Content Writing Guide
How should I use this guide?
This guide aims to provide product design teams at Dell with a single set of standards and best practices for user interface content. Reference the content writing rules in this guide as you build experiences for our customers and internal users.
This guide may not include rules that are relevant for marketers, technical writers and people working outside realm of the Dell Design System.
What we consider written content
- Any instructional content or microcopy that helps people complete tasks.
- Informational text that pertains to the user’s experience in a given website or application.
- Labels and other verbiage associated with any of the components in our UI design system.
- Error alerts and system-wide communications triggered by Dell.
- Transactional notifications, emails and other types of communication triggered by users.
UX writing rules for product design
Plain language and active voice
Use plain language: When you design with plain language, you allow the broadest range of users to understand and use our products easily.
Plain language writing tips
Use conversational language. Avoid overly technical jargon. If you are unsure if a term sounds too technical, check the Dell IDD Acrolinx Word List.
- Write words for on-screen experiences in similar ways to how you would say words during an in-person conversation.
- Use concise phrases that can be understood by someone reading at a 7th-grade reading level, when possible.
- Do: next to
- Don’t: adjacent to
- Do: Do you need help?
- Don't: Do you require assistance?
- Do: Next
- Don't: Proceed
- Use correct grammar, spelling and syntax. Include the necessary articles, modifiers and prepositions. When you have limited space, consider using the contraction form of two words rather than eliminating any words.
- Do: Select an address from the list.
- Don’t: Select address from list.
- Do: We’re having trouble processing your order.
- Don't: We are having trouble processing order.
- Avoid unnecessary modifiers, such as actually, really and very.
- Use consistent phrases across pages and experiences.
- Make sure the user has all the information they need. Avoid vagueness:
- Do: A Dell representative will contact you in 1-2 business days.
- Don’t: This service is the best thing since sliced bread.
- Do: This product is very popular with business shoppers.
- Don't: Every business buys this product.
Active voice and passive voice
Use active voice whenever possible, and use passive voice sparingly. Passive voice can confuse readers at all reading and neurological levels.
What is active voice: When you write content in the active voice, a subject (who or what) performs the action of the verb.
What is passive voice: When you write content in the passive voice, you are stating that an object receives the action, but the subject is never explicitly stated.
Tip: Ask yourself who or what is receiving the action. Begin the text with that subject, followed by the verb and the object.
Examples of active and passive voice:
- Active / Do: You successfully submitted the quote.
- Passive / Don't: The quote was submitted.
- Active / Do: We received your request.
- Passive / Don't: Your request was received.
- Active / Do: We had a problem submitting your order. Please try again later.
- Passive / Don’t: There was a problem submitting your order. Please try again later.
When to use passive voice: You can use passive voice when you don’t know the performer of the action, you don’t want to reveal the performer of the action, or you want to emphasize the receiver of the action. You should also use passive voice as necessary to avoid unsupported product claims.
Call-to-action labels & link text
Calls-to-action: Call-to-action (CTA) labels provide clear, logical paths to actions that people visiting our website intend to take. A CTA can navigate the user somewhere else or complete a task for them
- All action labels must begin with a verb. Exception: The words next and back can be used as actions.
- Use [Verb] + [Noun] as a formula, when possible. In some cases, the action verb alone can be used without the noun.
- The CTA should be specific to the action or path. Avoid generic labels, such as click here or learn more, when possible.
Button and text link CTA labels
- For UI component information, visit the button component page.
- Use title case. Capitalize the first letter of each word except for articles and short prepositions.
- Examples of title case:
- Do: Contact Sales
- Don’t: contact sales
- Don’t: CONTACT SALES
- Do: Add to Cart
- Don’t: Add To Cart
- Do not include punctuation.
- Use no more than three words, when possible. In specific cases, you can use more than three words if there isn’t a shorter alternative that accurately describes the task.
- Avoid combining two action verbs in a single CTA label (exception: “Customize & Buy”).
- All of the text of a link CTA should be hyperlinked, including the verb.
