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
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.
Use minimum space and commas for 1) email but open punctuation on 2) documents and websites:
BMJ, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR
London WC1H 9JR
Switchboard: +44 (0)20 7387 4410
Customer Service: +44 (0) 20 7111 1105
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.
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…
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.
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
We want to use terms that most accurately describe the world’s environmental crises. Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.
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.
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.
Use the symbol preceding the number: $40, £2.50. € (Euro) can be inserted by holding down Ctrl+Alt+e, or via the symbols menu.
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.
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.
Our preferred dictionaries are Chambers 21st century dictionary for general usage and Dorlands for medical terms.
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.
Please limit your use of exclamation marks, except in quotes from other sources.
Spell with ones.
We have one rule where we use NO full stops in initials or abbreviations, nor after headings
or bullet points.
See also, capitalisation
Health care or healthcare?
Healthcare – always one word, whether adjective or noun.
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.
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.
In writing, treat the phrase, ethnic minority, like any other group descriptor and personalise (people from ethnic minorities, ethnic minority patients).
Also for alphabetising race and ethnicity in say a baseline characteristics table, the style council decided that as long as the data were displayed either by prevalence or alphabetised that is fine (ie, there should be a reason that the data are displayed in that order to avoid bias, but we don’t always alphabetise as per standard). Please get in touch with Ingrid Bray for more context or guidance on this.
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.
Lower-middle income countries / LMIC / HIC / Global north and global south terms
There can be a new tendency to use Global South and Global North (or global south and global north) in favour of LMIC and HIC. Whilst there are good arguments for using global south in favour of LMIC/HIC, the most appropriate/representative suggestion seems to be about being more country-specific, but could prove problematic in practice. Another option is to use “in lower resource settings.” BMJ Global Health editors recently decided not to use any specific style in BMJ Global Health. Mostly because wherever you turn for a choice of preferred terminology, you encounter problems and inconsistencies and geographical inaccuracies, and subtle supremacist and hierarchical undertones. They wish to slowly move away from describing countries along these lines, except when necessary. Here is a recent paper in BMJ Global Health that tried to unravel the meanings of low-resource settings.
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 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).
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…
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.’
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%).
Avoid excessive use of quotation marks – they should never be used simply for emphasis. See: https://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/
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 [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 then as BMJ Learning/Learning after that
BMJ Journals then journals or the journals collection after that.
It is grammatically correct to write the word values all in lower case – values.
Capitalisation for groups
Our style guide does say to use lowercase for all groups. We are flexible if someone insists, but that would rather be on a more ad hoc basis. In this circumstance, I’d still be inclined to use lowercase for a press release if that matches the article and our house style.
That being said, if there is the capitalisation of black, white would also need to be capitalised. Capitalising only black and not white is more of a statement that should come from the author (or from an overarching BMJ editorial decision) rather than from us in our marketing materials.
Capitalisation of Indigenous is still a little muddled in our style guide but it is more commonly as a capital letter to differentiate between people and plants or animals indigenous to that area. It appears in our style guide that we would use Indigenous Australians (capitalised). However, the press material should match what is in the paper.
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.
See also, commas
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.
Tone of voice
Our brand’s four most powerful personality traits (CEST) have steered the thinking behind the company’s tone of voice.
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.
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
Introduce – introduction
Provide – provision
Fail – failure
Arrange – arrangement
Investigate – investigation