Purpose

The purpose of this guide is to communicate the rules we use to develop English content for Ontario.ca, while highlighting certain distinctions that exist between the English and French language.

Our mission

We aim to deliver the best-possible experience across a single government website.

We want to deliver information that is easy to find, use and understand — no matter who you are or what type of device you use.

Our writing

We write for a grade 6-7 reading level.

We strive for a tone that’s:

  • friendly
  • simple
  • authoritative
  • helpful

We use active voice instead of passive voice, speaking directly to the person reading our content.

Content guidelines

Headings

A heading is a single phrase or sentence that describes the content directly following it:

  • page headings (also known as page titles) describe the content of the entire page
  • section headings describe each distinct section of content

Use sentence case (only capitalize the first letter in the first word) for all headings, unless the heading includes an official name.

Leads

Leads describe the purpose of the page in one or two short, plain language sentences.

Use words and terms that people use when searching for a topic. This will help people find your content and know they’re in the right place when they find your page.

Leads can also contain other elements that relate to the purpose of the page, such as contact information or links to a form or application.

Sentences

Sentences are short and to the point.

Use neutral, factual language, avoiding adverbs and adjectives unless necessary.

Paragraphs

Use short paragraphs with one to five sentences.

Callouts

Callouts are boxes in the page that highlight important text.

Callouts are used to:

  • highlight information that is not part of the main content
  • deliver instructions or guidance about page content to readers
  • inform readers about important updates

Use these sparingly to avoid losing the reader’s attention.

Buttons

Use a button on your page to feature an application, report, PDF, file or link.

Buttons can be anywhere on a page. If they feature an important component of content, place them as high up as possible.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

We no longer use FAQs on Ontario.ca because research and feedback shows they make it harder for people to find information and can lead to duplication.

Although some pages on Ontario.ca may still have FAQs, they are being phased out gradually.

Writing mechanics

Abbreviations

Use language like “for example” or “such as” instead of “e.g.” or “i.e.

Uncommon abbreviations

Abbreviations are marked with <abbr> HTML tags. This is particularly important for abbreviations that are not commonly used.

Acronyms

Avoid acronyms if you don’t intend to use them again in the content.

Acronyms are spelled without periods, unless they are part of the official name of an entity or a person’s name.

In some cases, acronyms are more commonly used than the complete word or phrase. These common acronyms can be used as a word, such as OSAP or OHIP.

Plural acronyms are marked with a lowercase s, with no apostrophe.

All acronyms must include <abbr> HTML tags for accessibility.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Bulleted lists

Use bulleted lists to list two or more pieces of information.

They are most effective when listing necessary information, such as eligibility requirements.

When creating a bulleted list:

  • introduce the list with a lead-in sentence and a colon
  • use lower-case at the start of the bullet (unless the first word is an official name)
  • don’t use a comma or semi-colon at the end of a bullet
  • don’t put “or” or “and” after a bullet

If the bulleted list follows a heading, or if the bullets consist of multiple sentences, use complete sentences for the bullets, capitalize first letters and include periods.

Numbered bullets

Use numbered bullets if you’re listing ordered information, such as instructions.

Nested bullets

Avoid nested bullets — or sub-bullets — if possible. Treat nested bullets as a new set of bullets and follow the same rules as regular bulleted lists.

Capitals

Use capitals at the beginning of sentences, and in proper nouns, acronyms and abbreviations.

Capitalize official names of all levels of governments and their departments, agencies, commissions, boards, acts and bills.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Commas

Use commas to separate clauses in sentences and to separate items in a list.

Avoid:

  • commas to mark the end of a bullet
  • Oxford commas (or serial commas)
  • commas after e.g. or i.e.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Dashes

Hyphens (-) are used to join words together.

En-dashes (–) are used for ranges, conflicts or connections.

Em-dashes (—) are used like brackets or interruptions.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Dates

Use the format of Month Day, Year, such as January 1, 2017.

Write out the month fully.

If the day is not specified, a comma is not needed (for example, January 2017).

If you’re referencing a season instead of a specific date, capitalize the season (for example, Winter 2017).

See how this rule applies to content in French

Emphasis

If you want to emphasize a word or phrase in a sentence, use boldface font.

Files and file types

Refer to files as proper nouns, including the file extension (for example, “open application.pdf”).

Treat file types like acronyms, using the proper name such as JPEG, not .JPG, and refer to file types as common nouns.

Italics

Use italics for the titles of laws, acts, regulations and scientific names of species only.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Use descriptive links, such as learn more about health care, instead of the complete URL (/health).

Use keywords, such as www.ontario.ca/OSAP, when needed.

Money

Money is written in digits with a dollar sign in the front ($5).

For service fees and costs, be as specific as needed. You can round budgets and other larger financial figures to the nearest dollar.

Foreign currencies that also use the dollar ($) sign should have the country initials before the dollar figure without spaces (US$5).

See how this rule applies to content in French

Numbers

Spell out numbers under 10, and use digits for numbers 10 and above. For example, 15 people used nine pens in the workshop.

Spell out millions, billions and above. For example, five million people watched the video today, compared to 15 million yesterday.

Periods

Use periods at the end of sentences, but not at the end of bullet points or lists.

Semicolons

Avoid using semicolons.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Time

Write time in numerical form, with the “a.m.” and “p.m.” suffixes separated from the numbers by a space.

See how this rule applies to content in French

Content types

Explain the law instead of quoting it and include a hyperlink to the specific law, act or regulation being described.

Avoid legal language on Ontario.ca and focus instead on describing the spirit, not the letter, of the law.

PDFs

HTML is the primary format on Ontario.ca. All content should be published in HTML by default, and follow accessibility standards for the web.

Include a PDF version as a supplementary format through a link in the body copy or a button in the lead.

All PDFs must pass accessibility checks found in Adobe Reader and Adobe.