- For improved SEO, use specific nouns when possible, and given word and character limitations:
- Do: Shop Latitude
Inline text links
Inline text links are hyperlinked text within another sentence or following a sentence of paragraph copy. Only use inline text links to provide navigation pathways for users.
- Use inline text links sparingly.
- Use sentence case for inline text links, unless the link includes a brand name or proper noun.
- Hyperlink all of the text describing the destination. You can exclude articles, such as the or a.
- Include a verb as you would with a regular CTA, but do not hyperlink the verb.
- Include punctuation when linked text falls at the end of a paragraph-styled sentence.
Types of capitalization: There are three primary forms of capitalization: Sentence case, title case, and all caps.
Usage: Use sentence case for most content, including all headlines (except for h1), component labels, banner content and paragraph copy, except when that copy includes a proper noun or brand name.
What is sentence case?
- Sentence case refers to the practice of capitalizing only the first word and any proper nouns or brand names in a group of words.
- Colons in sentence case: Capitalize the first word after a colon (akin to the first word of a subtitle).
- Hyphenated compound words in sentence case: Only capitalize words in a compound if any of the words are a proper noun or brand name. For example:
- Do you need help?
- Dell Technologies is the leader in digital transformation
- Explore our best-in-class XPS laptops
- G Series laptops: High-performance gaming
Usage: Only use title case for page titles (h1), call-to-action (CTA) labels, navigation labels, brand names and proper nouns.
What is title case?
- Title case refers to the practice of capitalizing the first, last and principal words in a group of words.
- Principal words are any nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives—regardless of length—as well as prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
- Minor words should be lowercase. Minor words are any coordinating conjunctions (and, but and or), prepositions of fewer than four letters (of, on and in), articles (a, an and the), and infinitive markers (the to before a verb).
- Colons in title case: If there is a colon in title-case text, what follows should be treated as a subtitle. Capitalize the first word after the colon even if it is a minor word.
- Hyphenated compound words in title case: Always capitalize the first word in the compound. Capitalize the following word in the compound if it is a principal word. However, if the first word of the compound is a prefix, make the second word lowercase unless it is a proper noun or proper adjective. Capitalize the prefix itself.
- Title case examples:
- The XPS Laptop
- Latitude Series: The Best Laptop Series for Work
- Read the Whitepaper: Intro to Cloud Computing
- Shop for Most Popular Gaming Laptops
- Select a Pre-built System
What is all caps? All caps refers to the practice of capitalizing every letter of a word in a single word or group of words.
Usage: Do not use all caps, except when using acronyms and initialisms. Note: Some Dell properties, such as Alienware and the delltechnologies.com marketing website, have their own brand UI rules that may conflict with Dell Digital Design.
- All caps examples:
- Don't: THE XPS LAPTOPS
- Don't: CONTACT US
Notifications, errors and alert messages
For UI styling, see the notifications component page.
There are four overarching rules for writing an error alert message:
- Write in the active voice as often as possible.
- Write in sentence case.
- Be specific and concise.
- Provide logical next steps, when applicable.
Error and alert titles
Usage: Titles are optional for error and alert messages that use our yellow alert UI component. In some cases, a title may help draw attention to the message. In cases of very short errors and alerts, a title may be redundant. Don't use titles for field validation errors.
- Titles don't have to be complete sentences, but they do need to be meaningful phrases that our users will immediately understand. Don't punctuate the title unless it is a complete sentence.
- Avoid including the error code number or other technical terms in error titles. If you must include a code, include it in the error message’s body copy.
- Do (Titles): We're experiencing server downtime.
- Don't (Titles): Error 500
- Write in sentence case.
- Do (Titles): Verifying your order
- Don't (Titles): VERIFYING ORDER
Error and alert body copy
Usage: All notifications, alerts, and errors should contain body copy.
- Write in grammatically correct sentences and phrases.
- Do: You successfully added 56 standard configurations to your account.
- Don't: 56 standard configurations added to account
- Avoid writing lengthy passages of text. try to limit the body copy to 1-3 sentences.
