HubPages Writing Style Guide

Updated on May 18, 2019
HubPages Writing Style Guide
HubPages Writing Style Guide

Hey there! Welcome to HubPages’ style guide. The point of this guide is to help you, the author, have a solid idea of what to do and where. We’ve endeavored to make this list as exhaustive as possible, and we hope it will help you as you write.

Grammar and Punctuation

Formatting and Layout

Answer Key

The correct examples are underlined.

Do we favor Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) or American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines?

CMS is more widely used for online writing and publishing for a larger audience, whereas APA is primarily geared toward science and research. CMS is also the most comprehensive and nuanced. Many of the guidelines we follow are from the CMS, but occasionally we revert to APA (e.g. APA title case and citation style). Again, if you ever have a question that isn’t answered here in the Style Guide, be sure to leave a comment for us.

British English

Our community has international representation, so we accept both American English and British English standards:

  • Spelling and Punctuation: If you use British spelling (such as “colour”) that’s fine. Just be consistent. You may also choose to leave punctuation outside of quotes (such as ‘Find your way’.) Similarly, be consistent with the Oxford comma; either use it or don’t—but don’t mix the two!
  • Grammar: “That” and “which” may be used interchangeably for restrictive relative clauses (e.g. "He raised the finger that was hurt" or "He raised the finger which was hurt").

The Punctuation Guide denotes some of the key differences between American and British punctuation.

Apostrophes

Dates: It happened in the 1960s, not the 1960’s. It also happened in the ‘70s, not the 70s or the 70's.

Possession: Use an apostrophe after the “s” at the end of a plural noun to show possession: e.g. “parents’ mistakes.”

When it comes to adding possessive apostrophes to singular proper nouns that end in “s,” it’s up to you whether to add a second “s” after the apostrophe. As long as you’re consistent, either style is fine.

  • “Charles Dickens’ novels” and “Charles Dickens’s novels”
  • “Kansas’ gun laws” and “Kansas’s gun laws”
  • “Jesus' pink lawn flamingo” and “Jesus’s pink lawn flamingo”

Additional Scenarios

It’s or its? “It’s” is a contraction of “it” + “is” (it’s a little muggy today). “Its” is the possessive (its color offends me).

What if the thing belongs to more than one person? No matter how long the list of owners is, make only the final name possessive: e.g. “señor and señorita’s reservation.”

The plural form of lowercase letters is formed with an apostrophe to prevent misreading (e.g. “Mind your p’s and q’s”).

The plural form of uppercase letters does not require an apostrophe (e.g. “She got all As.”).

Dos and don’ts: Do’s and don’ts? Incorrect. Do’s and don’t’s? Incorrect. Dos and don’ts? Correct!

Capitalization

Capitalizing Titles

APA capitalizes all words that are important and affect readers’ understanding, those that are four letters or more, and verbs. Capitalize My Title can be a helpful tool, although its accuracy varies. You will often need to capitalize four-letter words and two-letter verbs manually.

  • “From” and “with” should be capitalized.
  • Two-letter verbs such as “is” and “be” should be capitalized in a title and in subtitles (unless the subtitle is in sentence form, in which case it includes terminal punctuation).

Note: APA allows for the capitalization of “major” words in titles and subtitles. While it isn’t technically incorrect to leave those words uncapitalized, it often looks better to capitalize them.

  • “Growing up Without a Father” vs. “Growing Up Without a Father
  • “How to Find out If She Likes You” vs. “How to Find Out If She Likes You

Note: Similarly, it is up to your discretion as to whether to capitalize the middle word in a hyphenated, three-word modifier. While APA prefers it be capitalized, it often looks better uncapitalized.

  • “Side-By-Side Comparison” vs. “Side-by-Side Comparison
  • “Step-By-Step Guide” vs. “Step-by-Step Guide

Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns

Oftentimes, random words such as “Spaghetti Squash” are capitalized in an article. “Spaghetti squash” is a common noun and should not be capitalized. If you’re ever unsure about whether or not something should be capitalized, Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster are usually spot-on and can be used to answer any questions.

God and He

"God" and "He" should be capitalized when they refer to the singular Judeo-Christian god, as in “In the Old Testament, God has a lot of opinions.” When “god” is used to refer to any other god, it is usually not capitalized, as in “I sketched the god Shiva” or “I was doing research on Greek gods.”

