HMICFRS style guide

Published on: 12 October 2022

About this guide

This style guide is intended for HMICFRS staff writing, editing and proofreading documents and reports. It gives guidance on common questions of style (for example: abbreviations; capitalisation; numbers and measurements). Its ultimate aim is to make sure our documents are professional and consistent.

This guide doesn’t give general advice on writing. Our tone of voice writing guidelines cover that.

Our style guidelines apply not just to published external reports but also to internal reports and other internal documents, letters to interested parties and others, and web text.


This guide doesn’t aim to give a solution to every problem. For any questions that aren’t covered in this style guide, please consult New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide.

If you have any other questions about the guide, or on anything to do with language, style or grammar, please get in touch with our editor-in-chief.


View the change log for this style guide.

Guidelines A to Z


‘A’ or ‘an’

Use ‘an’ before an acronym if the first letter starts with a vowel sound, such as ‘an FLO’. But use ‘a NATO strategy’ because NATO is pronounced as a word.

For words beginning with ‘h’, use ‘a’ if the ‘h’ is pronounced (‘a hotel’) and ‘an’ if the ‘h’ is silent (‘an hour’).

Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms

An abbreviation is any shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase. This means that the term ‘abbreviation’ is the blanket term for all shortened words, including acronyms and initialisms.

An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation formed from the first letters of a multi-word term, name or phrase, with those letters pronounced together as one word. For example, Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) is an acronym because we pronounce it as one word.

Initialisms are types of acronyms. They take the first letter of each word that makes it up, but they are usually pronounced by saying each letter of the acronym (for example, HMICFRS).

For simplicity, we have referred to all as ‘abbreviations’, even when referring to acronyms and abbreviations.

If you shorten a word, don’t put a full stop at the end. For example, don’t use full stops in page references:

  • p7 or pp11–17
  • not p.7 or pp.11–17

Only abbreviate ‘page’ and ‘paragraph’ to ‘p’ and ‘para’ in footnotes. Spell out the words in full in the report’s main text.

Versus is abbreviated to ‘vs’ (‘v’ when referring to legal cases).

NB (nota bene) is always capitalised, with no full stops.

Don’t use ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’. ‘For example’ and ‘that is’ are clearer (especially if you’re writing for the public).

Use a comma before ‘etc’ but no punctuation afterwards, unless it ends a sentence.

Avoid using ‘etc’, and use a sentence structure with ‘including’ instead. If unavoidable, use a comma before ‘etc’ but no punctuation afterwards, unless it ends a sentence.

When to use abbreviations

Spell out acronyms at first mention, adding the abbreviation in brackets after it:

You don’t need to define an acronym at first mention in every chapter, unless the report is likely to be read out of sequence (such as in our thematic reports).

Acronyms don’t have full stops (HMICFRS, PCSO, PSNI, ACPO, USA). Note that some acronyms are a mix of upper and lowercase

Spell out abbreviations at first mention and add the abbreviation in brackets after it. Acronyms don’t have full stops (HMICFRS, PCSO, PSNI, ACPO, USA). Note that some acronyms are a mix of upper and lower case (TfL) and some are lowercase with initial capitals (Ofsted).

When not to use abbreviations

Don’t abbreviate the names of organisations that are only known by their full names. For example, don’t abbreviate the Bank of England to BoE.

You don’t need to spell out well-known abbreviations (such as HR, GP or MP).

Just because you can abbreviate a term, it doesn’t mean you should. Using a lot of abbreviations can make the text harder to read. If the term only appears a few times and other abbreviations are being used in the text, consider whether using the full term throughout would make text clearer.

For example, there’s no need to abbreviate terms like these:

When to use ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’ with an abbreviation

Whether there’s a ‘the’ before an abbreviation depends on the organisation’s preference (if it’s their name) and/or common usage (so ACPO and HMICFRS, but the BBC, the CPS).

Use ‘an’ if the first letter starts with a vowel sound, such as ‘an FLO’. But use ‘a NATO strategy’ because NATO is pronounced as a word.

Abbreviations in headings

Don’t use abbreviations in a chapter title or heading for the first time unless it is well-known (such as UK). Use the term in full and don’t put the abbreviation afterwards in brackets. Spell out the term at the first mention in the body of text and put the abbreviation in brackets afterwards.

If the abbreviation has already been defined in the preceding text, use it in the heading.

Abbreviations in areas for improvement, causes of concern, recommendations and case studies

Spell out abbreviations in areas for improvement, causes of concern, recommendations and case studies in our reports (even if they have been previously defined). These sections can then be read as standalone.

But if an abbreviation is used three or more times within these sections (or is well known, such as FRS (fire and rescue service)), it can be included.


Avoid ampersands (&) in your writing unless they’re part of an organisation’s name (Marks & Spencer, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham).

In our name, use an ampersand: His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. But when talking about fire and rescue services generally, don’t use an ampersand.

Ampersands might be appropriate for labels on tables and graphs where space is limited.

Areas for improvement

Areas for improvement must be precise and, depending on the circumstances, may specify:

  • the result to be achieved, leaving it to the recipient to establish how to get there;
  • the things that must be done; or
  • a mixture of the two.

Areas for improvement should be one sentence (approximately 20 words or under). They don’t say by when the intended recipient must achieve a result. For example:

If an area for improvement is no longer in place, use the term ‘closed’ instead of ‘discharged’.

For example:

  • We have closed the area for improvement related to workforce planning, which we issued in our 2021 inspection.



If the whole sentence is in brackets, put the full stop inside the brackets:

  • (Four forces couldn’t give us this information.)

If the sentence begins outside the brackets, and the part immediately before the end of the sentence is within brackets, put the full stop after the end bracket:

  • We reviewed 60 case files (90 files in the four largest forces).

Use square brackets to indicate that words within the quotation marks aren’t strictly part of the quotation, but that you’ve added to make the quotation complete in its context.

