Tone of voice
Macmillan’s writing guidelines
Tone of Voice 1
Macmillan’s writing guidelines 1
How we write 2
Personal, inspiring, straightforward, active 2
What personal looks like 2
What inspiring looks like 3
What straightforward looks like 3
What active looks like 5
What else to consider 5
Positive yet realistic 5
Writing about people and cancer 6
Real people, real stories 9
Writing in a conversational style 10
Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch 12
Different audiences, different channels 12
Our style guide 19
The legal bits 20
Top style tips 22
Here’s some we made earlier 23
Further reading 25
Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales 261017, Scotland SC039907 and Isle of Man 604 1 of 25
How we write
The way we write (and talk) is a key part of Macmillan’s personality – and helps to build
our brand. Our ‘voice’ is an important tool for helping people understand who we are and
what we do. It helps them to trust us, encourages them to use us, and inspires them to get
With lots of different people writing on behalf of Macmillan, it’s essential that we
demonstrate one voice – one that’s consistent, and easy to understand. So when people
read our communications they feel confident that we know what we’re talking about.
Our style is simple. We talk clearly, and honestly. We say how things really are – but
always offer ways to help. We talk as a friend would, with warmth and encouragement.
We’re also passionate – we’re speaking on behalf of millions of people and when we need
to speak out – to get attention, change minds, and raise funds – we must be loud.
Everything from the annual report to a two line email should be written in the Macmillan
straightforward and active
Writing for Macmillan Well, we want you to think P.I.S.A. Not the city famous for its
leaning tower but our guiding principles: Personal, Inspiring, Straightforward and
Active. These principles help make Macmillan’s ‘tone of voice’.
What personal looks like
We’re inclusive. One in three people will get cancer. They’re people from all walks of life
and all cultures and we want to reach them all. We want people to know that they can get
involved with us or turn to us no matter who they are. We want them to join our gang. To
do this, we use personal language.
We treat people as individuals. Whenever we write something, we think of it as a one-toone
between us and the reader. And we think the reader’s much more likely to stay
interested in what we’re saying if we’re direct and refer to them as ‘you’. Wouldn’t you
agree So say, ‘you can make a difference’ rather than, ‘people who donate money to
Macmillan can make a difference.
We also try to bring the services we offer to life by focusing on the people who actually
provide them. That means we don’t talk about our helpline service – we talk about the
Tone of voice , Macmillan, [February 2013] 2 of 25
experts on the end of the phone. And we talk about the people, not the product – this
makes it so much warmer.
We use quotes and case studies. Want your writing to paint a real picture Then use a
quote from a real person. It’s one of the best ways to make your message strikes a chord.
But it’s important to pick quotes that work hard. Look for ones that are emotive, succinct
and express personal feelings. For instance, here’s someone with cancer talking about
how he struggles to pay his heating bills:
‘You can really feel the cold when you have cancer. But often I have to leave the heating
‘I’m already wearing two pairs of trousers, two jumpers and a woolly hat indoors, and the
worst of the winter is yet to come. Sometimes I go to bed during the day rather than put
the heating on.’
To find the quote that’s right for you, just head to our online library.
What inspiring looks like
We speak from the heart. If we want to convince people to join us, then we need to speak
about what we stand for with belief, determination and conviction. We need to show what
a passionate bunch we are. We need to use inspiring language.
We are fearless. We’re never afraid to say when we think something’s fantastic and when
we think something isn’t. So don’t hold back. For instance, you could say, ‘Volunteers. We
love them. We couldn’t do what we do without them’. Or you could even say, ‘Thousands
of people with cancer are struggling to pay their fuel bills. It’s simply not fair. That’s why
we’re calling on the government to help people with cancer stay warm without the worry.’
Remember – if you’re pointing out a problem make sure you suggest a solution too.
