Words to watch

A or An

Use “a” and “an” as they would be said.

an 18% increase
a NATO paper
a UK organisation
an IT solution

Use “a” for words beginning with “h” when the “h” is pronounced.

a historian
an hour

Accept or except

“Accept” means to agree to receive or do.

I accept your terms.

“Except” means not including.

Bring everything except the tent.

Advice or advise

“Advice” means recommendations about what to do.

The advice was very useful.

“Advise” means to recommend something.

I advised him to call the police.

Affect or effect

“Affect” means to influence or to adopt.

The war affected him greatly.

“Effect” means to accomplish the result of an action.

The overall effect was stunning.

Altogether or all together

“Altogether” means completely.

There were six altogether.

“All together” means everyone in one place.

We were all together in the living room.

Alzheimer’s disease

Use “Alzheimer’s disease”, including the apostrophe and “s” in line with the NHS style.

Because, due to and since

The words “due to” and “since” should not be used in place of “because”. “Owing to” can replace “because of”.

It was wet inside owing to the window being open


it was due to the rain
it has been wet inside since she opened the window

Due to

“Due to” can be used to mean either “owed to” or “scheduled to”.

the money that is due to her from an inheritance
the train is due to arrive at 8:45pm


“Since” is usually used in the past tense.

They have known each other since 1982
Mother and I have not spoken since the fall of Tobruk

“Since” can be used in the present tense when it refers to the current situation.

Since he went to university, he thinks he knows everything

Between or among

Use “between” when referring to two subjects.

We divided the money between John and Michael

Use “among” when referring to more than two subjects. Do not use “amongst”.

We shared the sweets among Sarah, Lucy and Clare

Brexit, not EU exit

Search engine data show that many more people use “Brexit” than “EU exit”.

The UK government set out its strategy for trade policy after Brexit in a paper published in October.
The decline in transport equipment was due largely to a fall in car manufacturing, as firms planned shutdowns around the originally-intended date for Brexit.

Complement or compliment

“Complement” is that which completes or fills up something.

A full complement of staff.

“Compliment” is an expression of admiration or praise.

He complimented my choice of outfit.

Complementary or complimentary

“Complementary” is completing or making up a whole.

The complementary staff.

“Complimentary” means given free of charge.

Here are the complimentary peanuts.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in people and animals. They can cause the common cold or more severe diseases, such as COVID-19. COVID-19 refers to “coronavirus disease 2019” and is a disease that can affect the lungs and airways. 

Coronavirus is lower case unless at the start of a sentence. Refer to “coronavirus (COVID-19)” in the first instance of each section of your article or bulletin. 

Coronavirus” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the virus and the pandemic in general. Do not add the word “the” before “coronavirus” when it is being used as a noun. For example, “effects of coronavirus on the economy.” Include the word “the” when “coronavirus” is being used as an adjective. For example, “the coronavirus pandemic”.

“COVID-19” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the specific disease. For example, “there was an increase in registered deaths involving COVID-19”. 

Questionnaires and respondent materials should use “coronavirus (COVID-19)” for all instances. 

View our full coronavirus guidance for more information.

Dependant (noun) or dependent (adjective)

“Dependant” means someone who relies on another for support, financial or otherwise.

I have six dependants

“Dependent” means depending, relying, contingent or relative.

The trip is dependent on the weather


“The act of spending” or “money spent”. An item cannot have expenditure, it can only have money spent on it.

Fewer or less

Use “less” with nouns that cannot be counted or do not have a plural.

less praise
less rain

In sentences with “than”, use “less” with numbers on their own:

The price fell from £18 to less than £12

Use “less” when referring to measurements or time:

Companies less than 5 years old are creating jobs
Per capita income is less than $50 per year
Heath Square is less than 4 miles away

Use “fewer” with nouns in the plural.

fewer than 20 employees
fewer people

Do not use “over” and “under” for quantities. Use less than and fewer than, or more than.

more than 6%


The capacity to be functional or practical; purpose. Also means “a specific application of a computer program”.


“Hopefully” means “full of hope”. Instead, use “it is hoped that” or “we hope”.


“However” has two meanings: “nevertheless” and “no matter how”. If you use “however” at the beginning of a sentence to mean “nevertheless”, it must be followed by a comma.

The data are usually consistent. However, rounding can cause differences.

If you use “however” to mean “no matter how”, a comma is not required.

However many times I write this, it is never easy.

Do not use “however” as a substitute for “but”.

It is raining today, however we hope it will be dry tomorrow.

-ise and -ize

Use “-ise”, not “-ize” as a word ending, unless it is a proper noun. The Oxford English Dictionary uses “-ize”, please ignore this.


