Writing guidelines

Introduction – how to use this guide

These guidelines are foreveryone working for and with Barnardo’s, to assist in the creation and production of clear, effective and consistent publications and promotional materials.

The approaches we have adopted are designed to support our brand identity and to convey to internal and external audiences that we are an effective, authoritative and accessible organisation.

We are aware that individual styles vary, but hope that these guidelines will make it easier to ensure that Barnardo’s materials continue to present a consistent image.

Our breadth of work

The breadth of work we do is hugely impressive and is something we want to be known for. But to create better outcomes for more children, we need to be strategically focused.

We’re committing to three strategic aims that will help us do just that. We will work with children, young people and their families/carers to help build:

To find out which services sit under each strategic pillar, see our corporate strategy.

To help explain to the public what we do we have highlighted six priority areas of our work within the strategic pillars. This is how we express the services which sit under each strategic pillar.

When using an image of a child you can use the short form version e.g. Nurture Me.

Stronger families

Early support – Help us nurture struggling young families.

Nurture Me

Family support – Help us support disadvantaged families.

Support Me

Emotional health and wellbeing – Help us counsel and guide frightened children.

Counsel Me

Safer childhoods

Child sexual exploitation and abuse – Help us protect sexually exploited and abused children.

Protect Me

Looked after children – Help us find new families to welcome defenceless children.

Welcome Me

Positive futures

Care leavers – Help us empower vulnerable children leaving care.

Empower Me

Our tone of voice

Every child needs someone to believe in them and our voice should support this. It should inspire the public to believe in children and the children to believe in themselves.

We do this by speaking in a manner which is courageous, hopeful, and most importantly – authentic.

We write in down-to-earth, everyday English. We do not use unnecessary adjectives or metaphors or sensationalise like a tabloid newspaper. But we don’t shy away from the facts.

Our voice should be

Our voice shouldn’t be

How we should speak

Barnardo’s transforms children’s lives every day. Everything you donate will help a child have a second chance. Everything you buy will help fund our work with the UK’s most vulnerable children. This week we are looking for pre-loved winter coats in good condition.

How we shouldn’t speak

Please, please give whatever you can to help abused, desperate children. We’ll take anything you can spare. Your old coat is the difference between a child getting a meal or going hungry. Please help us do more for helpless children.

How we tell a story

Whenever telling a story, we always try to demonstrate the full transformation from trauma to a brighter future. The child should be the hero of every story and Barnardo’s should play a supporting role, helping the child reach their full potential.



We sound like

"Ayesha was unaware of the dangers online. She didn’t realise that she was being ‘groomed’ for sexual exploitation. With Barnardo’s help, she’s come to realise that she is not to blame for the terrible things that happened to her."

We don’t sound like

"Ayesha shouldn’t have been talking to a stranger online. When she arrived at his house, every parent’s nightmare came true. She became part of his sick, perverted game. Barnardo’s have helped make everything normal again for Ayesha. She’s come out of her shell and blossomed. Thanks to Barnardo’s she’s able to spread her wings and fly."

Barnardo’s house style

When writing materials for or about Barnardo’s, general points to consider include:

Aim for a straightforward, simple style. Ensure your writing is clear and concise. Focus on using one main idea in a sentence and keep your sentence length down to maximum15 or 20 words.

Avoid using jargon and unexplained acronyms. Use everyday English where possible. Don’t use unnecessary long words; note that the average reading age of the UK population is 9 years.

Avoid official or formal-sounding words when there’s a plain-English way or saying it for example:

Consider your readers and try to ensure that your language and levels of explanation are appropriate for them. You could try to imagine you are talking to your reader, as that will help you find the right tone of voice.

Be authentic and optimistic. We know the positive impact of our work and the difference we make to the lives of children, young people and their families.

Keep in mind that our work empowers children and young people, providing solutions which transform their lives. Avoid comments or sentiments like ‘The work of Barnardo’s saves children’s lives’ and never refer to the children and young people we work with as ‘helpless’.

Use active verbs. Say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’.

Personalise your message as much as is appropriate. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’; when talking about Barnardo’s or a specific service. It helps define the nature of the reader’s relationship with Barnardo’s. Write ‘you can get advice from...’ rather than ‘advice is available from...’ ‘We’ is a good inclusive term that can refer to Barnardo’s, its supporters and service users. ‘We/you’ also helps avoid the passive and makes sentences simpler and clearer.

Focus on our work today, not our past. We are proud of our pioneering past – but we’re more concerned with the present. Keep the focus of your writing on our current work and the difference we’re making today.

Always be non-judgemental. We believe in children no matter who they are, what they have done or what they have been through. We treat everyone fairly and equally.