We grab attention. We use language that’s bold, rousing and engaging. You’ll see this
style in most of our fundraising materials. For example, ‘You see, we’re not bashful. Our
services are brilliant. That’s what we’re told and that’s what we always strive for them to
be. But, and you might have seen this coming, there aren’t enough of them out there
changing people’s lives – which is where you come in.’
We avoid exclamation marks. They’re not big, they’re not clever. Don’t be fooled into
thinking that they’ll make your writing inspirational. As F Scott Fitzgerald once said,
exclamation marks are like laughing at your own jokes. So, use them sparingly, and only if
you’re absolutely sure you need a big effect. If in doubt, just say no.
What straightforward looks like
Oftentimes workforce members scribe in a manner that the layman may find somewhat
Translation: Sometimes we write in a way that might confuse your average Joe. That’s
why it’s so important to use straightforward language.
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We understand that when people are affected by cancer it’s an extremely sensitive time. It
can also be a confusing time. That’s why we need to provide all the information they
require in the clearest and most simple way.
Just follow these handy tips and everyone will catch your drift:
Keep it simple – Always use plain English. This means using short words rather than long
ones. It’s not about dumbing-down – it’s about being easily understood.
Steer clear of jargon – Here at the big, green machine, we’re surrounded by jargon. But
the problem is, those in the know understand – the rest don’t. Anything readers don’t get
makes them feel left out. They may even stop reading. So avoid jargon such as medical
terms whenever you can.
Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations – If you really have to use them, spell them out
the first time they appear eg WBCM (The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning).
Do the Mum Test – When you’ve finished writing something, ask yourself, ‘Would my
mum understand this’ If the answer’s no, you probably need to rewrite it.
in order to
give consideration to
at this point in time
… You get the gist.
Don’t use – We raise more than £100m per annum.
Use – We raise more than £100m a year.
Don’t use – I’d like to advise you on our recruitment policy.
Use – I’d like to tell you about how we recruit people.
Don’t use – In the event of a fire, start panicking.
Use – If there’s a fire, start panicking.
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How readable is your writing
To find out how straightforward your copy really is, head to office.microsoft.com , search ‘Test your document’s readability’ and type a bit.
What active looks like
We want to give people energy. The energy to live with cancer. The energy to help others.
And the energy to get involved with Macmillan. A great way to do this is by using active
We don’t just talk about a problem – we suggest a solution. For instance, we say things
like, ‘Two million people are living with cancer in the UK today. We aim to support every
one of them.’
We should always be positive. So don’t use, ‘The government has decided not to make
parking free for people with cancer.’ Use, ‘The government has abandoned its plans to
make parking free for people with cancer.’ Copy is more engaging if it describes
something that is happening rather than something that isn’t.
We love the active
Activity is interesting. So try to write sentences with subjects that are doing things, and not
subjects that are simply having actions done to them. Compare these two sentences:
The mat was sat upon by the cat.
The cat sat on the mat.
The first is an example of what grammar geeks call the passive voice; the second is the
Don’t be put off – it’s really very simple.
Active voice: A does B.
Passive voice: B is done (usually by A).
The active voice will make your writing more … well … active. It’s also clearer, more
immediate and uses fewer words. So use it whenever you can.
What else to consider
Positive yet realistic
It’s vital that we are honest. People must trust us.
This means that we must never shy away from writing about things that are difficult and
upsetting. We must be realistic. People need to understand how difficult living with cancer
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can be, and people experiencing cancer need to believe that we understand how they
To help us understand what people going through cancer really experience, we have a
guide called the ‘communications platform’. It explains people’s feelings in depth and uses
their own words to describe just how difficult things are.
However, we must always – always – also explain what Macmillan, and others, can do to
help. We must never add to people’s level of fear.
Positive. Honest. Realistic. Keep these words in mind when you’re writing about cancer.
Writing about people and cancer
Our work is primarily about people, not a disease.
So when we’re writing about Macmillan, we need to demonstrate that we always put
people affected by cancer at the very heart of our work.
