Style guide.

This style guide was created for Roots Down employees, but we hope it’s helpful for other content and communications teams too. It has been adapted from one of the most amazing content teams in the country, Mailchimp.

If you work at Roots Down.

This is our company style guide. It helps us write clear and consistent content across teams and channels. Please use it as a reference when you’re writing for Roots Down.

This guide goes beyond basic grammar and style points. It’s not traditional in format or content. We break a number of grammar rules for clarity, practicality, or preference.

We’ve divided the guide by topic based on the types of content we publish, so you can reference it as needed or browse in order. The entire guide is searchable, so you can go straight to the item you’re looking for.

If you work at another organization.

We invite you to use and adapt this style guide as you see fit. It’s completely public and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. All we ask is that you credit Mailchimp, who are the creative team from whom we adapted this style guide.

We welcome any feedback for improving the guide.

Our brand.

Our mission.

Roots Down is committed to growing a world where every American has as much food as they need within a 5-minute walk from their home. We do this by working with governments to build greener, more productive spaces in order to spur green jobs growth, grow food, and provide ecology education for teenagers and their parents.

Our values.

We believe that access to fresh, nutritious food, dignified work, community, and a healthy environment are human rights and we're building a world where every person has access to fresh food and where we live in thriving ecosystems that feed our soils and the people.

Our story.

What we talk about:

  • Environmental education

  • Agriculture / Permaculture training

  • Inspiring stories about the power of local

  • food and community building

  • Native / Indigenous ecology and stories

  • Building community / community

  • engagement

  • Green jobs

  • Public health

  • Food security

  • Productive Urban Landscapes

  • Noise pollution

  • Chemical pollution

  • Waste (time, money, effort)

Our tone.

How we sound:

  • Passionate (activism)

  • Whimsical and playful

  • Inspiring and encouraging

  • Community-oriented

Our audience.

GOVERNMENTS

  • Positive PR

  • Happier, more productive

  • Public Works Dept

  • Reducing waste in gov’t

  • spending

  • Opportunities to receive

  • grants (pollinator / bee

  • city, for example)

  • Creates green job

  • opportunities

GROWERS

  • Increased knowledge of

  • their environment

  • Reduced chemical use on

  • lawn/in neighborhood

  • Reduce noise pollution

  • Practical knowledge

  • about growing food or

  • caring for plants

  • Fresh food

  • More butterflies

  • Safe spaces for children

  • to play and learn

LANDSCAPERS

  • Branding

  • Training

  • Marketing/sales leads

  • Networking

  • Ongoing education

  • Talent pool to hire from

Our logo.

Our fonts.

Heading
We use Intro Pro Bold for most headings.
Occasionally we use Bukhari Script.
Subheading
We use Intro Pro Bold for all subheadings.
Or, alternatively, we use Intro Pro Italic. 
Body text

We use Open Sans for all body text.

Occasionally, we use Intro Regular for body text.

Our colors.

HEX: 073B3A

RGB: 7, 59, 58

CMYK: 88, 0, 1, 76

HEX: 230903

RGB: 35, 9, 3

CMYK: 0, 74, 91, 86

HEX: DCAF05

RGB: 220, 175, 5

CMYK: 0, 20, 97, 13

HEX: FFB5C2

RGB: 255, 181, 194

CMYK: 0, 29, 23, 0

 

Content goals and principles.

With every piece of content we publish, we aim to:

  • Empower. Help people understand our work by using language that informs them and encourages them to get involved.

  • Respect. Treat readers with the respect they deserve. Put yourself in their shoes, and don’t patronize them. Remember that they have other things to do. Be considerate and inclusive. Don’t market at people; communicate with them.

  • Educate. Tell readers what they need to know, not just what we want to say. Give them the exact information they need, along with opportunities to learn more. Remember that you’re the expert, and readers don’t have access to everything you know.

  • Guide. Think of yourself as a tour guide for our readers. Whether you’re leading them through our educational materials or how to get involved, communicate in a friendly and helpful way.

  • Speak truth. Always be clear about what Roots Down does, and how we're working within communities. Tell the story, clearly and concisely.

In order to achieve those goals, we make sure our content is:

  • Clear. Understand the topic you’re writing about. Use simple words and sentences.

  • Useful. Before you start writing, ask yourself: What purpose does this serve? Who is going to read it? What do they need to know?