Illegitimate births

Use “born outside marriage”.

Imply or infer

“Imply” is to insinuate, signify or hint

The statistician implied the crime levels had gone down.

“Infer” is to draw a conclusion from something.

From the statistics we infer that the crime levels have gone down.

Important or interesting

If something is important or interesting, you should also say why and to whom.

The crime statistics are important to the police in each area, as they can use them for employment estimates.

Lead (verb or noun) or led (verb)

“Lead” (verb) means to cause a person or animal to go with one or to be in charge or command.

Jack will lead the horses to water.
I always lead the team on large projects.

“Lead” (noun) can mean taking the initiative or being an example to others, or the metal.

Britain has taken the lead in this race.
The pipe is made of lead.

“Led” is the past tense and past participle of the verb “to lead”.

Annie led the meeting successfully.

Licence (noun) or license (verb)

“Licence” means being allowed or given leave. A patent or grant of permission.

The police asked to see my licence.

“License” means to give permission or allow.

The premises is licensed for alcohol.


Use “such as”, not “like”

stylistic devices such as bold and italic.


To appease, to make something more easily borne or to lessen the severity, violence or evil of something.

Of, from, with and to

Compared with and compared to

Use “compared with” when pointing out the similarities and differences of subjects.

full-time workers in England earned £316 per week compared with only £284 per week in Wales.

Use “compared to” when pointing out similarities.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Use “in comparison with” and never “in comparison to”.

Consists of and comprises

Use “consists of” or “comprises” but never use “comprises of”.

The pudding consists of cream, berries and meringue
The pudding comprises cream, berries and meringue

Different from/than/to

Use “different from”, “different to” and “different than”.


It is different from the original version
It is different to the original version
It is different than the original version

Similar to

Use “similar to”, and never use “with” or “as”.

It is similar to the original version.

Practice (noun) or practise (verb)

“Practice” is the application or use of an idea, belief, or method

The practice of hanging was outlawed.

“Practise” means to perform an activity or exercise

I am practising my juggling.

Principal or principle

“Principal” means:

  • adjective = taking the first place
  • noun = the head of a college or university

The principal idea for school closure. The principal closed the school.

“Principle” means a law or premise.

The school was closed on principle.

Program or programme

Write “computer program” but every other type uses the extra “-me” spelling.

television programme
theatre programme


In the UK, “recession” refers to two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth in GDP or output. If you are unsure if this applies to the period you are writing about, use the term “economic downturn”.

Stationary or stationery

“Stationary” means not moving

The train was stationary.

“Stationery” means writing or office materials

The pen is in the stationery cupboard.

That or which

Use “that” when the next part of the sentence is essential to its sense or meaning.

The statistics that show the decline are invaluable.
The chart shows the population increase that occurred in 2019.

Use “which” to introduce part of a sentence that offers additional information but is not essential. When used in this way, “which” should be preceded by a comma.

The statistics, which were produced this week, show there has been a decline.
The largest increases were in Wales and Northern Ireland, which both saw a 3% rise.

Which or what

Use “which” when there is a limited choice and assumed knowledge of options.

Use “what” when there are many possibilities.

Which colour do you prefer?
What breed is your dog?

www, internet and online

“web”, “world wide web”, “www”, “internet” and “online” are always lower case. “Online” is always written as one word.

world wide web
web page

Words not to use

Don’t use the following words:

  • agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
  • advancing
  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
  • combating
  • commit/pledge (we’re either doing something or we’re not)
  • countering
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts)
  • deploy (unless it is military or software)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • disincentivise (and incentivise)
  • empower
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
  • focussing
  • foster (unless it is a child)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • initiate
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject or thing is probably ‘important’)
  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are writing about aircraft)
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
  • liaise
  • overarching
  • progress (as a verb. What are you actually doing?)
  • promote (unless it concerns an ad campaign or a marketing promotion)
  • robust (unless referring to statistical estimates)
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – state what’s happening)
  • streamline
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it’s rugby, football, or some other sport)
  • transforming (explain what you are actually doing to change something)
  • utilise (this means to use as something other than its intended purpose)

Remember these points when writing in plain English:

  • drive (you can drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
  • drive out (unless it is cattle)
  • going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
  • in order to (don’t use it)
  • one-stop shop (we are not a retail outlet)
  • ring-fencing.


Use abbreviations and acronyms for organisations and terms that appear frequently. Only use them where they are helpful. Never use full stops or italics.

