We’re here to assist people in becoming empowered residents of the city. We do this through both the design of the digital experience and the language we use to communicate with the public and with each other.
This writing style guide, along with standards for common usage, punctuation, and formatting, help keep content consistent throughout phila.gov. If you have a style question that’s not covered here, refer to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.
In a rush? Use our web writing checklist to keep your writing on track. For more support, see our Language choices section.
Use plain language. City of Philadelphia websites are for everyone in the city. Avoid wordy descriptions and jargon. Use HemingwayApp, an online tool, to make your writing clear and concise.
Choose simple terms. Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do.
Write conversationally. Picture your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-on-one and with the authority of someone who can actively help. Using contractions can help create a friendly, informal tone as well. Plainlanguage.gov offers helpful tips.
Write for diverse audiences. We write for a diverse audience of readers who all interact with our content in different ways. We aim to make content accessible to those with disabilities and to users of all cognitive capabilities. We use language that isn’t exclusionary and is nondiscriminatory. See the entry on Inclusive language.
Be goal-oriented and appropriate. Before you start writing, ask: What purpose does this serve? What do people need to know? Do I give them the information using language that appropriately reflects my department?
Use an active voice. Identify which person or entity took an action at the beginning of the sentence. Rather than, “The ordinance was passed by City Council,” write, “City Council passed the ordinance.” For more help, see our entry on Active vs. passive voice.
Be helpful. Use an authoritative tone that comes from a helpful, empathetic perspective.
Think resident-focused. Write with the audience in mind. How might someone looking for Parks & Recreation services have different needs and stress levels than someone in touch with the Department of Human Services? Understanding the audience helps us maintain a human-centered approach that treats those who use City services with dignity.
Make sure you’re accurate and complete. Communications should give the user the information they need. All information should be current and correct. Fact check your work!
Provide a contact. Offer a means of contact for more information. Don’t create a communications dead end.
Avoid commercial endorsements. Because we use a .gov domain, we can’t advertise or endorse commercial products, services, individuals, firms, or corporations. For more information, see the federal regulations on .gov domains. For questions or specific guidance, contact the Philadelphia Law Department.