Common Names (Species)

It is perfectly reasonable to capitalize the common name of a species. While capitalized and uncapitalized common names are both correct, our network site editorial preference is to capitalize the entire common name:

  • PetHelpful: For example, German Shepherd rather than German shepherd or Golden Retriever rather than golden retriever (see American Kennel Club publications). Types of breeds—such as bulldogs, pit bulls, and shepherds—are not capitalized.

  • SkyAboveUs: For example, White-throated Swift rather than white-throated swift. Birders and people who write about birds tend to capitalize all words in a common name of the species (see Audubon Society publications).

  • Dengarden: Lily of the Valley rather than lily of the valley.

Commas

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences are when two sentences are joined together either by a coordinating conjunction (such as but, and, or, so, yet, etc.) or appropriate punctuation (such as a semicolon). For instance, “I went to the store, and I brought my jacket along.” “I went to the store” and “I brought my jacket along” are two independent clauses or complete sentences, joined together by the coordinating conjunction “and.”

  • Correct: “I went to the store, and I brought my jacket along.”
  • Incorrect: “I went to the store and I brought my jacket along.” This is an example of a run-on sentence.
  • Incorrect: “I went to the store, and bought ice cream.” This is called a comma splice. This is a comma splice because “bought ice cream” is not an independent clause; therefore, it shouldn’t be offset with a comma. “Bought ice cream” is the second half of a compound predicate.

Note: If the clauses are very short and closely connected (and aren’t part of a series), the comma may be omitted: e.g. “Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

Note: “Because” is not a coordinating conjunction, and you typically don’t want a comma in front of it (except in instances where you use a comma to avoid confusion). You can find more examples here.

Compound Sentences With Introductory Phrases

This one is a doozy. If you find a sentence that’s structured like this, ensure that it’s punctuated in one of these two ways (though, the first way is preferred). Better yet, avoid constructing sentences this way.

  • Correct: “After riding his bike around the block twice, Rob was sweating profusely, and when he got home, he really needed some water.” While there are several ways to punctuate this correctly, this way looks the cleanest and is correct.
  • Technically correct: “After riding his bike around the block twice, Rob was sweating profusely, and, when he got home, he really needed some water.” While this punctuation is technically correct, the onslaught of commas does not look particularly appealing. In this very particular case, it’s okay to omit the comma.

Geographic References

A geographic reference that includes a comma needs a comma after the final piece of the geographic location. For instance, “I live in Mobile, Alabama, with my parents” is correct. “I live in Mobile, Alabama with my parents” is incorrect. The Punctuation Guide offers additional examples.

Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses

Restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, such as “that” and “which”: The basic rule of thumb in American English is that if a phrase is necessary (restrictive), you should use “that,” and if a phrase is unnecessary (non-restrictive), you should use “which.” Oxford Dictionary wrote a great article explaining this in more detail.

A restrictive relative clause gives us essential information about the noun it precedes. Commas are not used to precede this type of clause:

  • Correct: "She extended the paw that was hurt." We need this information. Imagine the sentence as “She extended the paw.” If the clause is left out, the meaning of the sentence is affected or changed. It doesn’t make any sense; therefore, the phrase is necessary. As a necessary phrase, it gets a “that” and should not be offset with a comma.
  • Correct: "She extended the paw which was hurt." Correct use of “which” in British English ONLY. “That” is also correct in British English.
  • Incorrect: “She extended the paw, which was hurt.” Knowing which paw she extended is necessary information, so it should not be offset with a comma. “Which” is also used incorrectly per American English.

Non-Restrictive Relative Clause

A non-restrictive relative clause contains extra information or additional details. If left out, the meaning of the sentence is not changed. These clauses are preceded by a comma (which sets off the information). “That” is never used to introduce this type of clause in British AND American English, but “which” is acceptable:

  • Correct: "She extended her paw, which was hurt." We don’t really need to know that she hurt her paw. It’s extraneous information that doesn’t change the sentence. Therefore, it gets a “which” and must have a comma.
  • Incorrect: “She extended her paw which was hurt.” A “which” phrase is almost always offset with a comma because “which” generally indicates extraneous information.
  • Incorrect: “She extended her paw that was hurt.” The fact that she hurt her paw isn’t necessarily important. Additionally, this sentence’s phrasing means that she had previously hurt her paw, which is likely not the intended meaning of this sentence.

More examples:

  • Restrictive: She was eating the food that was kosher.
  • Non-restrictive: They entered the graveyard, which was haunted.

