Tone of voice and style

Our tone of voice

Communicating in a consistent tone of voice matters, a lot. Do it well and audiences know what to expect from you. They get to know you. They understand who you are.

For an organisation like ours, which brings together a wide variety of other organisations that all communicate in their own voices, it’s a particularly important part of defining our unique brand identity. So across every channel, our tone of voice should be recognisably ours – and that means it should reflect and reinforce the values that make us who we are.

Just like our organisation, our tone of voice should be:

You can read more about overarching principles and see in detail how to bring those qualities to life in our full tone of voice document.

Our house style

For ease and simplicity we follow the Guardian and Observer style guide. Below are a few basic principles, common errors and key relevant sections copied verbatim, with some useful additions.

abbreviations and acronyms
Do not use full points in abbreviations, or spaces between initials, including those in proper names: IMF, mph, eg, 4am, M&S, No 10, AN Wilson, WH Smith, etc. Use all capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters (an initialism): BBC, CEO, US, VAT, etc; if it is an acronym (pronounced as a word) spell out with initial capital, eg Nasa, Nato, Unicef, unless it can be considered to have entered the language as an everyday word, such as awol, laser and, more recently, asbo, pin number and sim card. Note that pdf and plc are lowercase. If an abbreviation or acronym is to be used more than once in a piece, put it in brackets at first mention: so Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), seasonal affective disorder (Sad); alternatively, use the abbreviation with a brief description, eg the conservation charity the RSPB. Remember that our international online readership will not necessarily be aware of even well-known UK abbreviations. If an organisation is mentioned only once, it is not necessary to give its abbreviation or acronym.

Annual Conference and Exhibition
Bond Conference for short, not Bond Annual Conference.

Not amongst; while, not whilst.

Use “Bond” in front of the names of products, events, groups etc only when it’s necessary to make the link clear. For example, in a press release: Bond Annual Conference and Exhibition. But on a programme cover, alongside our logo: Annual Conference and Exhibition.

bullet points
take a full stop after each one, ie:

  • This is the first bullet point.
  • This is the second.
  • And this is the third.

A look through newspaper archives would show greater use of capitals the further back you went. The tendency towards lowercase, which in part reflects a less formal, less deferential society, has been accelerated by the explosion of the internet: some web companies, and many email users, have dispensed with capitals altogether. Our style reflects these developments. We aim for coherence and consistency, but not at the expense of clarity.

colons and semicolons
Use a colon between two sentences, or parts of sentences, where the first introduces a proposition that is resolved by the second, eg Fowler put it like this: to deliver the goods invoiced in the preceding words. A colon, rather than a comma, should be used to introduce a quotation: “He was an expert on punctuation,” or to precede a list – “He was an expert on the following: the colon, the comma and the full stop.” Use before quotes when the quote could stand on its own as a sentence. He said: “You’ll never take me alive.” When a colon is used in a headline, the next word is lowercase, eg Osborne: there is no plan B. We are in danger of losing the distinction between colon and semicolon; many writers seem to think they are interchangeable but to make it clear: they are not. Used correctly, the semicolon is a very elegant compromise between a full stop (too much) and a comma (not enough). This sentence illustrates beautifully how it’s done: “Some reporters were brilliant; others were less so.”

global south

Lowercase for collective, eg Bond groups, but uppercase for individual group names, eg Communications Group; Futures and Innovation Group.

Our style is to use one word wherever possible…There is no need to use hyphens with most compound adjectives, where the meaning is clear and unambiguous without: civil rights movement, financial services sector, work inspection powers, etc. Hyphens should, however, be used to form short compound adjectives, eg three-year deal…Do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in -ly, eg a hotly disputed penalty.

Spell out from one to nine; numerals from 10 to 999,999; thereafter use m, bn or tn for sums of money, quantities or inanimate objects in copy, eg 5m tonnes of coal, 30bn doses of vaccine, £50tn; but million or billion for people or animals, eg 1 million people, 25 million rabbits, the world population is 7 billion, etc; in headlines always use m, bn or tn.

per cent
% in headlines and copy.

quotation marks
Use double quotes at the start and end of a quoted section, with single quotes for quoted words within that section…Use double quotation marks for words that aren’t actually quotations, for example: These are the people who put the “style” in style guide…Headlines and standfirsts (where absolutely necessary), captions and display quotes all take single quote marks.

Place after titles, eg Bond Annual Conference and Exhibition 2016; Health Check Big Picture 2016.

-ze endings
Use -se, even if this upsets your (American) spellchecker, eg emphasise, realise; but capsize

Our reference style

This is one area not covered by the Guardian, and so we take inspiration from New Hart’s Rules.

Use footnotes, at the foot of the page to which they relate, rather than endnotes, printed in a single sequence at the end of the text…Endnotes are, however, acceptable if lengthy footnotes are likely to disrupt the flow of text, and should appear under the heading “Notes” at the end of the report.

In text, the cue for a reference should be in the form of a superscript Arabic number. The cue is placed after any punctuation (normally after the closing point of a sentence). If, however, it relates only to text within parenthesis it is placed before the closing parenthesis…Footnotes cued in the middle of a sentence are a distraction to the reader, and cues are best located at the end of sentences.

In citations, an authors’ initials should precede rather than follow the surname, and if a single sentence requires a number of references, these should be included in a single footnote separated by semicolons where this can be done without ambiguity.

Based on the relevance of information to the reader and likelihood of greater reliance on resources available online, citations should adhere to the following order:

Author, Title, Series (Publisher, year/date of publication), page. Available from: URL [date accessed].


Journal article, multiple authors with name and issue of journal

C M Christensen, M E Raynor and R McDonald, What is disruptive innovation? Harvard Business Review, December 2015 Issue (Harvard University, 2015). Available from: [accessed 12 Apr 2016].

Blog post, single author with name of blog and date of publication

D Green, ‘Convening and brokering’ in practice: sorting out Tajikistan’s water problem, From Poverty to Power (Oxfam, 17 Jan 2013). Available from: [accessed 12 Apr 2016].

Report, single author with year of publication only

M O’Donnell, Publishing results to IATI: will it improve learning and accountability? (Bond, 2016). Available from: [accessed 12 Apr 2016].

Report, organisation as author with year of publication only and page reference

Bond, The Health Check Big Picture 2016 (2016), p8. Available from: [accessed 12 Apr 2016].

Webpage, organisation as author with no date of publication

Living Goods, Living Goods’ game-changing model empowers health entrepreneurs to deliver life-saving products to the doorsteps of the poor (nd). Available from: [accessed 12 Apr 2016].