No one likes a smartass… Or should that be a smart arse?

This is my first post for a while as it’s been pretty busy here. One of the things we’ve been working on is a new site that we’ll be launching soon, and as part of that build I was asked to write a style guide for the contributors. As it covered a lot of points that I regularly come across, I thought it worth sharing here.

So here’s some info and tips here that may be of use the next time you are asked to write or style up something. And feel free to share it too.


Spellcheck everything. This means having to read everything you are sent where writers habitually cannot differentiate between their and there, it’s and its, etc.

Remember too that a word such as public will pass a spellcheck, but lose the ‘l’ in public and you get a properly spelled word that you might not want to read here.

So you also need to check for literals too!

If the market is a UK audience, American English spelling is not acceptable, with the exception of commonly used Americanisms such as disk, program, etc.

Never categorize. Or specialize. Or use color.

Use of capital letters

All headlines and text should keep capitals to a minimum. All headers should use an initial capital letter, then lowercase afterwards. The only exceptions are proper names (eg: Jeremy Hunt, India, Coca-Cola etc) and acronyms (eg: BBC).

For clarity: Brown Dog Invades Thames Ditton from Extra-Terrestrial Source

Should be set as: Brown dog invades Thames Ditton from extra-terrestrial source

Grammar and composition

Feel free to edit other people’s poor grammar. Remove or add punctuation as required; add new sentences if it rambles on too long; understand where a semi-colon and a comma can be used.

Use full points (periods) at the end of each sentence with the exception being bullet points which need not have them, especially in things like a recipe. But be consistent!

If you need to use an ellipsis (…) only use three dots…

Never use an ampersand (&) in text unless it is part of a proper name, eg: Marks & Spencer.

Dates should always be Day Month and Year, eg: 12 July 2012 and not 12th July 12, July 12th 2012 or whatever.

First is written first not 1st. The only exception is if it is in a results setting such as:

1st: Joe Bloggs

2nd: Jane Doe

(Firstly is not considered a correct word – use ‘in the first instance’ instead.)

When parentheses (brackets) end a sentence, the full point comes last (as you can see here).

It is perfectly OK to start a sentence with a preposition. And sometimes this can be used to make a point well.

Never abbreviate unless absolutely necessary.

Never use txtspk.

Always write a word in full where you can.

Exceptions are measurements where they follow a numeral. Eg: 10km, £30m, etc. However, if a sentence reads “we walked eight kilometres to the pub” you write it in full. (And I have just edited that last one from the spellcheck that ignored my original version and substituted the US spelling of kilometer rather than Euopean kilometre! QED.)

Numerals one to ten are written in full – numerals from 11 onwards are not. Eg: ‘Nine people accepted but 15 declined.’

Apostrophes must be used correctly and you should know how to!

Its and it’s are easy to work out. If you can replace it’s with it is and the meaning remains, then use the apostrophe.

Eg: It’s nine o’clock can be replaced with It is nine o’clock.

However you cannot replace In it’s time the Morris Marina was seen as groundbreaking with In it is time the Morris Marina was seen as groundbreaking – the second way doesn’t work in any way whatsoever ;>)

And another thing, don’t use smilies.

It’s acceptable to drop the apostrophe when it follows an acronym. Eg: USP’s can be written as USPs.

If an acronym is not particularly familiar to your audience write it in full the first time, eg: content management system (CMS) then use the acronym such as CMS thereafter.

Text styling

Only one space after the end of a sentence, rather than two as here.  See the difference? Subtle I know, but needs to be looked for in every case.

Do a search and replace: in the ‘search for’ boxes type in a double space then in the ‘replace with’ type a single space. Hit ‘find’ and it’ll do the lot in one go.

Use only one paragraph space too.

Use bold and italics to bring out differentiators – eg at the end of an article:
John Smith
Managing Director Smith & Co

Use paragraphs sensibly – if a paragraph is too long break it up into bite-sized chunks.

Generally, try to make the reader’s experience as pleasant as possible. Go for a simple clean layout style, use clear English, double and even triple check your grammar and spelling.

If you think I am a pedant, wait until you get the emails from people who have nothing better to do than correct your work.

Have fun!

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