We almost always write about ‘people with cancer’ rather than ‘patients’. This is because
people often tell us that they don’t want to be defined by their illness. If in doubt, avoid
using the term ‘patient’.
Try not to describe people with cancer as having things done to them, as if they are
passive recipients of care and support. Instead, use empowering terms such as ‘people
living with cancer’.
Never use language that suggests people are victims or heroes, such as ‘battling cancer’.
However we do use ‘fight language’ in certain contexts.
We are using fight language because we have been mindful of how real people speak
about their cancer experiences. We’ve listened to the online community, our
professionals, the people we support, and, of course, our supporters. And the fact is that
every day, people are referring to their own experiences as a fight. It’s about restoring
agency during a disempowering time. There are some factors to think about when using
this type of language though:
We now use ‘fight’ in the context of ‘cancer is the toughest fight most of us will
ever face’ and ‘in the fight’, ‘we help PABC in the toughest fight of their lives’.
Using ‘fight’ in these ways is acceptable.
We DO NOT use fight when referring to a winning or losing situation – no one
‘wins the fight against cancer’ and we certainly do NOT wish to imply that
someone ‘lost’ because they didn’t ‘fight hard enough’ or wasn’t enough of a
Steer clear of battle, struggle and suffer language when using it to describe the
person’s attitudes or action, this can get very complicated and bogged down in the
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negative. ‘Sue’s struggles weren’t over’ or ‘when she got her blood tests back she
knew she was in for another battle’ or ‘she was ready to battle through the chemo’
are all incorrect and should be avoided.
We also don’t ever say: ‘Macmillan fights cancer’ (like Cancer Research does), it’s
only in the individual context, as in ‘cancer is the toughest fight Mary has ever
faced’ or ‘we’re here to help support Mary in the toughest fight she’ll ever face’. We
don’t fight cancer, we’re not a medical charity, we’re a people-centric charity, so
we offer support to people who are currently in the toughest fight of their lives.
Patients (unless you’re talking about a hospital situation, for example)
People battling cancer
People fighting cancer
People struggling with cancer
‘All clear’ – as each cancer is different and each person’s recovery time will vary it is best
to avoid the phrase ‘all clear’
People with cancer
People living with cancer
People affected by cancer
People living with and after cancer
People living with and beyond cancer
People getting on with life despite cancer
People with a cancer experience
People whose lives have been changed by cancer
People whose lives have been touched by cancer
Carers / people who look after someone with cancer
Use with care
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People living with cancer/people with cancer
Those who have been diagnosed with the disease and are currently receiving treatment.
People living with and after cancer/people living with and beyond cancer
Anyone who has been diagnosed with the disease and is still alive; it doesn’t matter
whether they’re receiving treatment or their treatment has ended. This means that ‘two
million people are living with and after cancer in the UK’ can also be written as ‘two million
people living in the UK today have had a cancer diagnosis’.
People affected by cancer/people getting on with life despite cancer/people with a
cancer experience/people whose lives have been changed by cancer/people whose
lives have been touched by cancer
Anyone who is affected by a person’s cancer diagnosis, eg the person with cancer, their
partner, their children etc. If you have the space in your copy using examples of people
who are affected by cancer can often bring this to life for the reader (eg you may be a
carer, a friend, a member of the family)
A ‘carer’ is an unpaid family member, partner or friend who helps a disabled or frail
person, such as someone with cancer, to cope with daily chores. These could include
cooking meals, washing-up or grocery shopping. We don’t use ‘carer’ to describe
someone who is in a paid caring job or profession.
The term is important because carers are entitled to a range of benefits and services that
depend on them recognising themselves as carers.
It is often advisable when speaking to carers to use the phrase ‘people looking after
someone with cancer’, as evidence shows carers often do not associate themselves with
that word. In a campaign for carers awareness we defined ‘carer’ in these simple terms,
but with detailed examples of a range of typical carers’ situations, for those unaware of
their status as ‘carer’.
