The Sightsavers style guide

This style guide sets out rules governing the language used by Sightsavers in official documents, printed materials and online.

It explains how we write certain words and phrases to ensure we maintain consistency across the organisation. For anything not covered by this guide, refer to the Guardian online style guide, then the Oxford English Dictionary.

The default language of and our publications is British English. All spellings should be British English, unless they are part of an official title or brand/organisation name (for example the World Health Organization or The Carter Center).

In international publications and websites in English-speaking countries outside the UK, content should be written in a recognised variety of Standard English. This usually means the version of English that is accepted by academic and publishing convention in that country, which will be the most familiar to audiences within the country (for example, in the US spellings like ‘color’, ‘favor’ and ‘realize’ are appropriate for the audience).

This also allows for minor style differences where required based on the needs and understanding of the specific audience (for example, in Ireland the titles for the country’s leader and deputy are capped up – Taoiseach and Tánaiste).

How we speak

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 is consistent, recognisable and accessible for all. For more information, see the Sightsavers guide to ‘How we speak’, which is part of Sightsavers’ brand book.

Blog writing guide

See our step-by-step guide to writing and submitting blog posts for publication.

General writing tips

  • We should always write about blindness in a way that doesn’t patronise blind and visually impaired people, but we don’t ignore the negative impact avoidable blindness can have, especially for people living in developing countries where access to specialist care and support is scarce.
  • Don’t describe eye/eyelid surgery as simple or easy (straightforward is fine, if you’re talking about something that is actually straightforward).
  • Always keep in mind that our mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality for people with disabilities. All our content should reflect this.
  • Keep your writing simple – try to minimise the use of overly formal-sounding words such as therefore, thereby, thusshall and hence, particularly if a simpler word such as sowilllike, or but will do the job just as well.
  • Unclear, flowery or confusing writing is an accessibility barrier to all readers, but can be especially difficult for people with reading or cognitive disabilities (more about this on the WebAIM website).

Contact us

If you have any queries, suggested additions or amendments to this style guide, contact:

Sarah Bourn
[email protected]

Rebecca Tromans
[email protected]

Or email [email protected]



To make sure your documents can be read by someone using a screenreader, use Microsoft Word’s accessibility checker.

  • Always remember to add alt text to images being published online or in PDFs. This will enable someone using a screenreader to know what’s happening in photographs or graphics that accompany your content. See also: Alt text
  • Where possible, give videos and graphics a link to a text version or text description.
  • To check how easily readable your writing is, use The Writer’s readability checker. Clear, simple language should be used wherever possible. Even if you’re writing for a specialist or knowledgeable audience, keep in mind that it should still be accessible (if at all possible) to a reader who has a learning disability.

Accessibility also plays a large part in how we write. Sightsavers prides itself on making all its communications accessible, so they can be used and understood by as many people as possible.

This benefits people with disabilities, but also many other groups: for example, people using mobile devices, people with poor internet connections, or people who prefer to watch videos without sound.

In terms of our writing, it is vital to use clear and concise language, so it is easily understood by everyone. If you are not sure about something you have written, ask yourself if someone who does not work for an NGO would understand the words you are using.

For more guidance on accessibility, see the Sightsavers brand book.

Acronyms and initialisms (see also Capitals)

We tend to use the term ‘acronym’ to apply to any initialised word, although technically if it can be pronounced as a word itself it’s an acronym (like FIFA) and if it can’t it’s an initialism (like NTD or BBC). More here if you’re really interested.

The general rule with acronyms/initialisms (we’ll just use ‘acronym’ from here to save time) is: avoid them where possible. But if you must use them, spell the full wording out first, followed by the acronym in brackets. After this, use the acronym. If the term/phrase only occurs a couple of times in your entire document, just write it in full throughout.

  • Sightsavers was given a high performance rating by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in its mid-term assessment. A spokesperson from the FCDO said…
  • Never use an acronym to describe people (for example, PWD for ‘people with disabilities’, VI people for ‘visually impaired people’).
  • Even if your audience knows the terms you’re using, try not to baffle them with too many acronyms in one sentence.

These following acronyms are OK to use provided we spell out the words in full on first mention.

  • The FCDO (Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office)
  • MDA (mass drug administration)
  • NGO (non-governmental organisation)
  • NTD (neglected tropical disease/s)
  • SAFE (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, environmental change)
  • WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene)
  • WHO (World Health Organization)
  • MoE (for ministry/ministries of education)

adviser, not advisor


Affect is the verb, effect is the noun: ‘NTDs affect many people, but good hygiene has a big effect.’

Effect can also be a verb meaning to bring about a change: ‘The prime minister effected a change in policy.’

Agenda 2030

Or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if written out in full.


Hyphens are only used for modified nouns. In the hyphenated example below, the phrase ‘six year old’ is modifying the noun ‘girl’. If there’s no noun following the phrase ‘six year old’, don’t use hyphens.

  • Nahbila is a happy six-year-old girl
  • Nahbila is six years old
  • Don’t write: Nahbila is six-years-old

For numbers one to nine, use words – from 10, use digits:

Alt text 

Alt text is a simple text description of an image. It is particularly useful for people with visual impairments who use screenreading software: the software reads the alt text aloud so the user can understand the image without being able to see it. 

The alt text should give a brief description of the image, in context. No need to write ‘Image of…’ or  ‘Picture of…’ – the screenreader will do this automatically. For example:

  • A young girl sitting on a chair in a hospital waiting room.
  • Two smiling young men walking together hand in hand. One of them holds a white cane.