- When you have multiple messages to state in the body of an alert, consider using a bullet list.
- Describe specifically what happened or what will happen.
- Do: We’re experiencing server downtime.
- Don't: Something went wrong.
- Include specific information that is relevant to the message, such as time or a specific error code, when applicable.
- Do: Our site will undergo planned maintenance on November 12, 2019 from 6:00 p.m. CST until November 13, 2019 at 12:00 p.m. CST.
- Do: Your eQuote #12345 expired on Jan 12, 2020.
- Do: Please contact your account representative and refer to the error code #2048693.
- Provide specific, actionable next steps and solutions, when applicable:
- Do: Try reloading the page. If you’re still experiencing issues, call 1-800-663-4059 or chat with an agent.
Units of measurement
Which system of measurement should you use?
In most regions and in global files, it’s best to include both U.S. customary and metric measurements to ensure clarity. If including both, list the U.S. customary measurement first, followed by the metric measurement in parentheses.
- 3.39 pounds (1.54 kilograms)
- 12″ (30.48 cm)
Exceptions: In certain regions, such as EMEA, the metric system may be used exclusively. And in India, legal regulations now prohibit the explicit mentioning of inches in measurements of screen size. However, the measurement in inches should still be included as a simple number — enclosed in parentheses — following the centimeter measurement. Example for India: 35.6 cm (14)
Abbreviating units of measurement
Spell out the full words for units of measure unless space is limited. In some cases, an abbreviated unit format may be more common than the spelled out word format.
Use abbreviations for metric units in accordance with the International System of Units (SI) guidelines.
Punctuation and spacing: With abbreviated units, use a period only when the abbreviation could be mistaken for a word (as with the abbreviation in. for “inches”), and never pluralize unit abbreviations by adding the letter s. Unit abbreviations represent both singular and plural forms. Always use numerals with abbreviated units. With most units, include a space between the numeral and the unit abbreviation. Exceptions include temperatures measured in degrees and the following technical abbreviations, which may be closed up with the numeral in accordance with industry convention: KB, MB, GB, TB, MHz and GHz.
- 5 mi [not 5 mi.]
- 0.5 lb, 9 lb [not 9 lbs or 9 lbs.]
- 90°F, 3.20GHz
Singular and plural units: When a measurement is less than or equal to 1, the unit should be singular. When you abbreviate the unit of measure, you do not have to indicate whether the unit is singular or plural.
- 3 centimeters (plural), 1 centimeter (singular), 0.5 centimeter (singular)
- 3 cm, 1 cm, 0.5 cm
Distance measurements (height, width, depth): When you write distance measurements (height, width, depth) in a “[number] by [number]” format, use a lowercase x, with space on either side, to indicate “by.” If all three dimensions are given, always put them in height-width-depth order.
- 10″ x 12″ x 20″
Dell's most common units of measurement and approved abbreviations:
- Technical specification units:
- kilobit: Kb
- kilobits per second: Kbps
- Megabit: Mb
- Megabits per second: Mbps
- Gigabit: Gb
- Gigabits per second: Gbps
- Terabit: Tb
- Terabits per second: Tbps
- kilobyte: KB
- kilobytes per second: KB/s or KB/sec
- megabyte: MB
- megabytes per second: MB/s or MB/sec
- gigabytes: GB
- gigabytes per second: GB/s or GB/sec
- terabytes: TB
- terabytes: TB/s or TB/sec
- hertz: Hz
- megahertz: MHz
- gigahertz: GHz
- ampere: A
- ampere-hour: Ah or AHr
- watt: W
- watt-hour: Wh or WHr
- kilowatt: kW
- kilowatt-hour: kWh or kWhr
- megapixel: MP
- revolutions per minute: rpm or r/min
- dots per inch: dpi
- inch: in or ''
- foot: ft or '
- yard: yd
- mile: mi
- millimeter: mm
- centimeter: cm
- kilometer: km
- ounce: oz
- pound: lb
- milligram: mg
- gram: g
- kilogram: kg
- second: s or sec
- minute: min (Note: This abbreviation is sometimes used to indicate the word minimum. Using it for both purposes in one context may confuse people.)