  • The report said: “All forces have a chief officer mental health lead. Their role is to make sure the force has the right systems and processes in place to help people [with mental health conditions].”


Capital letters

Capital letters are more difficult to read than lower case letters. Use them sparingly.

In both publications and correspondence, avoid using ALL CAPITALS or ‘Title Case’ (that is, where every word in a heading or sentence is capitalised) in headings or body text.

Generic vs specific

A rule of thumb is to use lower case when you’re talking in generic terms, and initial capitals when you’re being specific. So:

  • police service; police officer; police staff; police force; fire service; probation service (generic); but Sussex Police (specific)
  • local authority; London boroughs (generic); but London Borough of Tower Hamlets (specific)
  • area commander; firearms commander; chief constable; assistant chief constable (generic); but Chief Constable John Smith (specific)
  • government departments (generic) but the UK Government (specific).

In titles and headings

For our own publication titles, use sentence case (and single quotation marks):

  • ‘Making it fair: a joint inspection of the disclosure of unused material in volume crown court cases’

In chapter headings and subheadings, use sentence case:

  • Our child protection inspections

Always lower case

Initial capitals

  • proper nouns and names of people, places (countries, cities, etc), official organisations, nationalities and religions
  • Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND)
  • Ministry of Defence Police (MDP)
  • Ministry of Defence (MOD)
  • specific operations, initiatives or campaigns (such as Operation Lynemouth)
  • Airwave (national police radio)
  • titles of Acts of Parliament (such as the Police Act 1996)
  • terms related to the UK Parliament (such as Members of Parliament, the Houses of Parliament)
  • Chief Constables’ Council and Crown
  • Taser.

Capital letters, references

When you’re referring to other publications by name, use the case they use in their publication. See ‘Cross-references’.


Graded judgments for a force or fire and rescue service should be lower case (outstanding, good, adequate, requires improvement, inadequate).

This includes when they appear after a colon:

  • Vetting, IT monitoring and counter-corruption: adequate

Causes of concern

A cause of concern must be linked to one or more recommendations. It should briefly state the problem, but doesn’t give the solution. The recommendations that follow give the suggestions to remedy it.

Causes of concern don’t have a date in them and should be ideally one sentence long (approximately 20 words). For example:

  • The service hasn’t done enough since our last inspection make sure its values and associated behaviours are accepted and understood by everyone.

If a timescale is given, format as follows (with the date first):

  • Within XXX months, XXX Constabulary should…

If a cause of concern is no longer in place, use the term ‘closed’ instead of ‘discharged’.

For example:

  • We have closed the cause of concern related to workforce planning, which we identified in our 2021 inspection.

Confusing words


As verbs:

Affect means ‘have an influence on, produce an effect on, concern’.

  • These new rules affect everyone.

Effect means ‘bring about, cause, produce, result in, have as a result, accomplish’.

  • This is the best way to effect change.

As nouns:

Effect means ‘a result or influence’.

  • These new rules will have a profoundly negative effect.

Affect as a noun is a technical term in psychology, meaning an emotion or feeling. We almost certainly would never need to use it in this way.


Use ‘inquiry’ to describe a formal investigation. An inquiry is an official process to discover the facts about something that has happened:

  • The inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic is due to begin in 2023.

Use ‘enquiry’ to discuss the process of asking people something to gather information:

  • The police are carrying out house-to-house enquiries as part of their investigation.

Use ‘lines of enquiry’ and not ‘lines of inquiry’.

Fewer and less

Normally, ‘few’ and the comparative adjective ‘fewer’ are used with countable nouns. That is, with nouns that have both a singular and a plural form (book/books; so fewer books, few books, a few books); or with collective nouns (fewer people, few people, a few people).

Less is used with uncountable nouns or mass nouns: in other words, ‘less’ refers to quantity and is the opposite of ‘more’ (less affection, less power, less time, etc). Don’t use ‘less’ or ‘few’ with the word ‘number’. A number is small, smaller or very small, not less or few(er) or very few.

You can sometimes use ‘less’ with plural nouns, especially for distances (it is less than 70 miles to London), periods of time (five minutes or less), sums of money (costs less than £50) or other statistical units.

Principal and principle

Principal (as an adjective) means ‘main or most important’. For example: ‘This is not the principal aim of the study.’

But, generally speaking, we should use ‘main’: it’s shorter and simpler.

Principle (noun) means a fundamental idea or general rule that is used as a basis for a particular theory or system of belief. For example: ‘Peel’s philosophy is underpinned by nine principles.’


A verbal communication is one which uses words. Words aren’t necessarily written. Most are spoken, and most agreements aren’t in writing. If the agreement is unwritten, it’s an oral agreement.

Don’t write: ‘He told me this verbally’ or ‘He gave me a verbal assurance’ when you mean that the communication was spoken and not written. In these examples, ‘verbally’ should be ‘orally’ and ‘verbal assurance’ should be ‘oral assurance’.

If the communication is in writing, say: ‘The confirmation was given in writing.’


Using contractions, or the shortened version of words (for example, ‘isn’t’ rather than ‘is not’), makes our writing sound more fluent and natural.

For reports or other public-facing documents, use only contractions involving the word ‘not’ to soften the tone. These include ‘doesn’t’, ‘isn’t’, ‘hasn’t’ and ‘haven’t’.

Doing this also means we have the option to use the full form for emphasis:

  • This cannot continue.

We don’t use other forms of contractions, such as ‘it’s’, ‘that’s’ and ‘we’ve’.

For things like internal communications, web copy and emails, use whichever contractions sound natural. (As you can see, we’ve used contractions freely in these guidelines.)

For certain official documents (for example, the Inspection Programme and Framework), it might not be appropriate to use contractions. Check with the editor-in-chief if you’re not sure.


