Style and punctuation
The basics of how we write at Culture Amp
There are two kinds of construction in English: active and passive. We use active voice at Culture Amp. Not only does it help to simplify sentences, it can also help you shorten your writing and make it less convoluted.
Active sentences have an actor, an action, and a thing that receives the action. Here’s a simple example:
The cat (actor) sat (action) on the mat (thing receiving the action).
Passive sentences demote the actor (or remove them entirely) to prioritize either the action, or the thing that’s receiving action. For example:
The mat (thing receiving the action) was sat on (action) [by the cat](actor).
Let’s take a look at another example that’s in passive voice:
The employee survey was taken by over 400 employees at the company.
To fix it, we can rearrange the sentence so that the actor (400 employees) comes before the action and the thing receiving the action:
Over 400 employees at the company took the employee survey.
Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in passive voice, though not always. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.
Distinguishing between active and passive can often be very confusing, so make sure you ask a content strategist if you’re in doubt.
We use American spelling across the Culture Amp platform including in transactional emails, Intercom messages and the Academy. There are a few exceptions, but those mostly apply to marketing communications in different regions and personal communications to customers/users. Here are some common misspellings that apply to our platform:
- Organization (not organisation)
- Analyze (not analyse)
- Favor (not favour)
- Color (not colour)
- Enterprise (not enterprize)
- Favorite (not favourite)
- Enroll (not enrol)
- Behavior (not behaviour)
Set the autocorrect and spell check functions of your laptop to US English in your design and writing apps. If you’re unsure of which spelling to use for what you’re writing, ask a content writer at Culture Amp. You can also consult Merriam Webster (the first spelling displayed on the site is the dominant American English form) or Lexico to further understand regionalization of words.
An ampersand is included in some product feature names, and must be included in them every time, in every instance.
Otherwise, don’t use ampersands in sentences, nor in titles or labels or other text.
As a general rule, we don’t use bold text for emphasis or to draw a user’s attention. If you think you need to make a particular word or phrase bold in your writing, consider rephrasing your sentence to highlight the part you want to draw attention to. For example:
Do: Our inspirations help you take effective action on your survey results.
Don’t: You can take action on your survey results using inspirations.
Culture Amp’s general product style is sentence case. This means the first word in a sentence and proper nouns are capitalized (like names of people, places and businesses). All other words are lowercase.
We consider brand names, product names, and a few selected features to be proper nouns. Therefore, they have all words in the name capitalized. Here’s a list of agreed on proper nouns (always capitalized):
- Culture Amp
- Culture First
- Engagement (in reference to the product)
- Performance (in reference to the product)
- Skills Coach
Making a name a proper noun is determined by the nature of the name, how it’ll be marketed, and how distinct it is from the rest of the product.
All other features are treated as common nouns: their names are lowercase unless it’s the first word in a sentence or label. Examples of features that are common nouns:
- survey templates
- group spotlight
- turnover calculator
- action plans
- focus agent
- performance reviews
- manager-requested feedback
|Brand names||Proper noun: capitalize all words in name|
|Product names||Proper noun: capitalize all words in name|
|Uniquely named feature|
(proprietary to Culture Amp and marketable in its own right - see list above)
|Proper noun: capitalize all words in name|
|General feature names|
(generic and/or not unique to Culture Amp)
|Common noun: lowercase unless it’s the first word in a sentence or label|
|Navigation menus||First word is capitalized and the rest are lowercase (unless a term is a proper noun)|
Unique feature names are proper nouns which have all words capitalized
|Page titles||First word is capitalized and the rest are lowercase (unless a term is a proper noun)|
|Product objects||Lowercase unless it’s the first word in a sentence or label|
|Concepts||Lowercase unless it’s the first word in a sentence or label|
|User-generated labels||Their choice of capitalization|
|Kaizen components||Generally, sentence case but follow content guidelines for each component|
|Job titles or roles||Lowercase unless it’s the first word in a sentence or label|
Culture Amp uses American English date formatting.
