Writing Content and Style Guides


Before you begin writing, make sure you understand your audience. Are you writing for students? Researchers? The community? Make sure you visit the Before You Create page before you begin writing. If you have any questions or don’t quite know where to begin, please contact CTSI Communications. We are happy to provide strategic assistance, tools and templates; and walk you through our online resources.

Communicating the value of CTSI services

We often begin drafting content by describing what a program or service is instead of what problem it solves for the user. When you are writing content, focus on the “value proposition” to the reader. Think about the WHY: Why should someone use this service? Will it save them time and resources? What’s in it for them?

Below are some examples of CTSI programs and services that have taken this approach. While these come from the website, you can also find the same examples in flyers, emails and other communications. Once you have drafted messaging, reuse it for consistency and simplicity.

Value Proposition: Hook your audience from the start!

The Translational Drug Development Core identifies a value proposition right off the bat:

  • “Promising compounds need assistance moving from the lab toward clinical trials, which generate the in vivo data needed for continued federal funding and licensing. We provide services and expertise in bioanalytical drug metabolism and preclinical pharmacokinetics in order to help faculty bridge this gap. With solid data, researchers can meet the short timelines from provisional to full patent to licensing, enhance federal funding, and accelerate the transformation of new therapeutic interventions for the treatment and prevention of diseases.”

This works better than beginning with a description of what the program is, such as “The Translational Drug Development Core was founded in X year with a mission of serving investigators …”. If needed, mission and audience information can come at the end of the page. Speak to the reader’s interest immediately, explaining how you can help them rather than simply telling them what you do.

You can also incorporate a value proposition into event announcements, course descriptions and other communications. Even a short email newsletter item like this Design Studio announcement (scroll down in linked page) becomes more effective by targeting the user’s interest:

  • “Need assistance with the analysis of pilot data for your grant submission? We can help! CTSI Design Studios feature a short presentation, followed by small group discussions focused on attendees’ specific study designs. Reserve your spot; space is limited.”


You can expand upon the value proposition with a list of benefits to the user. In its list of software features, REDCap does this well: It describes its features as benefits to the user.

  • “Fast and flexible”
  • “Build online surveys and databases quickly and securely”
  • “Export data to common data analysis packages”

The technical aspects of how the software delivers speed and function matter less to the user than the fact that it will save them time and allow them to use, for example, the data analysis packages that they already have.


You’ve identified a value proposition and benefits to the user; now, driving the point home, you can actually quote users who have benefited from your service. This lends third-party credibility to your content. Some programs and services that have featured testimonials include Healthstreet, the Recruitment Center, and the Citizen Scientist Program.

You can use a pre-formatted quotation box within WordPress template online, and extend this idea to print materials by highlighting testimonials as “pull quotes”. In general, quotes should be “brilliant bursts of light” of two sentences or so that illuminate the concept you are writing about.

Having a photo of the person giving the testimonial makes the content even more compelling, as does a video, but those do require more resources, and a simple text testimonial is a great start.

Always make sure you have permission from the person giving the testimonial, in writing! Testimonials, like all communications, should not include sensitive information or protected health information.

Call to action

You’ve communicated the value of your service to readers. Now what do you want them to do? Make sure you explicitly ask them to take this action. This is called a “call to action”. Should they register for the event? Add it to their calendar? Schedule a consultation? Provide the information they need to take this step; otherwise, you could lose potential event attendees or customers. On a website, this could be a “call to action” button; in a flyer, an email address or website where they can initiate scheduling or registration.

Writing About an Event

You can also take the value proposition approach to events. Why would someone want to attend your seminar or open house? What benefit would they gain?

Depending on how you plan to promote your event, different channels may need the basic information in different formats. However, in general, you should include the same Who, What, Where, When, Why elements in your event announcement, whether it’s for the web, email or a paper flyer. Double check these details for accuracy. If you release incorrect information about the date, time or location of an event, you will need to correct it, and too many such emails lead to reader fatigue and unsubscribes.

  • Why: This is the value proposition, best stated in an intro sentence.
  • Who: Name of the speaker, credentials, link to a bio (for digital formats), title, institution.
  • What: Title of seminar
  • When: Time, day of the week and date
  • Where: Room number, building name, address (if off campus or needed)

Are you hosting an event at which you will serve food? That is a big motivator for attendance across audiences. Mention food in a savvy way, for example, “Lunch provided. Register by X date for catering purposes”, so you’ll have the information you need for planning and, if you advertised the event widely, you won’t be inundated by attendees seeking a free meal who are not in your target audience.

Remember to include a call to action (see previous section), such as event registration or adding a calendar item.


Should you use “more than” or “over” $5 million? Is the CTSI a “their” or an “its”? Style guides can help you decide.

In general, use Associated Press style when writing. In a rush? Try a “control-f” search of these pages:

Not sure what style to use? Getting mixed results from a Google search? The important thing is to be consistent. Just make sure to say it the same way every time. And yes, institutions are singular: Use “its,” not “their” with “The CTSI”; and use “more than” instead of “over” for most numbers.

If you have a question or a recurring style issue, please contact the CTSI Communications team , and we’ll develop a list to post here for all to use. Remember, others likely have the same question and could benefit from common guidelines. You are not alone!

  • Hyphenate compound modifiers (“She is a full-time employee” but not “She works full time”).
  • Use PhD and MD instead of Ph.D. and M.D. (no periods)
  • Use “flyer” not “flier” when describing promotional materials
  • Look for a better, shorter word if you’re falling back on jargon common to our field. Please send the Communications team common jargon and words that we can list here as we add to this section.
    • Most disease names are lowercase (like chikungunya), but some, such as those named for a region (Zika virus) or a person (Alzheimer’s disease), are capitalized. Read more about disease-name styles here.

Are you writing a press release? Check out the NIH guidelines for crafting a science news release here.