Use COVID-19’ and not ‘Covid-19’. We also talk about ‘the pandemic’ and not ‘the global pandemic’ or ‘the COVID-19 pandemic’.


Always use the full name of the report in the first instance. You can then use the shorthand reference in subsequent mentions.

Use single quotation marks for the title of publications when you’re referring to them by name and hyperlink to the landing page. For more information, see the section on ‘Hyperlinking’.

For example:

But don’t use quotation marks for shorthand references to long titles.

For example:

  • In our spotlight report, we focused on the values and culture of all 44 fire and rescue services in England.
  • The Phase 1 report is a broad introduction to the events that took place during the early hours of 14 June 2017.

Use the case that is used in the original publication. As a reminder, our own publications always take sentence case (see Capital letters: In titles and headings).

Be consistent with cross-references – if you start by using page numbers, don’t switch to paragraph numbers. If the document has a thorough paragraph numbering system, opt for this rather than page numbers.

When referring to chapters or sections, use the chapter or section name and hyperlink to the relevant chapter or section.

If you want to refer to the chapter or section heading as well, use lower case for the ‘chapter’ or ‘section’, but sentence case for the chapter or section name.

  • See chapter 1, Systemic challenges are slowing improvement.



Treat the word ‘data’ as grammatically singular (for example, ‘the data shows’).

Don’t use the words ‘significantly’ or ‘statistically’ in the narrative of a report when talking about data directly or indirectly.

Our reports need to explain and quantify standards and targets to provide clarity and context. A sentence without context would read:

  • ‘The force doesn’t meet national standards for answering emergency calls.’

This doesn’t explain what the national standard is, how far away the force is from meeting the standard or if they have previously met this standard.

Use time periods to provide this clarity and context:

  • ‘In the year ending 31 March 2022, the force responded to 85 percent of emergency calls within 10 seconds. This was below the national standard of answering 90 percent within 10 seconds.’


The standard date style is day, month, year, in that order:

  • 4 November 2018


  • 04 November 2018
  • 4th November 2018
  • 4, November 2018
  • 04.11.18.

If you need to include the day of the week, don’t put a comma after the day:

  • Monday 12 October 2018

If you’re promoting a specific event on a specific day, and the year isn’t mentioned elsewhere, include the day, date, month, year and time in that order.

For example:

  • Policing in austerity speech
  • Friday 9 July 2019 at 9.30am


To avoid ambiguity, put the year at the beginning of the sentence. Compare these two sentences:

  • We propose to carry out a thematic inspection focusing specifically on counter-terrorism in 2016/17.


  • In 2016/17, we propose to carry out a thematic inspection focusing specifically on counter-terrorism.

In the first, the counter-terrorism is taking place in 2016/17. In the second, it’s clear that the inspection is taking place in 2016/17. The latter is what the writer meant.

Write a financial year as 2018/19, and ranges of years should be 2010–15 (this needs an en dash, which is longer than a hyphen – in Word, hold down the Ctrl key then use the dash at the top right-hand corner of the number pad).

Instead of writing ‘the 2006–2010 period’, consider omitting the word ‘period’ and simply write ‘from 2006 to 2010’ or ‘between 2006 and 2010’.

It’s the 1980s (not the Eighties or the 1980’s) and the 20th century (not the 20th century or the twentieth century).


Our house dictionary is the Cambridge Dictionary. If you’re unsure of certain spellings or whether to use a hyphen or not, you can look it up on the Cambridge Dictionary website.


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Figurative language

Figurative language is a literary technique that is used to create an emotional connection with a reader.

It involves using words and phrases to create a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation.

It has become commonplace, and you are likely to use it in your writing without even realising.

We should avoid using figurative language in our reports. We aren’t trying to bring inanimate objects or abstract concepts to life.

Consider the following examples:

  • Our 2023 report ‘Values and culture in fire and rescue services‘ said that there was evidence of poor behaviour in some services.
  • Our victim service assessment found that in 85 of 100 cases we reviewed, effective investigations were carried out by the force.
    An auditable record of the victim’s wishes wasn’t always obtained. However, it does seek victims’ views when deciding which outcome type to assign to a closed investigation.

But a report itself can’t ‘say’ anything, an assessment can’t ‘find’ anything and a record can’t ‘seek’ anything either.

The above examples aren’t human, clear or precise.

Instead, we should say:

  • In our 2023 report ‘Values and culture in fire and rescue services’, we said that there was evidence of poor behaviour in some services.
  • In our victim service assessment, we found that the force carried out effective investigations in 85 of 100 cases we reviewed.
    An auditable record of the victim’s wishes wasn’t always obtained. However, the force does seek victims’ views when deciding which outcome type to assign to a closed investigation.


Use Arial for all documents, including letters and emails.

Font size should never be smaller than 12pt for readability (except for captions, which should be 10pt).

Footnotes and endnotes

Avoid using footnotes and endnotes (they aren’t accessible for people using assistive technology, such as screen readers).

Include any explanations in the main body of text or use hyperlinks if possible. See ‘Hyperlinking’ for further guidance.


Glossary terms in our reports

We have standard definitions for many of the terms we use in our inspection reports, which are found on our glossary page.

If there isn’t a standard definition for a term you would like to include on our website, please email the editor-in-chief with your suggested wording. They will then make sure it is uploaded on our website.



You can use ‘HM Inspector’ or just ‘HMI’ rather than the full title.

HM Chief Inspector

Use ‘HM Chief Inspector’ or use ‘HMCI’ if the acronym has already been defined.

Avoid using ‘chief HMI’, ‘HMCIC’ and ‘HMCICFRS’.


A good hyperlink should:

  • make it clear to the reader where they will go; and
  • what they will find if they click on the link.

Users can then make informed decisions about what to do with this information.

Use embedded hyperlinks in text and try to give the reader as much information as possible within the hyperlink.

