Everyone at Portsmouth City Council is responsible for communications.
Every time you write a letter, a report or an email, you are writing on behalf of the council and you have a direct impact on our reputation.
What you have written could be included as part of a Freedom of Information request or handed to the media by an unhappy customer.
Plain English is clear and concise. It uses short simple sentences and a friendly approachable tone that makes it easier for everyone to read and understand.
Portsmouth City Council is a member of the Plain English Campaign. That means we are committed to using plain English in all our communications. Read our guide to writing plain English for more information.
Our writing style
As well as using plain English, writing all our communications using agreed standards helps us to communicate clearly and present a positive, friendly image.
Often, the right tone is slightly warmer and more informal than the tone instinctively adopted in local government.
Read our writing style guide to find out the preferred way to reference the council, how to format time, dates, phone numbers and abbreviations, and tips on punctuation, capital letters and bullet points. The guidelines also include a list of commonly confused words. For further guidance refer to The Guardian style guide.
The use of email is a valuable tool for communications within the council - standards for writing and managing emails include:
- emails should be regarded as public and permanent
- font should be Arial, size 12, black - including your signature and when you reply and forward
- turn the spell checker on, and read back what you have written before you send it
- set your "out of office" (using the standard format) when you're not around
- keep the size of your mailbox down - delete old emails and empty your deleted items folder
Read our email guide for more detailed advice on using email effectively. Read the electronic communication "corporate identity standards" for information on signatures and formatting, or read our email policy for information on secure mail and acceptable use.
Our letter writing guide suggest what to consider when writing to customers, tips for writing clearly and things to avoid. Quick things to consider:
- make sure you letter is confident, courteous and sincere
- use plain English and short sentences, to make your letter easy to read
- don’t use jargon or acronyms, words or phrases that your customer might not understand - choose simpler words where possible
- be professional and neutral
- use active rather than passive language, so ‘We sent you the letter by mistake’ rather than ‘Our letter was sent in error.’
- don’t format words using bold, underline, or capital letters unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Writing for websites
The rules for writing effective web content differ in some ways to writing a good leaflet or letter. Literal page headings, strong use of keywords, introductory paragraphs that offer content summary, and correctly styled links can help make pages easier for people to scan and enable search engines to index a page effectively.
The web team optimises all web content before it is published online - if you are responsible for your team's web content and would like to learn more about optimising it effectively please email firstname.lastname@example.org.