Adhering to certain rules of grammar and mechanics helps us keep our writing clear and consistent. By promoting consistency, you avoid making users reinterpret your words over and over. This section will lay out our house style, which applies to all of our content unless otherwise noted in this guide.
Here are some guiding principles:
Write for all readers. Some people will read every word you write. Others will just skim. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headers and subheaders.
Focus your message. Create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or the most important content, in sentences, paragraphs, sections, and pages.
Be concise. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary modifiers.
Be specific. Avoid vague language. Cut the fluff.
Be consistent. Stick to the copy patterns and style points outlined in this guide.
Abbreviations and acronyms
Please find a comprehensive list of acronyms Locked used at Skylight.
If an acronym is necessary for future reference, spell the full word and follow with the acronym in parentheses on the first reference.
- First use: The General Services Administration (GSA)
- Second use: GSA
If the abbreviation or acronym is well known, like NASA, NAACP, or FBI, use it instead (and don’t worry about spelling it out).
If abbreviating a term that’s possessive, don’t include the possessive s.
The U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) Business Enterprise Systems Product INnovation (BESPIN)
The U.S. Air Force’s (USAF’s) Business Enterprise Systems Product INnovation (BESPIN)
At the writer’s discretion, refer to organizations on second reference with a shortened name instead of an acronym. For example, use Labor in place of Department of Labor, rather than DOL.
Don’t use periods between letters in an acronym (NOC instead of N.O.C.).
Don’t use the abbreviation “etc.” (etcetera) redundantly. If you are starting a list with “for example” (or any of its variations, including “such as,” “e.g.,” and “ex.”), you don’t need to add “etc.” to the end of the sentence.
There are many types of donuts (glazed, powder, chocolate, etc.).
There are many types of donuts (e.g., glazed, powder, chocolate, etc.).
Use active voice. Avoid passive voice.
In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it.
Marti logged into the account.
The account was logged into by Marti.
Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in a passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.
One exception is when you want to specifically emphasize the action over the subject. In some cases, this is fine.
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We use a few different forms of capitalization depending on the context. This includes title case and sentence case.
Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. We use title case only in certain circumstances, such as the main title of a document or a filename.
Skylight Content Guide
Skylight content guide
In general, we use sentence case. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word. This includes headings and subheadings.
About this guide
About this Guide
Other capitalization guidelines:
- Do capitalize proper nouns, including names of individuals, places, and agencies. The main feature of a proper noun is that it names a specific one-of-a-kind item. Use your discretion and context to determine whether to capitalize a word as a proper noun.
- Don’t capitalize “agile,” unless it’s the first word of a sentence.
- Don’t capitalize “open source,” unless it’s the first word of a sentence.
- Don’t capitalize “federal” or “government.”
For more, see the word list.
When writing out an email address or website URL, use all lowercase.
They’re great! At Skylight, we want to create a strong connection with our clients and partners. We want to get them the information they need in a straightforward way and show that we know what’s important to them. For this reason, we use contractions (“you’re” instead of “you are”).
We also encourage clients to consider using contractions, too, though we recognize this may not be the right choice for all contexts. There are times when we might need to modify our voice to sound more formal, but we also recognize that formal doesn’t need to translate to stuffy, archaic, or aloof.
Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. In body copy, spell out numbers one through nine, and use numerals for numbers 10 and greater.
- Nine new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.
- I ate three donuts at Coffee Hour.
- Meg won first place in last year’s Walktober contest.
- We hosted a group of 10th graders who are learning to code.
In titles, subheadings, tables, and interface labels, use numerals instead of spelling out numbers. We do this to promote ease of reading and scannability — in titles and headings, it’s easier for readers to scan numerals than it is for them to scan written-out numbers.
- 10 digital tech leaders you should know now
- 6 ways to incorporate plain-language strategies
Numbers over three digits get commas.
If you’re wrangling a lot of numbers, tables can help you visualize that content. Long paragraphs cluttered with numbers or dates are more difficult to scan than, for example:
|Report type||Dates covered||Due|
|Quarterly (Form 3, 3Z, 3L)||January 1–March 31||April 15|
|April 1–June 30||July 15|
|July 1–September 30||October 15|
|October 1–December 31||January 31|
Generally, spell out the day of the week and the month. Abbreviate only if space is an issue.
- Saturday, January 24
- Sat., Jan. 24
Decimals and fractions
Spell out fractions.
Use decimal points when a number can’t be easily written out as a fraction.