If the image contains a graph or other numerical data, it’s best practice to include all the data in the alt text. For example:

  • A pie chart showing the causes of blindness worldwide, featuring the following statistics: cataracts 51%, glaucoma 8%, age-related macular degeneration 5%, trachoma 3% and other 33%.

Don’t use alt text on images that are purely decorative or background items. Instead, use empty quote marks “”, which will instruct the screenreader to ignore the image.

For more information see the RNIB guidance.

among, not amongst

Ampersands (&)

‘And’ should always be written out in full – ‘&’ should not be used except in rare exceptions, such as in company names if it’s part of the brand (M&S), or if it’s a necessary design element.

And’ and ‘but’

Both are acceptable ways to start a sentence.


Used to indicate a missing letter or letters (can’t, we’d) or a possessive (David’s book).

Use an apostrophe and ‘s’ to show that something belongs to a person or thing, or when you’re using a plural word that doesn’t end in ‘s’, such as ‘people’:

If it’s a name that ends in S, add an extra apostrophe and an extra S so the phrase is written as you’d say it out loud:

  • Sylvas’s work is time-consuming.
  • Grace’s eyes were causing her a lot of pain.

If you’re talking about more than one person and the word ends in ‘s’, put the apostrophe after the ‘s’:

  • The surgeons’ work took eight hours (the work of a group of surgeons).

When you’re talking about time, single units have the apostrophe before the ‘s’ and multiple units have it after, like this:

Contractions (shortened words like we’ve, we’re, there’s) can give a friendlier, more conversational tone, and should be used in general writing to avoid sounding overly formal. So this sentence:

sounds more chatty and informal than this one:

  • He could not build on his early promise at school as the extra support he required was not available.

No apostrophes in dates: 1960s, the 60s.

it’s vs its

It’s is a shortened form of ‘it is’:

Its is the possessive form of ‘it’:

  • Sightsavers wants to fulfill its mission.

Sightsavers vs Sightsavers’
Because Sightsavers ends in ‘s’, deciding whether you need to use Sightsavers or Sightsavers’ in your sentence can be tricky. To check, try replacing the word Sightsavers with a similar entity that doesn’t end in ‘s’, like Oxfam. In the sentence you’re writing, if you’d say Oxfam’s, then add the apostrophe to Sightsavers. If you wouldn’t, don’t.

  • Find out more about Oxfam’s approach to fundraising.
  • Oxfam wants to eliminate avoidable blindness.

Just to complicate matters, there are some instances where either option would be fine.

Our style guide is called The Sightsavers style guide, but could equally be called Sightsavers’ style guide, because it is the official Sightsavers style guide (not needing an apostrophe), but also the style guide belonging to Sightsavers (needing an apostrophe). In general, if either option is correct, leave off the apostrophe.



Try to avoid using this term: it could be seen as patronising or implying an unequal balance of power. Instead, use terms such as ‘participants’, ‘people taking part in our projects’, ‘people we work with’ or ‘people in the communities where we work’.



Can normally be taken out, as it can create confusion. For example: ‘Sightsavers trained both doctors and nurses’ can be read as implying there are two doctors, or that doctors were trained as well as nurses, so it’s confusing. If it makes sense without it, take it out.

Brackets (parentheses)

When you use brackets as part of a longer sentence, the full stop (or any other punctuation) goes on the outside (like this). When the whole sentence is within the brackets, the full stop should be on the inside.

(This is an example of when the punctuation should go inside the brackets.)

braille (lower case – not Braille)

British vs American English

Our overall house style for UK and global content, including on all our English websites (UK/Global, US and Ireland), is to use British English. The exception is organisation names, which should be written as they’re styled by the organisation themselves (for example the World Health Organization, The Carter Center). 

In international publications in English-speaking countries (excluding online), content should be written in a recognised variety of Standard English (SE). This usually means the version of English that is accepted by academic and publishing convention in that country. For publications or websites using a language other than English (French, Italian, Swedish), we are reliant on translators to meet similar editorial standards, so we have less control over the finished products/content.

British English should be the default option for all global content, but if you’re unsure, go with whatever will be least jarring for your audience. For example, if you’re writing a document for an event in New York where the audience will be an international mix but American English would make more sense to the majority than British English, go with American English.

Bullet points and numbered lists

Use bullet points if the items in your list are of equal importance or don’t need to be in sequence. Use a numbered list if you’re referring to a series of steps.
If your bullet points are a list of short items but none are full sentences, begin each line with a capital letter and don’t use punctuation at the end of the lines. For example:

The following are necessary:

  • Financial records
  • Personal files
  • Interview notes

If the wording above the bullet points is a part-sentence, completed by each of the bullets, use full stops but no caps, like this:

The report discusses how achieving this strategy will require DFID to:

  • make sure people with disabilities participate in, and benefit from, all international development programmes.
  • talk, listen to and work with people with disabilities and their families.

If each bullet point is a complete sentence or several sentences, use full stops and capital letters as you would within a paragraph, like this:

As well as robbing people of their sight and causing unbearable itching, river blindness can have a much wider impact on the community:

  • Children often miss out on education because they need to stay at home to act as full time carers for older relatives who are blind.
  • People flee areas where the level of infection has hit hard, leaving ‘ghost villages’ behind. Unfortunately these infected areas often have the most fertile land, as they are closest to the river.



This jargon term should be avoided wherever possible: it’s pretty meaningless to anyone who doesn’t work in international development. Instead, try to use a variation of the following:

  • Helping people or organisations to develop their skills, knowledge and resources so they can work on a larger scale and reach more people (known as ‘capacity building’).