Choose your tense – past, present or future – carefully and use it logically and consistently. Are you describing events that are in the past, happening currently or planned in the future? If you choose the present tense for events that are in progress, will they still be in progress when your readers receive the information?

Don’t forget to use your spell-check! Make use of the spelling and grammar checkers on your computer, but bear in mind that these have limitations, and that we have our own house style and preferred spellings.

Remember we do everything we do because we believe in children and we know that when you believe in children they start to believe in themselves. Please ensure our key messaging which can be found in the brand guidelines is at the heart of any communication material.

Writing about Barnardo’s

Some particular rules and styles apply when talking about the organisation.

Punctuation and grammar

Acronyms and abbreviations

Spell out acronyms and abbreviations the first time they are used in a chapter or section, followed by the letters in brackets. Use the acronym only after that.

Do not use full points in abbreviations or spaces between initials, e.g. US, mph, 4am, apart from e.g., i.e. and nos.



Avoid excessive use of bold. It can distract the reader and appear to ‘shout’ at them.


Our house style is to use as few capital letters as possible e.g. Cut them free campaign. Too many capital letters in a sentence distract the reader and spoil the flow of the text. Their use should largely be restricted to proper nouns (e.g. names of people and places).

Do use capitals for:


Dates should be written in the following format: 9 January 2017

Days numbered 1-9 do not need a preceding zero and you should write the month in full. Never use suffixes after the number, e.g. ‘3rd’, ‘12th’ or ‘1st’.

Date spans in years should be written as follows: 2018-19.

Date spans in years and months should be written as follows (writing ‘to’ in full and specifying the year as few times as necessary):

9 July to 10 September 2017


Use the 12-hour clock. For example, 10am, 2.30pm. Use noon and midnight instead of 12 noon and 12 midnight.


Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity, to show that a concept is linked, or where words combine for adjectival use (e.g. high- profile case).

A hyphen can provide clarity of meaning, e.g. ‘The Barnardo’s project helps five year old children’ could have a different meaning from ‘The Barnardo’s project helps five-year-old children’ (the first could imply the project only helps five children, who are each a year old).

When a number is used before a unit of measurement, the adjective is hyphenated before the noun, e.g. a 10-year-old boy; a four-foot pole. However, the statements ‘the boy was 10 years old’ and the ‘pole was four feet long’ should not be hyphenated.

Use two words where this makes reading or understanding easier (e.g. business people).

For ease of reading, use a hyphen between two vowels (e.g. co-operative, co-ordinated, socio-economic).

Use one word when the single term is in common use and is not hard to read (e.g. ongoing).

Use a hyphen to make a new term from two separate words (e.g. African-American).

Use a hyphen to link a prefix or suffix (which cannot be a word on its own), e.g. mid-century, post-traumatic.


Use for general emphasis in body text and always use when referring to publication titles, e.g. The Times, Barnardo’s Annual Review 2017.

Lists and bullet points

Avoid writing sentences that contain more than four points, as they become difficult to read. Use a list with bullet points instead. Precede the bullet list with a colon. Bullets should then:

Bullet points shouldn’t contain complete sentences or go over a number of lines (if you’re writing a sentence that goes over a number of lines, it isn’t an item in a list, so consider putting it outside the list).


Numbers between one and nine should be spelt out in full, but anything higher should be in digits.

If a sentence starts with a number, the figure should be written out in full, even if it is over nine; e.g. Fifty projects took part in the survey.

You should:

Punctuation and symbols (including quotation marks)

Use single quotation marks for quoted speech, e.g. ‘Barnardo’s is my favourite charity,’ says Ben. Any quotations within a quote should be shown by double quotation marks, e.g. ‘John told me, “the answer is no”.’ Single quote marks can also be used to illustrate slang terms or reported speech.

Never put quote marks around titles, which should be in italics or capitalised.

In titles, avoid having more than one colon, e.g. instead of ‘Touching Lives, Connecting People: partnership pack: response form’, replace the second colon with a dash e.g. Touching Lives, Connecting People: partnership pack – response form.

Use one space between sentences, never two. Only use an ampersand where space is tight.


All references drawn on or referred to in any Barnardo’s publication, report or materials should always be listed in full, usually in the footnotes or at the end of the chapter or document. Names of publications, reports, conferences and artistic works included in text should be in italics.

Within the text of research reports, other people’s views or works should be referred to by author surname (or organisation, if no author is named), with the year of the publication date in brackets. This is known as Harvard referencing. Try to put the reference in a position where it doesn’t affect the flow of the sentence.

For example:

In text, where there are three or more authors only the first author should be listed, e.g. ‘as established by Jones et al (1998)’. Where there are two authors, both should be listed, e.g. ‘as described by Khan and Davies (2002)’.

