Style Guide for Writers
A style guide is vital to providing consistency across all projects. Our standards help to ensure QualityGal projects are as high quality as the work done by the clients we help. Knowing this Style Guide will help you write successful projects faster and allow you to earn more money!
The Guide has been broken down into areas where writers benefit from guidance:
- Opening Paragraph
- Keep It Simple, Get to the Point
- American English Conventions
- Preferred Font & Size
- Write in the 3rd Person
- Don’t Refer to the Article
- Use the Active Voice
- Avoid Personal Opinions
Grammar and Punctuation
- A or An?
- Commas & Introductory Clauses
- Colons & Semi-Colons
- Dashes & Hyphens
- Quotation Marks
- Numbers & Numerals
- Titles & Other References
Commonly Confused Words
- -ible or -able?
- Accept or Except?
- Affect or Effect?
- Then or Than?
- That or Which?
- Who or That?
- Who or Whom?
- Who’s or Whose?
- You’re or Your?
- Like or Such As?
Practices to Avoid
- Words & Phrases to Avoid
- Don’t Compose Your Articles in the Writer Panel
- Don’t forget to Proofread: Your Grade Depends On It
If you have a question that is not answered here, please email QualityGal for assistance.
Use a Strong Opening: On the Internet, people skim more than they read. The opening sentences of your first paragraph will decide whether they continue reading. These sentences should establish what the article is about and “hook” the reader. Quotations, hypothetical questions, and other devices that “grab” attention can be used as appropriate.
Give Every Paragraph a Purpose: The first paragraph should tell your reader what your article is about, and the last one should summarize the points you made. In the body of the article, you should focus on one topic at a time based on your opening paragraph.
For example, if one of your opening sentences reads, “Millions of travelers go to Paris every year thanks to its history, restaurants, and shopping,” the body paragraphs should discuss history, restaurants, and shopping in that order.
Make Sure Sentences Flow: Short sentences are better than longer ones, but sentences should not sound choppy or abrupt. One sign of a choppy structure is starting a sentence with words like “however,” “because,” “furthermore,” and “and.” Consider using one of those words to join the sentence with the previous sentence.
It’s Okay to End a Sentence With a Preposition: “What did you step on?” is far more natural than “On what did you step?”
Keep it Simple: Simpler words are better than complex ones. If a word has two or three syllables, there is usually a shorter replacement: for example, “think” instead of “ponder.” Readers are impressed when you communicate what they need to know quickly and easily – fancy wording can get in the way of this goal.
Use American English Conventions: QualityGal clients are in the United States and expect the rules of American English to be used in articles. If you are outside the U.S., become familiar with common differences:
Removal of vowels: “color,” not “colour.”
Word endings: “theater,” not “theatre.”
Preference of z over s: “capitalize,” not “capitalise.”
Font and Size: Use Times New Roman, size 12, unless instructed otherwise.
Consider the Audience: Your article’s tone should always be engaging and informative. Imagine who your potential readers are and what they hope to get out of an article, then write toward those expectations. Instructions for an article will sometimes include special notes on tone. For more on this, see Writer Tips in the Writer Panel.
Don’t Refer to the Article: Readers tend to be more interested in material that engages them personally. Referring to “the article” by using phrases like “this article will examine” disrupts the sense that the text is addressed to the person who reads it. Likewise, to include a list of points, say something like “Here are five reasons …” rather than “The following are five reasons …”
Write in Third Person: Each article is meant to “speak for itself” with high-quality information, rather than rely on the reputation of the writer. Don’t use the words “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” “we,” “our,” or “ours.”
While it is acceptable to use “he”, “she”, “you”, “your”, and “yours” to avoid sounding pretentious, do not address the reader directly with these words if you can avoid it. “He” and “she” are used when referring to a specific person. Otherwise, use “they,” “them,” “one,” “a person,” “those who,” “people,” etc.
Correct: “When a writer sends an invoice, make sure we receive it by Thursday.”
Incorrect: “When you send an invoice, make sure we receive it by Thursday.
Correct: “They can write in the first person when blogging.”
Incorrect: “He or she can write in the first person when blogging.”
Use the Active Voice: The subject should always be come first in a sentence. The subject takes action; the action (verb) is more important than the object that is acted on.
Correct: “The dog barked at the boy.”
Incorrect: “The boy was barked at by the dog.”