Capitals (see also acronyms)

Capital letters can look overly formal and old-fashioned, so only use them when there’s a reason to. They can also come across as shouty. Don’t use caps (or italics, or underlining, or, heaven forbid, all three) for emphasis. If emphasis is needed, bold text can be used: We think all children should be able to attend school.

Headlines and headings should be written in sentence case:

  • A different kind of goal
  • A Different Kind of Goal

But if there’s a name or title in the heading, it’s fine to keep the caps on it, like this:

  • Big news for the World Health Organization
  • Sightsavers publishes Voices of the Marginalised report

Do capitalise:

  • organisations
  • campaigns
  • resolutions
  • acts of parliament
  • government departments

Don’t capitalise:

  • diseases or eye conditions
  • job titles or descriptions (for exceptions see Job titles)
  • generic titles
  • governments, even when referring to a specific one

So it’s the World Health Organization, Senegal’s Ministry of Health, Sustainable Development Goals, the Equal World campaign, the Official Secrets Act, but the UK government, ministries of health, river blindness, non-governmental organisations, mass drug administration.

Pharmaceutical product names, such as Mectizan® and Zithromax®, should always be capped up, but the generic name, such as ivermectin and azithromycin, should be capped down.

Caps and geography
Cap up the first letter of an official name of a region: North India, West Africa.
Keep it lower case if you’re referring to a general area: southern Malawi, the south of India.


Should I write cataract or cataracts?
The condition is called ‘cataract’, but this often sounds jarring in a sentence – to a reader unfamiliar with our work, “He was diagnosed with cataract and referred for surgery” would sound like it was missing an ‘s’. In general, go with the most easily readable option.

Here’s the official line, from Imran Khan, Sightsavers’ chief global technical lead: “A cataract refers to a clouding of the lens in one eye, so if someone has cloudy lenses in both eyes, we can say that the patients has cataracts (plural). If it is only in one eye, then we can say that the patient has a cataract in one eye. So it is a condition and also a thing.

“Technically, a person can have different types of cataracts in one eye (depending on anatomical location of the opacification in the lens and/or cause), but it is common convention to still refer to the patient having a cataract in one eye (singular).”

How long does a cataract operation take?
Cataract surgery times can vary between hospitals, and depending on any complications. Child cataract surgery usually requires general anaesthetic and an overnight stay in hospital; the surgical skill needed is higher, as is the cost of equipment and consumables. Adult surgery can be much quicker and require less recuperation time.

Sandeep Buttan, Sightsavers’ global technical lead on eye health in Asia, has advised that:

  • an adult cataract operation can take as little as 8-10 minutes.
  • a child cataract operation can take as little as 30 minutes.

Colons and semicolons

A colon introduces a list, an explanation or a definition.
Semicolons can be used in two instances. In lists, use them if they provide more clarity than commas.

  • Sightsavers provides funding for specialist teachers; classroom equipment, including Braille kits and screen readers; and training.

Or use them to join two related but independent clauses:

  • “I am 16; I don’t go to school because I can’t see anything.”



Don’t overuse commas – if you’re unsure, read your sentence out loud. Wherever you’d pause for breath is usually where you’d put a comma. If you have a sentence with comma overload, consider breaking it into two sentences instead.

The serial comma or Oxford comma is a comma that comes before the final conjunction (usually and/or) in a list. In this example it’s optional and not really necessary as the sentence would read perfectly well without it:

  • People with disabilities have the same rights to health, education, training, and employment as everyone else.

Serial commas are usually unnecessary and should be avoided, unless the sentence will be confusing without it. In the following example it helps give clarity:

  • Find out about Sightsavers’ work in the areas of policy, research, advocacy, and quality and learning.

Without it, ‘advocacy and quality and learning’ would be lumped together instead of two separate areas, ‘advocacy’ and ‘quality and learning’.

comma splice is a very common style error – it’s when a comma is used incorrectly to separate two clauses in a sentence. You can fix it by either changing the punctuation to a semicolon/colon/dash (as appropriate), changing the comma to a full stop or adding a conjunction (and/but/so). Here are some examples:

  • Meet 60-year-old John, he lost his sight while earning a living as a fisherman. (This would be better as two sentences.)
  • The pressure of earning enough money while battling self-confidence issues was too much, Anuradha would come home from work each day and cry. (This would be better if the comma was replaced with a semicolon, or the conjunction ‘and’.)
  • Surveillance is an integral part of the elimination process, without it, elimination is not possible. (This would be better if the comma after ‘process’ was replaced with a dash or colon.)

Community-directed distributor/community-designated distributor/community drug distributor (CDD)

Best avoided, because it can sound overly complicated and doesn’t mean much to people outside international development. Instead use ‘Community volunteer…’ or ‘local volunteer who distributes medication’.

Connecting the Dots

The name of Sightsavers’ employment and training programme in Uganda that ran between 2012-2016.

Contact details

The order in which each element should appear is as follows:

Name and address
Phone number

35 Perrymount Road
Haywards Heath
RH16 3BW
United Kingdom
01444 446600
[email protected]

Phone numbers should be formatted with spaces in one of the following ways:

  • 01444 xxxxxx (numbers with regional area code)
  • 020 xxxx xxxx (London numbers)
  • 0845 xxxx xxxx (helpline numbers)
  • +44 (0) 1444 xxxxxx (international numbers)

Sightsavers’ physical address in Haywards Heath should only be used where it is a legal requirement. In all other situations, the Bumpers Way postal address should be used.