When using numbers to list items, use a single parenthesis.
- This list of scary animals includes: 1) lions; 2) tigers; 3) bears.
When writing about U.S. currency, use the dollar sign before the amount. When referring to amounts of U.S. currency in cents or greater than $1 million, use numerals followed by words.
- $2.7 million
- 5 cents
When writing about other currencies, follow the same symbol-amount format.
Generally, start numbering on the first page. On rare occasions, such as in a formal client report, you may choose to start numbering after the title page.
See the Skylight Document Style Guide Locked for direct guidance on how to style page numbers.
Use the % symbol instead of spelling out “percent.”
Ranges and spans
Use an en dash (–) to indicate a range or span of numbers.
- It takes 20–30 days.
To add an en dash, input
option-[hyphen] on Mac or
alt-[hyphen] on PC. You can also insert it as a special character.
Use dashes without spaces between numbers. Use a country code if your reader is in another country.
Use the degree symbol and the capital F abbreviation for Fahrenheit.
Use numerals and am or pm, with a space in between. Don’t use minutes for on-the-hour time.
- 7 am
- 7:30 pm
Use an en dash between times to indicate a time period.
- 7 am–10:30 pm
Specify time zones when writing about an event or something else people would need to schedule. There’s no need to specify whether it’s Daylight or Standard time. For time zones within the continental United States, use abbreviations.
- Eastern time: ET
- Central time: CT
- Mountain time: MT
- Pacific time: PT
When referring to international time zones, spell them out: Nepal Standard Time, Australian Eastern Time. If a time zone doesn’t have a set name, use its Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) offset.
Abbreviate decades when referring to those within the past 100 years.
- the ‘00s
- the ‘90s
When referring to decades more than 100 years ago, be more specific.
- the 1900s
- the 1890s
Use ampersands only if it’s convention or if it’s part of a company or brand name.
- Company: Ben & Jerry’s, AT&T
- Convention: DE&I, R&D
In all other cases, use “and” instead of an ampersand.
The apostrophe’s most common use is making a word possessive. If the word ends in an s or is plural, just add an apostrophe.
- The donut thief ate Sam’s donut.
- The donut thief ate Chris’ donuts.
Apostrophes can also be used to denote that you’ve dropped some letters from a word, usually for humor or emphasis. This is fine, but do it sparingly.
Use a colon (rather than an ellipsis, em dash, or comma) to offset a list.
Erin ordered three kinds of donuts: glazed, chocolate, and pumpkin.
You can also use a colon to join two related phrases. If a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize the first word.
Erin was faced with a dilemma: She wanted a donut, but she’d just eaten a bagel.
When writing a list, use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma).
David admires his parents, Oprah, and Justin Timberlake.
David admires his parents, Oprah and Justin Timberlake.
Otherwise, use common sense. If you’re unsure, read the sentence out loud. Where you find yourself taking a breath, use a comma.
Use a hyphen (-) to denote a compound adjective that comes before the noun it’s describing.
Heavy metal detector
Hyphens join the relevant words into a single idea (for example, a “heavy-metal detector” detects heavy metals). By contrast, a “heavy metal detector” refers to a metal detector that is heavy.
Usually, a hyphen isn’t necessary for compound adjectives that follow a noun (“high-quality work” vs. “the work is high quality”).
Dashes and hyphens
Use a hyphen (-) without spaces on either side to link words into a single phrase, or to indicate a span or range.
- first-time user
Use an em dash (—) with a space on either side of the dash.
Use a true em dash, not hyphens (- or –).
- We emphasize open, digital record keeping, and — whenever possible — we illuminate our processes.
- Austin thought Brad was the donut thief, but he was wrong — it was Lain.
To add an em dash, input
shift-option-[hyphen] on Mac or
alt-fn-mjij on PC. You can also insert it as a special character on Google Docs.
Ellipses (…) can be used to indicate that you’re trailing off before the end of a thought. Use them sparingly. Don’t use them for emphasis or drama, and don’t use them in titles or headers.
“Where did all those donuts go?” Christy asked. Lain said, “I don’t know…”
Ellipses, in brackets, can also be used to show that you’re omitting words in a quote.
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, […] a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Use exclamation points sparingly, and never more than one at a time. They’re like high-fives: A well-timed one is great, but too many can be annoying.
Exclamation points go inside quotation marks. Like periods and question marks, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
Never use exclamation points in failure messages or alerts. When in doubt, avoid!
