The Starting Business Style Guide was developed to help staff writers and editors, as well as advertisers, publishers and contributors, create content that is consistent and clear and that aligns with Starting Business’s overall style, quality and tone.
Although freely accessible online, this guide is not intended for public or external use and may not be modified or reproduced in any way without the prior written consent of Starting Business.
The guide includes advice on a variety of topics, including how to write certain words and phrases, how to show numbers and dates, when to use capitals and commas, and how to effectively use keywords. (You don’t have to remember it all; just refer to the guide whenever you need an answer.)
The Starting Business Style Guide is an ongoing project and will continue to grow based on feedback, research and work on other Starting Business products. If we update this guide, we will notify writers and editors in writing whether anything has changed, as well as amend the date and version accordingly.
If you have any questions or suggestions about the guide, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Your article title should be unique, attractive and impactful. It should also:
- Contain the main target keyword (or a variation of it).
- Be between 50-60 characters long for SEO purposes.
- Use title case (i.e. The Quick Brown Fox Jumps over the Lazy White Dog).
It is important that your article is targeted to the website’s intended audience of business owners, business professionals and entrepreneurs. To this end, your article should:
- Cater to audience needs, by providing a solution to a problem, or a unique insight into a particular trend or issue.
- Be written with a global readership in mind.
Voice and Tone
Ensure that, for the most part, your article is written in the active voice, and is in line with the website’s personality and brand. Starting Business’s voice is:
- corporate and business-leaning
It is not:
- overly conversational
- sloppy and inaccurate
In terms of your writing tone, you should cater to the website’s audience, which can generally be classed as educated, intelligent and professional. Unless otherwise stated in your article brief, you should adopt a more serious and expert tone to reflect this. Also:
- Address the reader directly.
- Generally avoid humour. Your goal is to instruct rather than entertain (although this doesn’t mean that you can’t still inject your personality into the article).
- Do not use profanity, unless directly quoting someone.
Your article should be written for an inclusive audience, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, disability or religion.
Content and Structure
When structuring your article, you should consider the following points:
- Your introduction should be compelling and feature a hook to pull readers in. It should briefly summarise what the reader will learn from reading the article, as well as transition smoothly into the main body of the article.
- The body of the article should be broken down into relevant sections and paragraphs that make correct and effective use of headings, images (if relevant), bulleted lists and/or tables.
- All sentences, paragraphs, sections and concepts should transition well.
- The article should contain a conclusion that briefly summarises the main points of the article, as well as an invitation to action (such as leaving a comment, sharing the article or buying a particular product/service).
In terms of depth:
- Your article should always aim to compete with the top 10 Google search results of the main keyword in terms of length and quality.
- Unless specifically stated otherwise in the brief, it should cover the topic as comprehensively as possible.
- The article should meet the minimum length requirements (usually 1,200 words unless otherwise stated).
In order to optimise the readability of the article:
- Sentences should be, for the most part, under 20 words in length.
- Paragraphs should be, for the most part, under five sentences in length.
- The article should be free of redundant words, sentences and even paragraphs
Keywords and SEO
SEO is a hugely important part of online writing. Therefore, you should ensure that apply the following points in regards to keywords:
- The article should feature all relevant keywords as provided in the article brief. The main target keyword(s) should ideally feature in the article’s introduction (or as early on in the article as possible).
- Do not force or “flood” keywords. Keywords – especially long-tail keywords – should fit organically within the text and not look or sound out of place.
- Throughout the article, you should use synonyms and variations of the main keyword to avoid flooding.
When using quotes in your article, ensure you adhere to the following points:
- Quotes should be placed within double quotation marks (except quotes within quotes, which would be placed in single quotation marks).
- Quoted text should be properly attributed to the correct speaker/writer; if possible, provide a source.
- If the quote has been amended for clarity, an ellipsis (…) should be used to account for missing text.
- You should use (sic) to denote an odd or erroneously spelt/used word when quoting an original text.
- Quotes should not exceed more than 5% of the article’s content.
Headings and Subheadings
When formatting your article for submission, use heading levels between H2 and H4 as necessary. As a general rule, your structure should incorporate the following:
- There should be at least two headings in your article.