A word about survivorship
What is a ‘cancer survivor’ When should we use the term Does everyone know what it
A ‘cancer survivor’ is someone who isn’t in the terminal phase of the illness. In other
words, we mean someone living with and beyond cancer.
The truth is that we need to be careful when we use the words ‘survivor’ and ‘survivorship’
because not everyone knows what they mean. Some people also object to the term,
especially if they have a friend/relative who didn’t survive. But if you follow our handy dos
and don’ts below, you can’t go wrong.
Try to use ‘people living with and beyond cancer’ or ‘people living with and after cancer’
rather than ‘cancer survivors’ wherever possible.
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Feel free to use ‘survivor’ and ‘survivorship’ when writing to decision makers, such as
MPs, about our ‘survivorship’ agenda.
If you use the term ‘survivorship’, explain what it means immediately and clearly.
Use an upper case S when you write about Macmillan’s work on ‘survivorship’.
Writing about cancer
If it’s necessary to mention death, don’t shy away from it. Acknowledge the fear, pain and
confusion that people affected by cancer can feel – but never use language that might add
to that fear. And always try to explain how Macmillan and other organisations can help.
It’s fine to describe cancer as either an ‘illness’ or a ‘disease’.
But don’t assume people will understand medical terms unless you’re writing for
healthcare professionals. Instead, use common terms, eg ‘skin cancer’ rather than
‘melanoma’. For definitions of medical terms, check out our glossary .
Real people, real stories
We love using people’s quotes and stories at Macmillan. Because individuals are at the
heart of our work.
Quotes and stories help to …
add colour and character
give a personal reaction to a situation
illustrate bald facts
change the pace of a story.
Make sure you use real quotes from real people.
Avoid using quotes that are more than one or two paragraphs long.
For headlines 8 words in the maximum length a quote should be.
Never use a word other than ‘said’ when introducing a quote.
PS Before you use someone else’s words, it’s important that you ask for their permission.
They may have been happy for us to use their story for its original purpose. But that
doesn’t mean they’ll automatically let us use it for something else.
Run the quote past them every time you want to use it. You can do this by getting in touch
with the Macmillan person who supplied you with it. They’ll either contact the kind soul
who gave us the quote or hand you their details so you can.
The chances are they’ll say yes. But don’t forget – ask first.
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Shh! We’re in the library
To find the quote that’s right for you, visit our online library . It’s an easy-touse
stash of photos, videos and stories from people affected by cancer – why not check it
out today We promise there are no borrowing fines.
Writing in a conversational style
By now you’ve probably noticed that Macmillan writes in an informal kind of way. It’s not
just because we’re a bunch of chatterboxes (although we don’t half love a good gas). It’s
because conversational, language is easier to read, and that’s what we’re aiming for.
Follow the tips below and keeping it simple will become … well, simple.
Use contractions. Forget what your English teacher told you about saying ‘it is’ rather than
‘it’s’ and ‘they are’ rather than ‘they’re’. We’re giving you full permission to use
contractions – they’re a great way of making your writing easier to read.
Vary your sentence lengths. Short sentences are the best, so try to avoid any that use
more than 25 words. But mix it up. A combination of long sentences and short sentences
will keep your writing pacy and interesting.
Start sentences with conjunctions. It’s okay, you’re allowed. Beginning a sentence with
‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’ is a fantastic way to keep your writing flowing. And it can also make a
sentence stand out. So why not give it a go
Keep it real. Use descriptive words that people can relate to – words that are accessible,
down-to-earth and chatty. Sprinkle your writing with everyday feelings, sounds, tastes and
colours and watch it come to life.
Read what you’ve written out loud. Does it sound natural when you say it Does it flow
easily Is it the sort of language you’d use to chat with a friend If any of these answers
are no, then make a few tweaks and repeat the process.