Don’t Judge, Cajole, or Condemn: Your audience is expecting you to help them with useful information; if even one line in an article sounds critical, judgmental, or condescending, that trust is lost for good. Avoid expressing personal opinions.
Incorrect: “You may want to try to settle your debts if you’ve been irresponsible with your credit cards.”
Better: “Using your credit cards responsibly and being mindful of your credit limits will help you settle your debts.”
Grammar and Punctuation
A or An? “A” goes before consonants and “an” goes before vowels; however, there are exceptions!
Correct: “A writer claims articles.”
Correct: “QualityGal is an organization with many writers.”
Correct: “The writer’s article is due in an hour.”
Correct: “The article’s title is A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity.”
Acronyms: Spell the phrase out on first reference and put the acronym in parenthesis. If the phrase is not referenced again in the rest of the article, do not include the acronym. If the phrase is commonly understood by its acronym, use the acronym only.
Correct: World Trade Organization (WTO)
Incorrect: United States (U.S.) – just use “U.S.”
Apostrophes: Apostrophes are used to:
- Indicate possession: “That is Jill’s house.” “These are the clients’ articles.”
- Indicate missing letters in a contraction: “can’t,” “won’t,” “don’t.”
Apostrophes are never used to:
- Pluralize a word.
- Indicate possession with the word “it.” The correct possessive form is “its.”
- Change words that are already possessive: “his,” “hers,” “my,” “yours,” “ours.”
Commas and Introductory Clauses: Commas are used before the coordinating conjunctions “and,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” “so.”
Commas separate the unnecessary details from the ones that give a sentence meaning.
Correct: “My stapler, a Swingline, is very heavy.”
Commas are used among adjectives that can be reversed without changing meaning.
Correct: “This educational, resourceful article was exactly what the client wanted.”
Trailing commas, periods, and question marks go inside “quotation marks,” thus.
Always use a comma before the last item in a series.
Correct: “For this class, you will need: pencil, paper, scissors, and crayons.”
Commas are placed around conjunctive adverbs such as: “in addition,” “in other words,” “in conclusion,” “of course,” “also,” “otherwise,” “instead,” “however,” “above all,” “on the other hand,” “therefore,” “for example,” “finally,” “nonetheless.”
Always place a comma after an introductory clause. When in doubt, read the sentence out loud; if you come to a spot where you naturally pause, insert a comma.
Capitalization: The names of organizations should always be capitalized. When using part of an organization’s name as a descriptor (adjective), do not capitalize it.
Correct: “Images may not be reproduced without the consent of Major League Baseball.”
Correct: “He played in 17 major league games before retiring.”
Colons: Colons are used to join two phrases in a way that emphasizes the second one.
Correct: “We are particular with grammar: your grade will reflect your punctuation.”
Colons may also be used to set off a quotation or a list of more than three items. Do not use a semi-colon in either of these situations.
Correct: “The most popular events in the Summer Olympics are: swimming, track, gymnastics, beach volleyball, and diving.”
Correct: The QualityGal documentation says: “Use your Style Guide to help you with assignments.”
Semi-colons: A semi-colon is used to join two separate phrases when the second one reiterates the first or both are equally emphasized. A semi-colon can usually be replaced by a conjunction.
Correct: “It rained all afternoon; we went to the beach anyway.”
Dashes: Use one dash to provide emphasis or two to set off clarification within a phrase.
Correct: “QualityGal wants you to do your best work – proofreading is essential!”
Correct: “When you’re getting used to proofreading – your first five articles or so – be especially careful.”
Hyphens: Hyphens are used to link two words acting as a single adjective before a noun.
Correct: “I love chocolate-covered pretzels.”
Parenthesis: Parentheses are used to provide a greater degree of emphasis than a comma.
Correct: “Once you have completed the test assignment (on time!), return it ASAP.”
Quotation Marks: These are used to express direct quotes – exactly what someone said. They are never used for emphasis.
Spacing: Skip a line between each paragraph by hitting the enter key twice at the end of a paragraph. Do not indent. Use one space between each sentence, not two. Never submit an article as one huge paragraph – it may be returned to you or receive a low grade.
Dates: Dates should be spelled out: “August 24, 2008.”
Correct: “They played the first game of the World Series on September 15, 1978, and the last game four days later.”
