Web documents - Style Guide
This is an example of a British English
A style guide sets out rules for content on the web site.
All the content on a web site must support the objectives of
the web site.
Content must meet our Web document publication Policies
and Rules - this Guide is intended to promote that. Breaking
the Style Guide will usually reduce the users' experience of
our site, and undermine our objectives. So the Guide is not
absolute, but must not be broken without the best of reasons.
Our style should be consistent with a "Quality Broadsheet".
However, most websites are read by "scanning", so everything
should be shorter (perhaps 50% shorter) than in equivalent
paper content. Do use lots of headings, bulletted lists and
other aids to scanning (see www.useit.com
for lots of information on style, and the reasons for these
The Times has an online version of their style guide (which
is also available as a book)
which is probably a good standard (and is still available
outside the paywall). Generally, websites use shorter
sentences than printed material. Since much of our material is
actually printed as well, some compromise may be required.
Our style should also be comprehensible to visitors who are
unfamiliar with our culture, philosophy and language and must
not seem forced to our "home" audience.
Our Accessibility Requirements mean that we need to meet the
following guideline to achieve WCAG 2.0 AAA compliance:
3.1.5 Reading Level: When text requires reading ability more
advanced than the lower secondary education level after
removal of proper names and titles, supplemental content, or a
version that does not require reading ability more advanced
than the lower secondary education level, is available. (Level
We suppose that the education level specified may be
equivalent to completing Secondary education in England with
at least three GCSEs at at least C grade (open to
interprettation). We do not offer this extract from WCAG as an
examplar of any aspect of comprehensible style!
There are other WCAG guidelines from the same section which
we need to (try to) meet.
In web pages, we can have Headings and Body Text. Headings
are achieved by using the Format drop-down in the Visual
editor toolbar (Heading 1, Heading 2, ... - these correspond
to <h1>, <h2>, etc). Body text is paragraphs,
lists, pictures, tables, and other things that people can
I seem to remember that Body Text has to read reasonably with
out reading the headings.
The headings have to be logically ordered.
There should be one, and only one, <h1> on a page. Our
design makes this the same as the page's title (which appears
in the browser bar), so you should never add another one in
content (and never need to).
There can be one or more Heading 2s on a page, and these can
enclose Heading 3s, which in turn can enclose Heading 4s, etc.
Each Heading is followed by Body Text
If this sounds like outlining, that's because that's what it
is - outlining for people who need help with accessing our
content (which is everyone, by the way - all users need some
help some times).
Tables are only used for data. So every table can have
headings for columns and rows (correction - must have).
Tables must not be used to get things on the page in specific
relationships (layout) - that breaks our requirement to
separate content and presentation. If you can't see how to
layout a page, consult the web master and the visual designer
- you need help with presentation!
Many sites, including this one, underline things to show that
they are links. You must never underline anything which is not
a link, otherwise you will confuse people.
Hyphenation and Spacing
Do not attempt to hyphenate content to get it to lay out (do
not attempt to justify text, either - it is to be ranged
left). Text sizes and fonts on the web are in the hands of the
user, and any attempts will fail, and look stupid. Just don't
Pictures and Images
Pictures and images, unless they are just decoration (i.e.
styling and not content) must have an alternative text, so
that people who have turned images off (or are using something
like a screen reader) can be told what the image is. You
should also supply alternative text or titles for downloadable
documents, so that people can tell what they're going to get
before they download it.
Dates and Times
Never use numeric only dates. Always spell
the month (we all know when 9/11 is, don't we?).
I have two different British English Date formats.
You should decide which one you will use, and then use it consistently.
The 24-hour version is probably more useful internationally -
people from most cultures will cope with it.
The am/pm version is more commonly understood in the UK (and
the USA), and so is more suited to a site that is used mostly by
people in those countries.