Consider what customers need in each specific context. Do your dates need to be short and scannable or long and thorough? The short format is easy to scan and typically used for columns or other places with limited space. The long date format is used in longer form description and body text.
|Short format||Long format|
|Jan 2, 2020||January 2, 2020|
To avoid confusion we always show months alphabetically. e.g. Feb 3, 2020 rather than 02/03/20.
- The year is the full 4 digits. e.g. ‘1984’, ‘2020’
- The short format month is the first 3 characters. Starting with a capital letter then lower case e.g. Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr
- The long format month is the month spelled out in full. e.g. January, February, March
- The day of the month is 1 or 2 digits without a preceding zero on single days e.g. Feb 2 not Feb 02
- Data imports are an exception: the day of the month is always 2 digits with a preceding zero on single days e.g. 02
- Do not use ordinal indicators (as seen in superscripts) like “th,” “nd,” or “st.”
A period or date range can be any length from one date to another date. For brevity and ease of reading, we reduce needless repetition. If the start and end dates share the same month or year then the repetition is omitted. Likewise, if the period covered is a complete month or year only the month or year needs to be shown.
- Ranges between digits are separated by an endash without spaces.
- Ranges between words and digits are separated by an endash without spaces.
|Short format||Long format|
|Custom Period (over a year)||Jan 2, 2012 – Dec 20, 2020||January 2, 2012 – December 20, 2020|
|Custom period (within a year)||Jan 2 – Dec 20, 2020||January 2 – December 20, 2020|
|Custom period (within a month)||Dec 1–12, 2020||December 1–12, 2020|
|Year (calendar year)||Jan – Dec 2020||January – December 2020|
|Quarter (financial year ending Dec)||Sep – Dec 2020||September – December 2020|
|Month||Dec 2020||December 2020|
Sometimes it’s more useful to show how much time has passed since a date rather than the specific date or time. The time since format makes it easier to get a sense of how much time has passed since an edit was made.
|Time since event||Format||Example|
|Under 1 minutes||Just now|
|Under 60 minutes||12 minutes ago|
|60 minutes to 24 hours||3 hours ago|
|24 hours to 5 days||1 day ago|
|Over 5 days||Jan 1, 2020|
Saying how long ago something happened can obscure the exact date and time of an edit. Whenever the ‘[x] time ago’ format is used the exact date and time should be made available as a default browser tooltip.
|Mar 26, 2020 at 10:54am|
e.g. is an abbreviation of the latin phrase exempli gratia meaning “for the sake of example.” We recommend against using it in the platform. Instead use “for example” or “like.”
Do: You can splice your results using demographics, for example, age, gender and geography.
Don’t: You can splice your results using demographics, e.g. age, gender, geography, etc.
Avoid using gendered language like “he” or “she.” Instead use words like “they,” “them,” “people,” “the person,” “the employee,” or “HR leader.”
For more, see personal pronouns.
Remember to write all headings and titles in sentence case, that is the first word of the sentence should be capitalized leaving everything lower case (unless there’s a proper noun or brand name). You don’t have to place a period at the end of a title or heading. For example:
Do: The Culture Amp language style guide
Don’t: The Culture Amp Language Style Guide
Links are used commonly across Culture Amp to connect the reader to the Academy, support and other features within the platform. When inserting a hyperlink, make sure the text that’s being linked communicates information related to the link. Don’t use ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’ as links or button labels. They’re ambiguous and create uncertainty about where those links lead. Plus, they’re not good for accessibility or scanning. Instead, use text that describes where they’ll go or what they’ll do and try to include the link at the end of your sentence after the objective.
Do: “Find out more about our Employee Data Import Wizard.”
Don’t: “Learn more about our Employee Data Wizard here.”
Do: “For additional help, contact Culture Amp support.”