If the date appears in the middle of a sentence, place a comma after the year, unless the year is used as an adjective.
Correct: “Jones played in only one game of the 1978 World Series.”
When referring to a specific decade, use an apostrophe only if abbreviating it.
Numbers: Numbers one through ten are spelled out. Above ten, use numerals.
For very large numbers, use the numeral first and then spell out the rest.
Correct: 10 thousand, 5 million, or 13 billion.
If the amount is not a round number, use all numerals:
Do not use numerals as adjectives.
Incorrect: “There are 100s of ways to …”
If clarity is an issue, use a combination of words and numbers.
Correct: “We purchased twelve 10-pound bags of flour.”
Titles: Some titles require special formatting. Here’s a quick reference:
“TV show episodes”
Plays (more than three acts)
Works of Art
Famous vehicles (Titanic, Challenger)
Foreign words and phrases (unless they’ve become accepted as part of English)
Words as words (“The word but should be used instead of however.”)
Commonly Confused Words
-ible or -able?: Root + ible is added when the root is not an entire word.
Correct: Feasible, possible, sensible, visible, audible, credible, edible, eligible, incredible, permissible, compatible, terrible.
Root + able is added when the root is an entire word.
Correct: Understandable, comfortable, predictable, dependable, fashionable, suitable, accountable, acknowledgeable, bleachable, enjoyable, honorable.
Accept or Except? “Accept” means to agree or receive. “Except” denotes exclusion.
Affect or Effect? “Affect” means to influence. As a noun, “effect” is a consequence or result; as a verb, it means to achieve or result in.
Then or Than? “Then” is used to refer to a time other than the present, the next item in a sequence, or describe a logical consequence:
Correct: “She was frugal back then.”
Correct: “After we work hard, then we can play hard.”
Correct: “If one reads the Style Guide, then doing the assignments will be easier.”
“Than” is used for statements comparing one person or thing to another.
Correct: “She is faster than I.”
That or Which?: Use “which” if information the word refers to can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. Use “that” if removing the information changes the meaning of the sentence.
Correct: “Los Angeles, which is located in California, is a very sunny city.”
Correct: “Any assignment that is for a blog is very different from a regular article.”
Who or That?: When referring to a person, use “who.” When referring to a thing, use “that.”
Who or Whom? “Whom” should only be used as a direct or indirect object in a sentence, never as the subject.
Direct object: If the person is the “target” of an action (verb), use “whom.”
Correct: “She’s the one whom we should consider for the job.”
Indirect object: If preceded by “to,” “from,” “with,” “of,” or “about,” use “whom.”
Who’s or Whose?: “Who’s” is a contraction for “who is.” “Whose” indicates possession.
Correct: “The editor is the one who’s going to approve the application.”
Correct: “Whose article needs to be reviewed next?”
You’re or Your? “You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” “Your” is a possessive pronoun.
Correct: You’re using a dull pencil.
Correct: Your pencil needs sharpening.
Like or Such As? “Like” is used to exclude—while “Such As” is used to include.
Correct: When our team has great writers like you, we will provide excellent work to our clients.
Correct: When team members such as Sue or Mary fail to meet deadlines, writers like you can really make a difference.
Practices to Avoid
Don’t Use Clichés: Here are a few words and phrases to avoid.
|basically||you need to||everyone knows that …|
|of late||imperative||when it comes to …|
|obviously||myriad||more often than not …|
|of course||abound||there is no doubt|
|so (at the beginning of a sentence)||hence||rest assured|
|chances are||once in a lifetime||believe it or not|
Don’t Compose in the Writer Panel: Always compose your articles in Microsoft Word or another word processing program. This will let you save your work before you submit it. While we take pride in our Writer Panel, using it to compose your articles means that if anything goes wrong with your computer or Internet connection, you will lose your work!
Don’t Forget to Proofread: Spell check can’t catch mistakes with words that sound the same but are spelled differently, such as “there” versus “their.” It will also fail to notice missing or transposed words. You should always read your article before submitting it.
Consider printing out a copy for proofreading purposes; many writers find it easier to catch mistakes in print. Aim for perfect spelling, grammar, style, and content before you send in your article! This will build your reputation as a skilled and reliable writer.
The article instructions (the bottom section of the article) are a general guide ONLY; the description box (the first area that details the article title, style, number of links, etc.) will always take precedence.