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Writing for ZSFG

The ZSFG Brand Voice

We want to try to keep the voice of ZSFG consistent across all points of communication to be the expression of our brand strategy, “The best in us.” To that end, please use the below as guidelines.


The ZSFG Brand Attributes:



The ZSFG Brand Traits:

Character—Caring, Helpful, friendly
Language—Inclusive, simple, jargon-free
Tone—Confident, informal, direct
Purpose—Educate, inform, enable

The ZSFG Voice in Action

Brand Trait
Caring, Helpful, Friendly

We put the well being of our patients first and foremost

Speak in the patient’s language.

Take the patient’s viewpoint.

Don’t use medical jargon.


Everybody is welcome, regardless of their ability to pay.

Your doctor or healthcare provider may recommend that you have a test so they can best care for you.


Brand Trait
Inclusive, Simple, Jargon-free

We welcome everyone no matter their situation or circumstance.

Use simple, clear language at a 4th-grade level.

Don’t elevate complexity.

Don’t use formal, distancing labels.

Use “we” instead of “Zuckerberg San Francisco General.”


Brand Trait
Confident, Informal, Direct

We are at the top of our profession and we know our stuff.

Be informal, yet authoritative.

Use strong, active verbs.

Don’t use passive voice or jargon.

Don’t shy away from tooting our horn.

Our birth center is the safest place to have a baby in California.

We have world-renowned experts in cancer on our staff who treat our cancer patients as more than statistics and numbers. We combine primary care with coordinated clinical care specialties, family and patient support, and help with healthy living strategies.


Brand Trait
Educate, Inform, Enable

We strive to meet our patients where they are.

Speak plainly.

Break down complex ideas into smaller pieces.

Don’t talk above people.

Use “Heart Conditions” instead of “Cardiology.”

3,900 adults and children are treated for traumatic injuries annually.

Let’s Be Consistent With Our Styles

This is meant to be a living document that grows over time. Please add topics so we can all follow the same guidelines.

  • Keep it Simple

    Speak to the user in simple, “lay” language. Avoid technical words and medical condition names. Try to use more everyday language.


    EXAMPLE: Say “cancer” rather than “oncology.”

    Write to a fourth-grade literacy level.

    Avoid complex sentence structures with multiple phrases.

    Keep sentences as short as possible without text sounding too choppy.

  • Asset-based Language

    We try to use language that identifies a health issue rather than making the person the problem.


    Say: Having a Substance Use Disorder
    NOT: Being a Drug Addict


    Say: TBD
    NOT: Homeless


    Say: Community-based Care
    NOT: TBD


    Say: Mental illness
    NOT: TBD


    Say: Vulnerable communities
    NOT: Poor or identified only by race, ethnicity, or other demographic info


    Say: Underserved population
    NOT: Poor or identified only by race, ethnicity, or other demographic info

  • Serial Commas

    We use serial (or Oxford commas) with a comma before the “and.”

    EXAMPLE: We say red, white, and blue.

  • Title Case

    We put headlines and short descriptors in title case and capitalize all the words.

    So it Looks Like This Where Everything is Capitalized Except for the Little Words.

  • We Talk About Ourselves In The First Person

    We refer to ourselves as “us,” “our,” and “we” whenever possible.

  • Pesky Numbers

    Spell out zero to nine. After that, go roman for 10 and above.

    EXAMPLE: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, etc.

  • Abbreviations

    Try to avoid abbreviations to keep things as clear as possible. Or spell out the word in the first usage followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Then use the appropriate abbreviation in subsequent mentions.


    Here is a list of some more common abbreviations.


    PhD, MD
    Use without the periods (not Ph.D. or M.D.) And say the person’s name followed by PhD, MD.

    EXAMPLE: John Doe, MD


    Use the full name of the hospital on the first use—Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center or Zuckerberg San Francisco General (ZSFG). Do not include only “hospital” without “and Trauma Center.”

    DON’T USE:
    Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital
    Zuckerberg Hospital
    Zuckerberg SF General


    Spell out “and”

    Use “and” whenever possible instead of an ampersand (&). Ampersands should primarily be reserved for social posts with limited character counts.

  • Hospital

    Capitalize “Hospital” when it is being used to denote ZSFG without the use of its acronym.

  • Healthcare vs Health Care

    Health care refers to the specific things that people do as part of wellness: see a patient or prescribe medication.


    Healthcare is an industry, the system by which people get the health care they need.


    EXAMPLE: The healthcare industry provides health care to people.

  • Dashes And Hyphens

    A hyphen is used when hyphenating a word for a line break or when creating a compound adjective.


    This sentence was too long and the word needed to be hyphen-
    ated to break onto two lines.

    It was a data-driven project.


    An em dash is used to set off a word or phrase in a sentence and can take the place of commas or parentheses for more emphasis. It can also be used in place of a colon as colons are more formal.


    Upon discovering the errors⁠—all 124 of them⁠—the publisher immediately recalled the books.

    After months of deliberation, the jurors reached a unanimous verdict⁠—guilty.


    The em dash is used with no extra spaces on either side of it.


    The em dash will be substituted by some programs when you type two hyphens. On a mac, you can force an em dash with OPT+SHFT+Hyphen. Google docs do not automatically create an em dash from typing a double hyphen. MS Word does.