- hour: h or hr
- month: mo
- year: yr
- degrees Celsius: °C
- degrees Fahrenheit: °F
- kelvins: K
Types of abbreviations
For the purposes of this guide, abbreviations include acronyms, initialisms and truncated words. More specifically, here’s how these terms differ:
- An abbreviation is any shortened form of a word. Example: amt in place of amount.
- An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from the first letter or letters of a series of words. Example: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
- An initialism is formed from the first letter or letters of a series of words, but you pronounce it letter by letter. Example: CPU (central processing unit), SSD (solid-state drive).
- A truncated word is a commonly used syllable or piece of a longer word that has come to represent the same meaning. Example: auto in place of automobile.
- In many cases, common abbreviations are acceptable in Dell UI contexts. See the style chapters on dates, time and timestamps, and units of measurement.
- Capitalization: Most acronyms and initialisms are all-caps. Purely abbreviated/truncated common words, such as months of the year, should be sentence-case. Time-of-day abbreviations should be lowercase.
- Punctuation: Most common abbreviations do not need periods after each letter. Time-of-day abbreviations are a common exception and require punctuation.
- Avoid abbreviations and truncation solely for the purpose of saving space. If you feel the need to truncate words often in the UI components you are using, you may need to choose different components with more space allowances. Arbitrary truncation complicates translation and readability.
- Never use ellipsis or ellipsis or in parentheses (...) to represent the remainder of a truncated word.
- Don't: custom(...)
- Do: customization
- If you must abbreviate an uncommonly abbreviated word, spell the word out in the first reference on a page and introduce the abbreviation in parentheses.
- Do: Computer-aided design (CAD) is a method of creating visual prototypes with a computer.
- Don't: CAD is a method of creating visual prototypes with a computer.
Example/placeholder text indicators
Latin abbreviations are often used to indicate that some text is placeholder. This can cause translation and readability issues. Use plain-English alternatives or a colon instead.
- Use the word "is" instead of "i.e."
- Use the phrase "for example" instead of "e.g."
- Use the phrase "and more" instead of "etc."
How we format dates
Avoid using the numeric format for dates (00/00/0000 or 00-00-0000 formatting). Instead, use the written word format for day and month, along with the numerically written year. If your team decides to use a fully numeric format, the date content must go through localization. Or you can use the universally acceptable International Organization for Standardization (ISO) style: YYYY-MM-DD. In the ISO style, the elements progress from largest to smallest (year, month, day), the year always includes all four digits, and one-digit days or months are always preceded by a zero. Also note that this style calls for hyphens rather than slashes.
- Do: Jan 12, 2015
- Don't: 1/12/2015
- Do: 2015-01-12
- Don't: 15-01-12
It isn’t necessary to include a day of the week in most UI contexts. You can include a day of the week for emphasis on a specific date, such as a scheduled maintenance day. Punctuation: Note that the day should be followed by a comma. Include the comma regardless of whether the month or the day comes first in the date.
Abbreviation: Spell out days of the week rather than abbreviating them.
Abbreviation: If the month is part of the full written date (month, day, year), it is acceptable and preferred to abbreviate the names of months that are more than five letters long. Do not abbreviate a month used alone with only a year in paragraph content. You do not have to punctuate the abbreviated month.
- Do: Jan 12, 2015
- Don't: 12, Jan 2015
Abbreviation: It’s best to write all four digits of a calendar year rather than shortening to just the last two. If you must abbreviate the year, note that the two-digit form is preceded by an apostrophe (not an opening quotation mark).
Time and timestamps
Absolute vs. relative time
There are two ways to represent time:
- Absolute time is the precise numeric time, including hours and minutes. Examples: Last edited at 12:23 p.m.; Deal expires on Jan 2, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.
- Relative time is a conversational way to write time informally. Examples: 2 hours ago; 12 minutes ago; in 5 days; in 23 hours
Both ways to represent time are acceptable depending on the use-case.