- The headings should feature relevant descriptive keywords that signify what each section of the article is about.
- Headings should use parallel structure (i.e. each heading is written in the same grammatical form and tense as all the others).
- Headings should not include links.
- They should – on the large majority of occasions – be written in title case.
Originality / Plagiarism
You should avoid replicating ideas (or, worse, entire articles) from other blogs, publications or websites. Focus instead on how you can offer your own insight, opinion or personal touch on the topic, rather than simply recycling what others have said.
At Starting Business, plagiarism is taken very seriously, whether you are reproducing your own previously published work or someone else’s; therefore, all our articles are run through plagiarism detection software as part of the editorial review. Any direct or suspected plagiarism will result in the rejection of your article and, depending on the severity of plagiarism, an official warning or instant dismissal.
Text and Formatting
- Aside from when referencing creative media titles, italics and bolding should be used sparingly, if at all.
- Underlining should not be used (except for hyperlinks).
Your article should ideally contain a minimum of five internal links to other Starting Business articles. When linking, ensure that you adhere to the following:
- Internal links should always point to HTTPS pages.
- Internal links should, in most cases, generally outnumber external links.
- External links should always be relevant to what the article is about and add genuine supplementary value to the reader.
- You should not link directly to files, such as images or PDFs.
- Links should not be duplicated in the article.
- Where possible, links should be limited to two per paragraph.
- Anchor text for your links should be succinct, concise and natural. It should also accurately represent the destination link; avoid using generic non-specific terms, such as “this” or “here”.
Any facts or figures that you provide in your article should be backed up by credible and up-to-date sources (if possible, provide a direct link). If you are unsure of the credibility or validity of a particular source, then avoid using it.
Where possible, you should also cite the primary source rather than the secondary (i.e. the original press release, rather than another news article that cites the press release).
Before you submit your article for editorial review, make sure you proofread it. If an article contains excessive mistakes, the article will be rejected and sent back for revisions, thereby delaying the overall process and creating extra work for you as an author.
Some practical tips for effective proofreading include:
- Using a spell checker.
- Reading the article from the end to the beginning.
- Changing the font.
- Focusing on one section of the article at a time.
- Taking a significant break (at least a couple of hours) between writing the article and proofreading it.
All articles are subject to editorial review before publication on Starting Business.
Articles are typically reviewed within five business days on a first come, first served basis. However, this may take up to 10 days (sometimes more) during busy periods or holidays.
Our editors reserve the right to make any editorial changes to your article as and when they see fit and without prior notice. This includes amending or correcting grammar and spelling errors, faulty sentence structure and formatting issues, as well as adding, editing or removing text, links and media.
Our editors also reserve the right to approve or reject an article for publication at their own discretion. If your article is rejected, you will be provided with an explanation and, if applicable, feedback to make any necessary changes.
All editorial decisions are final. You may, however, appeal a decision if you believe it is not fair. Please email email@example.com describing in detail the reasons for appeal; we will then evaluate your request and make a final decision, revising the previous decision if necessary.
Articles which are approved for publication on Starting Business will be scheduled in our publication queue.
Publication times vary depending on the backlog of articles and may take anywhere between a few hours to several weeks from the date of submission. Articles that address trending topics will generally be given priority in the publication queue.
Please note that we reserve the right to reschedule articles or cancel their publication altogether without prior notice.
All articles published on Starting Business are attributed to the relevant author. You may request to remove your name from a published article at any time. In the event you decide to remove yourself from your article, or if your account is deleted or terminated, authorship will be transferred to the official Starting Business account.
All content produced for and published on Starting Business, including text and images, is the intellectual property of Starting Business.
Upon submission of your article for editorial review, you automatically and wholly transfer ownership rights to Starting Business.
We do not send proofs of edited articles for review or approval prior to their publication on Starting Business. Starting Business assumes complete editorial control.
You automatically lose the right to edit an article once it is submitted for editorial review or it is published on Starting Business.
If you would like to make any additions or corrections to your article at this stage, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a list of changes indicating the paragraph and line number, and describing what needs to be changed.
All requests are subject to approval by the Editor-in-Chief.
