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This style guide is for anyone who writes for and on behalf of BMJ the company.

As a guide – it gives everyone some common rules to work with so we can create a stronger, cohesive and consistent voice for the company. It refers to the company tone of voice and includes additional guidance from both The BMJ, the BMJ Learning, and BMJ Best Practice style guides, with additional guidance around the essentials.

 

 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | V | Y |

Abbreviations 

  • Do not use full stops in abbreviations: eg, am, pm, op, no, cf, ie, ed, etc or after Mr, Mrs, Prof or Dr
  •  In most cases, abbreviations should be spelt out the first time they’re used. There are a few exceptions, which include very well known abbreviations, and abbreviations relating to tests that are common to healthcare professionals. For instance, if the audience is a group that would know what CPD and CME mean, then that is fine. But keep in mind that these two terms are not widely known outside of the education sector
  •  Avoid using abbreviations for the first time in a heading. (This doesn’t apply to abbreviations that don’t require spelling out)
  •  Abbreviations can be used at the beginning of sentences
  •  Don’t use an apostrophe in plural acronyms/abbreviations (for instance, NSAIDs)
  •  Also consider adding a glossary to longer documents, especially for non-technical readers

 

Active/passive

  • Use the active voice wherever possible, thereby use sentences that have a basic active voice construction: subject, verb, and object
  • Do not convert verbs to nouns, and thereby make them passive (eg, ‘when Britain industrialised’, not ‘when the industrialisation of Britain occurred’)

Address

Use minimum space and commas for 1) email but open punctuation on 2) documents and websites:

1)

BMJ, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR

Vs.

2)

BMJ
BMA House
Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9JR
Switchboard: +44 (0)20 7387 4410
Customer Service: +44 (0) 20 7111 1105
Email: support@bmj.com

 

 Address your reader                                                                                                                        Use ‘you, your’ and ‘we, us and our.’

Try to call the reader ‘you’, even if the reader is only one of many people you are talking about generally. If this feels wrong at first, remember that you wouldn’t use words like ‘the applicant’ and ‘the supplier’ if you were speaking to somebody sitting across a desk from you.

Examples:
Customers must send us…
– You must send us…

We always tell customers before we…
– We will tell you before we…

Advice is available from…
– You can get advice from…

 

Ages

  • Always give ages as figures: for example, ‘men aged between 25-40, 45-60 year-olds or adults between the ages of 45 and 60’
  • No apostrophe in plurals: women in their 30s
  • Overall, try to keep the text as succinct and straightforward as possible

Apostrophes

Don’t use an apostrophe in plural acronyms/abbreviations (eg, NSAIDs, GPs, CEOs)
It’s and its

it’s – this can mean only two things: ‘it is’ and ‘it has.’

It’s been raining. (It has been raining).

Its – this can mean only one thing: the neutral possessive – something which
indicates belonging to.

RIGHT – This boat and its sails are painted red.
WRONG – This boat and it’s sails are painted red.

Check 1: This boat and it is sails are painted red. WRONG
Check 2: This boat and it has sails are painted red. WRONG

Likewise, photos do not have an apostrophe.
RIGHT – the word, photos.
WRONG – the word, photo’s.

 

 

Bullet points
Do not use full stops in bulleted lists. See also, full stops.

Bold
Use a bold weight to emphasise standout statistics, accentuate salient points, and ensure
that the call to action is always highlighted.

British or US English usage
We allow both British and US English, depending on the origin and the primary intended
audience.

 

 

Capitalisation

  • Use minimal capitalisation; only for names and proper nouns
  • Avoid capitalising words unnecessarily (eg, job titles, etc.)
  • Avoid ALL CAPS at all costs! (One exception is study names, which are often long abbreviated names that don’t need to be spelt out)
  • Use sentence case everywhere. (Only capitalise the first letter of the first word in a heading – like you would in a sentence. Proper nouns are also capitalised)

Collective nouns

In general, collective nouns and organisations are singular: ‘the government is…’, ‘the company is…’, ‘the team is…’ 

But in the UK, sometimes plural usage sounds more natural: for example, with groups of people representing a body, such as sports teams: ‘Derby are thrashing Southampton 6-0’; ‘Southampton are utter rubbish’, etc.