Periods go inside quotation marks. They go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
- Christy said, “I ate a donut.”
- I ate a donut (and I ate a bagel, too).
- I ate a donut and a bagel. (The donut was Sam’s.)
Leave a single space between sentences.
Use square brackets to indicate placeholder text. Placeholder text lets us know where new text will be added or modified. We often use placeholder text for templates or work-in-progress documents. You don’t need to highlight the content between the brackets.
Question marks go inside quotation marks if they’re part of the quote. Like periods, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
- Sam asked, “Did you eat my donut?”
- Did Sam say “you can eat my donut”?
Use quotes to refer to words and letters, titles of short works (like articles and poems), and direct quotations.
Periods and commas go within quotation marks. Question marks within quotes follow logic — if the question mark is part of the quotation, it goes within. If you’re asking a question that ends with a quote, it goes outside the quote.
Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.
- Who was it that said, “A fool and his donut are easily parted”?
- Brad said, “A wise man once told me, ‘A fool and his donut are easily parted.’”
Go easy on semicolons. They usually support long, complicated sentences that could easily be simplified. Try an em dash (—) instead, or simply start a new sentence.
While slashes are a handy tool for taking notes and writing rough outlines, in most cases slashes can — and should — be removed from a final draft. Replace a construction like “any man/woman” with “any man or woman” in finished work.
If required in the body of the text, avoid spaces before or after slashes.
In titles, subheadings, tables, and interface labels, add a space before and after the slash. We do this to promote ease of reading and scannability.
People, places, and things
When we reference a source, we credit the author. We try to provide as much context as possible about the author, including their name, job title, and organization.
- Lisa Tepper Bates, Co-chair, Governor’s Task Force
- Captain Lauren Ellis, U.S. Air Force
In contexts where the author may be unknown, (for instance, social media platforms), reference the username and platform where the information was found.
- @usairforce, Twitter
- TheGainsWizard, Reddit
When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase s to make plural.
When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase.
Names and titles
The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.
Capitalize the names of departments and teams (but not the word “team” or “department”).
- Marketing team
- Support department
Sometimes we shorten a team name within the organization. The same rules as above apply.
- Ops team
- Comms team
When you’re referring to an employee and their role or talking to a candidate about what their role would be, use title case (as the role becomes a proper noun).
When generically referring to a role, use sentence case.
We typically only refer to functional categories, such as Research & Design, when talking about job categories and communities of practice. The convention here is to use title case.
- Please welcome Susan James, our Marketing Manager, who starts today.
- We’re looking for a Marketing Manager to join our talented team.
- All the marketing managers ate donuts.
Don’t refer to someone as a “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “wizard” unless they literally are one.
If your subject’s gender is unknown or irrelevant, use “they,” “them,” and “their” as a singular pronoun. Use “he/him/his” and “she/her/her” pronouns as appropriate. Don’t use “one” as a pronoun.
For more on writing about gender, see writing inclusively.
When quoting someone in a blog post or other publication, use the present tense.
“Working with Skylight has been a great experience,” says Jamie Smith.
The first time you mention a school, college, or university in a piece of writing, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.
- Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech
- Georgia State University, GSU
Slang and jargon
Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand.
Avoid using formal or long words when easy or short ones will do.
States, cities, and countries
Spell out all city and state names. Don’t abbreviate city names.
Per AP Style, all cities should be accompanied by their state, with the exception of: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington.
On first mention, write out United States. On subsequent mentions, write U.S. (not US or USA).
Use italics to indicate the title of a long work (like a book, movie, or album) or to emphasize a word.
- Jurassic Park
- Brandon really loves Jurassic Park.
Left-align text, never center or right-align.
Leave one space between sentences, never two.
URLs and websites
Capitalize the names of websites and web publications. Don’t italicize.
Avoid spelling out URLs, but when you need to, leave off the
Use positive language rather than negative language whenever possible. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like “can’t,” “don’t,” etc.
To get a donut, stand in line.
You can’t get a donut if you don’t stand in line.
Writing about Skylight
Our company’s legal entity name is “Skylight Inc.” Our trade name is “Skylight.” Use “Skylight Inc.” only when writing legal documents or contracts. Otherwise, use “Skylight.”
Always capitalize the first “S” and lowercase the “l” in Skylight.
Refer to Skylight as “we,” not “it.”
Writing about other companies
Honor companies’ own names for themselves and their products. Go by what’s used on their official website.
Refer to a company or product as “it” (not “they”).