Advice on adjectives
Keith Waterhouse, the veteran Daily Mirror and Daily Mail columnist, once said,
‘Adjectives should not be allowed unless they have something to say. An adjective should
not raise questions in the reader’s mind, it should answer them. Angry informs. Tall invites
the question, how tall The well-worn phrase: his expensive tastes ran to fast cars simply
whets the appetite for examples of the expensive tastes and the makes and capacity of
the fast cars.’
In other words, if an adjective adds to your copy, it can stay. If not, ditch it. Too many
writers believe that adjectives inevitably add colour and style. Vague ones add nothing.
‘Use specific words (red and blue),’ says Waterhouse, ‘not general ones (brightly
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Advice on abstract nouns
Abstract nouns are things that our five senses can’t detect. We can’t see, hear, taste,
touch or smell them. Try to avoid using abstract nouns as they tend to make writing sound
Examples of abstract nouns include:
Rather than using an abstract noun, try to use the verb root of the noun instead:
relate instead of relation
recommend instead of recommendation
improve instead of improvement
observe instead of observation
refer instead of reference
apply instead of application
develop instead of development
achieve instead of achievement
‘We recommend that you take part’ sounds much livelier than ‘Our recommendation is that
you take part.’
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Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste
Your English teacher may have given you dodgy advice about where a literature degree
could get you. But she had a good point when she said, ‘Liven up your writing by referring
to the senses.’
Try describing what things look, sound, feel, smell and taste like. This is a great way to
paint a picture with your copy, especially if it’s a quote.
‘I was dangerously underweight because of my cancer, so I started drinking special
milkshakes to put on the pounds. But they had a revolting metallic taste which made me
feel sick. Fortunately, my Mac nurse gave me the idea of mixing nutritional powder into
delicious raspberry jelly. Thanks to her, I got back to a healthy weight in no time.’ Linda,
support group member
Different audiences, different channels
We have one tone of voice, and its core principals – personal, inspiring, straightforward,
active – apply to everything we do.
However, there are some variations for different audiences.
For example, when fundraising or campaigning, we write in an inspiring and active way –
demanding action, expecting change. With people affected by cancer, our writing is still
authoritative – so people trust us – but more straightforward.
Specific guidelines – different audiences
People affected by cancer
Clarity is paramount. Keep your copy as straightforward as possible. Imagine you are
speaking to someone.
Pay special attention to sentence length and structure. When a sentence has lots of
numbers, be wary. It may be clearer to break the sentence down. For example: You will
usually be given 2–3 tablets, containing 30mg of the drug, three times a day for 5–6
months would be better as You will be given a dose of tablets three times a day for 5–6
months. Each dose will be 2–3 tablets, each tablet containing 30mg of the drug.
Be sensitive. We write about delicate issues and often need to be gentle and reassuring.
Our normal style encourages the use of ‘you’. In writing about cancer, it’s appropriate to
use a mixture of first and third person, depending on what’s being said. So for difficult
topics, we might say ‘some people find’ rather than ‘you may find’.
Similarly our style discourages use of the passive. However, it may be less frightening –
and more accurate - to sometimes use the passive. So for example ‘a CT scan may be
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used to guide the needle to the right place’ is better than ‘you will have a CT scan to guide
the needle to the right place’.
Macmillan’s house style avoids jargon and acronyms – this is especially important when
talking about health care. Terms such as palliative care aren’t universally understood.
Similarly avoid words that are rarely true: unique (rare is safer), prove (show or
demonstrate), best (define, by what measure) and most of all in a medical context, safe
(no drug is totally safe (use, e.g., fewer side effects)) and cure (consider defining, e.g.
living longer than five years after treatment).
Writing for people at Macmillan
We’re a pretty chilled bunch at Macmillan. So when you’re writing internal
communications, try to sound as though you’re chatting to a mate down the pub – except
without all the swearing.