Colons/semicolons 

  • Colons, not semicolons, should introduce lists, examples, or explanations
  • Use colons to precede subtitles in titles of references or guidelines
  • Use semicolons to separate two thoughts that could stand independently, but are closely connected in sense – that is, when a coordinating conjunction (but, or, yet, so, for, and, now) is omitted (eg, Existing studies are inadequate; more extensive studies are needed)
  • Also use semicolons to punctuate complicated lists that may already have punctuation within them: for example, ‘The RCT compared three treatments: advice to exercise plus advice to consume a low-fat diet; advice to avoid fat, sugar, and salt; and placebo’
  • Use shorter sentences that have less need for colons and semicolons
  • Do not use semicolons for simple lists; use commas instead

Commas

Use minimal commas, but use Oxford commas before the ‘and’ and ‘or’ in lists. For example,  

The bishops of Durham, Canterbury, Bath and Wells, and York were invited.

Currency

Use the symbol preceding the number: $40, £2.50. € (Euro) can be inserted by holding down Ctrl+Alt+e, or via the symbols menu.

 

Contractions

Avoid: spell out in full (ie, years, not yrs; hours, not hrs). See also, abbreviations and acronyms.

Countries and cities

Use britannica.com – List of countries for names of countries and cities.

Covid-19

Referring to covid-19 in text

Journals and education: COVID-19 (all upper case), as per WHO, NHS, and all major societies and publishers.

The BMJ only and more general use: The disease is covid-19 (mid-sentence), and the virus is SARS-CoV-2. Covid-19 is capitalised at the start of sentences, though. (The decision to do this lies in The BMJ’s preference to avoid capitals where possible as they make things harder to read. Hence the decision to go for covid-19, with Covid-19 for the beginning of sentences).

In social media, use hashtags #COVID19, #covid19 or #coronavirus.

We’re trying to remove any military metaphors that we find in copy, and remember that we are not fighting or battling this pandemic but contending or dealing with it.

In social media, use #covid19 or #coronavirus hashtag as appropriate, without the dash as this breaks the hashtag. 

 

Dates

  •  UK: 10 July 1971
  • July 1971
  • The 1960s (not 60s or 60’s)
  •  21st century
  •  1998-1999 (not 1998-99)

Dehumanising terms

  • Don’t define people by their disease. Say people with diabetes, not diabetics. (Similarly, avoid: hypertensives, geriatrics, epileptics, etc)
  • Where possible, refer to men and women rather than males and females. But consider the context and use your judgement
  • It’s fair to refer to males and females when discussing populations that are not absolutely age-specific: for example, ‘The condition predominantly affects males aged 10 to 40 years’
  • Adjectival use is fine. ‘Male participants in the study had more adverse effects’
  • Refer to black and white people, not blacks or whites (in specific contexts, use African-American or African-Caribbean, etc, as appropriate. Do not use Caucasian.
  • ‘Patients’ should be used only for people who are being treated. People who are not being treated should be referred to only as people
  • People participating in clinical trials may be referred to as participants; but consider the context and readership. Never refer to anyone as a ‘subject’
  • Make sure that it is treatment that fails, not the patient

Developed/developing countries

  • The politically correct terms for various parts of the world change periodically: we no longer refer to the ‘third world’. The current terms preferred by the UN are developed/developing countries
  • Ideally, though, use the names of the countries or regions to which you are referring If this is not possible, use a term that makes clear what you are trying to say: for example, ‘Formula feeding may be associated with increased risk of death in countries with limited access to clean water and health education’.

 

Dictionaries

Our preferred dictionaries are Chambers 21st century dictionary for general usage and Dorlands for medical terms.

