U4 output manual
U4 style guide
This guide is 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.
- U4 publication policy for instructions about content sections, length, and formats.
- U4 helpdesk answer policy for helpdesk authors and editors.
- U4 publication types and quality assurance process.
- U4 photo policy
- U4 blog posts - guide to author
- U4 Authors' guide to working with copy-editor
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.
- 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)
Our texts should be possible to understand for an educated non-native English speaker. Therefore, we aim for an average grade level score on readable.io 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.
Readable.io 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!
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.'
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.
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.
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
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.
(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)
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.
Use an en-dash with a space before and after ( – ). Do not use an em-dash (—). Medium.com is an excempted channel, since it autmatically converts to em-dash.
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.
U4 series are not academic journal articles or theses. It is sufficient to include citations that are essential to document your statements and assertions. Beyond that, the purpose of citations is to give your readers direct access to the sources you've used. Favour in-text links to sources over author-date. It's more user-friendly. Eg, 'According to a working paper on illegal logging in Indonesia, the Indonesian government lost an estimated US$ 2 billion in 2006 due to illegal logging, corruption and mismanagement.'
Treat any open access version of a text as the primary text. This may be pre-publication versions on Research Gate. As a last resort, you can also link to publisher-pages for pay articles and books.
When citing the same resource several times in your text you can add a footnote with the author name. This name has to contain a URL to the source. If you cite more than one publication from the same author, you can add the year.
If no online trace exists – which is highly unlikely – use the Chicago author-date style.
Every source cited in the text should be on the reference list. Every source on the reference list should be cited in the text.
Drafting a reference list from scratch or editing an inconsistent list
- Aim for a simple and short style without italics or brackets unless absolutely necessary to make readers understand the content.
- Place of publishing is optional, you can include it if adds useful context.
- When reference lists are automatically prepared by software or consistently follows a referencing style, eg Harvard author-date, we may publish it as it is to save time.
- Use italics to mark titles with no available hyperlinks.
- Don't add: available at, or accessed 1 June 2018.
Deloitte. 2016. Report of factual findings on the review of IRRANA program components VTY and HA. Oslo: Deloitte.
De Simone, F. and Taxell, N. 2014. Donors and ‘zero tolerance for corruption’: From principle to practice. U4 Brief 2014:2. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute.
Paashce, E. 2016. The role of corruption in reintegration: Experiences of Iraqi Kurds upon return from Europe. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42(7): 1076-1093.
Vathi, Z. and King, R. 2017. Return migration and psychosocial wellbeing. Routledge.
Chapter in a book
Kamp, M. 2003. Between women and the state: Mahalla committees and social welfare in Uzbekistan. In The transformation of Central Asia: States and societies from Soviet rule to independence, Jones Luong, P. (ed.) 29–58. Cornell University Press.
WWF. 2018. Overview of WWF's work on forests. Website.
Mullard, S. 2018. Improving right to information. The role of digital civil society portals — a research summary. Blog: Insights from U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.
Include URLs for all sources if they exist (including items for purchase). Provide original sources, eg a link to a book on a publisher's website, not on Amazon.
Never include just a URL. Always provide as much info as possible, eg:
- Year written/published/updated
- Website owner/organisation name
Double-check that links work.
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)
- data (always plural) – but 'open data' (as a concept) is singular
- decision makers, decision-making (n), decision-making (adj)
- illicit financial flows (IFFs)
- integrity building
- mixed methods (n), mixed-methods (adj)
- non-state, non-governmental, non-monetary, non-prosecution
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
- policymakers, policymaking (n), policymaking (adj)
- power holder
- practice (noun), practise (verb)
- principal-agent model, principal-agent theory
- programme (except: computer program)
- rational choice theory
- results chain
- right to information movement
- start-up (n)
- state party, states parties
- time frame
- 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