- Use absolute time in more formal productivity contexts, when users need to know exactly when an action occurred or will occur in order to make an informed decision.
- Use relative time in more casual contexts or when our systems can only provide an estimated time.
- Note: If you use a relative timestamp model, your product must adapt over time. For example, rather than saying 24 hours ago your timestamp should change to 1 day ago. And instead of 365 days ago, your timestamp should change to 1 year ago, and so on.
How we format absolute time
Write times in terms of the 12-hour clock, not the 24-hour clock.
Use numerals to indicate minutes and hours except for 12:00 noon and midnight. For noon and midnight, use the words noon and midnight, rather than 12 p.m. and 12 a.m.
Time of day: Use the abbreviations a.m. and p.m. lowercase, with periods. Include a space between the numeric time and the time-of-day abbreviation. It is not necessary to include minutes (:00) with on-the-hour times, but do include them when necessary for consistency with other times.
- Do: noon
- Don't: 12 noon
- Do: 2:37 p.m.
- Don't: 14:37PM
- Do: 8:00 a.m. to 9.00 a.m.
- Don't: 8:00 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Real-time absolute timestamps must be localized to the individual user’s location, and a time zone indication isn’t required.
When time content is meant to inform the user of a singular event, such as a scheduled maintenance period, include a relevant time zone abbreviation for clarity. Capitalize the time zone abbreviation. Do not punctuate the letters with periods. The time zone should immediately follow a.m. or p.m. Refer to the dates chapter for accurate date representation.
A comprehensive list of time zone abbreviations can be found at timeanddate.com
- Eastern Standard Time: EST or ET
- Mountain Standard Time: MST or MT
- Central Standard Time: CST or CT
- Pacific Standard Time: PST or PT
- Do: Dell.com will be down for maintenance at 11:30 p.m. EST until 2:00 a.m. EST on Aug 3, 2019.
- Don't: Dell.com will be down for maintenance at 11 to 2 E.S.T. AM on 8/3/19.
Accessible and inclusive language
We use language and design that educates, empowers, supports, and inspires. Our design principles are consciously liberated from voice, tone and terminology that could reflect stereotypical or prejudiced perspectives about individuals or groups. Because our design approach celebrates what we share in common, we refer to personal characteristics only when they are relevant to the context of the experience.
- We do not make assumptions about individuals or groups based on their appearances, perceived intellectual capabilities, abilities, class or caste, personalities, genders, sexual orientations or preferences, races, ethnicities, ages, or geographies.
- We do not use language or design that intentionally or unintentionally excludes anyone from any group, and we do not use gendered language (for example, actress, salesman) unless there is no other way to design the experience.
- We do not risk making false assumptions about people based on our perspective of “normal” or their identifications with groups or cultures (for example, the color red has significantly different meanings across multiple cultures, and the symbol now commonly recognized as a swastika has cultural meanings in the Hindu faith and among some indigenous peoples of the Americas)
Because we empower users through their strengths and abilities (rather than “fix” users’ perceived weaknesses or deficiencies), our commitment to inclusive and accessible experiences promotes respectful relationships in our diverse global society. Inclusive experiences ensure all users can see themselves using our products and feel they are reflected in the experiences we craft.
Non-inclusive terminology includes any language that treats people unfairly, insults, or excludes a person or group of persons.View Terminology List
Other types of content:
- Marketing and thought leadership articles, press releases, case studies and similar content.
- Advertising banners and other types of ad placements.
- Technical documentation.
- Marketing communications sent to customers.
- Non-digital forms of marketing communications.
- Legalese and other content required by law.
Can’t find what you’re looking for?
- For general grammar usage not covered here, consult the Microsoft UI Style Guide.
- For marketing brand guidelines, visit the Dell Technologies Brand Website.
- For spelling accuracy, check the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
- For a glossary of words and word-usage, visit the Dell IDD Acrolinx Word List.
- For search engine optimization (SEO) guidance, visit the SEO Guide.
- If you have questions, contact email@example.com.