Clear, straight forward, person-first language best reflects our values.
Fraser Health voice
The language we use in writing should demonstrate our values of respect, caring and trust. Most importantly, when writing on behalf of Fraser Health, you should write as a human being not as an institution.
To accomplish this, first consider who is meant to read what you are writing, why they will be reading it and in what context. The five Ws are useful: who, what, where, when and why (plus how). Once you have carefully considered your reader, strive for a tone that is:
- Use straightforward language to be easily understood.
- Avoid acronyms and jargon.
- Check the reading level of your writing and keep it at a grade six to eight level.
- Provide clear and direct information your reader can use to change an attitude or behaviour.
- Be concise and to the point.
- Consider supplementing or replacing your writing with clarifying visuals to improve understanding.
- Provide transparent, direct and straightforward information in an easy to understand language.
- Write the simplest thing that is true about the topic. Add more information if it is required by your intended audience.
- When appropriate, include citations for your sources.
- Focus your message on the recipient and their information needs.
- Tell them why the information matters to them as an individual (patient, resident, client, employee, physician, volunteer, etc.).
- Use inclusive, people-first language (e.g. people who use drugs, instead of drug user or addict; person with a disability, instead of disabled).
Referring to Fraser Health in writing
- Refer to our organization as Fraser Health on first reference. On second reference, use the health authority or we.
- Avoid the abbreviations FH and FHA unless space is limited (e.g. in a table, chart, or end note).
- Do not capitalize health authority when it stands alone.
- In legal documents, our full name, ‘Fraser Health Authority’ should be used.
Using the slogan in writing
- When our slogan – better health, best in health care – is used within text, use all the usual grammar and style conventions required.
- If the slogan appears in the middle of a sentence, it should not be capitalized, but set apart by dashes at either end; for example, Fraser Health’s vision –better health, best in health care—guides our planning and decisions.
- If it appears at the end of a sentence, it can be set apart with a colon at the beginning and a period at the end. A comma between better health and best in health care is permitted. The following example illustrates both, Together we strive to achieve the Fraser Health vision: Better health, best in health care.
Terminology and other references
The Canadian Press Stylebook and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary are good references in addition to this style guide. Use them to confirm spelling and style conventions that are not specifically highlighted in this document.
Other specific references at Fraser Health:
- Our board is referred to as the Fraser Health Board. It is also acceptable on second reference to refer to it as the board.
- Do not capitalize board when it stands alone.
- We have a President and CEO.
- We use health care, not healthcare. (e.g. Better health. Best in health care.)
Generally, use only abbreviations and acronyms that are familiar to your audience, but spell them out on first reference.
For example: BCNU, BCIT, ICBC, WCB, SFU, BCMA
Omit periods in all-caps abbreviations or acronyms unless the abbreviation is geographical.
For example: B.C., U.S., P.E.I.
Some abbreviations that have become household terms are acceptable in all references.
For example: RCMP, MP, NDP, CBC, AIDS
Use abbreviations and acronyms sparingly. In long documents where a name is repeated many times a general term is easier to read and understand.
For example: the union instead of HEU, or the association instead of CMA.
Capitalize all proper names, trade names, government departments and agencies of government, Fraser Health departments and programs (except in media releases), names of associations, companies, clubs, religions, languages, nations, races, places, and addresses. Otherwise, use lowercase.
For example: Jane Doe, Kleenex, Ministry of Health, Medical Services Plan, Mental Health and Substance Use (but mental health and substance use in a media release), British Columbia.
Lowercase should be used for common noun elements in the names of Fraser Health departments and programs when they stand alone. When writing media releases, do not capitalize Fraser Health departments and programs.
For example: The Medical Imaging Department is open. The department is open all day. The Diabetes Education Program is closed during Christmas. The program reopens in January.
Capitalize formal titles, titles of elected officials and job titles when they precede a person’s name. Use lowercase when they stand alone or come after a person’s name. When writing media releases, do not capitalize job titles.
For example: Minister John Smith arrives Tuesday. Mayor Jane Doe will meet with the minister. The mayor will discuss a variety of issues.
Executive Director Jane Smith will attend the meeting. John Doe, executive director, will attend the meeting.