Côte d’Ivoire Note the circumflex over the o.
Democratic Republic of Congo Abbreviated to DRC. Not to be confused with Republic of Congo.
The Gambia With cap T. In alphabetical lists, file under G.
Guinea Not to be confused with Guinea-Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau With hyphen. Not to be confused with Guinea.
Republic of Congo Not to be confused with Democratic Republic of Congo.
South Sudan Include full name within page: Republic of South Sudan. Not to be confused with Sudan.
sub-Saharan Note lower case S (not Sub-Saharan).
Sudan Include full name within page: Republic of the Sudan. Not to be confused with South Sudan.

Country and city names

Make sure you are mindful and are using the correct names for places. Many African and Asian countries and cities have changed names away from Anglicised or colonial names or spellings – for example Tombouctou in Mali, Kolkata and Bengaluru in India, Eswatini instead of Swaziland. Check Google if you are unsure.


Write all in capitals with a hyphen. COVID-19 (coronavirus) can also be used if needed. For hashtags on social media, camel case should be used for accessibility best practice (for example, #Covid19Disability).

Credits and captions

Photo credits, when used, should always appear with a copyright symbol and no spaces. No full stops are needed after the credit.

  • © Sightsavers/photographer name

On the WordPress sites, photo credits don’t automatically display, but if we have an agreement with a photographer to credit them wherever their images are used, add the photo credit at the end of the photo caption, like this:

  • Six-year-old Ulami collects water for his family from a seasonal river in Horr, northern Kenya. ©Sightsavers/Jerome Starkey

Photo captions should be used where they add useful information to an image and explain how the image relates to the content it’s illustrating.

See also: Alt text

Currencies: see Foreign currencies


Can usually be taken out. For example, say ‘He has cataracts’ rather than ‘He currently has cataracts.’


DPOs (now known as OPDs)

Disabled people’s organisations – we now refer to these as OPDs: organisations of people with disabilities (or organisations of persons with disabilities, where ‘persons’ is required for a specific audience).

Dashes and hyphens

You should use a hyphen when not doing so would make the meaning unclear or confusing. In this example, the hyphen makes all the difference:

  • Black-cab drivers come under attack (people who drive black cabs)
  • Black cab-drivers come under attack (cab drivers who are black)

Hyphens should be used to form compound adjectives but only when they are followed by a noun. For example: ‘a sight-saving operation’ but ‘the operation was sight saving’. Other examples include a Sightsavers-funded projectlife-changing surgerya low-cost operation. The exception is ‘low and middle income countries’ – we don’t hyphenate this as it can get confusing (see low and middle income countries).

There are three different types of dash:

  • Hyphen-
  • En dash
  • Em dash—

Use a hyphen with no spaces to join words together: French-speakingSightsavers-supported.

En-dashes can be used to break up a sentence or replace brackets or other punctuation. They should have a space either side.

Em-dashes shouldn’t be used, apart from on the US website as they’re standard American English. 

  • John doesn’t live in the UK – he happens to live in Magombo, a remote region of Malawi – so when he started having trouble with his vision things were very different.
  • They haven’t been reached with Mectizan® treatment – yet.
  • It can be treated successfully with a quick, straightforward and low-cost operation – if it’s caught in time.

Hanging or suspended hyphens can be used if needed for clarity, for example:

  • It was suitable for a 13- or 14-year-old child.
  • We spoke to Hadiya both pre- and post-surgery.


Data, like agenda, takes a singular verb (we don’t use ‘datum’ or ‘agendum’).

Dates and times


Write dates in the order day/date/month/year, like this:

  • Wednesday 1 January 2014

No commas, no ordinals (1st, 2nd, 3rd)


10am (not 10.00am) but 10.30am. No space between the time and am or pm (also, never a.m. or p.m.).

Time should be expressed using figures and then am or pm:

  • 9–11am
  • 9.30am–12.45pm


Keep to one decimal point: £1.2 million,not £1.24 million.

Department for International Development (DFID)

Do not use. DFID has now merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to become the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, so we should no longer be using DFID in any communications.

developing countries (and other related terminology)

Avoid if possible. There’s a lot of debate about using terms that lump countries together based on their economic, social or environmental status. If possible, avoid using catch-all terms and be specific about what you mean. Sightsavers’ preferred terminology is based on country income levels: ‘low income countries’, ‘low and middle income countries’, ‘low and lower middle income countries’ (no hyphens) depending on what is most appropriate for your audience. Don’t use ‘developing world’ or ‘third world’.


See our disability and inclusion language guide for full information on how we write about blindness, visual impairment, disability and inclusion.

It is important we differentiate between impairment and disability. Impairment is the injury/illness/condition that causes a loss or difference of function to an individual, whereas disability refers to the limitation or loss of opportunities to participate equally in society because of social and environmental barriers.