Write the name or term out in full the first time you use it, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. After that, use the abbreviation. Acronyms need to be written out in full again the first instance in each section of your article or page.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a continuous survey. Users of the LFS…


In text, use UK Statistics Authority the first time and then The Authority. Never use UKSA, as this is the registered trademark of the UK Shareholders Alliance.
You should repeat the full term if you need to refresh the reader’s memory, for example at the beginning of chapters. Be aware that, on GOV.UK, if a user hovers their mouse over an acronym the full term is shown.

Commonly known abbreviations

Where something is commonly known by its abbreviation, only use the abbreviation.



Abbreviations and acronyms generally use capitals (BBC, NATO), even when the subject may be lower case (initial teacher training = ITT). Sometimes they can be a mixture of upper and lower case (VoIP, DfE). This usually occurs in brand names like PowerPoint, PlayStation, iPhone.

Cross references

If you are referring to something in the same document, use upper case:

this is mentioned in Chapter 2
see Table 3
Figure 4 shows this

Pages should always be lower case:

page 37
pages 346 to 358

In references, always use lower case:

Example for references

ch 2
table 3
fig 4
p 37
pp 346 to 358

Make sure that:

  • there is a space between “pp” and the figure
  • there are no full stops after any abbreviations

Foreign abbreviations

Never italicise these. The following list shows the only foreign abbreviations that should be used.

ad hoc

This means “for this special purpose”. It is never hyphenated, even when used as a compound adjective.

ad hoc request


Exempli gratia means “for example”. Use this expression only in tables, where space is limited, and in internal correspondence.


A contraction of “et cetera” which means “and other things”.


This means “that is”. Only use this in tables, where space is limited, and in internal correspondence.


Do not use this, write “Note:” instead.


Write classifications in full the first time they are mentioned in each section and then use the abbreviation. When numbers or dates are part of the abbreviation, avoid using brackets and give the year in full.

Standard Industrial Classification 2007: SIC 2007
Standard Occupational Classification 2010: SOC 2010
National Statistics Socio-economic Classification: NS-SEC
Statistical classification of products by activity 2008: CPA 2008
National Statistics Country Classification: NSCC
Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics: NUTS1, NUTS2, NUTS3

For SIC and SOC, insert “UK” the first time they are mentioned if you need to stress that it is UK-specific. “UK” does not need to be repeated if the meaning is clear.

UK SIC 2007


Use “data” as a plural.

The data are for 2012 to 2013


When referring to groups of people, use:

  • people not persons in text (“persons” can be used in tables)
  • adults: men and women
  • children up to age 16 years: boys and girls
  • a mixture of adults and children: males and females
  • children up to age 16 years: “young people” or “under 16s”
  • “disabled people” or “people with disabilities” NOT “the disabled” or “the handicapped”
  • “homeless people” NOT “the homeless”
  • “older people” NOT “the elderly”

Note that common usage changes so be sensitive. If in doubt, ask people for their preference or use the terminology that groups use to refer to themselves.

Collective nouns

Nouns such as “committee” and “government” are singular.

the committee has reached a decision

The Office for National Statistics is always singular.

Some nouns ending in “s” are always singular.


Sex, gender and gender identity

The distinction between sex, gender and gender identity is a complex area:

  • sex is often used to relate to biological characteristics but (in terms of practical usage) may also refer to legal sex, lived sex or self-identified sex
  • gender is often used interchangeably with sex, but may be seen as reflecting social, cultural and psychological constructs
  • gender identity refers to personal perception of gender

ONS releases should use the term “sex”, unless they are referring to:

  • data sources that specifically ask about gender or gender identity
  • commonly used and recognised terms, such as “the gender pay gap”

The dataset has sex categories of female and male.

The chart shows that the gender pay gap has steadily decreased over time.

The gender identity statistics include categories such as trans female, trans male, and non-binary.

Women or girls and men or boys

If a population is made up of only adult females, it should be described as “women”. If it includes children, use “females”. If it is only children, use “girls”.

If a population is made up of only adult males, it should be described as “men”. If it includes children, use “males”. If it is only children, use “boys”.

The dataset includes females from ages 10 to 24 years.

The chart shows the social class of men aged 45 years and over.

The next publication will analyse reading ability for girls and boys aged under 16 years.

Race and ethnicity

When there is a need to refer to a person’s race or ethnicity, refer to specific ethnic groups separately.

Pakistani and Chinese

Note the use of initial capitals for ethnic group names and remember that White British is itself an ethnic group.

If it is not possible to use separate groups then broad ethnic group categories may be used, but do not use slashes (/) as this can imply that the terms are the same.