Example – Staff Stuff poster
Too old Pah. You try doing what I do. S. Claus
Not many people can pull an all-nighter like Santa. The guy hits the sherry, scoffs mince
pies and still flies around the world, all the while carrying a massive sack on his back. And
to think, because of his age, he could be one of the people told he’s too old for treatment.
Unbelievable, huh So please help us right this wrong by pledging your support for The
Age Old Excuse campaign from 18 December at macmillan.org.uk/ageoldexcuse
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Parliamentarians and policy makers
Our style should be just as clear, and universal. And even more passionate. However, we
also need to acknowledge how important these audiences are to us – and thank them for
what they’ve done.
We also need to use even more facts and figures for this audience – it’s what they
respond to and helps us drive forward our arguments to change things for the better.
And we may use terms such as ‘survivorship’ that this audience fully understand.
Like parliamentarians – we can use terms that this audience fully knows and understands,
like palliative care. But it’s a good idea to explain the term, or put it in context, to ensure
every reader is clear. When talking to professionals it’s a good idea to imagine we’re
talking to a business partner as opposed to having a chat with a friend. That means
dialling down the inspiring and personal tone in our writing and dialling up the
Specific guidelines – different channels
Writing for the web
Ready to put cursor to screen Before you start chiselling away at sub-clauses and
semicolons, have a quick squiz at our handy hints …
There are some quick and easy tips to remember that can help improve your web writing
skills. For example, people tend to read website pages in an F-shaped pattern. So make
sure you put all your important info first.
And keep your copy as short and as sharp as possible – stick to 250 words or fewer per
Remember: short paragraphs = good – long paragraphs = bad. One-sentence paras are
fine for the web.
Bullet points, lists and subheadings are a great way to break up your web copy.
And, finally, don’t use boring old ‘click here’ to direct people to another page.
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News and feature articles
News article intros
As Tony Harcup puts it in Journalism, Principles and Practice, ‘A well-written intro will
encourage the reader to stay with you on the strength of the information and the angle you
have started with.’
Your intro needs to engage the reader instantly and sum up what your story is about.
A good intro should announce the most important, newest, most interesting, most
attention-grabbing aspect of your story.
It’s not a summary of everything yet to come. The best intros contain two or three facts
A police officer is under investigation after he lost a gun when he drove off with it still on
the roof of his car.
The rest of your story
Once you’ve nailed your intro, it’s time to amplify your story, adding new info, providing
detail and using quotes.
Journalism students are taught about the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why.
These are a handy tool to check you’ve covered all the bases.
Feature article intros
These will often set the scene, rather than giving a solid reason why the reader should be
interested (the hook or angle).
Is the Royal Veterinary College café the weirdest in Britain Jonathan Glancey has a
delightful cuppa surrounded by the skulls and bones of dead animals.
The rest of your story
Feature articles often provide more atmosphere, emotion and colour than news articles.
They can paint a picture and take the reader to the scene of events.
Features often include the following elements:
an analysis of news, eg an article about healthcare cuts
detailed description to give readers an insight into something they don’t have firsthand
experience of, eg a heart-rending description of someone suffering in a
a different slant on something the reader will already know, eg a view from Ciarán
in a Macmillan newsletter
a summing up at the end, often looking to the future and calling for action.
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Here’s some we made earlier
Freeze out fuel poverty campaign
Here, the headline immediately grabs the reader’s attention. And the design – a hot water
bottle and a thermometer that actually measures the temperature – brings the copy to life.
Using the thermometer helps the writer clearly explain, and demonstrate in a tangible way,
the impact that the cold can have such on those living with cancer. The leaflet lets people
know, simply and clearly, that if you’re one of the people affected then we are there for
In the flyer to promote the campaign there’s the all-important quote. Our advice is, use
quotes sparingly but powerfully, keeping them short and to-the-point. Which is exactly
what the writer does here. The quote doesn’t repeat information already provided in the
flyer. Rather, it paints an emotive picture, using details such as what George wears to
really hook the reader.