Language to use

  • People with disabilities/person with a disability (disabled people/person)
  • Person/people with [name of impairment]
  • People without disabilities/person without a disability
  • Persons with disabilities: this term is commonly used by global institutions (for example the UN and the World Bank), NGOs, DPOs and policymakers, but is jarring for a general public audience. For audiences who won’t be familiar with the term, use ‘people with disabilities’ instead, except where it’s part of a title or quote.
  • Older people

People with sensory impairments

  • Blind person
  • Partially sighted person
  • Person with low vision
  • Person with visual impairment
  • Deaf/deaf person (there is a strong Deaf community with its own culture and sense of identity, based on a shared language. When referring to a person or people who identify as part of this community, Deaf should be capped up)
  • Person with a hearing loss
  • Person who is hard of hearing
  • Person who is deafblind

People with physical impairments

  • Person who has a spinal cord injury, and is a wheelchair user
  • Person with cerebral palsy
  • Person with restricted growth/short stature/dwarfism/little person (use the person’s preferred terminology)

People with cognitive impairments

  • Person with dementia/Alzheimer’s (dementia is not a mental illness but affects memory, attention, orientation and other areas of cognitive functioning)

People with intellectual impairments/disabilities

  • Person with Down syndrome

People with behavioural impairments

  • Autistic person/Person with autism/on the autism spectrum
  • Person with Asperger’s syndrome
  • Person with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

People with neurological impairments

  • Person with epilepsy

People with developmental disabilities

People with mental health conditions

  • Person with depression/anxiety/psychosis

When mental health conditions – in interaction with barriers in society – become disabling, it is referred to as psychosocial disability.

Language to avoid

  • Differently abled
  • PWD
  • Special needs
  • Cripple
  • Invalid
  • Victim
  • Handicapped
  • Suffering from
  • Inspiring/Brave
  • Collective nouns: the disabled/the blind/the deaf
  • Non-disabled
  • Able-bodied
  • Normal
  • Someone who can’t see (avoid focusing on what someone cannot do)
  • Dumb (‘non-verbal’ may be an appropriate alternative, but consider whether it’s relevant to mention)
  • Deaf-mute
  • Confined to a wheelchair/wheelchair-bound
  • Spastic
  • Midget
  • Mentally handicapped
  • Mentally defective
  • Retarded
  • Sub-normal
  • Mongoloid
  • Stupid
  • Slow/slow learner
  • Fits (when referring to someone who has epilepsy)
  • Elderly (use ‘older people’)

Diseases and eye conditions

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of 17 diseases – see the list below showing where to cap up or down:

  • Buruli ulcer (capped up as it takes its name from Buruli County in Uganda)
  • Chagas disease (capped up because it’s named after epidemiologist Carlos Chagas)
  • dengue and chikungunya
  • dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease)
  • echinococcosis
  • foodborne trematodiases
  • human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
  • intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths)
  • leishmaniasis
  • leprosy (Hansen’s disease)
  • lymphatic filariasis
  • rabies
  • river blindness (onchocerciasis)
  • schistosomiasis
  • taeniasis/cysticercosis
  • trachoma
  • yaws (endemic treponematoses)

The five NTDs that Sightsavers works on are intestinal worms, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis and trachoma. For more see neglected tropical diseases.

Other diseases and eye conditions

Cap up:

  • Ebola (named after a river)

Cap down:

  • glaucoma
  • cataracts
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • refractive error


Avoid – use ‘distribution’ or ‘giving out’ instead.

Down syndrome

Not Down’s syndrome, and no capital on syndrome.


Avoid using (unless specifically referring to MDA – mass drug administration): use ‘treatment’ or ‘medication’ instead where possible.



Avoid these. Screenreaders may read them as words (for example ‘egg’) and many people are not familiar with their meanings, so they can make sentences misleading or confusing. Try rewriting your sentence to avoid them, or use an alternative: ‘for example’, ‘like’, ‘including’, ‘and so on’.


Do not use this term – use ‘older people’ instead.


If used to finish a sentence, or when speech is trailing off, the dot-dot-dot should directly follow the final word with no gaps and no further punctuation:

  • Watch this space for details…

To signify that part of a quote has been cut out, leave a space after the dots like this:

  • Lumley says: ‘I’ve got photographs of Arif at home in a frame and I was so looking forward to seeing him… I couldn’t wait to see what sort of a young man he had grown up to be.’


In our NTD programmes we’re aiming to eliminate, not eradicate, disease. Read more on the small but vital differences between elimination, eradication and control.

email (not e-mail)

The End is in Sight campaign

If referring to the campaign by name, we should capitalise. Otherwise lower case. The logo should always be sentence case.

  • Thanks to Sightsavers, the end is in sight.
  • Join Sightsavers’ End is in Sight campaign
  • The end is in sight for trachoma, thanks to the End is in Sight campaign.

etc (see eg/etc/ie)

Exclamation marks

Exclamation marks should only be used for quotes or sentences that really need them or you’ll end up sounding gushy, over the top or overly astonished. Never use multiple exclamation marks: like this!!! (same goes for question marks – no multiples).

eye care (two words)

Eye conditions: see Diseases and eye conditions


face washing (two words)

focused/focusing (one S)

Foreign currencies

Default currencies for each of the Sightsavers country sites are as follows:

  • £
  • $
  • Kr (styled as 2 Kr)
  • Kr (styled as 2 Kr)

For any currencies other than these, use the three-figure ISO code (this can be found on any currency conversion website). Any figures in currencies other than the default currency should be followed by a conversion to the default currency in brackets. For example: “The Bangladeshi government has set aside a total of BDT828 million (£7.9 million) to spend on national eye care.”

But use common sense – there is no need to put £500,000 in brackets after the phrase “I feel like a million dollars.”

When the whole word is used it is lower case: euro, pound, dollar, etc. Abbreviate dollars like this: $50 (US dollars); A$50 (Australian dollars); HK$50 (Hong Kong dollars).

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)

This has replaced the Department for International Development (DFID).

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (no commas)

Or the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Dominic Raab (with commas).

Full stops

Full stops are used in callout/standfirst text (the block of intro text that follows a headline but comes before the main body copy), image captions and alt text, but not in headlines (unless deliberately used for effect) or after photo credit information.