Don’t: “Click here to contact Culture Amp support.”
Lists are a great way to break up huge chunks of text and make paragraphs more scannable. We recommend using them when you can, but make sure you standardize the grammatical structure.
If the items in your list are one sentence each, begin with a capital letter and leave the period off. For example:
There are many ways a manager can improve their employee performance:
- Adopt a growth mindset
- Individualize your management style
- Give ongoing feedback
If an item in your list has more than one sentence, include a full stop for that item.
For a list that begins with an introduction or a “stem” sentence, make sure that each initial word is a follow on from that sentence. Give each point a lowercase initial. For example:
In one click, you can:
- send reminders
- change due dates
- delete multiple 360 surveys
There are various rules that apply to numbers in writing:
- If you begin a sentence with a number, spell it out. For example, “Five ways to encourage your employees to take action”.
- All numbers should be spelled out in numerals like 1, 6, 10, 78. Not one, six, ten and seventy eight. Numerals are easy to scan and read.
- All numbers that have more than three digits should include a comma. For example, 1,300, 3,000, 28,000.
- There are always exceptions to these rules, especially when it comes to readability. When in doubt, always ask!
Pronouns take the place of nouns in writing. We recommend the use of pronouns to make your writing more conversational and less robotic. Here are some commonly used pronouns and the rules that apply:
- You, yours - This is the most commonly used pronoun across the platform and is a way to put the user in control. It helps create a direct dialogue and conveys clear directions when required. For example:
Do: Invite your team members to give you feedback
Don’t: Invite a team member to provide feedback
Do: You can now view your reports in the Reports tab
Don’t: Reports can now be viewed in the Reports tab
Do: Here are the actions you’ve created
Don’t :These actions have been created
- We - ‘We’ is used to refer to Culture Amp as an entity. This is reserved for when Culture Amp takes responsibility for something, or takes an action on behalf of the user.
Do: We recommend you keep track of your progress.
Don’t: It’s recommended that you keep track of your progress.
Do: There was a problem loading your dashboard. We’re working on fixing it.
Don’t: There was a problem loading your dashboard and it’s being fixed.
‘We’ doesn’t work when the platform (system) is responsible for the action and not us.
Do: This reporting group couldn’t be displayed
Don’t: We couldn’t display this reporting group
Do: The report doesn’t exist
Don’t: We couldn’t find your report
- I - This is reserved for when users need to take ownership or agency.
Do: I agree to the terms and conditions
Don’t: You should agree to the terms and conditions
Pronouns in UI text
When we write copy for the UI, it’s generally in second person as it’s the system talking to the user. Never assume the user’s point of view and avoid pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘my’ (except for legal examples like the above).
Do: Your profile
Don’t: My profile
Do: Your action plans
Don’t: My action plans
To save space and be concise, you can remove the pronoun from buttons and links.
Do: View reports
Don’t: View your reports
Do: Create goal
Don’t: Create your goal
When writing out a time, use the user’s local time without a time zone in all cases when it’s unambiguous. Use a.m. or p.m. and not 24-hour time. Here are some other rules to keep in mind:
- Use spaces between the time and the meridiem a.m. or p.m. marker. For example, 8:30 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.
- Use a colon to separate hours from minutes.
- Use en dashes in a time range, e.g. 8:30 a.m.–9:45 a.m.
- For time ranges in a sentence, use words to separate them: Automatically run sync between midnight and 3:00 a.m. (PDT)
If you’re worried about whether words like log in, log out, sign in to and sign into are two words or one, they’re both.
Generally, we use “sign in” across the Culture Amp platform. Note that it’s “Sign in to Culture Amp” not “Sign into Culture Amp.” While we tend not to use “log in”, it’s best to keep in mind the rules around “log in” and “login.” The single word is used as a noun. The two-word version is used as a phrasal verb, to talk about the action. For example:
To sign in to Culture Amp, you’ll need login details.
