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SmallBusiness.com:Manual of style

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Note: The Smallbusiness.com Manual of Style is based on and adapted from the Wikipedia Manual of Style.


The Smallbusiness.com Manual of Style has the simple purpose of making things easy to read by following a consistent format. The following rules do not claim to be the last word. One way is often as good as another, but if everyone does it the same way, SmallBusiness.com will be easier to read and use, not to mention easier to write and edit. In this regard, the following quote from The Chicago Manual of Style deserves notice: "Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity." Clear, informative, and unbiased writing is always more important than presentation and formatting. Writers are not required to follow all or any of these rules.

Entry titles

If possible, make the title the subject (grammar)|subject of the first sentence of the entry (as opposed to putting it in the Predicate (grammar)|predicate). For example, write "This Manual of Style is a style guide" instead of "This style guide is known as the Manual of Style." In any case, the title should appear as early as possible in the entry — preferably in the first sentence.

The first time the title is mentioned in the entry, put it in bold using three apostrophes. Here's an example: '''entry title''' produces entry title. As a general rule, you should not put links in the title, although this may be acceptable with complex titles or verbose leads, such as those concerning multiple concepts.

Follow the normal rules for italics in choosing whether to put part or all of the title in italics.


Use the == (heading) markup for headings, not the ''' (bold) markup. Example:

===This is a heading===

which produces:

This is a heading

If you mark headings this way, a table of contents is automatically generated from the headings in an entry. Sections can be automatically numbered for users with that preference set and words within properly marked headings are given greater weight in searches. Headings also help readers by breaking up the text and outlining the entry.

  • Capitalize the first letter only of the first word and of any proper nouns in a heading, and leave all of the other letters in lower case.
  • Avoid links within headings.
  • Avoid overuse of sub-headings.

Capital letters

Calendar items

The names of months, days, and holidays always begin with a capital letter: June, Monday, Fourth of July.

Seasons start with a capital letter when they are used with another noun or are personified. Here they function as proper nouns: "Winter Solstice"; "Autumn Open House"; "I think Spring is showing her colors"; "Old Man Winter".

However, they do not start with a capital letter when they are used generally: "This summer was very hot."

Directions and regions

Regions that are proper nouns, including widely known expressions such as Southern California, start with a capital letter. Follow the same convention for related forms: a person from the Southern United States is a Southerner.

Directions (north, southwest, etc.) are not proper nouns and do not start with a capital letter. The same is true for their related forms: a road that leads north might be called a northern road, compared to the Great North Road.

If you are not sure whether a region has attained proper-noun status, assume it has not.


Proper names of specific institutions (for example, Harvard University, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, George Brown College, etc.) are proper nouns and should be capitalized.

However, the words for types of institutions (university, college, hospital, high school, etc.) are not capitalized if they are not appearing in a proper name:

Incorrect: The University offers programs in arts and sciences.
Correct: The university offers... or The University of Ottawa offers...


Use the '' (italic) markup. Example:

''This is italic.''

which produces:

This is italic.

Italics are mainly used to emphasize certain words. They are also used in other cases that are mentioned here.


Italics should be used for titles of the following:

  • Books
  • Computer and video games
  • Court cases
  • Foreign language words
  • Periodicals (newspapers, journals, and magazines)
  • Plays

Italics are generally used for titles of longer works. Titles of shorter works, such as the following, should be enclosed in double quotation marks:

  • entrys, essays or papers
  • Chapters of a longer work
  • Episodes of a television series
  • Short poems
  • Short stories

There are a few cases in which the title should be in neither italics nor quotation marks:

  • Scripture
  • Legal or constitutional documents

Words as words

Use italics when writing about words as words, or letters as letters (to indicate the use-mention distinction). For example:

  • The term panning is derived from panorama, a word originally coined in 1787.
  • The most common letter in English is e.


There is normally no need to put quotations in italics unless the material would otherwise call for italics (emphasis, use of non-English words, etc.). It is necessary to indicate whether the italics are used in the original text or were added later. For example:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

(emphasis added).

Note that italicizing text can make it harder for people with visual or cognitive disabilities to read [1]


In most cases, simply follow the usual rules of English punctuation. A few points where Smallbusiness.com may differ from usual usage follow.

Quotation marks

With quotation marks, we split the difference between American and British usage. Though not a rigid rule, we use the "double quotes" for most quotations—they are easier to read on the screen—and use 'single quotes' for nesting quotations, that is, "quotations 'within' quotations".