We do not delete published articles from Starting Business upon the request of authors. Published articles can only be deleted at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief or in compliance with international law.
Republishing your article, whether in part or as a whole, elsewhere on the internet or in print format is strictly prohibited. You may publish an excerpt of your article on your personal blog or online portfolio, for example, but never in its entirety.
Below are some things to keep in mind if your article was successfully published on Starting Business.
- Engage with your readers. Respond to readers’ questions and comments, both on Starting Business and on Starting Business’s social media pages, and generally try to encourage a discussion with them.
- Consider sharing your article to your own social media pages. This is entirely optional, but it can be a great way to promote yourself, increase traffic to your article and develop a following.
Below is a growing list of useful links and online tools that you may find helpful while planning and writing your article:
Grammar, Spelling and Mechanics
At Starting Business, we use British English for all our content. Of course, there are exceptions, such as when directly quoting text or when referencing a company that uses American English spelling in its name, but on the whole, try to avoid “Americanisms” within your writing.
Here are some key differences between British English and American English that you should be aware of:
- ‘-ise’ (i.e. ‘optimise’, ‘personalise’) rather than ‘-ize’ (‘optimize’, ‘personalize’).
- ‘-yse’ (i.e. ‘analyse’, ‘paralyse’) rather than ‘-yze’ (‘analyze’, ‘paralyze’).
- ‘-our’ (i.e. ‘humour’, ‘labour’) rather than ‘-or’ (‘humor’, ‘labor’).
- ‘-re’ (i.e. ‘centre’, ‘litre’) rather than ‘-er’ (‘center’, ‘liter’).
- ‘-ll’ (i.e. ‘traveller’, ‘fuelled’) rather than ‘-l’ (i.e. ‘traveler’, ‘fueled’).
- ‘-ae’ and ‘-oe’ (i.e. ‘encyclopaedia’, ‘amoeba’) rather than ‘-e’ (‘encyclopedia’, ‘ameba’).
- ‘Programme’ rather than ‘program’.
- In British English, ‘-ce’ is used for nouns (‘licence’, ‘practice’) and ‘-se’ (‘license’, ‘practise’) for verbs. However, there is no distinction between nouns and verbs in American English, and ‘-ce’ is generally used for both.
- The present perfect tense (which is used to describe a past event with present consequences) is more common in British English than it is in American English. For example, in British English, you would say ‘Derek feels sick; he has eaten too much’. In American English, however, you would normally use the past simple tense and say ‘Derek feels sick; he ate too much’.
- In British English, many past simple verbs can end in ‘-ed’ or ‘-t’ such as ‘learned’ or ‘learnt’ and ‘dreamed’ or ‘dreamt’. In American English, ‘-ed’ is the preferred ending.
Specific words that you should be aware of include:
- ‘autumn’, not ‘fall’
- ‘bin’, not ‘trash can’
- ‘flat’, not ‘apartment’
- ‘holiday’, not ‘vacation’
- ‘lift’, not ‘elevator’
- ‘lorry’, not ‘truck’
- ‘mobile phone’, not ‘cell phone’
- ‘mortuary’, not ‘morgue’
- ‘queue’, not ‘line’
- ‘trainers’, not ‘sneakers’
Other tricky words and phrases include:
- ‘consult’, not ‘consult with’
- ‘maths’, not ‘math’
- ‘meet’, not ‘meet with’
- ‘talk to’, not ‘talk with’
- ‘towards’, not ‘toward’
Abbreviations and Acronyms
Abbreviations and acronyms should be spelt out on their first reference, unless they are well known (such as ‘FBI’, ‘CEO’ and ‘HTML’). All subsequent uses should then be abbreviated (i.e. ‘Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)’ on first use and ‘CIMA’ for all subsequent uses). Also:
- Do not use full stops or spaces in abbreviations (i.e. ‘George RR Martin’ rather than ‘George R.R. Martin’).
- Use lowercase when abbreviating phrases (i.e. ‘mph’) but uppercase for names and titles.
- Abbreviations should be pluralised by adding a lowercase ‘S’ with no apostrophe (i.e. ‘CVs’ or ‘HGVs’).