You will need to log in to see your report.
Every day is two words unless you’re using it as an adjective: an everyday action.
Apostrophes are used to make a word possessive. For a singular possessive the apostrophe comes before the s. For example:
The employee’s review.
The company’s leaders were happy with the survey results.
If the word is singular but ends in an s, add an ‘s to the end. For example:
The syllabus’s components consist of three parts.
Our People Scientist Chris’s love for benchmarks is awesome.
For a plural possessive, it comes after the s. For example:
The employees’ change rooms.
The companies’ leaders were happy with the survey results.
For plurals that don’t end in an ‘s’, the apostrophe goes before the s: women’s, children’s.
Don’t use apostrophes to make numbers or acronyms into plurals. For example:
Do: APIs are available Don’t: API’s are available
Do: Since the 1950s Don’t: Since the 1950’s
Colons are used to introduce a list. For example:
Your employees match the following demographics: age, gender and tenure.
Colons can also be used to join two related sentences together, especially in titles. For example:
How to use the Action Framework to your advantage: A Culture Amp guide
Colons also separate hours from minutes when we’re talking about time.
Semicolons are usually used in long sentences. This can get complicated, so avoid them if you can. An easy way to get the same result is to break your sentences up into two lines, or use an en dash.
Commas are used to separate words and word groups. The most common way to use a comma is when you’re listing items in a sentence or introducing a list. For example:
We filtered our survey results by gender, age, geography and tenure.
Pro tip: Read your sentence out loud. Put a comma where you find yourself pausing for half a second or wherever you take a breath.
Commas are also used to separate a sentence that has a dependent clause. For example:
If you encounter this problem again, please contact Culture Amp support.
A serial comma, commonly referred to as the Oxford comma, is the final comma used in a list. For example:
We filtered our survey results by gender, age, geography, and tenure.
As we follow the AP style guide, we recommend against using this type of comma.
For other use cases, take a look at the AP style guidelines.
Dashes are used to separate parts of sentences. Remember, these are different from a hyphen. There are broadly two types of dashes used in writing:
- The en dash (Mac shortcut: option + minus key) is used to separate a span of numbers, times or dates. For example, 9–12, 2010–2020. No spaces are used on either side of the en dash.
- The em dash (Mac shortcut: shift + option + minus key) is used in place of commas to break up sentences. For example:
After running an engagement survey—nearly two quarters after their last—they saw significant changes in their results.
As the overuse of this type of dash can get clunky, we advise against using it. When in doubt, use a comma instead, or break up your sentence into two.
An ellipses is a special punctuation mark consisting of three dots (not just three fullstops). Its shortcut on a Mac is option + ; or ctrl + alt + . on a PC. The ellipses serves a number of different purposes:
- It can be used on labels and buttons to indicate the action will not happen immediately because more information is required.
- It prepares users to expect a screen or modal to make selections or enter more information.
Avoid using ellipses for purposes other than the above. They wear thin quickly.
Exclamation marks are used to add strong feelings, emphasis or a high volume of speaking. Use these sparingly and never use more than one as they can become annoying. If you’re unsure about whether to add an exclamation point or not, err on the side of no. Instead, use well-chosen words to convey excitement or emphasis. When in doubt, ask a content strategist.
The slash is a versatile punctuation mark that’s often used as a stand-in for the words “per” or “or.” For every case, we advise against using the slash. When in doubt, use “per” or “or.” The only time slashes are acceptable are in URLs, for example:
Make sure you don’t confuse the forward slash (/) with a backward slash ().
Full stops or periods are widely used to conclude to a sentence. They’re also used between e.g., p.m., and a.m., and after contractions like Ms., vs. and etc. They’re not used for capitalized abbreviations like EST, PDT, or NA.
In the UI, only use periods when you’ve got two or more sentences. For one sentence, you don’t need a period. Avoid using periods at the end of titles or subtitles.
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- General styles