Don’t write out hyperlinks in full, as they can make life difficult for screen reader users. Instead, apply links to relevant text in the body of the report.

For example:

Don’t use phrases like ‘click here’. It doesn’t tell the user anything. And it makes our content less accessible for people using assistive technology, such as screen readers.

When to include a hyperlink

There is no need to add a hyperlink every time the webpage is referenced in one of our reports.

Don’t introduce hyperlinks in headings, but embed them in the main body of the text instead.

In our thematic reports, please embed a hyperlink the first time it appears in each section.

In our shorter reports, such as PEEL, please only embed a hyperlink at first mention.

Include hyperlinks in the following (even if they have previously been defined):

  • areas for improvement;
  • causes of concern;
  • recommendations;
  • case studies; and
  • examples of innovative and promising practice.

This is because they are meant to be read as standalone.

Landing pages

In most cases, we should link to a landing page rather than directly to a PDF document. Links to a landing page are less likely to change and if they do, there will be other ways for the user to locate the content. Links to a PDF will just break if the name changes.

For example, see our Cleveland national child protection inspection link above. It links to the landing page:


not directly to the PDF: (PDF document)

As a general rule of thumb, try and avoid linking to anything which ends .pdf, .doc, .docx, .ods, etc.

But if it would be extremely difficult for the user to find the content using the landing page, linking directly to a PDF is an acceptable alternative.

Consider this adultification bias within child protection and safeguarding report (PDF document). While the user can access the report from its landing page, they have to scroll and click through other tabs to get to it. It doesn’t appear towards the top of the landing page. In this example, we would link to the PDF instead.


Inclusive language

This section is based on the Government’s inclusive language guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, focus on people. Talk about young people, older people and people with mental health conditions or disabilities – not the young, the elderly, the mentally ill or the disabled.


We follow the Government’s guidance to use gender-neutral language where possible. For example, use ‘chair’ not ‘chairman’, ‘police officer’ and ‘firefighter’ rather than ‘policeman’ and ‘fireman’, ‘staff’ or ‘people’ rather than ‘manpower’.

However, it is fine to use gendered language where relevant. For instance, we may describe a role as ‘male dominated’ in the context of diversity data.

Avoid using ‘man’ as a verb (‘work’, ‘staff’, ‘operate’, ‘cover’, ‘run’, ‘organise’ and ‘guard’ are among the many neutral alternatives).

If you don’t know which pronoun to use for a person, use ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’:

  • A victim of hate crime may have been targeted because of both their religion and their race.

Or use the plural:

  • Victims of hate crime may have been targeted because of both their religion and their race.

Don’t use:

  • ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘(s)he’; or
  • ‘he’ to cover people of all genders.

Race and ethnicity

We follow the Government’s guidance on writing about ethnicity. and use the ethnic classifications of the Census as set out by the Office for National Statistics.

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

Capitalise all ethnic groups. For example:

  • Asian
  • Black
  • Mixed
  • White

In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the Government stop using the term ‘BAME’.

Don’t use ‘BAME’ and ‘BME’. Wherever possible, use the specific ethnic classifications of the Census.

When it is absolutely necessary to group together people from different ethnic minority groups, we should say ‘ethnic minorities’, ‘people from ethnic minority groups’ or ‘people from ethnic minority backgrounds’.


We follow the Government’s guidance on writing about disability.

The term ‘disability’ can refer to a wide range of conditions. Only refer to a person’s disability if it is relevant to the context in which you are writing.

Avoid Use
(the) handicapped, (the disabled) disabled (people), people with a disability
afflicted by, suffers from, victim of has [name of condition or impairment]
confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound wheelchair user
mentally handicapped with a learning disability (singular) with learning disabilities (plural)
cripple, invalid disabled person, person with a disability 
deaf and dumb; deaf mute  deaf, user of British Sign Language (BSL), person with a hearing impairment 
mental patient, insane, mad  person with a mental health condition. If there is a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis, this should be mental illness 
the blind  person with visual impairments; blind people; blind and partially sighted people 
an epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so on  person with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression 
dwarf; midget  someone with restricted growth or short stature 
fits, spells, attacks seizures


Usually, it isn’t relevant to refer to people’s sexual orientation when writing about them. Only refer to people’s sexual orientation if it is relevant to the context you are writing about.

Use terms relating to sexual orientation as adjectives, rather than nouns. For example, use ‘bisexual people’ rather than ‘bisexuals’.

Use ‘LGBTQ+’ to refer to relevant communities, groups and organisations. But be specific if you are writing about a particular group, such as bisexual women or gay men. Don’t refer to an individual as ‘an LGBTQ+ person’. Use ‘member of the LGBTQ+ community’ instead.

Avoid Use
Homosexual gay, gay man, gay woman or lesbian
‘homosexual relations/relationship’, ‘homosexual couple’, ‘homosexual sex’, etc ‘relationship’ (or ‘sexual relationship’), ‘couple’ (or, if necessary, ‘gay couple’), ‘sex’, etc
(homosexual/gay) ‘practices’ ‘same-sex relations’
‘sexual preference’ ‘sexual orientation’
Transsexual transgender


Use the faith group name: for example, the ‘Hindu community’, the ‘Jewish community’, etc rather than saying ‘the Hindus’, ‘the Jews’, etc.

Use ‘first name’ rather than ‘Christian name’.

Writing about suicide

We need to be particularly sensitive when discussing suicide in our reports. Mental health reporting guidelines advise against using ‘committed suicide’ because it has negative connotations of illegality.

Use ‘died by suicide’, ‘took their own life’, ‘completed suicide’ or another suitable alternative.

Innovative and promising practice

We should include examples of innovative and promising practices in all our fire and policing inspection reports. They should be contained within the relevant text boxes and don’t need to be repeated in the body of the report itself.

For policing, these examples will be included on the College of Policing practice bank. For fire and rescue services, these examples will be included on the National Fire Chiefs Council Positive Practice Portal.