  • Friendly. Write like a human. Don’t be afraid to break a few rules if it makes your writing more relatable. All of our content, from splashy homepage copy to email alerts, should be warm and human.

  • Have fun. Our brand is about having fun and being excited about the work we're doing. Don't be afraid to be a little irreverent and goofy. Changing the world should be a good time. Let's act like it.

  • Appropriate. Write in a way that suits the situation. Just like you do in face-to-face conversations, adapt your tone depending on who you’re writing to and what you’re writing about.

 

Voice and tone.

One way we write empowering content is by being aware of our voice and our tone. This section explains the difference between voice and tone, and lays out the elements of each as they apply to Roots Down.

What’s the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you're out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you're in a meeting with your boss.

Your tone also changes depending on the emotional state of the person you’re addressing. You wouldn’t want to use the same tone of voice with someone who’s scared or upset as you would with someone who’s laughing.

The same is true for Roots Down. Our voice doesn’t change much from day to day, but our tone changes all the time.

Voice.

At Roots Down, we’ve walked in our customers' shoes, and we know permaculture and food justice world is a minefield of confusing terminology. That’s why we speak like the experienced and compassionate partner we wish we’d had way back when.

We treat every hopeful grower seriously. We want to educate people without patronizing or confusing them.

Using offbeat humor and a conversational voice, we play with language to bring joy to their work. We prefer the subtle over the noisy, the wry over the farcical. We don't take ourselves too seriously.

Whether people know what they need from us or don’t know the first thing about gardening, every word we say informs and encourages. We impart our expertise with clarity, empathy, and wit.

All of this means that when we write copy:

  1. We are plainspoken. We understand the world our customers are living in: one muddled by hyperbolic language, upsells, and over-promises. We strip all that away and value clarity above all. Because customers come to Roots Down to get things done, we avoid distractions like fluffy metaphors and cheap plays to emotion.

  2. We are genuine. We relate to customers’ challenges and passions and speak to them in a familiar, warm, and accessible way.

  3. We are translators. Only experts can make what’s difficult look easy, and it’s our job to demystify permaculture and community-building and actually educate.

  4. Our humor is joyful and child-like. While we appreciate the gravity of the problems we're solving, we're choosing to address these problems with joy in our hearts. Our sense of humor is a touch eccentric, vibrant, like a big belly laugh. We’re weird but not inappropriate, smart but not snobbish. We prefer laughing to scolding. We’re never condescending or exclusive—we always bring our customers in on the joke.

Tone.

Roots Down's tone is usually informal, but it’s always more important to be clear than entertaining. When you’re writing, consider the reader’s state of mind. Are they relieved to be finished with a campaign? Are they confused and seeking our help on Twitter? Once you have an idea of their emotional state, you can adjust your tone accordingly.

Roots Down has a sense of humor, so feel free to be funny when it’s appropriate and when it comes naturally to you. But don’t go out of your way to make a joke—forced humor can be worse than none at all. If you’re unsure, keep a straight face.

Style tips.

Here are a few key elements of writing Roots Down's voice. For more, see the Grammar and mechanics section.

 

Writing about people.

We write the same way we build landscapes and programs: with a person-first perspective. Whether you’re writing for an internal or external audience, it's important to write for and about other people in a way that’s compassionate, inclusive, and respectful. Being aware of the impact of your language will help make Roots Down a better place to work and a better steward of our values in the world. In this section we'll lay out some guidelines for writing about people with compassion, and share some resources for further learning.

Age.

Don’t reference a person’s age unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If it is relevant, include the person’s specific age, offset by commas.

The CEO, 16, just got her driver’s license.

Don’t refer to people using age-related descriptors like “young,” “old,” or “elderly.”

Disability.

Avoid disability-related idioms like “lame” or “falling on deaf ears.” Don’t refer to a person’s disability unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If you need to mention it, ask whether your subject prefers person-first language (“they have a disability”) or identity-first language (“they are disabled”).

When writing about a person with disabilities, don’t use the words “suffer,” “victim,” or “handicapped.” “Handicapped parking” is OK.

Gender and sexuality.

Don’t call groups of people “guys.” Don’t call women “girls.”

Avoid gendered terms in favor of neutral alternatives, like “server” instead of “waitress” and “businessperson” instead of “businessman.”