References from websites should include the name of the person or organisation responsible for the website, and the date when the information was taken from the site. Examples of Barnardo’s preferred styles include:

Referring to government departments

The first time a government department is referred to in any written material, write its name in full with the abbreviation, e.g. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). At the start of every new chapter or section, use the full name, then use the abbreviation until the end of thesection/chapter.

Singular and plural

A company, a government, or an organisation is singular, e.g. ‘Barnardo’s is launching a new campaign’; ‘Barclays is holding its annual conference’; ‘the Government is announcing a new policy’.


Underline should not be used for emphasis. It should only be used to indicate links on the web or on e- communications.

Units of measurement

It is acceptable to abbreviate units of measurement. Use kb or mb for file sizes; km for kilometres; kg for kilograms; and mph for miles per hour. Always write per cent in full (never percent), but use % in a table.

Sensitive terms and inclusive language

Many descriptions of people or places are sensitive, politically or culturally. Our materials should not discriminate against people on the basis of ability, gender, age, race, background or any other criteria. Consider what is appropriate and try to use language that is inclusive wherever possible. Take care when referring to any personal attributes (such as age, colour or gender) and do so only if relevant.

Refer to people with respect, and as people, not collections of problems or symptoms, nor as helpless or powerless. Words such as ‘victim’ or ‘sufferer’ may not be appropriate. Terms such as ‘Christian name’ can be exclusive (use ‘first name’ instead).



Again, be sensitive to the people concerned and seek specialist advice if necessary. In general:


Generally, use the term black and minority ethnic. Some people may prefer to use their family’s country or region of origin (e.g. African-Caribbean, or South Asian). Preferences and sensitivities vary, so be aware of the people you are describing and of your audience.

The terms ‘black and minority ethnic’, ‘white’, ‘mixed’ and ‘other’ should all be lower case, all the time. However, the proper nouns used to describe ethnic origin should be upper case, e.g. African, Eastern European. It is good practice to avoid the acronym BME altogether in narrative text (it can be used sparingly in tables where space is an issue).

Geographical areas

Great Britain consists of Scotland, Wales and England. The UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Use these terms specifically and with care. It is not appropriate to use Ireland if you mean specifically Northern Ireland. Barnardo’s Ireland refers to Barnardo’s in the Republic of Ireland and is separate from Barnardo’s UK (which includes Northern Ireland).

Spelling checklist


ages when the age is stated immediately before the unit of measurement (i.e. year or month), the adjective is hyphenated before the noun, e.g. ‘the 10-year-old boy’. However, the statement ‘the boy was 10 years old’ should not be hyphenated When referring to age ranges, write as 16- to 19-year-olds.

A-levels (not A Levels or A-Levels)

among (not amongst)

antisocial behaviour


Barnardo’s (not Barnardos); use as singular, not plural, e.g. ‘Barnardo’s is launching...’, not ‘Barnardo’s are launching...’

black and minority ethnic (not ethnic minority), all lower case

Braille (capital B)

Britain/UK these terms are synonymous: Britain is the official short form of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain, however, refers only to England, Wales and Scotland.

British Isles collective term for the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands

Budget (capitalise when in the context of the British Budget, otherwise lowercase)


capitalisation the proper names of people, places and titles all require capitals. Other than that, use capitals as little as possible (see section on capitalisation)

centuries should be referred to as ‘3rd century BC’, ‘18th century’, etc.; and adjectivally with the hyphen, e.g. 21st-century charities

childcare (one word)

Christian names – don’t use this term. Use first name or forename instead

church lower case for the established church, e.g. ‘church membership has recently...’; ‘Catholic church’, etc, but capitalised in ‘Church of England’

Citizens Advice (no apostrophe)

civil service, civil servants, senior civil service all lower case

Commons, House of Commons Singular, e.g. ‘the Commons is debating...’, etc.

compass points use lower case for regions, e.g. the north, the north-east, the south of England, south Wales. The same applies to geopolitical areas, e.g. western Europe. Capitalise the region when it is part of the name of a county (e.g. West Sussex) and also note the following: East End, West End (London), Middle East, North and South America

complement refers to joining or completing something; compliment refers to praise or a tribute; complimentary refers to free gifts, etc.

councils capitalise in full title, e.g. Birmingham City Council, otherwise lower case


decades use either the 1970s, etc. or seventies, etc.; not ‘the 70s’ or ‘70’s’

departments (government):
These are the correct names and abbreviations of some of the main departments that Barnardo’s comes into contact with. Note that some departments do not have abbreviations:

dependant refers to dependent relatives (e.g. a child); dependent refers to dependency

developing countries rather than third world

different from, or different to, not different than

Diwali the Hindu festival of lights

domestic violence referred to as domestic abuse in Scotland

drug user (not drug addict)


e-commerce/e-procurement/e-communication/e- government lowercase ’e’ with hyphen

Eid ul-Fitr the festival marking the end of Ramadan

elderly as a guide, do not use for people under 70. A consensus is building for the term ‘older people’ or ‘elderly person’ not ‘the elderly’

email (no hyphen)

EU European Union, but well known enough not to have to spell out at first mention


foster carers (not foster parents)

fundraising (one word)


gifts in wills when referring to legacies left in wills in general. Gifts in Wills is capitalised as the name of the team.