Each example of positive and innovative practice should contain:

  • a meaningful title; this title should be easily searchable and contain key words;
  • a description of how the practice works; this should be a short summary that can be read standalone and doesn’t require the user to read the report to understand the context; and
  • information on whether there is an observed or measured outcome; this should state how the practice has led to improvements in effectiveness and/or efficiency; if no outcome has been achieved just yet, state briefly what the practice is expected to achieve.


Don’t use italics for quotations from reports or books and don’t use italics for titles of publications. This is because large chunks of italicised text are hard to read.

It’s usual practice to italicise foreign words, unless they’re very common in English (like ad hoc or café). But we generally shouldn’t be using words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the average reader: for example, we should say ‘among other things’ rather than inter alia.


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Always refer to an Act of Parliament or a statutory instrument by its full correct legal title. The year of its passage (when primary legislation) or making (in the case of secondary legislation) always comes after the rest of the title, and without brackets. For example: the Police Act 1919, not the Police Act (1919) or the 1919 Police Act. If needed, you can look up legislation online.

Primary legislation which has not yet been passed is a Bill (not a bill) and contains clauses, not Clauses and not sections.

When passed, it becomes an Act, not an act, and contains sections, not clauses.


  • An Act contains sections (not Sections) and certainly not clauses; discrete parts of sections are subsections; an Act is usually divided into Parts, not parts, and almost always contains Schedules, not schedules; the constituent elements of Schedules are paragraphs, not Paragraphs;
  • Orders – such as the Railways (Class and Miscellaneous Exemptions) Order 1994 – contain Articles, not articles and not sections, clauses, paragraphs or anything else;
  • Regulations – such as the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 – contain Regulations, not regulations or anything else; regulations are subdivided into paragraphs; they sometimes also have Schedules.

If you need a short form, for example because the document you’re writing contains many references to the same legislation, write it out in full first. Then refer to the legislation by its purpose in lower case. For example, you could refer to the Police (Class and Miscellaneous Exemptions) Regulations 1990 as ‘the exemption regulations’ in subsequent mentions. But when in doubt, refer to legislation by its full title.


Only use bullets for lists. A list can consist of short items, sentence clauses or a full sentence. But never punctuate an entire paragraph with a bullet.

There are three main ways of punctuating bullet points in a list.

For a list of short items, it’s fine to have no punctuation except a final full stop.

  • We use the following grades in our inspections:
    • inadequate
    • requires improvement
    • adequate
    • good
    • outstanding.

When the bullet points complete a sentence, use a colon at the end of the line that introduces them. Then use semi-colons at the end of each bullet point (except the last one, which has a full stop) and add ‘and’ or ‘or’ before the last point, depending on the context.

  • The force has shown improvement in:
    • its detection rates;
    • its strategy; and
    • how it relates to the community.

The third style is where each of the bullet points is a complete sentence in its own right, in which case they start with capital letters and end with full stops. These types of lists are preceded by an introductory sentence that ends with a colon.

We identified the following improvements:

    • The force’s detection rate has increased to 30 percent.
    • It has implemented a new strategy.
    • The local community feels more involved.
  • Our style is to use bullet point lists rather than numbered lists. There are two exceptions to this:
    • If you’re setting out a process, which has various numbered steps; or
    • If you’re listing a defined number of items (as in this list).
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Names, courtesy titles, ranks and honours

If an organisation or a company has an individual style or preference, you should follow it; for example GlaxoSmithKline, Smith & Nephew, National Fire Chiefs Council (but remember it’s the National Police Chiefs’ Council).

For individuals, use the form of address they use for themselves, if you know it; for example Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Professor.

Initials and titles

Don’t put full stops after initials. Put one space between each initial. So:

  • Mr A C Smith

(Not Mr A.C. Smith or Mr AC Smith).

For King’s Honours and other titles that are often abbreviated, see ‘Honours’.

Don’t use a full stop after titles (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr). First names are more commonly used now than before and should be used instead of initials, where possible; for example Mr Stephen Cox rather than Mr S J Cox.

Titles and ranks

Many people we correspond with have titles and ranks, which we need to use correctly.

Rank or title Address Salutation
Privy Counsellor
(current and former ministers; note that some, but not all, police and crime commissioners are also Privy Counsellors, because they are former ministers)
The Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP Dear Minister
The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP Dear Home Secretary
King’s honours (CBE, OBE, MBE, BEM, KC and KPM)  Miss Drusilla Sharpling CBE  Dear Miss Sharpling 
Mr Geoffrey Robinson KC  Dear Mr Robinson 
Knighthood or damehood  Sir Jonathan Murphy  Dear Sir Jonathan 
Dame Shirley Pearce  Dear Dame Shirley 
Baronies The Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Dear Lord Stevens
The Baroness Mulcahy of Dunoon Dear Baroness Mulcahy
A peer who is also a Privy Counsellor The Rt Hon the Lord Robertson of Port Lethan Dear Lord Robertson

Numbers and measurements


In text, spell out numbers up to ten but use numerals for 11 and over. Exceptions are numbers with decimal places, measurements, money and percentages. But if you’re quoting from a source document, replicate the text exactly.

Also, if there are references to constituent elements of legislation or other documents where the number is represented in a particular way (for example, page 2 of a letter or section 4 of the Police Act 1919 and paragraph 8 of a document) then keep this as it is written (that is, as a numeral).

Avoid mixing the two formats within one sentence by using numerals, except when combining the formats would clear up possible confusion. Where you have two numbers running together, write the shorter one out in words and use numerals for the longer one: for example, ‘I have a lovely class of 32 seven-year-old children’.

Don’t start a sentence with a numeral – either write it out or rewrite the sentence so it’s not at the beginning.

  • Twenty-four years ago, there were over 50 committees, but now there are only 11.