It’s OK to use “they” as a singular pronoun.

Use the following words as modifiers, but never as nouns:

  • lesbian

  • gay

  • bisexual

  • transgender (never "transgendered")

  • trans

  • queer

  • LGBT

Don’t use these words in reference to LGBT people or communities:

  • homosexual

  • lifestyle

  • preference

Don’t use “same-sex” marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you’re writing. (Avoid “gay marriage.”) Otherwise, it’s just “marriage.”

When writing about a person, use their communicated pronouns. When in doubt, just ask or use their name.

Hearing.

Use “deaf” as an adjective to describe a person with significant hearing loss. You can also use “partially deaf” or “hard of hearing.”

Heritage and nationality.

Don't use hyphens when referring to someone with dual heritage or nationality. For example, use "Asian American" instead of "Asian-American."

Medical conditions.

Don’t refer to a person’s medical condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing.

If a reference to a person’s medical condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities and emphasize the person first. Don’t call a person with a medical condition a “victim.”

Mental and cognitive conditions.

Don’t refer to a person’s mental or cognitive condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. Never assume that someone has a medical, mental, or cognitive condition.

Don’t describe a person as “mentally ill.” If a reference to a person’s mental or cognitive condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities or medical conditions and emphasize the person first.

Race.

At Roots Down, when we write about a culture or ethnicity, we capitalize the name. For example, we capitalize Black as it refers to Americans in the African diaspora while we keep white lowercase since white refers to the color of a person’s skin and not a group of people.

Vision.

Use the adjective “blind” to describe a person who is unable to see. Use “low vision” to describe a person with limited vision.

 

Grammar and mechanics.

Adhering to certain rules of grammar and mechanics helps us keep our writing clear and consistent. This section will lay out our house style, which applies to all of our content unless otherwise noted in this guide. (We cover a lot of ground in this section—the search feature will help if you're looking for something in particular.)

Basics.

Write for all readers. Some people will read every word you write. Others will just skim. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headers and subheaders.

Focus your message. Create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or the most important content, in sentences, paragraphs, sections, and pages.

Be concise. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary modifiers.

Be specific. Avoid vague language. Cut the fluff.

Be consistent. Stick to the copy patterns and style points outlined in this guide.

Guidelines.

Abbreviations and acronyms.

If there’s a chance your reader won’t recognize an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time you mention it. Then use the short version for all other references. If the abbreviation isn’t clearly related to the full version, specify in parentheses.

  • First use: Network Operations Center

  • Second use: NOC

  • First use: Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)

  • Second use: UTC

 

If the abbreviation or acronym is well known, like API or HTML, use it instead (and don’t worry about spelling it out).

Active voice.

Use active voice. Avoid passive voice.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it.

  • Yes: Marti logged into the account.

  • No: The account was logged into by Marti.

 

Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.

 

One exception is when you want to specifically emphasize the action over the subject. In some cases, this is fine.

  • Your account was flagged by our Abuse team.

Capitalization.

We use a few different forms of capitalization. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word.

When writing out an email address or website URL, use all lowercase.

 

Don't capitalize random words in the middle of sentences. Here are some words that we never capitalize in a sentence. For more, see the Word List.

  • website

  • internet

  • online

  • email

Contractions.

They’re great! They give your writing an informal, friendly tone. When in doubt, use a contraction.

Emoji.

Emoji are a fun way to add humor and visual interest to your writing, but use them infrequently and deliberately.

Numbers.

Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Otherwise, use the numeral. This includes ordinals.

  • Ten new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.

  • I ate 3 donuts at Coffee Hour.

  • Meg won 1st place in last year’s Walktober contest.

  • We hosted a group of 8th graders who are learning to code.

 

Sometimes it feels weird to use the numeral. If it's an expression that typically uses spelled-out numbers, leave them that way.

  • A friendly welcome email can help you make a great first impression.

  • That is a third-party integration.

  • Put your best foot forward with the all-in-one Marketing Platform that grows with you.

  • After you send your newsletter, Freddie will give you a high-five.

 

Numbers over 3 digits get commas:

  • 999

  • 1,000

  • 150,000

 

Write out big numbers in full. Abbreviate them if there are space restraints, as in a tweet or a chart: 1k, 150k.

Dates.

Generally, spell out the day of the week and the month. Abbreviate only if space is an issue in the app.