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Example – ‘Not Alone’ campaign ads
Our new brand ads are all about spreading the message that ‘no one should face cancer
alone’. And it asks everyone to join the Macmillan team and help make sure no one has
The simple but emotive language of the ads works well with the everyday nature of the
items used to show how cancer affects our everyday lives. Making it personal by
mentioning people the reader may know powerfully gets across the message that, from
best friends to work friends, we want to be there for everyone affected by cancer.
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It’s also good to note how effectively the writer uses devices such as repetition to really
engage the reader.
Repetition can give structure to your writing. Repetition taps into the part of our brain that
loves rhyme and meter. Repetition pulls the reader into the flow of your copy, here with
the word ‘no’. Repetition isn’t difficult to use. But … repetition is annoying if overused.
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A headline is the first thing a reader sees so it needs to command attention. It needs to
make someone read on. It needs to be written with care.
Whether you’re writing an ad or a flyer, a web page or a letter, your headline should be
captivating and it should scream Macmillan. But how do you do it Follow the tips below
and you won’t go far wrong.
Make verbs your friends. Beginning a headline with an active verb will make it dynamic
and involving as well as encouraging the reader to act. For instance, ‘Do something
amazing. Join us.’
Ask a question. If you want to instantly engage your reader, why not turn your headline
into a question For example, this headline was used on a brochure for people planning
their wedding: ‘Want your big day to give more good days to people affected by cancer’
Surprise with stats. We’ve got some mind-boggling numbers knocking around at
Macmillan. Statistics can often create intrigue, so why not include one in your headline
For example, here’s a headline for the Longest Day Golf Challenge: ‘72 holes. 300 shots.
20 miles. Have you got what it takes’
Keep it short and sweet. We don’t want our readers to get bored. If a headline’s long or
complicated, they may lose interest and head off to look at something else. So it has to be
short, succinct and snappy. For example, the headline for an article about a challenge
event was, ‘Blood, sweat and cheers.’
Be provocative. We want people to read our writing and stop in their tracks. A great way to
do this is by using a shocking headline. One staff poster which encouraged people to take
heed of health and safety rules said, ‘Warning! Setting fire to your colleagues can be
hazardous’. It divided opinion, but it was a great headline because people stopped what
they were doing to read it.
Our style guide
As a leading charity, people listen to what we say. If we make mistakes, or are
inconsistent, it’ll have an impact on our credibility.
That’s why we have a ‘house style’. This includes how to write certain words and phrases,
how to show numbers and dates, and when to use capital letters and other useful
It also explains why we avoid certain words in our general language – such as ‘patient’,
‘heroism’, ‘remission’ or ‘cure’.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember it all. We’ve put together a fabulous guide to all
things wordy – from abbreviations to the spelling of zeitgeist, our style guide has the
You can access the style guide here.
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The legal bits
Using our name, charity numbers, and company details
The first time you write our name in a communication, write it in full: Macmillan Cancer
Support. After that, you can just use Macmillan. (Never abbreviate to MCS.)
You must put Macmillan's full name and registered charity numbers on all communication
materials and resources:
Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland
(SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604).
Here’s our full legal statement and registered company information. We need to put this
on websites, emails (this is done automatically for you), letterheads and faxes, as well as
on all official, financial and legal items, e.g. purchase orders and annual reports.
You may not use only the English number. All numbers must be used at every use.
Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland
(SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). A company limited by guarantee. Registered
company in England and Wales (2400969) and the Isle of Man (4694F). Registered office:
89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. (Welsh translation available.)
If you need help deciding whether your material should contain the statement, please
All Macmillan publications should carry a copyright statement. This includes the copyright
symbol, our full name and the month and year of publication.
© Macmillan Cancer Support, July 2012
Gift Aid is a scheme that enables charities to claim, from HM Revenue & Customs, the tax
that supporters have paid on their donations. Whenever you ask people to give money,
you should ask them to confirm they are taxpayers and ‘Gift Aid it’.