Double negatives

Avoid them when possible. For example,

Red skin is not uncommon in patients treated with hydroxocobalamin’ should be changed to ‘Red skin is common in patients treated with hydroxocobalamin.

Exclamation marks

Please limit your use of exclamation marks, except in quotes from other sources.

Essentials

  • Be specific and use facts. Don’t use ‘corporate speak’, clichés and generic terms. Facts, figures and quotes make your writing credible and trustworthy
  • Talk directly to your reader in an active voice
  • Remove doubt. Choose can and will over words like could, should, would, might, committed to, and aim to
  • Use verbs for momentum. Focus on what a reader can do or learn and use verbs to illustrate this. Understand is more powerful than gain knowledge, for example
  • Cut it back. Keep your writing simple, concise and clear. Too many words will bury the essential messages
  • Keep your flow of ideas clear. Present no more than one or two ideas in each sentence and paragraph

 

 

  • Read your finished piece out loud. This shows if the meaning of what you are trying to convey comes across and it flows well without having to use any more words than is necessary
  • Use your spell-check. An errant apostrophe, misspelling or rogue typo can undermine your message entirely
  • Write in sentence case
  • Use bullet points, tables, graphics or boxes to gather important information in one place. Start bullet points with a verb if possible, to inspire action and empower your readers

 

 

Focused

Spell with ones.

Fractions

  • Spell out fractions (ie, two-thirds, not 2⁄3)
  • Hyphenate fractions except for fractions involving one (ie, one third but two-thirds; one quarter but three-quarters)
  • Say one half, one fifth, not a half, a fifth

Full stops

We have one rule where we use NO full stops in initials or abbreviations, nor after headings
or bullet points.

 

 

 

 

Gender/sex

  • For both the UK and US versions, use ‘sex’ rather than ‘gender,’ unless there is possible contextual confusion with the act of sex (gender is a grammatical term referring to whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neutral)
  • Avoid ‘he’ as a general pronoun. Make the nouns (and pronouns) plural, then use ‘they’; if that’s not possible, use ‘he or she.’ If in doubt, please get in touch with the bmjbrandteam@bmj.com. Also see: address your reader

 

Headings

  • All headings (<H1>, <H2> and <H3>) use sentence case
  • Capitalise only the first word, proper nouns and other words which are generally capitalised by a more specific rule (such as BMJ products)
  • No full stops for headings. For example, Treat the whole patient

See also, capitalisation

Health care or healthcare?

Healthcare – always one word, whether adjective or noun.

Hyphenation

When two words combine into an adjective to describe a noun, they are compound words. You can use hyphens for words with non-, -like, -type, -free and adjectival (or noun) phrases that include a preposition (one-off event, run-in trial, a one-off). Not using hyphens will help you to avoid noun clusters.

Similarly, comorbidities.

Evidence-based or evidence-based

Do not use hyphens when combined words are not in front of or coming before they modify.

So, if you’re saying “The project was evidence-based,” you do not hyphenate.

Whereas if you were saying “evidence-based project” you would hyphenate.

 

Italics

  • Italics can be useful for denoting titles in your text, setting off foreign words, and providing emphasis.
  • Do not italicise acronyms or initialisms even if they are the official title of a printed
    piece

 

Lists

  • Use lists where appropriate. They are excellent for splitting up information
  • Use bullet points in lists (without full stops). These are better than numbers or letters as they draw your attention to each fact without giving you extra information to take in. See also, bullet points
  • Use Arabic numerals in a right-hand bracket for numbered lists: 1), 2), 3), running on in the text
  • Items should be separated by commas if simple, or semicolons if complex: ‘They discussed: 1) salaries, 2) staff levels, 3) rates of pay.’ ‘They discussed: 1) how people were paid; 2) the staffing levels anticipated by the end of the year; 3) how much clients would pay for different tasks’
  • Use the Oxford or ‘serial’ comma in unnumbered lists. For example, Participants reported rash, headache, and fatigue’; not ‘Participants reported rash, headache and fatigue’
  • For unnumbered lists of longer terms that may already have punctuation within them, use semicolons rather than commas to separate the items in the list

For example, The RCT compared three treatments: advice to exercise plus advice to consume a low-fat diet; advice to avoid fat, sugar, and salt; and placebo.