If a sentence begins with a year, write ‘The year’ before writing out the year in numbers.

  • The year 1849 saw the great gold rush in California.

Don’t use superscript in, for example, 14th. The proper format is:

  • The force was 14th out of 42.

In cases where you’re using a number below ten as part of an adjective (‘Year 6 students’), you can use a figure.


Use commas in four-figure (and larger) numbers: for example 4,000; 1,673,421.


Use m for million, but spell out billion, except in charts, where you can use bn to save space: 8m, £8m, 8 billion, €8 billion. (A billion is a thousand million, a trillion a thousand billion, a quadrillion a thousand trillion.)

Don’t use k for thousands; always express as a figure: £4,500. Use ‘1,000 per head of population’ rather than ‘one thousand per head of population’.

Round figures to significant digits wherever you can, for example 1.68m for 1,682,500. Round up financial figures when absolute accuracy isn’t essential, for example £1.7m. We very rarely need to give financial detail to the level of pence.


For percentages, spell out percent in text and use numerals (even for numbers below 10), for example 6 percent. You can use % in tables and charts and in notes to either.


If you’re using ‘to’ as part of a ratio, you should usually spell it out:

  • They decided, by nine votes to two, to put the matter to the general assembly.

If you’re using a ratio as an adjective and one of the figures is greater than ten, you can use figures separated by an en dash:

  • a 50–20 vote, a 19–9 vote.

Otherwise, spell out the figures and use:

  • a two-to-one vote, a ten-to-one probability.


Don’t hyphenate fractions (two thirds of all police officers) except when using them as an adjective (a two-thirds majority).


Use metric measurements where appropriate, and watch for consistency – for example, if you start expressing distances in miles, don’t switch to kilometres later on.

When abbreviating measurements, use numerals and leave a space before the abbreviation; for example 62 mm, 87 mph. Note that abbreviations are never plural – mm, oz, lb not mms, ozs, lbs.


Organisations, forces and services

Organisations are singular:

The College of Policing has said it will support this.

We use the singular to refer to the ‘fire and rescue sector’.

But ‘the police’ is plural:

The police usually arrive promptly.

Conventions for referring to forces and constabularies

Use ‘the constabulary’ when referring to XXX Constabulary.

Use ‘force’ when referring to XXX Police. When referring to a mix of constabularies and forces in the plural, use ‘forces’.

Use ‘the City of London Police’ and not ‘City of London Police’.


Generally speaking, we should avoid talking about ourselves in the third person. Use ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead.

For example, use ‘We found that…’ instead of ‘Our inspection team found that…’.

If you need to use the possessive of our name, it’s HMICFRS’s. (But use ‘our’ unless there’s a specific reason to use the third person.)

Never use ‘the HMICFRS’.

Treat HMICFRS and all other organisations as singular: ‘HMICFRS is…/has…’ and ‘it’, not ‘they’.


HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland should be abbreviated to HMICS. The Chief Inspector is HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland.


Phone numbers

Express phone numbers like this (note where the spaces are):

  • 020 7035 2500
  • 0113 386 5746
  • 07812 345678


Comma splice (or conflated sentence)

This is when two separate sentences are linked with a comma, like this:

  • The report doesn’t give a complete national picture of how fire and rescue services are doing, it is only a reflection of what we have inspected so far.

Don’t do this. Either use a semi-colon or split it into two sentences.

The Oxford comma

An Oxford (or Harvard) comma is a comma before the final ‘and’ in lists. Our practice is to avoid using it, unless it provides clarity.

Straightforward lists (‘he ate ham, eggs and chips’) don’t need one, but sometimes it can help the reader (‘he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and drank tea’).

Sometimes, an Oxford comma is essential. For example, compare:

  • I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and J K Rowling.


  • I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and J K Rowling.


Hyphen usage is tricky. If you’re not sure whether to hyphenate something, it’s worth looking it up in the Cambridge Dictionary.

The trend in English is towards eliminating hyphens: ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ both used to be hyphenated (‘to-day’ and ‘to-morrow’), which looks decidedly quaint now. And most people now use ‘email’ rather than ‘e-mail’.

There are a few principles you can follow, though.

Use hyphens for compound adjectives before the noun but not when they come after the noun, for example ‘the up-to-date report’, but ‘the report is up to date’.

A few common examples of where you should use hyphens:

  • Short compound adjectives: ‘a well-written report’, ‘a three-year plan’
  • ‘Drug-related crime’, and similar phrases using ‘related’
  • A four-year-old child
  • ‘Co-ordinate’, ‘co-operate’ and similar to avoid doubling a letter (but ‘coordinates’ for mathematical meaning)
  • Where the main word begins with a capital, such as ‘sub-Saharan’
  • All-encompassing, ex-soldier, self-respect and similar
  • To avoid ambiguity – for example, ‘re-sign’ (sign again) vs ‘resign’ (give up); ‘a little used car’ (small second-hand car) vs ‘a little-used car’ (car that isn’t used often)
  • So-called honour-based violence
  • Taser-trained officers or desk-based staff
  • Dyfed-Powys Police

Examples of where you don’t need a hyphen:

  • compound adjectives where the meaning is clear and unambiguous without one: ‘public sector bodies’, ‘financial services sector’
  • many compound nouns: cyber crime, police station, real estate
  • after adverbs ending in -ly (highly skilled workforce, newly married couple)
  • phrasal verbs (let’s catch up, but let’s have a catch-up).

Avoid ‘floating hyphens’ by rewording, or leave out the first hyphen if the meaning is obvious, for example ‘pre and post-war trade’.


You can use dashes to separate text – usually a sub-clause or extra piece of information – within a sentence. They also stand in for ‘to’ (for example 3–4 February, with no spaces). They’re longer than a hyphen (see hyphens).

