Writing

Grammar and mechanics

Note
For the most part, Sprout adheres to AP Style guidelines. However, there are cases where we deviate. Those instances, as well as some of the most common style rules, are documented on this page.

Abbreviations

Abbreviations should be capitalized, no periods.
Example: 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)
  • Example: New features are released by Sprout often (passive)
    Sprout releases new features often (active)

Ad hoc

We write this as two words, no hyphen.

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.

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 our technical communication guidelines for more comprehensive capitalization direction.

Colons

When using a colon, capitalize the first letter of the following word only if it’s part of a complete sentence. If it’s just a fragment, don’t cap the first letter of the first word.

The only exception to this rule is when you’re writing a title. See title formatting guidelines.

Collective nouns

Words such as brand, organization and company are considered singular and take singular verbs and pronouns. When referring to a collective noun, use, “it” or “its.”

Example:

Correct: The brand has a responsibility to its fans.
Incorrect: The brand has a responsibility to their fans.

However, when referring to a specific group within the collective (for example, a team within the company), use “they” and “their” because you’re referring to specific people.

Example:

Correct: The social media team at XYZ brand is so busy they struggle to find time to be proactive.
Incorrect: The social media team at XYZ brand is so busy it struggles to find time to be proactive.

Commas

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

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

Companywide

According to AP guidelines, we write this as one word, with no hyphen.

Similar examples include: citywide, nationwide, continentwide, statewide, countrywide and worldwide.

Compound modifiers

When a compound modifier—two or more words that express a single concept—precedes a noun, use a hyphen. When it comes after the noun, there’s no need to hyphenate.

Example: “…in a now-viral statement…”
Example: “in the statement which is now viral…”
Example: “These marketers are widely considered best in class.”
Example: “This company is fortunate to employ best-in-class marketers.”

Contractions

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

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

Dates

Include “st, nd, rd and th” when writing a date without a year. (This deviates from AP Style)

Example: The event takes places on September 30th.

When listing a month and date, it’s okay to abbreviate longer months if you have a space/character constraint.

Proper abbreviations: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec.

When listing a month and year, always spell out the month.

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)
Example: “There he was—with a knife!”

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

En dash (for numerals):
Example: 6–7 p.m.

Avoid spaces when using em / en dashes:

Example: Incorrect: She traveled to each location — all 32 of them — within a two-day period. Example: 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 (or header) is the line of copy at the top of a piece of communication, used to draw the reader in. Headlines should be sentence case.

Examples:

  • headers on a webpage
    • Example: Build and grow stronger relationships on social (Sprout homepage)
  • headers at the top of a slide (not the title slide)
  • newspaper articles (the format we model for Adapt), etc.

A title is the proper noun name of something. Titles should be title case.

Examples:

  • books
  • movies
  • publications
  • presentations
  • events
    • Example: Sprout Agency Workshop: Rise and Grind
  • webinars
  • talks/sessions

Think of it in terms of hierarchy: A title is the name of the larger initiative/project, then headlines fall within it.

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.
Example: re-enactment.

Job titles

When referring to a specific person’s full, professional job title, capitalize it.

Example: Justyn Howard, Sprout Founder & CEO. Example: As Chief Marketing Officer at Sprout, Jamie Gilpin wears many hats.

When not referring to an individual specifically, the job title should be lowercase.

Example: Sprout has four co-founders. Example: Hiring managers need to know what characteristics to look for in a chief marketing officer.

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)

Possessives

Sprout deviates from AP guidelines here for simplicity’s sake. If a singular or plural noun ends in “s,” just add an apostrophe.

Example: It’s the business’ responsibility to account for those losses.
Example: The marketers’ questions were difficult to answer all at once.

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

(Note: Guidelines for time differ between Marketing and Product. Marketing follows AP formatting across the board, whereas Product removes the periods due to certain limitations in the app).

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.

Title formatting

Titles should be written in title case. Never use a period at the end of a title. The only ending punctuation allowed at the end of a title is a question mark following a question.

When a title is split up by a colon, be sure the first word after the colon is capitalized (it should be anyway if using proper title formatting).

What is a title?

  1. At Sprout, we consider a title the project’s name, usually on the cover, front page, first screen, etc.

Examples:

  • webinars
  • talks/sessions
  • reports
  • toolkits
  • presentations
  • guides
  • events
    • Example: Sprout Agency Workshop: Rise and Grind

We also title case titles of proper nouns like:

  • books
  • movies
  • publications

A headline (or header) is the line of copy at the top of a piece of communication, used to draw the reader in. Headlines should be sentence case.

Examples:

  • headers on a webpage
    • Example: Build and grow stronger relationships on social (Sprout homepage)
  • headers at the top of a slide (not the title slide)
  • newspaper articles (the format we model for Adapt), etc.

Think of it in terms of hierarchy: A title is the name of the larger initiative/project, then headlines fall within it.

Toward

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

Vs.

Gets a period (not vs)