  • For bulleted lists, start each item in sentence case. Sublists should be uncapitalised. An exception to this is if you have a straightforward bulleted list, then the list can be uncapitalised

Localise

  • Use English spelling in the UK (localise).
  • Likewise, Brazil, not Brasil (as spelt in Brazil).
  • Use Americanised spelling in the US (localise).

 

Naming conventions

In the UK, doctors are called doctors; in the US, physicians.

As a global healthcare knowledge provider, we want to speak to a worldwide audience, so
the best naming conventions for addressing a wider audience include healthcare
professionals, health professionals or clinicians. See also, address your reader.

Numbers

Numbers under 10 are spelt out, except for measurements with a unit (8 mmol/L) or age (6
weeks old), or when in a list with other numbers (14 dogs, 12 cats, 9 gerbils).

Noun/verb agreement

Nouns and verbs should agree, for example, The data are; None is…
Organisations and groups of people take singular verbs, for example, The government is;
The team has researched…

Noun clusters

Avoid unnecessary noun clusters by adding in pronouns where applicable. For example,
Write out ‘patient in the coronary care unit’ rather than ‘coronary care unit patient.’

 

 

Open access

 

 

Percentages

Always use a percent sign instead of spelling out ‘percent,’ even in running text. When presenting a range of percentages, the percent sign should only appear at the end (ie, 50–60%).

Prefixes

  • For British English, hyphenate most prefixes such as intra-, hyper-, mid-, non-, etc, unless they form part of a compound word is generally accepted use (eg, intrauterine, postnatal, preoperative, hyperthyroidism), or unless they just look plain wrong with a hyphen
  • For US English, as a rule, don’t hyphenate prefixes at all. So, do not hyphenate after anti, bi, co, non, mid, over, pre, post, under, unless reading would be difficult without the hyphen (eg, if two vowels are together, such as in multi-organ and anti-inflammatory). There are exceptions to this, however (eg, preeclampsia)
  • For US, check Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/) if you are still in doubt

 

 

Quotation marks

  • UK: use ‘single quotes’ unless quoting directly from speech or from a publication
  • US: use “double quotation” marks at all times unless quoting something within a quotation, when you use ‘single’
  • Literal quotations should be exact, with punctuation and spelling matching the original

Avoid excessive use of quotation marks – they should never be used simply for emphasis. See: https://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

 

 

Recent/ time-sensitive information

Avoid: current(ly), recent(ly), soon, now, next year, last year. These all date quite quickly. If you want to highlight a new study, you can use the year (eg, ‘One 2017 study…’).  

Referencing BMJ company and products 

BMJ the company 

Avoid repetition: Refer to BMJ the company in the first instance. As the company in the second instance, then we, our or us after that. 

Never put the determiner ‘the’ before BMJ. Say BMJ the company instead.

The BMJ 

The BMJ [journal] in the first instance then as the journal [all lower case] after that.

BMJ Best Practice 

BMJ Best Practice (BP) in the first instance and as Best Practice or BP after that.

BMJ Learning 

BMJ Learning then as BMJ Learning/Learning after that

BMJ Journals

BMJ Journals then journals or the journals collection after that.

BMJ values

It is grammatically correct to write the word values all in lower case – values.

See also, branding

Reference to race

In our special theme edition addressing racism in medicine, The BMJ editorial team had a number of discussions about language in the course of putting the journal together, covering everything from the difference between race and ethnicity to the various terms used to describe people. 

The term favoured by The BMJ for black, asian and other non-white minority groups, up until now is: ethnic minority. See more.

