Writing

Grammar and mechanics

Abbreviations

Abbreviations should be capitalized, no periods.
Ex: United States = US (not U.S.)

Active voice

Aim to use active voice as much as possible – passive voice creates unnecessary complexity.

  • Subject (person/thing acting) verb (the action) object (receives the action)
  • Ex: New features are released by Sprout often (passive)
    Sprout releases new features often (active)

Ampersands

Use an ampersand (&) symbol as a shorthand for “and” in headlines and sub-headers only. Never use an ampersand in body copy unless it’s part of a formal company name.

AP style

For any issue not specifically addressed here, let’s stick to AP Style.

Even though it’s sold as a guide for reporters, it’s become the leading reference for most forms of public-facing corporate communication.

General overviews are available online, but if you’ve got a specific question it can most likely be answered with a quick Google search.

Bulleted lists

Add periods if the bullets are sentences. No periods if they’re fragments or a list of words.

Capitalize the first letter of the first word regardless.

Capitalization

Capitalize all navigation elements and product attributes—no quotes. Refer to the capitalization guide for further direction.

Colons

Capitalize the first letter of the words after if it’s a sentence. If it’s just a word or fragment, do not cap the first letter of the first word.

Commas

Omit unnecessary commas as much as possible. Don’t use oxford commas.

Ex: “apples, oranges and bananas.”
Ex: “He likes that too.”
Ex: “They like the idea but don’t want to pursue it just yet” (no comma before “but” unless the clause that follows is independent).

Contractions

Contractions are more conversational. Read your sentence out loud to determine whether or not you’d use the contraction in your everyday speech.

Ex: you almost never say can not vs can’t in casual conversation.

Ellipses

No space on either side, e.g., “The best thing is…to get to the point.”

Em dashes/en dashes

Em dash (for emphasis or clarity)
Ex: “There he was—with a knife!”

Also use for quotes, but break to the next line.
Ex: “Four score and seven years ago.”
—Abraham Lincoln, President, United States

En dash (for numerals):
Ex: 6–7 p.m.

Avoid spaces when using em / en dashes:

Ex: Incorrect: She traveled to each location — all 32 of them — within a two-day period. Ex: Correct: She traveled to each location—all 32 of them—within a two-day period.

Headline formatting

Write headlines and subheads in sentence case to make them feel more human and personal.

Never use a period at the end of a headline. The only ending punctuation allowed on a headline is a question mark following a question, or an ellipsis if breaking up a sentence.

Commas, em dashes or semi-colons can occur within a headline, but consider revising as shorter phrases will grab attention.

Note: A headline is not necessarily a title. What is a headline?

  • Heading of an article
  • Heading of a webpage
  • Section header in a guide
  • Heading on a slide, i.e. when there is copy underneath

What is NOT a headline?

  • Titles, e.g. of books, magazines, talks or charts. These should be styled with title case.
  • Complete sentence(s) in the center of a slide, i.e. no copy underneath. These should end with a period (or question mark in the case of a question).

However/additionally/in addition/moreover

Keep these inflated terms to a minimum. Ask yourself: Could we just say “but” or “also” instead?

Hyphens

Use when it provides clarity in a compound modifier; do not use for most compound nouns.

Avoid in prefixes as much as possible, unless the prefix and root word have the same mashed letter.
Ex: re-enactment.

Job titles

Capitalize job titles only when attached to proper nouns/names.
Ex: Justyn Howard, Sprout Founder & CEO.

Job titles without a proper noun attached should be lowercase.
Ex: Sprout has four co-founders.
Ex: Hiring managers need to know what characteristics to look for in a chief marketing officer.

-ly modifiers

Don’t hyphenate. Ex: digitally driven brands

Number one

Never use No. 1. Use #1 in headlines, web pages and presentation slides where brevity is desired. In body copy, spell it out: “number one.”

Numbers

Always use numerals in headlines and headers.

In body copy, use numerals for numbers greater than 10 and spell out numbers less than 10 (nine, etc.)

Percent

% (not percent)

Quotations

Periods and commas go inside quotations.

Exclamation points, question marks, semicolons go outside—unless the exclamation happens to be part of the title.

Use for books, articles, lectures, webinars, songs, etc.

Said vs. says

Use the past tense verb “said” when attributing a direct quote taken from an event, panel or another specific moment in time.

Examples:

Context given in the sentence:
“At the most recent Sprout Social Agency Partner Summit, Chandler said of her interagency team, “We try to be very clear about what we want each partner to lead with and how they compliment each other.”

Context given in the article:

Use the present tense verb “says” when attributing a direct quote taken from an interview. In this context, “says” functions almost like “thinks.”

Examples:

“This gives our team the chance to get to know one another on a personal level and take initiative with creating and building their own culture within the organization,” says Hubstaff’s Jared Brown.
sproutsocial.com/adapt/employer-brand

“There are over 500 million entrepreneurs, decision makers and professionals on LinkedIn. While we are business oriented, as humans we crave sincere and engaging content that is human,” Nguyen says.
sproutsocial.com/adapt/marketing-leaders

Keep it simple. Don’t use “elucidated,” “explained” or “insisted” no matter the context.

Singular vs. plural

Individual companies, such as HubSpot or Twitter, as well as nouns like “company,” “brand,” “business” or “team” are singular. Refer to all of these words with the pronoun “it” or “its” (possessive).

When referring to the plural “companies,” “brands” or “businesses,” use the pronouns “they,” “them,” “their” or “theirs.”

Subject lines

Email subject lines should be written in sentence case to feel more human and personable and to align with our headline formatting guidelines.

Times

4–5 p.m. CST (note the periods in a.m./p.m.; note the space after the numeral) 4 a.m.–6 p.m. CST (note the en dash between numerals)

Time/date/month

“The event will be at 6 p.m. CST, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2015, weather permitting.”

Note: Comma after years. Abbreviate months with a date (except for March, April, May, June, July, per AP). Always spell out if listed with just a year.

Toward

Toward never ends in an s. Same for forward, backward, upward, downward, etc.

Vs.

Gets a period (not vs)