PublicationsThe U4 Blog
U4 style guide

U4 output manual

U4 style guide

Rules on language and spelling, tone, referencing, and readability to achieve a coherent and accessible U4 voice.
10 March 2021

This guide has rules on language and formats to ensure a coherent U4 voice. For U4 staff, and any writers and editors who work on U4 publications, helpdesk answers, course materials, presentations, etc.

We use British spelling.

See also:

Style manual

We ask copyeditors to follow the New Oxford style manual. There may be some exceptions, so please follow the instructions below as a first rule. If you are an author, please check out the simplified Oxford University style guide.

U4-specific rules


  • Italicise titles of courses, books, reports, programmes, etc.
  • Do not put titles in quotes.
  • Do not capitalise titles except the first word, first word after a colon, and proper names.
  • Write 'eg' with no full points (inspired by the Guardian style guide).

Writing style


Our texts should be possible to understand for an educated non-native English speaker. Therefore, we aim for an average grade level score on that is 14 or less for publications. This means that a person needs 14 years of schooling to understand the text. Any text that scores E needs more work. is a useful tool that highlights words and sections that make texts hard to read. Contact us if you need a log-in.

Applying the rules in this guide helps you achieve a good score. For speed and brevity, descriptive web texts, course materials, and the like should score C or above.

Tips when using the readability tool

  • Go to Profile > Scoring preferences and increase the settings as follows:

    Long sentence warning: 40 syllables.
    Very long sentence warning: 48 syllables
    Long word syllables: 5 syllables
    Long word letters: 15 letters
  • Set spelling and grammar language to English–Great Britain
  • If parts of longer texts are too hard to get to a C, at least lower the average grade-level as much as you can, to maximum 14 for heavy publications, 12 for web text and similar.
  • Ignore the tool's warning about words like 'international' and 'organisation.'

Simple, direct style

Aim for tight, punchy writing. Make your points clear. Avoid wordiness and long, complex sentences. The aim is to engage, persuade, and motivate the reader. Sentences with more than 20 words are lengthy. Try to limit long sentences to eg one or less per paragraph.

Want to be a real pro? Remove pleonasms while you're at it!

Active voice

Use active verbs – they are more effective as in shorter and easier to grasp. Compare 'An anti-corruption policy was implemented by the Parliament' with 'The Parliament implemented an anti-corruption policy.'

Short, ordinary words

‘Style to be good must be clear. Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary.’ Aristotle

Eg 'use' instead of 'utilise,' 'do' instead of 'conduct.'

Define anti-corruption

Avoid the term standing alone as if it were a noun. It's an adjective. Is your audience more informed if you place it before a noun?
Eg 'anti-corruption efforts/ work/ measures/ initiatives/ programmes/ research/ reforms.'

Cut clichés and development jargon

Be specific rather than using clichés. Read 17 development clichés to check if you use the typical ones. 'Clichés prevent readers from visualisation, making them an obstacle to creating memorable writing,' see why.

See also A progressive’s style guide if you’re inspired to avoid divisive and exclusionary language.

Gender sensitivity

Words matter. Take care not to promote gender stereotypes or inequality in your writing.  See Gender-inclusive language.

Abbreviations and acronyms

Spell out any abbreviations or acronyms in the first occurrence. Write the abbreviation or acronym in a bracket next to it if it also appears later in the text.

Eg 'The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has succeeded in setting standards.'

Do not use abbreviations or acronyms in titles unless universally known like UN, EU, UK.


We use a contemporary down-style, with limited use of capital letters. In general, capitalise only proper nouns, that is, names of people, places, and organisations.

Non-English words

Set isolated words and short phrases in a language other than English in italics. Do not italicise proper nouns in a foreign language, such as names of people, places, and organisations. If a name is capitalised, it does not need italics.

Emphasis (italics, bold)

Employ italics sparingly for emphasis. It may be better to achieve the same effect by making the emphasis clear through the sentence structure, or by using intensifying adjectives and adverbs.

