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Brand book

How we speak

Sightsavers’ tone of voice and writing style helps to ensure that all our written work is consistent, concise and easy to understand.

A group of Sightsavers employees around a desk working on a project.

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We aim to ensure that all Sightsavers documents, communications, publications and web pages can be understood by as many people as possible.

We should always write in Sightsavers’ ‘brand voice’, which dictates what we say and how we say it.

This ensures that all our written work, across the organisation in all the countries where we work, is consistent, recognisable and accessible for all.

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Our style guide

The Sightsavers style guide goes into more detail, setting out rules governing the spelling and grammar we use in documents, printed materials and online.

Read the style guide

Brand voice

Our mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality for people with disabilities. All our content should reflect this.

We want our tone of voice to be clear, accessible and easy to understand. Our writing should be authoritative and intelligent, but also down to earth, using everyday language and avoiding medical, scientific and marketing jargon and business-speak.

Do write:

  • ‘Sightsavers works in more than 30 countries to prevent avoidable blindness and fight for disability rights.’

It’s direct, to the point, simple language, no unnecessary words.

Don’t write:

  • ‘Sightsavers is a leading NGO with a presence in more than 30 countries, building synergies to facilitate the avoidance of blindness and increasing capacity to promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities.’

It’s full of jargon, business-speak and acronyms, long sentence, very wordy.

Tip: read it out loud

If you’re in doubt about the wording to use, explain what you’re trying to say in your own words, out loud, to a friend or colleague. This will encourage you to use shorter sentences and more colloquial language.

Our audiences

Our communications must appeal to a wide variety of people, often in different countries.

Where possible, it is important for us to tailor the content to specific audiences. For example, government bodies may want information presented to them in a certain form and tone, while individual supporters or fundraisers may prefer a different approach.

Members of the public (our supporters)

Write emotive copy, featuring inspirational personal narratives of beneficiaries. Show the need together with the solution. This audience may not be familiar with the intricacies of our work, so avoid all jargon and explain all acronyms. Be careful not to use business-speak.

Companies and trusts

Communicate expertise and value, emphasising Sightsavers’ authority. Again, steer clear of acronyms and jargon: assume that this audience has a limited knowledge of the areas in which we work. Offer clear case studies that show the impact we have and the potential return on investment.

Governments, partners and other NGOs

This audience will be more familiar with our work so more technical language can be used, as long as it is clearly written and easy to understand: remember that English may not be the recipients’ first language. Simple summary documents can be particularly useful.

Researchers and academics

Sightsavers’ research audience will be highly literate and used to reading technical documents about our areas of work. But this doesn’t mean our writing should be flowery or complex. Technical terms can be used, but avoid long sentences or overly formal language.

People in the communities where we work

Remember that this audience’s first language may not be English. They are unlikely to be familiar with our work, so avoid all jargon and business-speak, and explain all acronyms clearly. Write emotive text, featuring personal narratives that the audience can relate to.

Sightsavers staff

Communication should be clear and straightforward so it can be understood by as many colleagues as possible, including those whose first language may not be English. All staff have different specialities and may not be familiar with the intricacies of all our work, so technical terms and acronyms should be explained.

Choosing the right voices

We should always aim to feature the voices of the people Sightsavers works with, rather than speaking for them.

Allowing people to share their own experiences makes our content stronger and more credible, authentic and inclusive.

General writing tips

Keep your writing simple

Think about the words you use when having a conversation, and use these in your writing. Avoid using overly formal words such as ‘thereby’, ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘shall’ and ‘hence’, particularly if a simpler word such as ‘so’, ‘will’, ‘like’, or ‘but’ will do the job just as well.

It’s not about over-simplifying our content. It’s about saving people’s time and making sure they don’t have to re-read your writing to decipher what you mean.

Write in active sentences

These follow the sequence ‘subject > verb > object’. They are more direct, easier to understand and are closer to how people speak.

  • Active: Sightsavers has launched a new programme in Uganda.
  • Passive: A new programme has been launched in Uganda by Sightsavers.

Cut out extraneous words

Longer isn’t always better. Re-read what you’ve written to see if you can make it more concise: it will be far quicker and easier to read.

  • Simple: Be careful when travelling to remote parts of Nigeria.
  • Complex: It is important to note that you must exercise caution when travelling to remote parts of Nigeria.

Keep paragraphs and sentences short

Our brains take in information more easily when it’s broken into small chunks.

Read your work aloud

If you stumble over any sentences, or they seem too long, convoluted or confusing, rewrite them.

Make sure everyone can understand 

Unclear, flowery or confusing writing is an accessibility barrier to all readers, but can be particularly difficult for people with dyslexia, autism or other cognitive conditions.

Plain language

For more examples of clear, simple writing and preferred words to use, see www.plainlanguage.gov

How we write about disability

The language of disability changes over time and varies in different cultures.

However, it is important for Sightsavers to use appropriate language when referring to disability, and to avoid terminology that is offensive or inappropriate.

Sightsavers refers to disability using people-first language, such as ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘people with visual impairments’. Use the term ‘people with disabilities’, rather than ‘persons with disabilities’, unless it’s part of a title (such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) or where it’s the accepted norm for a specific professional audience.

Do write:

  • People with disabilities
  • Person who has [name of disability]
  • Disabled people/person
  • People who are blind/blind people
  • People/person with low vision
  • Blind or visually impaired people
  • Visual impairment
  • Partially sighted
  • Deaf/deafness/the deaf community
  • Hard of hearing
  • Person with Down syndrome
  • Person with restricted growth/short stature/dwarfism
  • Wheelchair user
  • People without disabilities

Don’t write:

  • The disabled
  • PWD (for ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘person with a disability’)
  • Handicap/handicapped
  • ‘suffering from’ a disability
  • Invalid
  • Victim
  • Afflicted
  • Crippled
  • The blind
  • People who are ‘in the dark’
  • The deaf
  • Down’s person
  • Midget
  • Wheelchair-bound
  • Able-bodied

For more information, see our full guide to disability and inclusion language.
If you have any questions about what words or language to use, email [email protected].

More about disability and inclusion language

For full information on how Sightsavers writes about blindness, visual impairment and disability, see our guide to disability and inclusion language.

Read the full guide

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