

Spacing

Use a single space after full stops.

Spelling

We use British spelling. We always use the first spelling in the Cambridge Dictionary, except for ‘ize’ spellings (always use ‘ise’).

Avoid American spelling, unless it has become so common that it would seem archaic otherwise (for example ‘medieval’ rather than ‘mediaeval’).

Double consonants

Follow the convention of doubling a final -l after a short vowel on adding -ing or -ed to verbs (sole exception: parallel, paralleled) and adding -er to make nouns from verbs:

  • level, levelling, levelled, leveller
  • travel, travelling, travelled, traveller

Other consonants double only if the last syllable of the root verb is stressed or carries a strong secondary stress:

  • admit, admitting, admitted
  • format, formatting, formatted
  • refer, referring, referred

But

  • benefit, benefiting, benefited
  • combat, combating, combated
  • focus, focusing, focused

Other conventions

Use ‘learned’ rather than ‘learnt’.

Use ‘while’ and ‘among’ rather than ‘whilst’ and ‘amongst’.

Use ‘healthcare’ rather than ‘health care’.

Split infinitives

The infinitive, in English, is the basic form of the verb that sometimes begins with ‘to’ (‘to go’). Splitting an infinitive means putting another word after the ‘to’ (‘to boldly go’).

There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Use the word order that conveys the meaning most effectively or sounds most natural in the context.

T

Tables, graphs and charts

Number tables, graphs and charts consecutively through the document.

Keep any notes or references with the graphic. Put the notes in a caption below the table, graph or chart and not as part of any footnote/endnote system.

Tenses

Write in past tense when you’re describing what we found during inspections; use present tense when describing what the force is doing. For example:

We found that the force wasn’t recording crimes accurately enough.

But:

The force isn’t recording crimes accurately enough.

Time

Express times in using the 12-hour clock, using am or pm like this:

  • 9am
  • 6:30pm
  • 7pm

Use a full stop and not a colon. Don’t put full stops in am or pm.

Don’t put ‘.00’ after a full hour – for example, write ‘2pm’ not ‘2.00pm’.

Use either ‘from…to’ or ‘between’… ‘and’ when referring to time spans:

  • From 2pm to 3pm
  • Between 6am and 10am

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W

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X

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Words to use with care

Here are some suggested replacements for words and phrases that should be used with care. Some of these words affect our tone of voice, while others can be substituted by clearer alternatives.

A-E

a number of

Be specific if you can, for example ‘in four forces, we found’ or ‘in 11 of 15 cases’. Take a similar approach when using words such as ‘most’, ‘some’, ‘several’ and ‘almost all’.

acquisitive crime

Use theft, robbery or burglary (make sure to explain this term, as it might not mean much to a member of the public).

agree, agreement

Avoid using the language of agreement unless you mean something that is legally binding – we don’t ‘agree’ our inspection programme with the Home Secretary – they approve it.)

articulate

explain

aspiration

objective, purpose, intention

at this moment in time, at this time

now

baseline

starting point

bottom-up

listening to people

business

This term comes across as strange to the public when talking about policing and fire. Only use ‘business’ for commercial entities. For example, instead of talking about ‘business processes’, you could use ‘the force/service’s operational processes’.

build the narrative

tell the story, make the case for

call for (as in calling for something to happen)

ask for, recommend, propose

capacity building

increasing money, time and/or staff

capture (unless you mean a criminal)

gather, obtain, get

champion (verb)

promote/stand up for

community engagement

getting local communities involved

credible

This means ‘believable’. So don’t use it like this: “The force should establish a credible plan to [do something]”. In this case, you could say something like ‘achievable’ instead.

cross-cutting

involving more than one local service

deliver

try to be more specific if you can, for example ‘providing training’ or ‘a service to local communities’

deliverables

products, services

delivery-chain

process

deprivation

living in poverty

downward trend

declining, getting worse

early win

quick success

embedded

accepted or understood by everyone

enable

help

engagement

working with people

engaging users

involving users

evidence base

evidence

F-L

facilitate

help

fast-track (unless referring to the College of Policing’s fast track scheme)

speed up

flag up

make aware of

funding streams

funding, money

genuine

Avoid saying that something (for example, a belief) is genuine, or that forces have genuine plans to achieve something. Consider using ‘significant’ instead.

going forward

from now on, in future (depending on what you mean)

identify

Don’t say ‘identify’ when you really mean ‘establish’ or ‘determine’. We rarely just identify evidence of something having gone wrong (or right). We will have found the evidence and then done something with it.

impact (verb)

affect, have an effect on

impacts adversely

makes worse, worsens

imperative

needs urgent action

launch

introduce

localities

places

look at

assess, examine, evaluate, inspect, analyse

low-hanging fruit

an easily achievable goal

M-Z

mechanisms

ways

mission

objective, purpose, intention

mortality

rates of deaths

moving forward

from now on, in future (depending on what you mean)

municipalities

towns, cities, areas

outside of

outside

own, ownership

Say ‘have responsibility for’ instead (unless you’re literally talking about owning something, like a car).

parameters

limits

partner

The public might not understand the concept of the police working with partners. If you need to use this word, make sure you explain clearly exactly what sort of organisation you mean, such as ‘the force works with health and social care services’.

rationalise

make more efficient

reach out

contact, call, email, meet

recidivism

re-offending

respond, response

Unless you’re talking about how the police react to something, avoid talking about ‘the police response’; this could imply that police work is purely reactive. Say ‘approach’ instead.

scope, scoping

Scope is fine as a noun (‘the scope of the inspection’) but don’t use it as a verb (‘we scoped the inspection’). Say ‘evaluate’ or ‘assess’ instead.

significant(ly)

Don’t use the words ‘significantly’ or ‘statistically’ in the narrative of a report when talking about data directly or indirectly.

streamline

make more efficient

structured around

focused on

task with (verb)

give a task/work to, assign work

touch base

contact, call, email, meet

usage

use (noun)

utilise

use (verb)

vision

objective, purpose, intention

what good looks like

a good way [of doing something]

win-win situation

a good idea

Reference works