Capitalize the principal words in the titles of books, broadcast programs, films, newspapers, magazines, plays, poems, songs, speeches, works of art and other compositions. (See above examples)
se lowercase and do not italicize the the that precedes the names of almanacs, the Bible, dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines. (See above for examples)
Italicize the titles of books, broadcast programs, films, newspapers, magazines, plays, poems, songs, speeches, works of art and other compositions.
For example: Anne of Green Gables, the Mona Lisa, the Oxford Dictionary.
Capitalize the principal words of written slogans and newspaper headlines, but do not use quotation marks.
For example: It’s in You to Give is the slogan for Canadian Blood Services.
The story appeared under the headline Health Authority Happy with Latest Cash Infusion.
Dates and times
For months used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when standing alone or with a year alone.
For example: His surgery was scheduled for Aug. 26, 2014.
August 2014 was rainy.
Generally, when referring to a date within the current year in a dated publication, there is no need to include the year.
For example: In the May 2014 edition of Hospital News, a story about a new rehabilitation program said the service would be available in a few months, likely in July.
When referring to a list of dates or a future date not in the current year, add the year only to the dates that are not in the current year.
When referring to a full date including year in the middle of a sentence, use a comma at the end of the year.
For example: On March 23, 1976, a child was born in New Westminster.
Use three spaced periods to indicate an omission from a text or quotation. Put spaces before and after the first and last period.
For example: The decision ... will be re-considered at the next board meeting.
“I tried to call you ... but you were out,” she said, between sobs.
Italics are often used to give emphasis to words or expressions. They should be used only for strong emphasis, never indiscriminately.
For example: I know you can’t spend all your time comparing purchasing orders.
When you use the term mankind, you should be aware that some people might see this as a sexist slur.
Italicize all punctuation immediately following italicized words (for example, the comma after mankind above is italicized).
Italicize the words Continued, To be continued, Continued on page XX, and To be concluded.
Use italics when a word is spoken of as a word.
For example: The word emergent has a specific meaning to emergency personnel.
Foreign words and phrases not yet adopted into English should be italicized.
For example: She had a certain joie de vivre about her.
Italicize the titles of books, broadcast programs, films, newspapers, magazines, plays, poems, songs, speeches, works of art and other compositions. (See capitalization)
Use figures when the amount is preceded by a symbol. Generally, use figures for large amounts. Eliminate the use of the word dollar when a symbol is used. Eliminate unnecessary double zeros after the decimal point.
For example: $5, not $ five, but five dollars is acceptable
$50 million, not $50 million dollars
$500,000, not five hundred thousand dollars
$50, not $50.00
Generally, numbers are written as words in formal writing, such as in a book. In less formal publications such as business communications, newspapers and magazines, numbers are expressed as figures, except for the following rules:
Spell out whole numbers from zero to nine.
Use figures for 10 and above.
In a series of numbers, there may be a mixture.
For example: The hospital had 10 operating rooms staffed by seven physicians, two anesthesiologists and 20 nurses.
Avoid beginning a sentence with a numeral. Either spell it out or rewrite the sentence to move the number from the beginning.
For example: Sixty-three year old Anna Jones was admitted to the hospital. Or: Anna Jones, 63, was admitted to the hospital.
Numbers with four digits or more must include a comma (10,700). Large numbers, such as millions and billions, are spelled out (three million or 17 billion).
Numbers with decimal points always use numerals (2.75, 15.85).
When whole numbers and fractions are mixed, use figures (1½). When fractions are on their own, use the number rule above (one-third, 1/15).
Phone numbers are spelled without parentheses around the area code: 604-613-0794.
Do not use the per cent symbol in text. Use only in tables, charts and graphs. Per cent is spelled as two words.
For example: The table shows that 10 per cent of the population has asthma.
People with asthma
Proportion with asthma
Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations.
Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Question marks go inside if the question is part of the quotation, outside if the question is part of the sentence.
For a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks.
For example: “I was walking to work when a man stopped me and asked, ‘Do you have the time?’”
Do not use single or double quotation marks to highlight individual words or to indicate the title of a book, composition or slogan.
Sometimes single words or short phrases are enclosed in double quotation marks to indicate that they are so-called. This technique can be overused, especially with terms that are in common usage.