Asian and Asian British

Ethnic minorities

Use “Ethnic minorities” to refer to all ethnic groups except the White British group. Ethnic minorities can include White minorities, such as Irish Travellers, so make it clear which groups your data include.

Ethnic minorities (including White minorities)
Ethnic minorities (excluding White minorities)
White (including White minorities)
White (excluding White minorities)

Do not use “non-White” or “non-Black”. Defining groups in relation to the White majority was not well received in user testing and to define a group by what they are not, rather than what they are, can be confusing.


Do not use the terms or acronyms Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or Black and minority ethnic (BME) because:

  • these highlight some groups and not others, for example, Black and Asian people are specifically included but not people of a Mixed ethnicity
  • inconsistencies in their use mean it is unclear whether or not these terms include White minority groups
  • in user research, the acronyms BAME and BME were not well understood by users 


Do not use the phrase “people of colour” as this does not include White minorities and it removes the separate identities of the groups that it covers.

Similarly, do not use the phrase “mixed race people”, use “people with a Mixed ethnicity” or “people from the Mixed ethnic group” instead.


Capitalise all ethnic groups. This includes White British, which is itself an ethnic group.

Asian, Black, Mixed, White, Gypsy, Irish Traveller, Other

We capitalise groups because:

  • they are technical categories used for data collection
  • this maintains a consistent approach for all groups
  • it makes our content easier to read if we need to distinguish between “the Other ethnic group” and “other ethnic groups”

Ethnicities and nationalities 

Remember that ethnic groups can also be nationalities.

Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani

Avoid users mistaking ethnicities for nationalities by explaining that in this instance we are talking about the ethnic group.

people from the Indian ethnic group

Addresses and telephone numbers

Addresses should only use punctuation when written across a line.

Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport, South Wales, NP10 8XG
Government Buildings
Cardiff Road
South Wales
NP10 8XG

Use the plus sign, international dialling code and the area code. Add space between the international dialling code and the rest of the telephone number.

+44 (0)20 7273 1234

National Statistics

Releases that are officially designated as National Statistics should display the logo and include a short statement detailing when it was last assessed and subsequent improvements to the statistics.

How to format National Statistics status information


  • the subheading “National Statistics status for [name of statistics]”
  • the date the most recent full assessment where National Statistics status was awarded, with a link to the relevant Office for Statistics Regulation page
  • the date of its last compliance check, with a link to the relevant Office for Statistics Regulation page
  • a short bullet list of any improvements since the last assessment

Provide examples of the improvements that users are most likely to be interested in and will support their interpretation of the statistics. The level of detail should be proportionate. If there are a lot of improvements to highlight, or ones that require detailed explanation, link to a separate methodological page.

National Statistics status for Effects of taxes and benefits on UK
National Statistics status means that our statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value, and it is our responsibility to maintain compliance with these standards.

Date of most recent full assessment: December 2011.

Most recent compliance check which confirms National Statistics status: November 2018.

Improvements since last review:

  • improved our income inequality statistics by developing new methods to better measure the incomes for the very richest people by using administrative tax data from HMRC
  • worked with the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence to develop new measures exploring the distribution of social transfers-in-kind provided by adult social care, providing new statistics and insight into an important policy area
  • responded to user research, moving away from a single large publication to smaller more targeted releases, covering average income, and income inequality separately

For more on National Statistics, read the Office for Statistics Regulation guidance (PDF, 310KB).

Statistical language

Contributor or respondent

For ONS surveys, use “respondent”.

Enquiry or inquiry

An enquiry is a question. An inquiry is an investigation.

press enquiries
Annual Business Inquiry

For surveys, use “survey”, even when referring to, for example, the Annual Business Inquiry.


This term has a specific meaning in statistics. Do not use it in a statistical context unless you have a particular point to make about the statistical significance of an estimate. If you do have a point to be made, always write as “statistically significant”.

Using capital letters

Capital letters should always be used for proper nouns, at the beginning of sentences and in acronyms. As capital letters are more difficult to read, do not use them in any other context.

Proper nouns

Use capital letters for proper nouns, which are names that refer to a specific thing.

1991 Census
World Health Organization
National Statistics
Ministry for Health
Population (Statistics) Act 1938
Inner London
Output Area
Small Area

Headings, titles and subtitles

All titles, subtitles, headings and subheadings should be written in sentence case. Only the following words should be capitalised:

  • the first word of the title or subtitle
  • the first word of the section heading or subheading
  • proper nouns, such as the names of countries, months, specific statistical time periods (for example, Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2021), organisations, and specific surveys and indices
  • nouns when they are followed by numbers or letters, for example, Table 1, Figure A

Labour market overview, UK: March 2020
Child and infant mortality in England and Wales: 2019
UK House Price Index: December 2020
Figure 1: In 2018, renewable generation was 11 times greater than in 2003

Compass directions and regions

Compass directions and regions are always lower case.

the south-east (direction)
the north (region)
western counties(direction)


East End
West End (London)
Middle East
Central America, North America, South America


Use title case for publication titles.