Note: if a word or phrase appears in an entry with single quotes, such as 'abcd', the Smallbusiness.com searching facility considers the single quotes to be part of the word and will find that word or phrase only if the search string is also within single quotes. (When trying this out with the example mentioned, remember that this entry is in the Smallbusiness.com namespace.) Avoiding this complication is an additional reason to use double quotes, for which the difficulty does not arise. It may even be a reason to use double quotes for quotations within quotations.

When punctuating quoted passages include the mark of punctuation inside the quotation marks only if the sense of the mark of punctuation is part of the quotation. This is the style used in Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, for example. (A fuller treatment of the recommendations given here can be found in Fowler's Modern English Usage and other style guides for these countries, some of which vary in fine details.) "Stop!", for example, has the punctuation inside the quotation marks because the word "stop" is said with emphasis. When using "scare quotes", however, the comma goes outside.

Other examples:

Arthur said the situation was "deplorable". (The full stop (period) is not part of the quotation.)
Arthur said, "The situation is deplorable." (The full sentence is quoted; the period is part of the quotation.)
Arthur said that the situation "was the most deplorable he had seen in years." (Although the full sentence is not quoted, the sense of finality conveyed by the period is part of the quotation.)

Longer quotations may be better rendered in an indented style by starting the first line with a colon or by using <blockquote> </blockquote> notation, which indents both left and right margins. Indented quotations do not need to be marked by quotation marks. Double quotation marks belong at the beginning of each paragraph in a quotation of multiple paragraphs not using indented style, though at the end of only the last paragraph.

Use quotation marks or indentations to distinguish quotations from other text. There is normally no need to put quotations in italics unless the material would otherwise call for italics (emphasis, use of non-English words, etc.).

Use of punctuation in presence of brackets/parentheses

Punctuation goes where it belongs logically; that is, it goes with the text to which it belongs. A sentence wholly inside brackets will have its punctuation inside the brackets. (As shown here, this applies to all punctuation in the sentence.) If a sentence ends with a clause in brackets, the final punctuation stays outside the brackets (as shown here). This applies to square "[ ]" as well as round "( )" brackets (parentheses).

Spaces after the end of a sentence

Use one after the end of a sentence.


In general, formal writing is preferred. Therefore, avoid excessive use of contractions — such as don't, can't, won't, would've, they'd, and so on — unless they occur in a quotation.


The title or subject can almost always be made part of the first sentence, but some entrys simply have names.

Avoid links in the title and circular definitions. However, most words in titles should be linked to.

  • Buddhist meditation, meditation used in the practice of Buddhism, "includes any method of meditation that has Enlightenment as its ultimate aim." (Kamalashila 1996) :'''Buddhist meditation''', meditation used in the practice of Buddhism, "includes any method of meditation that has Enlightenment as its ultimate aim." (Kamalashila 1996)

Lead section

The lead section is the Smallbusiness.com:Section|section before the first headline. It is shown above the table of contents (for pages with more than three headlines). The appropriate lead length depends on the length of the entry, but should be no longer than three paragraphs in any case.

"See also" section

Mostly, topics related to an entry should be included within the text of the entry as free links. The "See also" section provides an additional Smallbusiness.com:Lists|list of internal links as a navigational aid.

If the entry is divided into sections and See also refers to a particular section only, references to related entrys that have not been linked from free links in the text may be placed at the top of the section:

''See also:'' troll, flame

which produces:

See also: troll, flame

The above form may also be used in short entrys without sections.

When the See also refers to the entire entry, not just a section, it should be a heading of level 2 so that it appears in the table of contents. Place it at the bottom of the entry, before External links. For example:

==See also==

which produces:

See also

  • Troll
  • Flame

If you remove a redundant link from the See also section of an entry, it may be an explicit cross reference (see below), so consider making the link in the main text bold instead.

Sometimes it is useful to have an explicit reference in the text, for example, when a long section of text has been moved somewhere else, or there is a major entry on a subtopic. In these cases, make the link bold. For example:

The laws pertaining to incorporation vary from country to country.