This is the latest Gift Aid text to use in your communications:
Do you pay tax If so your gift will be worth almost a quarter more to us – at no extra cost
All you have to do is tick the box below, and the tax office will give 25p for every pound
you give. We will only use your details to claim Gift Aid.
Please treat all the donations I make or have made to Macmillan Cancer Support in the
last 4 years as Gift Aid donations, until I notify you otherwise.
I confirm I have paid or will pay an amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax in
each tax year, that is at least equal to the tax that Charities & CASCs I donate to will
reclaim on my gifts. I understand that other taxes such as VAT and Council Tax do not
qualify and that Macmillan Cancer Support will reclaim 25p of tax on every £1 that I give.
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If you need any more information on Gift Aid such as when to use it or how to use it,
please contact Macmillan’s Supporter Services department (email
email@example.com|), your regional Gift Aid Champion, or see the Gift
Aid section on the green rooms (Macmillan’s intranet).
We all have the right to know how our personal contact details will be stored and used. So
don't forget to feature Macmillan's data protection statement on any
communication/resource that asks for someone’s name, address and/or phone details.
For more information on data protection, and the correct statements to use, please
contact Macmillan’s Supporter Services department (email
firstname.lastname@example.org|), or see the Data Protection section on the green
rooms (Macmillan’s intranet).
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Top style tips
Hold your horses – before you start typing away, have a think about what your reader
wants to know – not just what you want to tell them.
Sort out your sentences – Avoid using more than 25 words per sentence. And you’ll need
to mix it up to keep it interesting, so vary the length of your sentences and the words they
begin with too.
It’s all about you – Try to call your reader ‘you’, even if you’re talking to more than one
person. Eg say ‘you can get involved’ rather than ‘supporters can get involved’.
Don’t forget contractions – Words such as ‘won’t’, ‘you’ll’ and ‘we’ll’ will make your copy
Looking good – subheadings, quotes, bullet points and boxes of text draw people into the
page and make it look more interesting.
Three is the magic number – Humans are predisposed to like the number three. We
dunno why – they just are. So when you write, list things in threes to make your words
easy on the ear.
And finally – it’s fine to start sentences with joining words such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘so’.
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Here’s some we made earlier
Example – The little green book of fundraising ideas
The little green book of fundraising ideas knocked everyone’s socks off when it was
published, and was showered with industry awards. Well, technically, just the one award,
but who’s counting
And why did it make such an impact Well, just look at the copy. It’s fun and it’s
unexpected. For instance, it says, ‘It has loads of information about how to turn you event
into a bobby dazzler.’ And when it comes to describing things, the writer has chosen to
avoid tired clichés and be original, for example, ‘Have a read through and jot down any
ideas that sound more fun than Christmas morning for a five-year-old and look like
Spending a little time making your writing descriptive and fun really pays off – it keeps
people reading and stops them dozing off. So don’t always go for the obvious option. Try
to use language that stands out. If in doubt, just think ‘bobby dazzler’.
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Example – Pass it on card
Simplicity and positivity – that’s Macmillan all over. And this little Pass it on card
demonstrates it admirably. Designed to fit snugly into our cute Macmillan Support Line
travel wallet, the copy had to be short, sweet and effective.
It achieves this through using simple language that doesn’t go over the top. For example,
it says what the Macmillan Support Line does, no more, no less. Then it appeals directly
to the reader (‘you’), saying how they can help make a difference. It feels like a real oneto-one
between the writer and the reader. And the pièce de résistance The subtly-written
– yet hard-hitting – final line that makes the reader feel like a key part of our movement:
‘Together, we can make a real difference’.
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In a crowded field, these stand out:
The Guardian style guide
The Plain English Campaign
Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers, Harold Evans
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynn Truss
Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy
Write to Sell: The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting, Andy Maslen
The Copy Book, Alastair Crompton
Journalism Principles and Practice, Tiny Harcup
The Universal Journalist, David Randall
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