Coordinate Adjectives vs. Cumulative Adjectives (Separating Adjectives With Commas)

  • When you have a string of adjectives, you often separate them with commas, as in “He’s tall, dark, furry, and handsome.”
  • If each adjective separately modifies the noun, as in “a heavy, bulky box,” since both “heavy” and “bulky” modify “box,” you insert that comma. The test for this is if you can rearrange the adjectives and the sentence still makes sense. “Bulky, heavy box” and “heavy, bulky box” both work, so we need that comma.
  • On the other hand, cumulative adjectives have a relationship to each other, too, not just the noun. In “exquisite custom houseboat,” “custom” modifies “houseboat” (they become a unit), and then “exquisite” modifies “custom houseboat.” Apply the test and rearrange: “custom exquisite houseboat” no longer makes sense, does it? So you can leave the comma out.

Hyphens

Hyphens should be used to join two or more words together, such as “eye-opener” or “free-for-all.” They should also be used to join multi-word modifiers.

Note: Hyphens should not be used in place of an em dash. For example:

  • Correct: “We adore grits—as long as they are made right—and this is exactly right."
  • Incorrect: “We adore grits - as long as they are made right - and this is exactly right."

Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives consist of two words joined together to modify a single word (a.k.a. multi-word modifiers). For instance:

  • “I saw a man-eating alligator” not “I saw a man eating alligator”
  • E.g. “She loves 19th-century architecture” vs. “She loves 19th century architecture” BUT "The 19th century saw the rise and fall of many architectural styles” vs. "The 19th-century saw the rise and fall of many architectural styles.”

Note: Do not hyphenate “ly” words.

Exceptions

There are, of course, exceptions. Something like “chocolate chip cookie” probably doesn’t need to be hyphenated (and over-hyphenation can look bad). The general best practice is that if there’s any way the words could be misconstrued, you should probably include a hyphen (e.g. the “high school kid” and the “high-school kid").

Additional Resources

APA has a succinct and helpful guide to compound adjectives.

Pro Tip

If you’re unsure if a word should be hyphenated, check to see what Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and Wikipedia have to say.

Dashes

Em Dashes (—)

Em dashes sometimes appear as “--.” We prefer that you change “--” to the em dash “—.” Em dashes should not have spaces on either side of the word. For instance:

  • Correct: “Upon discovering the errors—all 124 of them—the publisher immediately recalled the books.”
  • Incorrect: “Upon discovering the errors — all 124 of them — the publisher immediately recalled the books."

Note: We generally avoid em dashes in titles because they take up too much horizontal space.

Em Dash Shortcut

On a Mac, the keyboard shortcut for an em dash is 'option' + 'shift' + '-'

En Dashes (–)

En dashes are primarily used to connect numbers, and they signify “up to and including”/“through.” For example:

  • Read chapters 4–7 by Monday
  • Part-time employees work 20–30 hours per week
  • Severus Snape (1960–1998)

If “from” precedes the first number, “to” should be used rather than an en dash.

  • Correct: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran from 1996 to 2003”

  • Incorrect: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran from 1996–2003”

If “between” precedes the first number, “and” should be used rather than an en dash.

  • Correct: “The average American spends between 2 and 4 hours watching TV every day.”
  • Incorrect: “The average American spends between 2–4 hours watching TV every day.”

Check Grammarly for more information on the en dash.

En Dash Shortcut

On a Mac, the keyboard shortcut for an en dash is 'option' + '-'

Additional resources: The Punctuation Guide’s punctuation guide is one of our go-to resources when we have questions. DailyWritingTips wrote this humorous account of the ten most common hyphenation/dash errors.

Lists

There are many ways to structure a numbered or bulleted list. Grammar Girl has a great explanation. Choose whichever style seems most appropriate for the article that you’re working on. The following instructions below are more like guidelines. Consistency and not looking distracting are the main keys (aside from being grammatically correct!). For instance, you wouldn’t want a list that has four items, but only one item has punctuation.

If the list is a run-in part of the sentence:

Imagine if you were writing the sentence vertically instead of horizontally. The first letter of each item here would not be capitalized. If a list is a continuation of items in a sentence, try to punctuate it like what you see directly below. This sentence, if we wrote it horizontally, would look something like “As an editor, I like grammar, punctuation, and spelling.” And none of those elements would be capitalized in that case, which is why you would refrain from capitalizing them in a list.

As an editor, I like:

  • grammar,
  • punctuation,
  • and spelling.