Avoid using bold for emphasis in the course of running text. The effect is usually too startling.

Avoid overused words

  • 'Key'
    Vary the language with eg 'main,' 'important,' 'relevant,' 'useful,' 'essential.' Or try to just skip this adjective.
  • 'Focus on'
    Be more specific, eg "run a programme to," "research," "work towards".

Don't be tabloid

Never write 'Fight against corruption / fight corruption'
Replace with eg 'to counter corruption,' 'anti-corruption measures,' and similar.

Common words
(spelling and capitalisation)

  • Anti-corruption (not 'anticorruption')
  • Lessons learned (not 'learnt')
  • Practice (noun)
  • Practise (verb)
  • Programme (as in health programme. Except computer program).
  • U4 partner
  • U4 Issue (not Issue paper)
  • U4 Brief (not U4 brief)

Quotation marks

Use single quotation marks:

  • At the start and end of a quoted section, with double quotation marks for quoted words within that section.
  • To enclose an unfamiliar or newly coined word or phrase, or one to be used in a technical sense.
  • To distance yourself from a view or claim.
  • To apologise for a colloquial or vulgar expression.
  • Only at the first occurrence of the word/phrase in the three examples above.

Do not use quotation marks to emphasise text – see Emphasis.

Quotation marks with other punctuation
This is tricky... but as a general rule, place full points and commas inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the point comes outside.


We use three types of small lines – dashes – in text.

Hyphens (-) are the shortest. It binds words together:

Load-bearing structures
anti-corruption work
a 35-hour working week

En dashes (–) are longer and indicate range:

3–6 November
25–30 mm
In this case it stands for the word to. It can also be used as a 'thinking pause', an interjection in a sentence – like this – in which case you should use a space before and after the en dash.

Em dashes (—) are the longest and should only be used as a dialogue marker (but quotation marks probably works better in academic texts):

— So this is a French novel? she said.
— No, he said, it's Manitoban.

Numbers and money

  • Spell out whole numbers from one through ten. Use numerals for 11 and up.
  • Spell out a number that begins a sentence: Fifty-three families enrolled in the programme.
  • Use numerals and the % sign for percentages: 3%, 126%. No space before %.
  • Use numerals for numbers combined with million, billion, etc.: 62 million, 3 billion.
  • Use numerals to express most ratios: a male–female ratio of 6 to 10 (or 6:10).
  • Use a comma as the thousands separator: 1,000.
  • Use a period for decimals: 6.5%, US$1.3 billion, 2.4 kg.
  • The form to use for US dollars is US$. For other currencies spell out the currency name.

Citations and references

See Publication Policy.

Selected words and terms

  • anti-corruption, anti-corruption agencies
  • anti-money laundering
  • arm’s-length pricing, arm’s-length principle
  • business person, business people
  • capacity building
  • conflict of interest
  • cost-analysis (adj), cost analysis (noun)
  • Covid-19 (capitalise initial letter only)
  • crowdmapping
  • crowdsourcing
  • data (always plural) – but 'open data' (as a concept) is singular
  • decision makers, decision-making (n), decision-making (adj)
  • digitise
  • downward
  • illicit financial flows (IFFs)
  • integrity building
  • logframe
  • midterm
  • mixed methods (n), mixed-methods (adj)
  • non-state, non-governmental, non-monetary, non-prosecution
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • peacebuilding
  • policymakers, policymaking (n), policymaking (adj)
  • power holder
  • practice (noun), practise (verb)
  • pretrial
  • principal-agent model, principal-agent theory
  • programme (except: computer program)
  • rational choice theory
  • results chain
  • right to information movement
  • rollout (n); roll out (v)
  • start-up (n)
  • state party, states parties
  • subnational
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • time frame
  • towards
  • trade-off
  • underway
  • upward
  • vulnerability to corruption assessment
  • while (not whilst)
  • whistleblower (n), whistleblowing (v)


The U4 style guide is an evolving creature. If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch with Kirsty Cunningham.

    About the author

    Kirsty Cunningham


    All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

    This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)