Skip to main content
Skip table of contents

Tone of voice

Intro: We speak as one

Whether we’re letting a family know their housing rights, inspiring someone to support us or speaking to the
government, we must always speak in one clear voice.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for or need some advice, speak to one of our writers – they’ll give you a hand.


We exist to defend the right to a safe home
and fight the devastating impact the housing
emergency has on people and society.
We do this with campaigns, advice
and support – and we never give up.
We believe that home is everything.

Use this core message on all leaflets and publications – preferably on the back cover.
If space is restricted, you can delete the last two sentences.

Be provocative

Be brave with your words and tell the unvarnished truth.

We say what we believe, we use uncompromising language and we’re not afraid to get under people’s skin – especially those in power – so don't play it safe.

We use our words to make people think about the housing emergency in new ways, to give it meaning and show the reality of the situation.

Use eye-opening language. Instead of hitting people with obvious facts or generic phrases, use your words to paint a picture.

Remember: we’re loud but not ‘shouty’ or aggressive. And we’re never gratuitous.

We are: daring, defiant, challenging
We’re not: bitter, aggressive, exploitative

Do say:

You don’t have to live on the street to be damp, cold and miserable.
Sign our petition to fight unsafe housing conditions today.

Don’t say:

You don’t have to be on the street to live in filthy, disgusting conditions.
Sign our petition to fight criminal housing conditions today.

Be proactive

Write with energy, authority and power. Write to get stuff done.

To get people to take action, we need to inspire and make them feel powerful. Make sure your writing has ‘energy’ and avoid anything that sounds flat and passive.

Make BIG statements that sound inspiring and exciting. Focus on a single message and a call to action.

Always make your reader feel like they’re having a direct impact on the housing emergency, rather than enabling Shelter to fight it.

We are: fearless, decisive, active
We’re not: cautious, neutral, passive

Do say:

Let’s ride
Saddle up for the ultimate cycling challenge. Fight with us to end the housing emergency.
Get involved >

Don’t say:

Cycle to end homelessness
Please join us on our annual fundraising bike ride to raise vital funds for Shelter.
Find out more >

Be protective

Use your words to defend people’s right to a safe home and make them feel strong.

We never use patronising phrases and we never use words like ‘victim’. We need to let people know that we stand with them, not for them.

Try to use language that makes people feel positive and arms them with the knowledge they need to defend themselves and others.

When you write, use invitational words that create a feeling of togetherness. Lift people up – don’t talk down to them, or use phrases that sound paternalistic.

When you talk about our services

Show how we work with people, rather than rescue them. Use encouraging words that take the discussion back to fighting for – and protecting – people’s rights. If someone has a housing problem, we must remind them that they’re powerful, rather than tell them how they’re suffering.

We are: compassionate, inclusive, strong
We’re not: othering, victimising, patronising

Do say:

We don’t stand for you.
We stand with you.
Join us today and protect your right to a home.

Don’t say:

The people on the street.
The people who are sofa-surfing.
The families stuck in bad housing.
We fight for those who can’t.
Join us to lift people out of crisis.

Writing about people

When you write about the people we’re fighting for and alongside, always choose words that recognise their resilience, dignity and strength. And always write with clarity and compassion.

Homelessness and people who are homeless

Write with inclusive language that isn’t ‘othering’. Don’t say ‘homeless person’, say ‘person who is homeless’. Try not to say ‘the homeless’, say ‘people who are homeless’. Occasionally, ‘people who are homeless’ might be too chunky for a headline or subhead. So, if you must say ‘homeless people’, make sure you humanise them in the rest of your language
and your visuals.

Show the reality. Lots of people don’t know there are many ways to be homeless. It’s important that we use our words to show the extent of the problem. Try talking about how ‘homelessness can hide in plain sight’. Or how you ‘don’t need to be on the streets to be damp, cold and miserable.’ It’s all about letting people know that ‘homeless’ might mean sofa-surfing, or living somewhere temporary. The majority of people who are homeless don’t sleep on the streets and we need people to know that.

Learn how we write about domestic abuse and other housing topics in our house style.

Statistics and numbers

A stat is just a number…
…and that’s the problem. Stats can be dehumanising. When you write for Shelter, it’s important to give meaning and emotion to any statistics you use. That’s because, on their own, statistics are often just numbers that our human brains aren’t wired to process in a meaningful, emotional way. At worst, stats can be dehumanising.

Writing about housing and the emergency

There are some key things you need to know when writing about the housing emergency.
For example, the difference between housing rights and human rights. Make sure you
arm yourself with knowledge and read these pages carefully.

What is the housing emergency?

Over the decades, governments have failed to build enough social homes. Without access to safe and secure housing, thousands of families are living in temporary accommodation. Too many others are forced to sleep on the streets and some of them die there.

The shortage of social homes has fuelled the growth of the private rental sector. A lack of regulation means that private renters must navigate a minefield of sky-high rents, poor conditions and the threat of unfair eviction. Too many people are living in poor quality homes that they can barely afford.

They’re often too afraid to complain and feel like they have to put up with bad conditions. And life is made even more difficult by a welfare system that simply doesn’t provide enough support to people when they’re struggling.

This is the housing emergency and this is what we’re up against.

The housing emergency

Be bold and write with honesty. The housing emergency is serious – it causes poverty, illness, even death. In short, it destroys lives. When we talk about the housing emergency, we speak simply and truthfully, even when the facts are uncomfortable.

Explain. Not everyone knows what the housing emergency is. Or what it means for people in the UK. That’s why when we talk about it, we say a few words to explain what it is (wherever possible). Sometimes that means a headline and short subhead, sometimes it means explaining in prose. There’s a lot you can say about the housing emergency, but please don’t cram as many details into your writing as possible. Depending on space and purpose, you only need to touch on what the housing emergency is.

It’s a housing emergency, not a crisis. An emergency is a serious situation that calls for immediate action. Even more important – it’s a situation you can do something about. A crisis might be something you can act on, but it could just as easily be something beyond your control – something that leaves you powerless. We need people to know that together, we can end the housing emergency through urgent action. That’s why we always talk about the housing emergency not the housing crisis.

Related: How we write about domestic abuse.

Learn our house style

Shelter’s style guide explains how to write certain words, phrases and terms that we use a lot at Shelter. There’s also some more general guidance for things like how to write numbers and dates, rules on capital letters and when to use italics.

Visit the style guide

Questions about using our tone of voice or other parts of our brand?

Contact the Shelter marketing team

Read our other content guides

JavaScript errors detected

Please note, these errors can depend on your browser setup.

If this problem persists, please contact our support.