If it completes a sentence in multiple ways:

Think of this formatting as a “choose your own ending type” deal. In this case, you wouldn’t capitalize the first letter of the bulleted points because each one finishes the sentence, and wouldn’t have a random capital in the middle of your sentence. So, “You can refuse to celebrate” would be correct, while “You can Refuse to celebrate” would not be. These types of lists are punctuated like this:

There are many ways to throw a party. You can:

  • refuse to celebrate!
  • invite your friends over.
  • take a vacation.

If the list is a series of sentences:

If the list is a series of complete sentences that follow a colon, try to punctuate it thusly. And the first letter here would be capitalized because each bullet point is its own sentence.

I’d like to tell you about my vacation today. Here’s what I did:

  • I went to the store.
  • I pet some fish.
  • I explored some ruins.

If the list is just a list:

You’re likely to run into situations where the list is . . . simply a list. If that’s the case, you’ll want to aim for something that looks like this. It tends to look more aesthetically pleasing if you capitalize the first letter in this case.

My 5 Favorite Fruits

  • Mango
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pineapple
  • Apples

If the list is comprised of items and their definitions/explanations:

This is common in situations where both a short answer and a brief explanation are necessary. It often helps to bold the key term(s), though this is not a requirement. (Note that colons are preferred to dashes, here.)

There are three major types of blood vessels:

  • Arteries: These are the largest blood vessels. They carry blood away from the heart.
  • Veins: Veins are smaller than arteries and carry blood back to the heart.
  • Capillaries: These are the smallest blood vessels. They allow for the exchange of gases, nutrients, and waste between blood and the body’s tissues.

Semicolons for clarifying groupings:

Semicolons may be used to clarify groupings, especially when an item or multiple items in a list already have commas. Separate the items with semicolons:

Each chef took to a station and received:

  • a miyabi knife, which is considered a work of culinary art;
  • a rolling mat, which is commonly used to prepare sushi; and
  • a slip, which contained the clientele's food order requests.

Make sure lists are parallel:

This means that all items in the list have the same structure (e.g. start with the same part of speech, use the same verb tense, use the same sentence type).

3 Reasons Summer Is the Best Season

  • It’s warm and sunny every day.
  • The days are long.
  • cold drinks (nonparallel/incorrect)

How should you capitalize multi-word items in lists or tables? As long as you’re consistent, you can use APA title case, sentence case, or all lower case. Generally, however, APA tends to look the cleanest.

What should you do if the list is long and each item is short? Long lists of short items create lots of excess white space on the page and should be converted to tables when possible. (Minimal-style tables tend to look best. See below.)

Foods That Are Good for Weight Loss

Grapefruit
Carrots
Beetroots
Ginger
Almonds
Apples
Whole Grains
Pumpkin
Lemons
Berries
Asparagus
Peas

Note: This is the "minimalist" table in the HubTool

Numbers

As a general rule, spell out numbers one through nine, and use numerics for numbers 10 and higher.

If you come across a sentence with numbers above and below nine, either spell them both out or use numerics for both. In essence, do what makes it look best/makes the most sense:

  • Correct: “six bananas and thirteen oranges”
  • Incorrect: “six bananas and 13 oranges”
  • Correct: “9 of the trail’s 1,500 miles are passable solely at low tide.”
  • Incorrect: “Nine of the trail’s 1,500 miles are passable solely at low tide.”

Medical Content (Human or Veterinary)

For drug dosages, strength, and frequency, stick to numerics for all quantities (e.g. "she was given 300 mg of echinacea every 12 hours; or "he was given 1 mg of the placebo every 6 hours").

Note: Exceptions to the above preferences include prose and autobiographical-style writing: “I was diagnosed with narcolepsy three years ago.”

Technical Content (e.g. measurements for DIY projects); use numerics.

  • “Use a 2-inch drill bit.”
  • “Using your measuring tape, use the carpenter pencil to make a mark at 4 inches.”

Distances

If the number is less than 10, it’s up to your discretion whether to write it out. Consider what looks best to the reader. For example, the following sentences are both correct, but the numeric version looks far less clunky:

  • “San Francisco is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Santa Barbara.”
  • “San Francisco is a 4.5-hour drive from Santa Barbara.”

Recipes (e.g. Delishably, Bellatory)

For sentences that contain multiple numbers, consider offsetting the instructions with written and numerical text. Make stylistic choices that will benefit the reader most. Make the instructions easily scannable. Considering the following examples:

  • “Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.”
  • “Add 4 cups of icing sugar.”
  • “Spoon the batter into the cups about three-quarters of the way full.” OR “Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them 3/4 full.”
  • “Add the melted chocolate and beat it for 2 minutes.”