 

 

Sentences (structure and tips)

  • Use clear, direct style, avoiding colloquialisms, unnecessarily complicated language, and jargon
  • Punctuate long sentences carefully. Use commas to aid clarity, to emphasise natural pauses, and to denote subordinate and defining clauses (see the entry on commas for more explanation)
  • Shorter sentences are easier to understand and translate
  • Keep in the active voice as much as possible
  • If possible, but the most important point near the beginning of the sentence (readers’ attention peaks here)
  • Remember that many of our readers do not have English as their first language: so keep it clean, simple, and clean
  • Where possible, keep sentences short and straightforward. Much of our content is available on mobile phones and other handheld devices, as well as in print and on websites, so clarity and readability are crucial
  • Check if long sentences can be split
  • Chunk your copy into short paragraphs; one idea per paragraph

See also, commas

 

Sentence length

  • Don’t use a long word when a short one will do. Most experts would agree that clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words
  • This does not mean making every sentence the same length. Be punchy. Vary your hand by mixing short sentences (like the last one) with longer ones (like this one) 

 

Spacing 

One space after a full stop. Not two.

One space after a period is plenty to signal the end of a sentence. It also keeps the text block even.

Spelling 

  • Use English, not American unless writing for a US-language audience
  • Use s-spellings: minimise, organisation, capitalisation. See also, British/American English usage and localise

 

 

 

Time

  • Don’t use full stops in am and pm. See also full stops
  • Style is 8am, 10pm, not 08:00 am, 8 PM, 10 o’clock, etc
  • No space between the number and the letters
  • Use an apostrophe when the time is being used in the possessive: ‘trials of more than 8 weeks’ duration’

Tone of voice

Our brand’s four most powerful personality traits (CEST) have steered the thinking behind the company’s tone of voice.

  • Confident. We believe in ourselves as pioneering experts within our profession. Evidence matters to us so, wherever possible, we use data to back up our claims
  • Empowering. We motivate, support and enable healthcare professionals in all communities worldwide—so the words we choose to use are clear and accessible for everyone
  • Succinct.  We know our users and customers are busy so we speak briefly, directly and clearly. We tell them what they need to know within the first two sentences
  • Trustworthy.  We are honest, authentic and credible. We know who we are writing for and meet our audience’s specific needs with thoughtful, relevant information correct in every detail. 

 

 

Values 

Weave them in where you can. Make the most of publicising what we stand for as a values-driven company. Find our values here.

We have a clear set of values. They define who we are and how we behave. 

They also give us the focus and direction to bring about our vision for a healthier world by sharing knowledge and expertise to improve healthcare outcomes.

It is our house style and grammatically correct to write our values all in lower case, for example, 

RIGHT – Our values

WRONG – Our Values

If you would like to incorporate the values into your documents, then you can find pre-designed artwork here.

Verbs

Prefer active verbs. The three parts appear in a particular order with an active verb−subject then verb-object. 

For example, the clinician (subject) treated (verb) the patient (object). 

 ‘Treated’ is an active verb here. The sentence says who is doing the treating before it says what is being treated.

Examples of how to turn a passive verb into an active verb: 

This matter will be considered by us shortly. (Passive) 

We will consider this matter shortly. (Active) 

The riot was stopped by the police. (Passive) 

The police stopped the riot. (Active)  

The mine had to be closed by the authorities. (Passive) 

The authorities had to close the mine. (Active) 

There are times of course when it might be appropriate to use a passive. But try to make about 80 to 90% of your verbs active.

Use these verbs instead of the noun

Complete – completion 

Introduceintroduction 

Provideprovision 

Failfailure 

Arrangearrangement 

Investigateinvestigation

 

 

 

Years

  • For time: use figures: 5 years
  • Avoid contractions: spell out in full (ie, years, not yrs; hours, not hrs).
  • The style for decades: the 1960s
  • See also, ages

This style guide was produced and is managed by Communications Manager, Ingrid Bray. For support and further guidance, please email.

Ingrid Bray
Corporate Communications and Brand Manager