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.
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.
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.
What we talk about:
Agriculture / Permaculture training
Inspiring stories about the power of local
food and community building
Native / Indigenous ecology and stories
Building community / community
Productive Urban Landscapes
Waste (time, money, effort)
How we sound:
Whimsical and playful
Inspiring and encouraging
Happier, more productive
Public Works Dept
Reducing waste in gov’t
Opportunities to receive
grants (pollinator / bee
city, for example)
Creates green job
Increased knowledge of
Reduced chemical use on
Reduce noise pollution
about growing food or
caring for plants
Safe spaces for children
to play and learn
Talent pool to hire from
We use Intro Pro Bold for all headings.
We use Intro Pro Bold for all subheadings.
Or, alternatively, we use Intro Pro Italic.
We use Open Sans for all body text.
Occasionally, we use Intro Regular for body text.
RGB: 7, 59, 58
CMYK: 88, 0, 1, 76
RGB: 35, 9, 3
CMYK: 0, 74, 91, 86
RGB: 220, 175, 5
CMYK: 0, 20, 97, 13
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.
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:
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.
We are genuine. We relate to customers’ challenges and passions and speak to them in a familiar, warm, and accessible way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
transgender (never "transgendered")
Don’t use these words in reference to LGBT people or communities:
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.
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."
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.
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.
Use the adjective “blind” to describe a person who is unable to see. Use “low vision” to describe a person with limited vision.