Avoid using this technique repeatedly in one document and before using it at all, ask yourself if the meaning is still clear without the quotation marks. Use quotation marks cautiously, as they sometimes indicate irony.
For example: There were two cases of “H1N1” that year.
Better: There were two cases of H1N1 that year.
Fraser Health uses the Canadian Press Stylebook and Canadian Oxford Dictionary as spelling references. Use your computer’s spell-check tools cautiously, as they often use American dictionaries as a reference. However, it is a helpful device for catching glaring errors. If you have been working on a document for a long time, you may not notice the glaring spelling mistakes any longer.
Spelling follows the -our rather than -or ending for words like colour and labour, and -re instead of -er for words such as centre and metre.
For words in common use, Canadian Press style uses simple ‘e’ rather than the double vowels ‘ae’ and ‘oe’.
For example: gynecologist, hemorrhage, pediatrician.
Commonly misspelled words
- AIDS, not AIDs
- centre, not center
- colour, not color
- counselling, not counseling
- dietitian, not dietician
- email, not e-mail
- health care, not healthcare
- home care, not homecare
- inpatient, not in-patient
- online, not on-line
- organization, not organisation
- outpatient, not out-patient
- patient-centred, not patient centred or patient centered
- per cent, not percent
- Tri-Cities, not Tri Cities
Some words are commonly confused because they sound alike, are spelled similarly or seem to have the same meaning. The following is a list of commonly confused words, their meanings and examples of when each might be used.
Affect is a verb meaning to influence. Effect is a noun meaning result.
For example: The drug did not affect the disease, and it had several adverse effects.
Use among with three or more entities, between with two.
For example: The prize was divided among several employees. They had a choice between cash or a trip to Paris.
A lot is two words. Do not write alot.
For example: We have a lot of patients at the Diabetes Clinic.
E.g., i.e. (Latin abbreviations)
e.g. for example, or for instance
i.e. that is
These terms are not interchangeable. Whenever possible, they should be replaced with their English equivalent. Use a comma after both abbreviations.
Who is the subject in a sentence and whom is the object. If you’re trying to decide which is correct, turn the sentence into a question. To whom should I send these test results? You should send them to her.
Plain language and readability tips
Writing intended for the general public should be targeted to a grade level of about six to eight. Use the Microsoft grammar check or an online readability tool to assess the reading level of your document. If necessary, use shorter and simpler sentences and vocabulary to make your content more readable. Be sure to check your spelling too.
Making your writing readable takes more than good grammar and proper spelling. It involves capturing and keeping the attention of your reader. It means getting your message across clearly and succinctly. Here are some tips to help you say what you want to say in a way that’s interesting and easy to understand. You can also download our plain language writing checklist.
Consider the audience
Before you begin writing, think about the people who will read it. Be specific. Are you writing an article for an employee newsletter where a wide variety of professionals may read it? Or are you writing for a professional journal where people with similar educational backgrounds and training will be reading? Take time to think like them. What will they want to know? What will they find unnecessary?
The more varied the audience, the simpler and more general you have to make your writing. If your audience is very specific, use what you know to meet their needs in your writing.
- Move from most important to least important. Your first sentence should grab the readers’ attention, and tell them, in a general way, what they will be reading about.
- What’s your point? Like a conversation in a crowded hallway, good writing doesn’t wait until paragraph three to get to the point. Make your strong points first, add explanatory details later.
- Break it up. Use informative headings and subheadings to break up the document into manageable sections. Make sure headings are informative and not used just to break up text. Avoid headings that only make sense after you’ve read the text below it.
- Make a list. Rather than listing information in a paragraph, use point form vertical lists when appropriate.
Use the active voice versus passive voice
Active sentences add precision and remove ambiguity.
Sentences often become dense and clumsy when they are filled with passive constructions. The more serious danger of the passive voice is that it lets the writer shirk the responsibility of providing a subject for the verb. This can be interpreted as intentional vagueness or a refusal to commit to something.
- You will be given a guide to health services in Fraser Health. (passive)
- Fraser Health will give you a guide to health services. (active)
Use strong verbs (action verbs)
- We made a decision. (weak) We decided. (strong)
- We did a distribution of the magazine. (weak) We distributed the magazine. (strong)