Usage and spelling

  • Possessives of singular nouns ending in s may be formed with or without an additional s. Either form is generally acceptable within Smallbusiness.com. However, if either form is much more common for a particular word or phrase, follow that form, such as with Achilles' heel.
  • If a word or phrase is generally regarded as correct, then prefer it to any other word or phrase that might be regarded as incorrect. For example, "other meaning" should be used instead of "alternate meaning" or "alternative meaning", because not all English speakers regard "alternate" and "alternative" as meaning the same. The American Heritage Dictionary "Usage Note" at alternative says: "Alternative should not be confused with alternate." Alternative commonly suggests "non-traditional" or "out-of-the-mainstream" to an American-English speaker. Some traditional usage experts consider alternative to be appropriate only when there are exactly two alternatives.


Entrys with a single picture are encouraged to have that picture at the top of the entry, right-aligned, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Portraits with the head looking to the right should be left-aligned (looking into the entry).

The current image markup language is more or less this:

Image:picture.jpg|120px|right|thumb|Blah blah caption


Photos and other graphics should have captions unless they are "self-captioning" as in reproductions of album or book covers, or when the graphic is an unambiguous depiction of the subject of the entry. For example, in a biography entry, a caption is not needed for a portrait of the subject, pictured alone.


This is perhaps one area where Smallbusiness.comns' flexibility and plurality are an asset, and where one would not wish all pages to look exactly alike. Smallbusiness.com's Smallbusiness.com:Neutral point of view|neutral point of view and Smallbusiness.com:No original research|no original research policies always take precedence. However, here are some non-binding guidelines that may help:

  • Where known, use terminology that subjects use for themselves (self identification). This can mean calling an individual the term they use, or calling a group the term most widely used by that group.
  • Use specific terminology: People from Ethiopia (a country in Africa) should be described as Ethiopian, not African.
  • However, a more general name will often prove to be more neutral or more accurate. For example, a List of African-American composers is acceptable, though a List of composers of African descent may be more useful.
  • If possible, terms used to describe people should be given in such a way that they grammatical modifier|qualify other nouns. Thus, black people, not blacks; gay people, not gays; and so forth.
  • Do not assume that any one term is the most inclusive or accurate.
  • The term Arab refers to people and things of ethnic Arab origin. The term Arabic refers to the Arabic language or writing system (and related concepts). For example: Not all Arab people write or converse in Arabic, but nearly all are familiar with Arabic numerals.

Miscellaneous notes

When all else fails

If this page does not specify which usage is preferred, use other resources, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (from the University of Chicago Press) or Fowler's Modern English Usage|Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition) (from the Oxford University Press).

Even simpler is to look at an entry that you like and open it for editing to see how the writers and editors have put it together. You can then close the window without saving changes if you like, but look around while you are there. Almost every entry can be improved.

Keep markup simple

Use the simplest markup to display information in a useful and comprehensible way. Markup may appear differently in different browsers. Use HTML and CSS markup sparingly and only with good reason. Minimizing markup in entries allows easier editing.

In particular, do not use the CSS float or line-height properties because they break rendering on some browsers when large fonts are used.

Formatting issues

Formatting issues such as font size, blank space and color are issues for the Smallbusiness.com site-wide style sheet and should not be dealt with in entrys except in special cases. If you absolutely must specify a font size, use a relative size i.e. font-size: 80%; not an absolute size, for example, font-size: 4pt. Color coding of information should not be done, but if necessary, try to choose colors that are unambiguous when viewed by a person with color blindness.

Make comments invisible

Avoid highlighting that the entry is incomplete and in need of further work.

Similarly, there is little benefit to the reader in seeing headings and tables without content.

If you want to communicate with other potential editors, make comments invisible to the ordinary entry reader. To do so, enclose the text which you intend to be read only by editors within <!-- and -->.

For example, the following:

hello <!-- This is a comment. --> world

is displayed as:

hello world

So the comment can be seen when viewing the HTML or wiki source.

Avoid self-referential pronouns

SmallBusiness.com entrys cannot be based on one person's opinions or experiences. Thus, "I" can never be used, except, of course, when it appears in a quotation. For similar reasons, avoid the use of "we" and "one", as in: "We/One should note that some critics have argued in favor of the proposal", as it sounds more personal than encyclopedic.

Nevertheless, it might sometimes be appropriate to use "we" or "one" when referring to an experience that anyone, any reader, would be expected to have, such as general perceptual experiences. For example, although it might be best to write, "When most people open their eyes, they see something", it is still legitimate to write, "When we open our eyes, we see something", and it is certaintly better than using the passive voice: "When the eyes are opened, something is seen".


Consider the legibility of what you are writing. Make your entry easy to read on a screen. Make judicious use of devices such as bulleted lists and bolding.