Ellipses (…)

Use these when you leave words out; for example, in quotations when you only want to quote part of what someone has said. In this case, there’s a space before and after the ellipses. They aren’t usually used at the beginning or end of a quotation because it’s clear that the quotation is only an extract.

Quotation marks

Use double quotation marks only when you’re quoting from a publication or speech. The text must be an exact copy of the thing being quoted). But minor changes to unpublished spoken quotes (such as using ‘percent’ instead of ‘%’) are acceptable to meet house style. Don’t put quotes in italics.

To introduce a direct quote that is a full sentence, use a colon, introduce the double quotation marks, start the quote with an initial capital and put the full stop before closing the quote. For example:

  • A member of staff said: “It’s a great idea in theory, but another thing in practice.”

To introduce a direct quote that is part of a sentence, you don’t need to include a colon. Use the case that is consistent with the source and put the full stop outside the closing quotation mark. For example:

  • A member of staff said poor behaviour was often excused as “banter”.

Do not use single quotes for emphasis. For example, we wouldn’t emphasize ‘the golden hour’ in the following sentence:

  • the period immediately after a crime has been committed, which the police call the golden hour.

Use single quotation marks for the title of publications when you’re referring to them by name and hyperlink to the landing page. For more information, see the sections on ‘Cross-references’ and ‘Hyperlinking’.

For long quotations (that are, for example, a paragraph long), put it in quotation marks, start with an initial capital and indent it as a standalone paragraph.

Using glossary hyperlinks in quotations from other organisations

Don’t add glossary hyperlinks to quotes from other organisations, even if it is the first time the term appears in the text. Add the glossary hyperlink to the next instance in the text when it isn’t a direct quotation from another organisation.


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Recommendations should have a clear timescale for completion, which appears at the beginning of the sentence. They should clearly state the person responsible for making progress with it and attending to any causes of concern.

Recommendations need to follow plain language principles, and have an average sentence length of approximately 20 words. For example:

  • With immediate effect, chief constables, through their armed policing governance structure, should make sure that all armed deployment records are stored and auditable.

Recommendations should be numbered chronologically. Don’t use conventions such as ‘1A’, ‘1B’ and ‘1C’.

When the force or service has fulfilled the criteria of the recommendation, use ‘completed’ and not ‘discharged’.

For example:

  • Since our last inspection, the force has completed three of the four recommendations we issued.


Singular and plural

After a plural possessive, the noun is usually plural. For example:

  • Every year, thousands of people take their own lives’

(rather than take their own life).


Use a single space after full stops.


We use British spelling. We always use the first spelling in the Cambridge Dictionary, except for ‘ize’ spellings (always use ‘ise’).

Avoid American spelling, unless it has become so common that it would seem archaic otherwise (for example ‘medieval’ rather than ‘mediaeval’).

Double consonants

Follow the convention of doubling a final -l after a short vowel on adding -ing or -ed to verbs (sole exception: parallel, paralleled) and adding -er to make nouns from verbs:

  • level, levelling, levelled, leveller
  • travel, travelling, travelled, traveller

Other consonants double only if the last syllable of the root verb is stressed or carries a strong secondary stress:

  • admit, admitting, admitted
  • format, formatting, formatted
  • refer, referring, referred


  • benefit, benefiting, benefited
  • combat, combating, combated
  • focus, focusing, focused

Other conventions

Use ‘learned’ rather than ‘learnt’.

Use ‘while’ and ‘among’ rather than ‘whilst’ and ‘amongst’.

Use ‘healthcare’ rather than ‘health care’.

Use ‘counter-corruption’ rather than ‘countercorruption’.

Use ‘counter-terrorism’ rather than ‘counterterrorism’ or ‘counter terrorism’.

Use ‘judgment’ rather than ‘judgement’.

Use ‘night-time’ rather than ‘nighttime’.

Split infinitives

The infinitive, in English, is the basic form of the verb that sometimes begins with ‘to’ (‘to go’). Splitting an infinitive means putting another word after the ‘to’ (‘to boldly go’).

There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Use the word order that conveys the meaning most effectively or sounds most natural in the context.


Tables, graphs and charts

All tables, graphs and chart need a title. They should follow the following format:

  • [metric][standardisation][geography][time]

For example:

  • [per 1,000 domestic abuse related crimes][by forces in England and Wales][in the year ending 31 March 2022]

Titles should be in the body of the page of the document as opposed to within the image.

Number tables, graphs and charts consecutively through the document. Each title should be numbered as ‘Figure n’. Use figures and not words for the number, so it reads ‘Figure 1:’, ‘Figure 2; etc.

Use a single continuous system of numbering to make each figure easy to find. Don’t start again at ‘Figure 1’ if there any figures in an annex/appendix.

Give the specific data source for each table, graph and chart (even if it is from our own data) and link directly to it where possible. Put the source below the figure, in the body of the page of the document.

Avoid stating sources such as ‘Office for National Statistics’ and then linking to the website homepage. You should help readers find the data and link to the specific page where it can be found.

Sources should take the following format (without a full stop):

  • [publication, survey or other source of data] from the [organisation]

For example:

If you need to add notes to explain, for example, why a force is missing from the graph or to explain the data further, put these immediately below the source.


Some of our reports contain infographics. An infographic presents information and statistics using visual content to make it easier to understand a topic.

Infographics shouldn’t be introduced by ‘Figure: X’ captions, and they don’t need to be accompanied by a source.

Please note that in our fire and rescue service reports, the section ‘Service in numbers’ summarises the service’s performance in a number of areas using an infographic. As such, no ‘Figure: X’ caption or source are needed.


Write in past tense when you’re describing what we found during inspections; use present tense when describing what the force or service is doing or what officers and staff are doing. For example:

We found that the force wasn’t recording crimes accurately enough.

We found that officers and staff weren’t sharing information about themselves with the ethics committee.


The force isn’t recording crimes accurately enough.

Officers and staff aren’t sharing information about themselves with the ethics committee.