When describing ages or lengths of time, use hyphens in compound adjectives, for example: ‘a five-year-old boy’ or ‘a two-year employment gap’.
When placing an age immediately after a name, sandwich the age between two commas, for example: ‘Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, 49, is the current CEO of the Lego Group’.
You do not need to reference a person’s age unless it’s directly relevant to what you’re writing.
Do not use ampersands (&) unless they’re part of a name (i.e. ‘Marks & Spencer’). Use ‘and’ instead.
Use an apostrophe:
- To indicate possession, for example: ‘Sarah’s desk’, as in the desk belongs to Sarah.
- For singular names and nouns ending in S, add an apostrophe followed by a second S (i.e. ‘Charles’s office’)
- For plural names and nouns ending in S, add only an apostrophe (i.e. ‘the workers’ right to compensation’)
- When it can replace the word ‘of’, for example: ‘three years’ experience in web design’.
Do not use an apostrophe:
- When referring to something that belongs to ‘it’ (i.e. ‘the company plans to expand its presence in Europe’).
- To form the plural of nouns, abbreviations or dates made up of numbers (i.e. ‘buses’, ‘CVs’, ‘1980s’).
Use round brackets to provide extra information, explanations or translations (i.e. ‘Google (which was founded in 1998) currently employs over 73,000 people’).
Use square brackets to add corrections, references and other comments (i.e. ‘Anna added that “the new hires had signed there [sic] contracts today”’).
Use title case for titles, headings and subheadings, where all words are capitalised, with exceptions such as articles, conjunctions and prepositions (i.e. ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps over the Lazy Dog’).
Use sentence case for all other text, where only the first letter of the sentence is capitalised, with exceptions such as abbreviations and proper nouns (i.e. ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’).
Commas are great because they help break up a sentence, but they should be used minimally. Here are some ways in which they can be used:
- After a participial or adverbial phrase (i.e. ‘After accepting the job offer, Mark phoned his wife to tell her the good news’).
- To separate non-essential word groups (i.e. ‘Web design, which has always interested me, is different from web development’).
- After a transitional word or phrase at the start of a sentence (i.e. ‘However, it was too late for that’).
- Between two or more adjectives that describe the same noun (i.e. ‘He is a clever, conniving businessman’).
- To separate an attributive tag from a direct quote (i.e. ‘”I know the name of the new hiring manager”, Henry said. “It’s Jonathan”’). Note that this doesn’t apply to indirect or partial quotation (i.e. ‘He said his performance put him “firmly on the road to a much-deserved promotion”’).
- Before “as well as” if it is part of a non-restrictive clause (i.e. ‘A relevant undergraduate degree, as well as up-to-date knowledge of best SEO practices, is necessary’).
- Before “but” if it joins two independent clauses (i.e. ‘I’m going to invite Melissa to join us for lunch, but I don’t think she can make it’).
- Before “such as” if it introduces a non-restrictive clause (i.e. ‘I like to plan my holidays around three-day weekends, such as Easter’).
Do not use the Oxford comma (a comma before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a sequence of items) unless it helps to prevent ambiguity, i.e.:
- Our new team members’ names are Anthony, Hope and Charlie.
- I ate fish and chips, bread and jam, and ice cream on my lunch break. (The speaker here had three separate meals.)
- Mary left her money to her parents, Mother Teresa, and the pope. (Omitting the final comma here might suggest that Mother Teresa and the pope are Mary’s parents.)
Dashes and Hyphens
Use an en-dash (–):
- To replace commas or round brackets, (i.e. ‘His name – if I remember correctly – is John’).
- To link two parts of a sentence (i.e. ‘Michael needed to go to town – John gave him a lift’).
- To link concepts or a range of numbers (i.e. ‘The salary for the post is £40,000–£45,000’).
Use a hyphen (-):
- In an adjectival phrase before a noun (i.e. ‘an up-to-date list’).
- In an adjectival phrase containing a verb particle (i.e. ‘an ear-splitting shriek’).
- With prefixes before a proper name, number or date (i.e. ‘in mid-September’).
- In numbers which are spelled out (i.e. ‘forty-nine’).