Full stops are not needed in abbreviations such as Ms, Dr, and pm, or in initials. So we’d write the NHS, not the N.H.S, and JRR Tolkien, not J.R.R. Tolkien.


general election (capped down)

Global Education Monitoring Report

global south (see: developing countries)


hand washing (two words)

hard to reach

Avoid using if possible as it has multiple meanings and can be perceived as negative. Use alternatives such as ‘remote’ or ‘inaccessible’ for places geographically hard to reach, or explain what you mean (for example marginalised, excluded or overlooked).

health care (two words)


Try and keep them as short as possible, while only including relevant information from the story, and using the active voice. If possible, it shouldn’t run over more than two lines.

High-Level Political Forum

Capped up as it’s an annual event title but caps not required for UN high-level meetings in general.

hyphens (see Dashes and hyphens)


Intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths, or STH)


Use italics for TV, radio and book titles, but not for newspapers, quotes or headings. 

  • Sightsavers ambassador Sunetra Sarker has starred in Casualty and No Angels.
  • The Times is partnering with Sightsavers for this year’s Christmas appeal.

Avoid using italics, or bold, on long sections of text.

it’s vs its

It’s is a shortened form of ‘it is’:

Its is the possessive form of ‘it’:

  • Sightsavers wants to fulfill its mission.


Job titles

Cap up official titles: ‘Prime Minister Boris Johnson’, but cap down job descriptions: ‘the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson.’

Otherwise, job titles and descriptions should all be lower case: teacher, ophthalmologist, surgeon, editor. For example, Jo Jones is head of global events; Dr Caroline Harper is Sightsavers’ chief executive; the chair of Sightsavers’ global board is Sir Clive Jones. 

Note: In programme country communications, exceptions may be made if lower case risks implying a lack of appropriate respect or deference. This should be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the intended audience.




Abbreviate as ‘km’, with no space between the figures and the unit of measurement: 25km, 1,000km.



‘leave no one behind’

In reference to the promise of Agenda 2030. Note single quote marks (as it’s a report phrase rather than reported speech), no hyphen on ‘no one’ and no capitals.


Either is fine.


Licence is the noun, license is the verb.

low income countries/low and middle income countries/low and lower middle income countries (see: developing countries)

Lymphatic filariasis (LF)

Lymphatic filariasis is transmitted via mosquito bite and can be prevented with medication.

People living in at risk-areas are usually first infected during childhood. If untreated, it can lead to advanced LF which can result in an altered lymphatic system and the abnormal enlargement of body parts. This is painful and leads to permanent physical changes – a condition called lymphoedema – and is highly stigmatised. In men, the disease can cause a condition called hydrocele, a form of lymphoedema that causes intense swelling of the scrotum.

Although people infected with advanced LF cannot be cured, symptoms can be eased through care practices. For men with hydrocele, their symptoms can be eased through surgery. But only hydrocele can be operated on, so avoid saying ‘LF surgery’.

Do not describe the symptoms as ‘disfigurements’ or ‘deformities’ or any other stigmatisng terms.


Mass drug administration (MDA)

If discussing people who have not participated in an MDA campaign please say either ‘participation’, ‘non-participation’ or ‘opportunity to participate’. Do not say ‘MDA adherence’ or ‘MDA compliance’.

Mectizan® and Zithromax®

Mectizan® (always capital ‘M’ and registered trademark) is the brand name of the medication that combats onchocerciasis (river blindness).

The generic name for the drug is ivermectin (small ‘i’, no trademark).  Either may be used but Sightsavers generally refers to Mectizan® as this is the name on the bottles of donated tablets, which are distributed by the Mectizan® Donation Programme.

In the USA Merck & Co., Inc. is the company name,  but outside the USA it is MSD (Merck Sharpe & Dohme). The company should never be called Merck Group or just Merck.

Zithromax® is the brand name (always capital ‘Z’ and registered trademark) of the medication that combats trachoma. Its generic name is azithromycin (small ‘a’, no trademark). Either may be used but Sightsavers generally refers to Zithromax® as this is the name on the bottles of donated tablets, which are managed and distributed by the International Trachoma Initiative (or ITI).

The official name of Pfizer is Pfizer, Inc. and this name should be used for the first mention; for further mentions use just Pfizer.

meet, not meet with


Names (see also Safeguarding)

In case studies, use first names only unless there is a reason to include surnames. Children featuring in case studies should only have their first names used, and be careful to avoid identifying information beyond name and age (see Sightsavers’ safeguarding policy for more information).

When quoting people in news stories, if a full name is required, use this on the first mention and the surname alone on subsequent mentions.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

Always lower case (not Neglected Tropical Diseases unless it’s part of an organisation’s name). The neglected tropical diseases Buruli ulcer and Chagas disease (named for a place and person respectively) should have the B and C capped up. The names of other NTDs should always be lower case, except at the beginning of a sentence.

NTDs are a diverse group of 17 communicable diseases found in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries. Sightsavers works to control and eliminate five of them:

Intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths, or STH)

Lymphatic filariasis (LF)

River blindness (onchocerciasis)



For the full list of NTDs, see Diseases and eye conditions.

no one

Not ‘no-one’, including when talking about the commitment of the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind’.

Numbers (see also Per cent)

Write out numbers up to and including nine; use digits for numbers 10 and above.

  • One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, etc.


  • If decimals used – so write 4.3, not four point three
  • Whole numbers starting a sentence should be written out (or the sentence reworded to avoid beginning with a number), but decimals should be kept as digits.