Government capital letter when referring specifically to ‘the Government’ e.g. when the Government decides its policy. When referring to government in general use lower case e.g. local government, or as an adjective e.g. many government departments.

Great Britain See Britain, UK.

green paper (lower case)


Hindi for language context (the Hindi language); but use Hindu for religious or ethnic contexts (an adherent to Hinduism, or relating to Hinduism)

homepage one word, lowercase

http:// is not required. Begin web addresses with www

hyperlinks one word


interfaith (no hyphen)

intranet always lower case

its/it’s use the apostrophe version only when it’s is an abbreviation for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’; no apostrophe in possessive form


Jobcentre Plus


Koran prefer Qur’an


Leader of the Commons/House of Lords/ capitalised; however, Labour leader, etc. lowercase

local authorities (lower case)

local government capitalise council when its full title is used, e.g. Watford Borough Council (thereafter the council); but lower case when the title is not used in full, e.g. Watford council. All council committees are in lower case, although capitalise Mayor at first mention. Use lower case for council officials such as borough surveyor, town clerk, etc.

long term no hyphen, unless used as a prefix e.g. long- term harm but ‘in the long term’.

looked-after children hyphenated


Mayor of London becomes the mayor (lower case) after first mention

Member of Parliament (capitalise Member), but MP almost always preferable

midnight (not 12 midnight)

MP, QC, Commas should be placed each side when used after name, e.g. ‘Boris Johnson, MP, attended.’


national insurance lowercase, like other taxes, in a general context, but capitalised for National Insurance Fund

night-time (hyphenated), but daytime is one word

No 10, or 10 Downing Street not Number 10 or Downing St.

no one (two words, no hyphen)

north, north-east, northern etc; for when to capitalise, see compass points


online one word in computer context


Parliament (upper case)

per cent should be spelled out as words. The % symbol should only be used in tables

police lowercase, even when referring to ‘the police’

postcode (no hyphen)

practice is a noun, referring to customs; practise is a verb referring to rehearsals training, etc.

Prime Minister capitalised when referring to a specific person, e.g.’the Prime Minister said that...’, but lower case when using prime minister more generally, e.g. ‘the last two prime ministers have...’

program (computers); programme (the arts, etc.)

projects should be lowercase, e.g. ‘the project offers counselling to children’, unless it is actually part of the title, e.g. the Indigo Project


Qur’an not Koran


reoffending (no hyphen)


seasons always lower case when unattached, i.e. spring, summer, autumn, winter; but Winter Olympics etc.

self-confidence (hyphen)

self-esteem (hyphen)

self-harm (hyphen)

self-respect (hyphen)

services lower case, e.g. ‘the service offers counselling to children, unless it is actually part of the title, e.g. Amazon Young Person’s Counselling Service

Sharia means ‘Islamic law’; avoid the repetition ‘Sharia law’

short term (no hyphen, unless used as a prefix)

stationary (not moving), stationery (writing materials)


textbook one word, as are guidebook, stylebook, rulebook, etc.

that or which? ‘that’ defines, ‘which’ gives extra information (often in a clause enclosed by commas), so ‘this is the house that Jack built, but this house, which John built, is falling down’

two-thirds, three-quarters (both hyphenated)


UK United Kingdom refers to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain or Great Britain refers to England, Wales, Scotland and islands governed from the mainland (i.e. not the Isle of Man or Channel Islands). The British Isles refers to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands


webpage (no hyphen)

website (no hyphen)

wellbeing (no hyphen)

west, western, etc. For when to use capitalisation in a geographical context, see compass points

while (not whilst)

white paper

Further reading

We hope you have found these guidelines informative and useful.

You can find further guidance on English usage and writing in general in the Guardian Style Guide (www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide), and on the Plain English Campaign website (www.plainenglish.co.uk). However, where recommendations on these or any other websites or publications contradict the Barnardo’s brand writing guidelines, you should adhere to our house style.

If you have any specific questions about Barnardo’s house style or an editorial issue, contact the brand team.