Write dates in the following sequence: day month year (i.e. ‘30 March 1968’). Do not add a suffix after the day (i.e. ‘30th’). Do not abbreviate month names, either; always write them out in full.
Add a lowercase ‘S’ (no apostrophe) at the end of a decade when including the century (i.e. ‘1980s’, ‘1990s’). You should also capitalise the word ‘century’ when referring to a specific century (i.e. ‘the 21st Century’), although this does not apply to generalisations (i.e. ‘by the end of the century’).
Use italics for foreign words and phrases, except those that have been widely integrated into the English language (such as ‘pro bono’ or ‘faux pas’).
Currency figures should be stated in US dollars ($) and formatted as follows:
- 1 cent, 50 cents, etc.
- $1, $50, $500, $1,500, etc.
- $1m, $10bn, $10 trillion, etc.
Decimals should be separated with a full stop rather than a comma (i.e. $1.45m).
- Give people’s full names (i.e. ‘Andrew Fairfield’) on first reference and only their surname on all other references.
- Maintain diacritical marks, such as accents and cedillas, in people’s names (Céline, François, Siôn, etc).
- Use hyphens in double-barrelled names (i.e. ‘Daniel Day-Lewis’). However, do note that some people do not to generally use a hyphen in their name (i.e. ‘Helena Bonham Carter’).
Honours and Titles
Do not use honorifics for actors, artists, authors, convicted criminals, entertainers, journalists, musicians, sportspeople, etc. (i.e. ‘Woods gave an interview to Sports Illustrated’’).
Make sure you address people with formal titles correctly (i.e. ‘Sir Ian McKellen’, ‘Dame Judi Dench’).
Do not include full stops or spaces in initials (i.e. ‘JK Rowling’ rather than ‘J.K. Rowling’).
Companies & Brands
- Spell company and brand names as they do themselves, such as HarperCollins, eBay, FedEx or PwC. If in doubt, consult that company’s official website.
- Avoid using trademarked names when making generalisations. For example, instead of Hoover, use ‘vacuum cleaner’; instead of Kleenex, use ‘tissue’; etc.
- Use the singular form for company and brand names, for example: ‘Apple launched its highly anticipated iPhone X last year’.
- Capitalise the names of countries, cities, continents, etc. (i.e. London, Germany, South America).
- Capitalise names of government agencies, buildings, facilities, etc. (i.e. Houses of Parliament, Central Intelligence Agency).
- On first mention, write out ‘United Kingdom’ and then use ‘UK’ for subsequent mentions. The same rule applies to any other country or federation with a common abbreviation such as ‘European Union’ (‘EU’) and ‘United States’ (‘US’). Do not add full stops in abbreviations.
Some specific points that you should also be aware of are:
- The UK consists of four component countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain refers to the large island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales.
- ‘Ireland’ doesn’t refer to the Republic of Ireland, but to the overall island, which also includes Northern Ireland. If you are referring to the Republic of Ireland, clarify its full title on first reference (you can then use ‘Ireland’ in subsequent references).
- ‘America’ does not refer to the United States of America, but to the geographical region consisting of North, Central and South America. Use ‘US’ or ‘the US’ instead.
- Write out numbers under ten (i.e. ‘one’, ‘four’, ‘nine’), but use digits for 10 and over (i.e. 11, 39, 233) (except if being used in the same sentence (i.e. ‘There are 4 employees in Marketing but 13 in Accounting’)).
- Follow the same rule for ordinal numbers (i.e. ‘eighth’, ‘ninth’, ‘10th’, ‘11th’). Do not superscript ordinal numbers (i.e. 14th).
- Use separating commas for four-figure numbers and above (i.e. 1,225 or 165,000).
- Use the per cent symbol (%) when citing percentages (i.e. ‘The study found that 92% of recruiters use social media to find high-quality candidates’).
- If a percentage begins a sentence, spell out the number followed by ‘per cent’ (two words, not one) (i.e. ‘Ninety-two per cent of recruiters use social media to find high-quality candidates’).
Publications and Creative Works
- Use title case for all publications and creative works, and always maintain their original spelling, whether in British or in American English.
- Italicise titles of books, movies, TV series, plays, works of art, newspapers, magazines, academic journals, video games, collections of poetry, musical albums, etc. (i.e. A Night at the Opera, Wired, the Mona Lisa).
