Armed Forces Covenant content style guide
The purpose of the Armed Forces Covenant microsite is to be a hub of useful information, pointing to trusted resources where users can find the relevant support and advice or actively get involved with the covenant.
The Armed Forces Covenant brings together the nation, the government, and the armed forces community. It touches people’s lives in a wide variety of ways, but these are the principal six areas that we address:
- having a home
- starting a new career
- educating and looking after children
- getting a fair deal
- having access to healthcare
- staying involved
Our content should be on GOV.UK and the microsite links to it. The amount of content only available on the microsite should be small.
The microsite follows the GOV.UK style guide, including grammar and punctuation. This is a really useful guide and recommended reading, but the highlights from content design on GOV.UK can be found below.
You can also the search A-Z style guide, where you can look up specific content style instances that you may be unsure about.
Meet the user need
Don’t publish everything you can online. Publish only what someone needs to know so they can complete their task. Nothing more.
People don’t usually read text unless they want information. When you write for the web, start with the same question every time: what does the user want to know?
Writing goals & principles
Good online content is easy to read and understand. Content should be:
- clear and to the point
To help people find what they need quickly and absorb it effortlessly. Good online content uses:
- short sentences
- sub-headed sections
- simple vocabulary
- use an active voice
- use the same vocabulary as your audience
- address the user
- have clear calls to action
How to use these principles
- Titles should be clear and descriptive. The title should provide full context so that people can easily see if they’ve found what they’re looking for, eg ‘Guidance for potato growers’, not ‘Potatoes’
- Front-load your titles and sentences, page. The most important information and the words the user is mostly likely to have searched should be at the beginning of the search result. Keep in mind people only read 20% – 28% of text on a web page
- Make titles and sentences active where possible – avoid gerunds and participles eg ‘Submit Statutory Declarations’ not ‘Using and submitting Statutory Declarations’
- Only use an acronym in the title if it is a commonly used search term (like EU). Avoid military and government jargon, where acronyms and jargon are needed, always explain them clearly
- Address the user as ‘you’ where possible. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to citizens and businesses to get involved or take action, eg ‘You can contact HMRC by phone and email’ or ‘Pay your car tax’
- Gender-neutral text. Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’ etc
- Armed Forces Covenant
- servicemen and women
- armed forces
Words to include
Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK and GOV microsite.
Words and sentiment to include:
- one covenant
- people focussed
- collective responsibility
- fair treatment
- getting a fair deal
Tone and Voice
Our tone of voice should feel:
Human: for people by people, not Governmental and policy-driven. The covenant is about doing the right thing for armed forces people. So the tone and style of our communications should be human.
Straightforward: down to earth, simple, accessible – not institutional, jargon-heavy or complicated. At heart, despite the complexity of its landscape and unfamiliarity of the word ‘Covenant’, the idea behind the Armed Forces Covenant is a simple one.
Action-oriented: striving for a positive outcome, asking people to get involved. This is not in any way political or supporting military actions, the covenant is about doing the right thing in a way that everyone can understand.
Before: The Armed Forces Covenant sets out the relationship between the nation, the government and the Armed Forces. It aims to prevent those who serve or have served, and their families, from facing disadvantage in their access to services. It ensures that, where appropriate, injured servicemen and women and bereaved families receive special consideration.
After: The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise from the nation to those who serve. It says we will do all we can to ensure they are treated fairly and not disadvantaged in their day-to-day lives. This includes offering injured servicemen and women and bereaved families extra support where appropriate.
Before: The Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) recognises employers who actively support Defence and encourage other organisations to adopt the same behaviours in their workplace.
After: The Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) encourages employers to support defence and inspire other organisations to do the same.
Our imagery is based on people, our servicemen and women, their families, veterans and businesses supporting the covenant. Aim to use simple, impactful portraiture to capture a sense of their dutiful pride and purpose. There are specific guidelines for imagery of our servicemen and women, their families, veterans and businesses, which can be found in the Armed Forces Covenant brand guidelines. Selected imagery can be sourced through the Defence Imagery website. UK Government departments have permission to use such imagery for ‘official purposes’ with the correct attribution (eg Crown Copyright). For further information on Data Protection and Copyright issues, please contact the MOD imagery desk: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Make sure it sounds human and conversational
- Run spell check
- Make sure all links go to the right place
- Make sure images have the right permissions
- Make sure images are captioned and tagged
- Check for capitalisation consistency in titles and headers
- Make sure titles and headers describe the content
- Cut unnecessary words and sentences
- Have two other people review
Things to watch out for
Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK. One of the parts most people pick up on is the plain English (or words to avoid) list. Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘support’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.
Words to avoid
There may be exceptions:
- service life is difficult
- the armed forces covenant is a charity
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS FOR LARGE AMOUNTS OF TEXT. IT’S HARD TO READ.
Our tone of voice shouldn’t feel…
Like a charity: although charities are well known and understood, armed forces personnel feel it is inappropriate for the covenant to be seen as charitable. This would disempower them, and position those being supported by the Covenant as charity cases in need of pity.
Political: the covenant is politically neutral and should be represented as such. Neither should it be presented as solely the responsibility of the government to deliver; the Covenant is a promise by the nation and all parts of society can support it.
Military: also avoid trying to make the covenant more tangible by aligning it more closely with the military. While the covenant does have an inherently military involvement, symbolism that makes this more explicit (e.g. swords) is too ‘combative’, and may prompt negative associations.