  • Saturday, January 24

  • Sat., Jan. 24

Decimals and fractions.

Spell out fractions.

  • Yes: two-thirds

  • No: 2/3

 

Use decimal points when a number can’t be easily written out as a fraction, like 1.375 or 47.2.

Percentages.

Use the % symbol instead of spelling out "percent."

Ranges and spans.

Use a hyphen (-) to indicate a range or span of numbers.

  • It takes 20-30 days.

Money.

When writing about US currency, use the dollar sign before the amount. Include a decimal and number of cents if more than 0.

  • $20

  • $19.99

 

When writing about other currencies, follow the same symbol-amount format:

  • ¥1

  • €1

Telephone numbers.

Use dashes without spaces between numbers. Use a country code if your reader is in another country.

  • 555-867-5309

  • +1-404-123-4567

Temperature.

Use the degree symbol and the capital F abbreviation for Fahrenheit.

  • 98°F

Time.

Use numerals and am or pm, with a space in between. Don’t use minutes for on-the-hour time.


  • 7 am


  • 7:30 pm

 

Use a hyphen between times to indicate a time period.


  • 7 am–10:30 pm

 

Specify time zones when writing about an event or something else people would need to schedule. Since Roots Down is in Atlanta, we default to ET.

Abbreviate time zones within the continental United States as follows:

  • Eastern time: ET

  • Central time: CT

  • Mountain time: MT

  • Pacific time: PT

 

When referring to international time zones, spell them out: Nepal Standard Time, Australian Eastern Time. If a time zone does not have a set name, use its Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) offset.

Abbreviate decades when referring to those within the past 100 years.

  • the 00s

  • the 90s

 

When referring to decades more than 100 years ago, be more specific:

  • the 1900s

  • the 1890s

Punctuation.

Apostrophes.

The apostrophe’s most common use is making a word possessive. If the word already ends in an s and it’s singular, you also add an ’s. If the word ends in an s and is plural, just add an apostrophe.

  • The donut thief ate Sam’s donut.

  • The donut thief ate Chris’s donut.

  • The donut thief ate the managers’ donuts.

 

Apostrophes can also be used to denote that you’ve dropped some letters from a word, usually for humor or emphasis. This is fine, but do it sparingly.

Colons.

Use a colon (rather than an ellipsis, em dash, or comma) to offset a list.

  • Erin ordered 3 kinds of donuts: glazed, chocolate, and pumpkin.

 

You can also use a colon to join 2 related phrases. If a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize the 1st word.

  • I was faced with a dilemma: I wanted a donut, but I’d just eaten a bagel.

Commas.

When writing a list, use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma).

 

  • Yes: David admires his parents, Oprah, and Justin Timberlake.

  • No: David admires his parents, Oprah and Justin Timberlake.

 

Otherwise, use common sense. If you’re unsure, read the sentence out loud. Where you find yourself taking a breath, use a comma.

Dashes and hyphens.

Use a hyphen (-) without spaces on either side to link words into single phrase, or to indicate a span or range.


  • first-time user

  • Monday-Friday

 

Use an em dash (—) without spaces on either side to offset an aside.

Use a true em dash, not hyphens (- or --).

  • Multivariate testing—just one of our new Pro features—can help you grow your business.

  • Austin thought Brad was the donut thief, but he was wrong—it was Lain.

Ellipses.

Ellipses (...) can be used to indicate that you’re trailing off before the end of a thought. Use them sparingly. Don’t use them for emphasis or drama, and don’t use them in titles or headers.

  • “Where did all those donuts go?” Christy asked. Lain said, “I don't know...”

 

Ellipses, in brackets, can also be used to show that you're omitting words in a quote.

  • “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, [...] a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Ellipses.

Periods go inside quotation marks. They go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

  • Christy said, “I ate a donut.”

  • I ate a donut (and I ate a bagel, too).

  • I ate a donut and a bagel. (The donut was Sam’s.)

 

Leave a single space between sentences. Always put a period at the end of headers and subheaders.

Question marks.

Question marks go inside quotation marks if they’re part of the quote. Like periods, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

Exclamation marks.

Use exclamation points sparingly, and never more than one at a time. They’re like high-fives: A well-timed one is great, but too many can be annoying.

Exclamation points go inside quotation marks. Like periods and question marks, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

Never use exclamation points in failure messages or alerts. When in doubt, avoid!