Figures for all numbers are fine for tables, graphics, infographics, headings, blog diary entries and page references. They can also be used for social media if needed.

Spell out million and billion:

  • There are one billion people in the world who have a disability.

For infographics, it’s OK to use a shortened version (for example 24m).

In numbers greater than 999, put a comma between every three numbers, like this:

  • 1,500
  • 3,452,120

Decimals should be kept to one decimal point. See Decimals.

It’s fine to round numbers up or down where needed, as long as we’re not overstating or understating in a misleading way. For example, if you wanted to round the number of cataract surgeries we achieved in a given period and the true number was 31,753, you could write either ‘31,000 surgeries, ‘more than 31,000 surgeries or ‘nearly 32,000 surgeries. Don’t round up to a number we haven’t achieved when talking about Sightsavers work.


OPDs (previously known as DPOs)

Organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs). Choose whether to use ‘people’ or ‘persons’ depending on the specific audience: for general public comms ‘people’ will make more sense and for UN/World Bank/WHO audiences ‘persons’ may be the preferred option.


Use river blindness (onchocerciasis). See also Neglected tropical diseases.

older people

Don’t describe people as ‘old or ‘elderly.

online, not on-line


S, not Z, unless it’s part of an official title, like the World Health Organization.



Paraphrasing (see also Quotes/Speech)

Paraphrasing is acceptable, particularly where speech has been translated into English and there may be room for interpretation. If you make changes, it’s a good idea to get the participant or Sightsavers’ programme staff in the relevant country to approve your updated version to make sure you’re not misrepresenting the person whose speech you’ve amended. Where possible, try to stick as closely as possible to what the person says. Minor edits can be made to a quote so it reads better, but only if this doesn’t change the meaning of what the person says.

Don’t try to write down a person’s accent or quote pidgin English; it’s jarring, can sound patronising and will make your reader cringe. It’s fine to do some minor rewriting for sense, as long as you’re not changing the meaning of what someone is saying. Ideally stick as closely to their words as possible.

So this quote:

  • “Truly da pain is a terrible thing. I ask ma Saviour each day to take me from dis life but he be not for listening. How am I to bear it?”

Would be better like this, and the meaning would stay the same:

  • “The pain is a terrible thing. I ask my Saviour each day to take me from this life but he [is not] listening. How am I to bear it?”


Use all capitals in body copy, for example: ‘You can download a PDF below. Use lower case within links, for example: ‘2017 annual report (pdf).


We work with (not through) partner organisations; Sightsavers doesn’t carry out the work directly. Make sure this is clear in your writing, by wording sentences like this:

  • Working with our partners, we equip schools with the skills to support children with visual impairments.
  • But then she saw an ad for an eye camp funded by Sightsavers.
  • John was able to visit a Sightsavers-supported ophthalmic clinical officer at his local district hospital.
  • We work with partners to train specialist teaching staff.

per cent (two words)

Write out in words in body copy if the term is used sporadically. If it occurs repeatedly, it’s acceptable to use the % symbol.

Use % symbol in tables, heads and social media.


Avoid. Use tablet/medication/treatment instead.

policymakers (but decision-makers)


Practice is the noun, practise is the verb.

Put Us in the Picture

The name of the schools programme run by Sightsavers in Ireland.


The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

Always write in full on first use, after this ‘the Trust’ is fine.

Quotes/speech (see also Paraphrasing)

For direct speech, use double quotation marks. Use inverted commas/single quotation marks for speech within speech.

  • After hearing about the programme, Sylvia went to her parish councillor. “I told him my problem,” she says, “and he said, ‘I will take you the next day.’ When I was there they told me I would learn how to be walking on my own.” 

Single quote marks should be used for paraphrased speech, when referring to a widely-used phrase like ‘leave no one behind’ or when reporting answers from surveys (for example: 26 people answered ‘some difficulty’ or ‘a lot of difficulty’ to the question about daily functioning).

When you are using a full quote which forms a full sentence, the punctuation goes inside the quote marks: “I am looking forward to the surgery. I cannot wait to see my family again,” Asma said.

When using a partial quote that does not form a full sentence on its own, the punctuation goes on the outside of the quote marks: Asma said she “cannot wait to see her family again”.

When you need to edit a quote, you can either use ellipses to indicate that words are omitted:

  • Original sentence
    “I will say education is very important. Actually education for a blind person is the only thing he should wish for – through education you get total liberation.”
  • Edited sentence
    “I will say education is very important… through education you get total liberation.”

Or you can use square brackets to insert words if they’re necessary to give context or help the sentence make sense.

  • “Sometimes the interval between deliveries is so long, that even the few months’ [worth of stock] that is brought will be exhausted before the other supply comes.”

If neither of these is suitable, don’t use a quote – use indirect speech instead to describe what the person is saying:

  • Edward tells us that the interval between deliveries is so long that they’ve often run out of stock before the new supply arrives.



If you’re using a quote or statistic from a website it’s fine to link to the relevant page without needing a full academic reference (unless you’re writing in a research context, in which case full references should be used if appropriate). For example:

  • High temperatures and low rainfall are important factors which influence the occurrence and severity of the active stages of trachoma, according to a new study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
  • There are 885 million people at risk of lymphatic filariasis worldwide*.
    [at the bottom of the text block] *Source: World Health Organization. [link it to the exact page or document containing the statistic, not to a homepage]

If you’re using a full reference, use footnotes within the text and give the full reference at the end of the document, using the formats below.

