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House style

How we use our house style and plain English to write clear and consistent communications for our audiences. 

Top 10 plain English tips

We use plain English so that everyone who reads our content or communications can understand what they need to know or do. Our top 10 tips will help you write in clear, and simple language.

1. Keep sentences short

Aim for sentences with fewer than 25 words. If you find yourself using lots of semi-colons or dashes, think how you could reword the sentence or break it into two. For lists or sentences where you want to make several points, use bullets.

2. Use the active voice

Use the active, rather than the passive voice eg ‘we will send you a letter’, rather than ‘a letter will be sent by us’. It makes the sentence easier to read and sounds less stuffy and old-fashioned.

3. Don’t repeat yourself

You won’t get your message across just because you’ve said it more than once. Repeated words or phrases can distract from what you are trying to say.

4. Write it as if you were talking to someone

If you’re struggling to write a letter or report, try saying it aloud as if you were explaining it to someone. This helps you form a coherent argument and prevents going into unnecessary detail.

5. Avoid using government buzzwords, jargon or legalese

Even if you’re writing to someone in the pensions industry or within government, try to find an alternative to jargon. We want to make pensions easier for everyone to understand, and we can play our part by communicating with our audiences in clear, simple language.

Find a list of words to avoid on GOV.UK

6. Don't use formal or long words if there's a shorter alternative

Plain English doesn’t mean dumbed down. You can still use technical words where appropriate – but keep to everyday words if possible.

7. Present the key information before the details

Start by telling people what they need to do or know, then tell them why (if appropriate). Don’t lead in with paragraphs of historical context. Give the headlines, then any further information that will help them do/know what we want them to.

8. Make it easy for the reader

Do you want the reader to fill in a form? Make sure you enclose it or link to it. Do you want them to share it with their colleagues? Ask them in clear, directive language. ‘Complete this form’ works much better than ‘we would appreciate it if you could fill in a form, which you can find attached to this email’.

9. Re-read and edit

Ask yourself:

  • Is it clear what I want the reader to do?
  • Have I said the same thing twice? Can I cut out any repetition?
  • Have I asked someone else to look at it to see if they understand it? If in doubt, ask for a second pair of eyes if you think you might be too close to a document. 

10. Get to know our style guide

This style guide has lots more tips on communicating clearly, including information on how we use numbering, contractions and acronyms. Use this style guide to make sure our audiences get a consistent experience from TPR.

Find a list of plain English alternative words on GOV.UK

Address the reader

Addressing the reader as ‘you’ helps demonstrate that the content is relevant to them.

This is particularly important if you’re making a direct appeal to employers, trustees and pensions professionals - eg ‘create your plan for automatic enrolment’ or ‘find out how to protect your members from pension scams’.

Tone of voice

Our tone of voice is as important as our visual look and feel. As a regulator we need to be clear on our expectations, quick to act, and take a tough line when necessary.

Expressing our brand with one voice makes us believable, avoids confusion and encourages our audiences to take us seriously.

We communicate with people in a straightforward, approachable and authoritative manner, making our expectations, and our audiences’ obligations, clear.

We are:

  • Authoritative - positive, clear, having power and sanctions, making things happen
  • Approachable - helpful, easy to reach or speak with
  • Straightforward - open, direct, uncomplicated, to the point
  • Factual - realistic, unbiased, reliable, based on evidence

Be concise

Keep content understandable, concise and relevant.

Read about writing concisely on GOV.UK

Readability

When writing for our audiences, you need to write in a way they can understand easily and quickly - so you do not waste their time.

For further information on how to write well for your audience, including specialists, see the GOV.UK style guide. All of their guidance is based on the learning skills of an average person in the UK, who speaks English as their first language. This also applies when you’re writing for specialists.

Readability score

There are a number of free online tools you can use to measure how complex text is. The Flesch readability score uses the average length of your sentences (measured by the number of words) and the average number of syllables per word in an equation to calculate the reading ease. Text with a very high Flesch reading ease score (about 100) is straightforward and easy to read, with short sentences and no words of more than two syllables.

Usually a reading ease score of 60 to 70, which is easily understood by 13 to 15 year old students, is considered acceptable for web copy.

You can also use Microsoft Word to check your document for spelling and grammar functionality and once this has been completed you will be shown the reading score. Find out how to test your document’s readability.

Inclusive communication

We need to use appropriate or inclusive language to make sure that we:

  • are supportive of our people
  • empower and encourage our staff
  • treat each other and our stakeholders with consideration and respect

When drafting a communication, you should begin by identifying any potential barriers including how messages will be received differently by different ages, genders, sexualities, abilities, religious and cultural groups. 

Find words to use and avoid when writing about disability on GOV.UK

Legal and technical content

You can still use legal or technical terms if there isn’t a plain English equivalent. You just need to explain what they mean the first time you use them.

See also writing well for specialists on GOV.UK

The Association of British Insurers has produced a useful guide on making retirement choices clear which helps ensure that pensions language is communicated to members in a clear and consistent way.

Legal language

  • If you are talking about a legal requirement, use ‘must’. For example, ‘there are certain employer duties you must comply with’.
  • If you feel that ‘must’ does not have enough emphasis, then use ‘legal requirement’, ‘legally entitled’ etc. For example: ‘You are still legally required to complete a scheme return even if your scheme is in the process of winding up’.
  • If a requirement is legal, but administrative, or part of a process that will not have criminal repercussions, then use: ‘need to’. For example: ‘Use our registration checklist to gather all the information you need to provide us with’. This may be a legal requirement, but not completing it would just stop the person from moving on to the next stage of a process, rather than committing a more serious offence.