Express times in using the 12-hour clock, using am or pm like this:

  • 9am
  • 6.30pm
  • 7pm

Use a full stop and not a colon. Don’t put full stops in am or pm.

Don’t put ‘.00’ after a full hour – for example, write ‘2pm’ not ‘2.00pm’.

Use either ‘from…to’ or ‘between’… ‘and’ when referring to time spans:

  • From 2pm to 3pm
  • Between 6am and 10am


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Words to use with care

Here are some suggested replacements for words and phrases that should be used with care. Some of these words affect our tone of voice, while others can be substituted by clearer alternatives.

Many of these words are also found in the GOV.UK style guide’s list of words to avoid.



While it is widely understood in policing, the public might not understand that this means time spent by neighbourhood officers doing non-neighbourhood work. Try to use a plain language alternative, such as ‘diverted away from their main duties’.

a number of

Be specific if you can, for example ‘in four forces, we found’ or ‘in 11 of 15 cases’. Take a similar approach when using words such as ‘most’, ‘some’, ‘several’ and ‘almost all’.

acquisitive crime

Use theft, robbery or burglary (make sure to explain this term, as it might not mean much to a member of the public).

agree, agreement

Be careful using the language of agreement, in particular if it’s a matter of a person or organisation approving something. For example, we don’t ‘agree’ our inspection programme with the Home Secretary – they approve it.




objective, purpose, intention

at this moment in time, at this time



This term comes across as strange to the public when talking about policing and fire. Only use ‘business’ for commercial entities. For example, instead of talking about ‘business processes’, you could use ‘the force/service’s operational processes’.

call for (as in calling for something to happen)

As an inspectorate, we don’t have any hard power – as such, we can’t ‘call for’ anything. Use ‘ask for’, ‘recommend’, ‘propose’ or another suitable alternative.

  • call on (as in making a demand)

    We also can’t ‘call on’ any organisations, forces or services to improve. Use ‘urge’ instead.

    capacity building

    increasing money, time and/or staff

    capture (unless you mean a criminal)

    gather, obtain, get

    community engagement

    getting local communities involved


    carried out


    This means ‘believable’. So don’t use it like this: “The force should establish a credible plan to [do something]”. In this case, you could say something like ‘achievable’ instead.


    involving more than one local service


    try to be more specific if you can, for example ‘providing training’ or ‘a service to local communities’


    products, services



    downward trend

    declining, getting worse

    drift (in the context of investigations)

    Avoid using this word when describing how an investigation has taken longer than expected. So don’t use it like this: “Investigations can drift for extended periods, leaving children at risk of harm.” You could say “Investigations can continue for extended periods, leaving children at risk of harm.”


    create, cause, encourage


    accepted or understood by everyone




    working with people


    Our preference is to use everyday words over more complex ones. As such, use ‘make sure’ when appropriate.

    evidence base


  • F-L



    fast-track (unless referring to the College of Policing’s fast track scheme)

    speed up

    flag up

    make aware of


    Avoid saying that something (for example, a belief) is genuine, or that forces have genuine plans to achieve something. Consider using ‘significant’ instead.

    going forward

    from now on, in future (depending on what you mean)

    impact (verb)

    affect, have an effect on

    impacts adversely

    makes worse, worsens


    Avoid using this word in the context of training and guidance. Try to be more specific if you can, for example ‘training sessions’, ‘workshops’, or ‘panels’.



    like (in the context of giving examples)

    Avoid using ‘like’ when giving examples in your writing. So don’t use it in this way: “The service works with partner organisations, like the Care Quality Commission.”
    Use ‘such as’ or ‘for example’ instead: “The service works with partner organisations, such as the Care Quality Commission.”



    look at

    assess, examine, evaluate, inspect, analyse

    low-hanging fruit

    an easily achievable goal



    ways, systems or processes


    objective, purpose, intention


    rates of deaths


    towns, cities, areas


    We inspect and report on policing in England and Wales and on fire and rescue in England only. Be explicit in your writing as to whether you mean England, Wales, England and Wales, another part of the UK, or the UK as a whole.

    If that makes for clunky writing, another solution might be to add a section with the subheading ‘Terminology in this report’ to the report’s introduction. You may need to amend the wording depending on the context, but it could take the form of the following words.

    • “Our reports contain references to, among other things, ‘national’ definitions, priorities, policies, systems, responsibilities and processes.
      In some instances, ‘national’ means applying to England and Wales. In others, it means applying to England, Wales and Scotland, or the whole of the United Kingdom”.

    outside of


    own, ownership

    Say ‘have responsibility for’ instead (unless you’re literally talking about owning something, like a car).




    The public might not understand the concept of emergency services working with partners. If you need to use this word, make sure you explain clearly exactly what sort of organisation you mean, such as ‘the force works with health and social care services’.


    Unless talking about how well a force, service or person is doing something, use ‘carry out’ instead.


    make more efficient

    reach out

    contact, call, email, meet



    respond, response

    Unless you’re talking about how the police react to something, avoid talking about ‘the police response’; this could imply that police work is purely reactive. Say ‘approach’ instead.

  • seek

  • ask for, plans to, intends to

    scope, scoping

    Scope is fine as a noun (‘the scope of the inspection’) but don’t use it as a verb (‘we scoped the inspection’). Say ‘evaluate’ or ‘assess’ instead.

    staff (in policing publications)

    Unless you’re talking only about civilian police staff, use either ‘officers and staff’ or ‘personnel‘.


    Don’t use the words ‘significantly’ or ‘statistically’ in the narrative of a report when talking about data directly or indirectly.


    make more efficient

    task with (verb)

    give a task/work to, assign work

    touch base

    contact, call, email, meet


    do, carry out


    use (noun)


    use (verb)


    objective, purpose, intention

    what good looks like

    a good way [of doing something]

  • Reference works