Journal articles
Author’s surname, Initials (year of publication). Title of the paper, the accepted abbreviated name of the journal, the volume of the journal: the page numbers of the paper.

  • Smith, O et al (2010). MRI scans of the skins of braeburns demonstrate apples are ultramarine, PNAA 132(2):1129-1140.

Author’s surname, Initials (year). Title. Edition (only include this if not the first edition). Place of publication (town or city): Publisher.

  • Baron, DP (2008). Business and the organisation. Chester: Pearson.

Authorship or source (year). ‘Title of web document or webpage’. [type of medium] (date of update if available) Available at: include website address/URL [Accessed date].

  • NHS Evidence (2003). National Library of Guidelines. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2009].

River blindness (onchocerciasis)


Safeguarding (see also Names)

Make sure that all content meets the requirements of Sightsavers safeguarding policy (see section 6 on communications). This includes making sure photo consent has been given, not publishing too much identifying information, and making sure content and images arent used in a misleading way.


Try and avoid using seasons in copy, as this can vary depending on the hemisphere. Put the month, or if unsure, ‘early/late in the year.

screen reader or screenreader (either is fine)



Sightsavers should be referred to as singular: ‘it’, not ‘they’. The exception is when we’re talking about ourselves as an organisation, when it’s fine to use ‘we’ as well as ‘Sightsavers’. Using ‘we’ is more suited to less formal content, such as blogs and fundraising copy, and it may be more appropriate to use ‘Sightsavers’ in more formal writing. 

These examples are all acceptable:

  • Sightsavers wants to eliminate avoidable blindness.
  • We want to eliminate avoidable blindness.
  • Sightsavers is leading the global trachoma mapping project.

But these are not:

  • Sightsavers want to eliminate avoidable blindness.
  • Sightsavers are leading the global trachoma mapping project.

Sightsavers vs Sightsavers’

Because Sightsavers ends in ‘s’, deciding whether you need to use Sightsavers or Sightsavers’ in your sentence can be tricky. To check, try replacing the word Sightsavers with a similar entity that doesn’t end in ‘s’, like Oxfam. In the sentence you’re writing, if you’d say Oxfam’s, then add the apostrophe to Sightsavers. If you wouldn’t, don’t.

  • Find out more about Oxfam’s approach to fundraising.
  • Find out more about Sightsavers’ approach to fundraising.
  • Oxfam wants to eliminate avoidable blindness.
  • Sightsavers wants to eliminate avoidable blindness.

Just to complicate matters, there are some instances where either option would be fine.  In general, if either option is correct, leave off the apostrophe.

sight-saving operation

(Not ‘sightsaving) if you’re talking about an operation that saves sight.


Can be used if theres a strong reason the term is required, but where possible use an alternative like ‘informal urban settlements.


Use only one space between sentences in a paragraph, not two.

Try to make sure that spacing is consistent throughout your page. Images, especially those with captions, shouldn’t be pushed up too closely against headings or body text.

Speech (see Quotes and/or Paraphrasing)


Not Sub-Saharan. See also Countries


The coastal region in India (not Sunderbans; note the two As) .

Sustainable Development Goals




Trachoma starts off as a bacterial infection that can be easily treated with medication. If left untreated,  over time it causes scarring to the eyelid that pulls the eyelashes inward, causing them to scrape against the eye. This advanced form is called trichiasis (see trachoma trichiasis) and can lead to  irreversible blindness.

Please be aware of the difference when writing your copy: people with trachoma can be treated with medication before it becomes advanced. Make sure to clarify that if untreated, it risks causing blindness or requiring surgery. Refer to the surgery as ‘advanced trachoma surgery, ‘trichiasis surgery or ‘TT surgery. Avoid the term ‘blinding trachoma’ as it is only blinding at the late stage when people develop TT.

Trachomatous trichiasis and trachoma trichiasis (TT)

Both are fine to use. In public-facing comms text, best to use the simplified ‘advanced trachoma (known as trichiasis)’ or a variation. Where possible avoid framing TT surgeries as ‘sight-saving’ or ‘sight-restoring’ as this is generally inaccurate – TT surgery can stop the pain, but any visual impairment caused is permanent.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust: see Q


UK aid 

But UK Aid Match


Words with the prefix ‘under-’ are usually one word: underdeveloped, underage, undersigned.

universal health coverage (UHC)



A very overused word, and usually not needed.


Avoid describing people as vulnerable, as it can suggest a lack of agency and feed into negative stereotypes. Be careful where you use the word, particularly in relation to disability.



Always leave off the http:// and begin URLs with www. Our web addresses should always be written lower case, like this:


never or

Hyperlink anchor text on the website should be descriptive. Try to include the name of the site or page you’re linking to, rather than just ‘Click here’.  For example:

Try to avoid: ‘For more information, click here to visit the End Trachoma website.


while (not whilst)


Lower case, as in ‘leave a gift in your will’, not ‘leave a gift in your Will’.

World Health Organization

With a ‘z. On second mention, use ‘WHO as this is clearer when read by screenreaders. Although it can be read as the word ‘who, the organisation is most commonly referred to as an initialism, ‘W-H-O, with each letter being pronounced separately (like the BBC), so when abbreviated it should be written as ‘WHO.

World Report on Vision



Avoid: always use Christmas.


Lower case, with hyphen.


Write 2017, not ‘the year 2017. For a span of years use a hyphen: 2016-17, not 2016/17. Write decades as, for example, 1950s. If you need to abbreviate, use figures but no apostrophe: roaring 20s, swinging 60s, a woman in her 70s, the first day of the 00s.