Quotation marks.

Use quotes to refer to words and letters, titles of short works (like articles and poems), and direct quotations.

Periods and commas go within quotation marks. Question marks within quotes follow logic—if the question mark is part of the quotation, it goes within. If you’re asking a question that ends with a quote, it goes outside the quote.

Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.

  • Who was it that said, “A fool and his donut are easily parted”?

  • Brad said, “A wise man once told me, ‘A fool and his donut are easily parted.’”

Semicolons.

Go easy on semicolons. They usually support long, complicated sentences that could easily be simplified. Try an em dash (—) instead, or simply start a new sentence.

Ampersands.

Don't use ampersands unless one is part of a company or brand name.

  • Ben and Dan

  • Ben & Jerry’s

People, places, and things.

File extensions.

When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase s to make plural.

  • GIF

  • PDF

  • HTML

  • JPGs

When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase:

 

  • slowclap.gif

  • MCBenefits.pdf

  • ben-twitter-profile.jpg

  • ilovedonuts.html

Pronouns.

If your subject’s gender is unknown or irrelevant, use “they,” “them,” and “their” as a singular pronoun. Use “he/him/his” and “she/her/her” pronouns as appropriate. Don’t use “one” as a pronoun.

For more on writing about gender, see Writing about people.

Quotes.

When quoting someone in a blog post or other publication, use the present tense.

  • “Using Roots Down has helped our business grow,” says Jamie Smith.

Names and titles.

The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.

Capitalize the names of departments and teams (but not the word "team" or "department").

  • Marketing team

  • Support department

 

Capitalize individual job titles when referencing to a specific role. Don't capitalize when referring to the role in general terms.

  • Our new Marketing Manager starts today.

  • All the managers ate donuts.

 

Don't refer to someone as a “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “wizard” unless they literally are one.

Schools.

The first time you mention a school, college, or university in a piece of writing, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.

  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech

  • Georgia State University, GSU

States, cities, and countries.

Spell out all city and state names. Don’t abbreviate city names.

Per AP Style, all cities should be accompanied by their state, with the exception of: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington.

On first mention, write out United States. On subsequent mentions, US is fine. The same rule applies to any other country or federation with a common abbreviation (European Union, EU; United Kingdom, UK).

URL's and websites.

Capitalize the names of websites and web publications. Don’t italicize.

 

Avoid spelling out URLs, but when you need to, leave off the http://www.

Writing about Roots Down.

Our company's legal entity name is "Roots Down, LLC." Our trade name is "Roots Down." Use "Roots Down, LLC" only when writing legal documents or contracts. Otherwise, use "Roots Down."

 

Always capitalize the “R” and "D" in Roots Down.

 

Refer to Roots Down as “we,” not “it.”

 

Capitalize branded terms, like Roots Down Presents. We also capitalize pricing plan names (Premium, and Free) to distinguish them from generic use of those adjectives.

Don’t capitalize descriptive product or feature names, like email or landing pages.

  • templates

  • Roots Down's mobile app

  • Essentials plan

Writing about other companies.

Honor companies’ own names for themselves and their products. Go by what’s used on their official website.

  • iPad

  • YouTube

  • Yahoo!

 

Refer to a company or product as “it” (not “they”).

Slang and jargon.

Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand.

  • Roots Down's Ops team is constantly scaling our servers to make sure our users have a great experience with our products. One way we do this is with shards, or partitions, that help us better horizontally scale our database infrastructure.

Text formatting.

Use italics to indicate the title of a long work (like a book, movie, or album) or to emphasize a word.

  • Dunston Checks In

  • Brandon really loves Dunston Checks In.

 

Use italics when citing an example of an in-app Roots Down element, or referencing button and navigation labels in step-by-step instructions:

  • When you're all done, click Send.

  • The familiar A/B testing variables—Subject line, From name, and Send time—have now been joined by Content, and up to 3 combinations of a single variable can now be tested at once.

 

Don’t use underline formatting, and don’t use any combination of italic, bold, caps, and underline.

Left-align text, never center or right-aligned.

Leave one space between sentences, never 2.

Write positively.

Use positive language rather than negative language. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like “can’t,” “don’t,” etc.

  • Yes: To get a donut, stand in line.

  • No: You can’t get a donut if you don’t stand in line.