Psychology Today

People and jobs

Job titles should be lower case, except when attributed to a person.

managing director
chief executive
prime minister
Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician
Prime Minister Liz Truss

Capital letters are always used for The King.

Lower case

Begin the following words and phrases with a lower case letter:

the census information
member state, accession state
section (when referring to an Act)
spring, summer, autumn, winter
local authority, health authority, unitary authority, ward, clinical commissioning groups

Using spellcheckers

Spellings should be checked against the Cambridge Dictionary. The only exception is that we use the “-ise” word ending and not “-ize”. Always use the spellchecker before submitting your content, and make sure that the spellchecker is set to UK rather than US spellings.

Always use the facility in your CMS, if possible. Your work must always be proofread too, as correctly spelt words can be used in the wrong context.

You have to reap what you sew

UK, Great Britain and Ireland

Use UK rather than United Kingdom.

  • Great Britain is England, Wales and Scotland.
  • The UK is Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Use Ireland to refer to both the country and the island.

Use the Republic of Ireland to distinguish between it and Northern Ireland.

Ireland is an island to the west of England.
The Republic of Ireland’s capital is Dublin, and the capital of Northern Ireland is Belfast.

South Wales is not a defined geographical area. Refer to it as “south Wales” unless it is used as part of a proper noun.

South Wales Police has been tackling bicycle crime across south Wales.

The ONS Geography Guide to Presenting Statistics PDF provides a full list of UK countries and regions (on page 5).

Use the GOV.UK country register for the correct British English names for all countries recognised by the UK government. Use the commonly used name rather than the official name.

Switzerland, not The Swiss Confedaration
United States, not The United States of America
Czechia, not The Czech Republic

Citations, references and sources

Cite this release 

Writers and academics use citations to tell users that certain material in their work came from another source.  

We need to include a “Cite this release” section in our bulletins and statistical and methodology articles. This will help writers and academics to find the information and cite our releases accurately and consistently. Do not include a citation in a digital content article, as these are aimed at inquiring citizens rather than academics and expert users.

The “Cite this release” section will be the final section of the release and be included in the table of contents. It needs to be formatted as a pull-out box including:  

X. Cite this [content type] 

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released XX Month 20XX, ONS website, content type, Title: edition with link embedded 

17. Cite this statistical bulletin

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 4 December 2020, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 4 December 2020


Using hyperlinks within your text is best practice for web writing and reference sections should be avoided. However, when a reference section is needed, use the following guidance.

When writing a reference:

  • do not use italics
  • use single quote marks around titles
  • write out abbreviations in full: page not p, volume not Vol.
  • use plain English, for example, use “and others” not “et al”
  • use “to” instead of a hyphen for page ranges: pages 221 to 224, not pp 221-224
  • do not use full stops after initials or at the end of the reference

Bean C (2015), ‘Independent review of UK economic statistics: Interim report’, December 2015

Colangelo A, Inklaar R (2012), ‘Banking sector output measurement in the euro area – a modified approach’, Review of Income and Wealth, Volume 58, Issue 1, pages 142 to 165

If the reference is available online, make the title a link.

If you are providing a source for an image (a map, for example), you may need to give the full URL. Use the following format and make it a hyperlink: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/


Figures and tables must provide a source, in the following format:

[Organisation] – [Publication or source of data]

Office for National Statistics – Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings
Office for National Statistics – Personal well-being estimates by age and sex, January to March 2018
Land Registry – Local Land Charges Research

More than one source

If the figure or table is compiled using more than one source, then list them all. However, if the list becomes very long then just provide the three most important sources.

Office for National Statistics – Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey, Labour Force Survey
Office for National Statistics – International Passenger Survey, Department for Work and Pensions – National Insurance number registrations to adult overseas nationals, Home Office – long-term work visas

Too many sources to list

If it is not possible to list all the particular sources – for example, if there are many and highlighting just some would be misleading to users or the data all come from another publication – the source can be the name of the bulletin or release.

Office for National Statistics – Balance of payments, UK: July to September 2018
Marine Management Organisation – Monthly sea fisheries statistics October 2018

We are constantly improving based on research and best practice. Any significant changes to our guidance are available on the Updates page.