- Do not italicise or capitalise the word ‘the’ if it begins the name of a newspaper or magazine only (this does not apply to other media titles, such as The Departed or The History Boys). There are two exceptions to this rule: The Economist and The Times.
- Use single quotation marks for titles of individual songs, articles, lectures, speeches, poems, TV / radio episodes, essays and book chapters (i.e. ‘The song ‘When the Levee Breaks’, taken from Led Zeppelin IV, is used in the end credits’).
Use a semicolon to link two parts of a sentence together that do not logically depend on each other and which can stand alone as grammatically correct sentences (i.e. ‘The best job is the one you enjoy; the worst job is the one you hate’).
Below is a list of commonly misused or misspelled words to look out for.
- 9 to 5 (noun, for example: ‘working 9 to 5’) / 9-to-5 (adjective, for example: ‘a 9-to-5 job’)
- A-level (capitalised A, hyphenated)
- affect (verb, ie: to influence); effect (noun, ie: a result)
- back up (verb) / backup (noun or adjective)
- complement (ie: to complete or perfect something) / compliment (ie: to praise someone or something)
- cover letter (prefer over ‘covering letter’)
- coworker (not hyphenated)
- CV (avoid using ‘curriculum vitae’ unnecessarily)
- decision making (noun) / decision-making (adjective, ie: ‘decision-making skills’)
- dos and don’ts(no apostrophe before either S)
- eCommerce (do not capitalise the E, even when it begins a sentence)
- email (not hyphenated)
- entry level (noun, for example: ‘start at entry level’) / entry-level (adjective, for example: ‘an entry-level job’)
- follow up (verb, for example: ‘to follow up on my previous email’) / follow-up (noun, for example: ‘a follow-up email’)
- full time (adverb, for example: ‘working full time’) / full-time (adjective, for example: ‘a full-time position’)
- internet (not capitalised)
- irregardless (not a word; replace with ‘regardless’)
- its (ie: belongs to it) / it’s (ie: contraction of ‘it is’)
- job board
- job search
- job seeking
- jobseeker (no space)
- lay off (verb, with space, for example: ‘the company announced it will lay off 200 employees’) / layoff (noun, without space, for example: ‘the company announced 200 layoffs’)
- licence (noun, for example: ‘you need an AAT licence’) / license (verb, for example: ‘the AAT must license you’)
- maths (not ‘math’)
- meet (not ‘meet with’)
- millennial (not capitalised)
- multitask (not hyphenated)
- O-level (capitalised O, hyphenated)
- okay (not ‘OK’ or ‘ok’)
- over time (adverb phrase, ie: gradually) / overtime (noun, ie: extra hours worked)
- part time (adverb, for example: ‘studying part time at university’) / part-time (adjective, for example: ‘a part-time degree’)
- per cent (with space)
- practice (noun, for example: ‘practice makes perfect’) / practise (verb, for example: ‘to practise medicine’)
- pre-employment (hyphenated)
- premier (ie: first in order or importance) / premiere (ie: initial showing or performance of a play, movie, etc)
- principal (ie: first in order of appearance; also, a head of school or other educational institution) / principle (ie: a rule or belief governing one’s behaviour)
- program (used in a computing context) / programme (used for everything else)
- pros and cons (no apostrophes)
- resign (ie: to hand in one’s notice) / re-sign (ie: to sign a document again)
- resume (ie: to continue or to assume again) / résumé (ie: a document outlining a person’s educational and professional experience; the US equivalent of a CV)
- school leaver
- self-employed (hyphenated)
- stationary (ie: to remain still) / stationery (ie: writing materials)
- there (a place) / their (belongs to them) / they’re (ie: they are)
- turn around (verb, for example: ‘to turn around and walk out the door’) / turnaround (adjective, for example: ‘the turnaround time for your order’)
- up to date (adverb, not hyphenated) / up-to-date (adjective, hyphenated)
- work from home (verb phrase, for example: ‘the company allows employees to work from home’) / work-from-home (adjective, for example: ‘the best work-from-home jobs’)
- work shadowing
- work-life balance