Quotation Marks/Quotes

If a word or phrase has already been referenced once in quotes, it doesn’t need to be quoted again (e.g. This tasty morsel, called a “cinnamon bun,” should be eaten twice a day to keep the doctor away. Cinnamon buns are great for your health.).

Punctuating Quotes

In American English, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.

  • I can never remember how to spell "sovereignty."
  • "You don't know who you're dealing with," she said with a smile.

Colons, semicolons, and dashes always go outside quotation marks:

  • Her favorite poem was “Where the Sidewalk Ends”; she spent days memorizing it.

Question marks and exclamation points go outside quotation marks UNLESS they belong with the quoted material:

  • Which character in Spongebob said, “Well, it may be stupid, but it’s also dumb”?
  • Without missing a beat, he cried, “It was Patrick!”

Additional Resources

Titles

  • Always italicize book titles, movie titles, etc. unless it’s in the title or caption field in the HubTool, where you must use quotation marks instead (as italics are not permitted in those fields).
  • Songs, article titles, and short pieces should be in quotation marks in titles (since the HubTool won’t italicize in titles).
  • APA capitalizes all words four letters or more. That includes “with” and “from.” Verbs, including “is,” are capitalized.

Punctuation of Titles

Em dashes are too long in titles, and if possible, try to write the title without a colon (it sounds more conversational). Ampersands are usually avoided, though sometimes necessary in longer titles.

It’s usually smart to refrain from using specific dates in titles (Top 10 Whatnots of 2011!), since they make that content less evergreen and would require regular updating, which can’t be guaranteed.

Dates in Titles

When should you include a date in an article’s title? They are probably necessary in articles that discuss products, events, releases, reveals, or reviews pertaining to a specific time frame—day, year, decade, century, etc. (e.g. on Turbofuture, SpinDitty, LevelSkip, etc.)

  • “Best Video Games of 2018”
  • “The Top Country Albums From the '90s”

However, dates are probably not necessary in holiday gift-giving guides.

Subtitles and Captions

  • Subtitles: Text capsules should have subtitles.
  • Captions: Photos should have captions, not subtitles. (Keep in mind that not every photo needs a caption.) Add captions that make sense to readers and help them better navigate the article. Google also uses captions to explain images when readers are unable to see them (e.g. those that are visually impaired).

Movie titles and book titles: Always italicize book titles, movie titles, etc. unless it’s in the title or caption field, where the tool forces us to use quotation marks instead, BUT . . .

HubTool Pro Tip

If you put the desired subtitle text in the body of a Text Capsule and use the H2 setting, you can italicize the text.

Spelling

  • Multiple variations: For words that can be spelled multiple ways (such as “crock pot,” crock-pot,” or “crockpot”), pick one variation and use it consistently.

  • If you’re unsure of how a word is spelled or hyphenated, please check either Wikipedia or Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.

Word Usage

Use "article" instead of "Hub" and "author" instead of "Hubber."

Formatting

The Top of the Article (a.k.a. the “Welcome Mat”)

The top of the article is the most important, since this is where readers get a first impression and decide to continue reading or go back to the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Online readers are like potential buyers. When they land on an article, they’re doing a drive-by of sorts, and if the article lacks “curb appeal,” they’re more likely to keep driving (or hit the back button) to find a more appealing answer.

The title, summary, bio, top photo, first subtitle, and first Text Capsule must be as good as they can be. Errors in these places might affect reader trust.

Note: A good meta-description/summary is the best way to grab readers from the SERP.

HubTool Pro Tip

You can rearrange capsules by locating “organize your content“ in the right sidebar, which allows you to drag items wherever you want.

HubTool Numbering/Bulleting

Whenever possible, use the HubTool’s numbering tool rather than manually entering numbers or bullet points. This is because the HubTool offsets the list and makes it much easier for the reader to follow.

White Space

Articles should not have extra white space. If there is extra white space in the text or between Text Capsules, it needs to be deleted. If a list of short items creates a long column of white space, consider converting the list to a table.

Graphic Dividers

Do not use graphic dividers (wide images or punctuation that are used to force a break in the article’s visual flow).

Text Capsules

Text Capsules with subtitles are a good way to add shape to the page. If you have long blocks of text, consider breaking them up this way.

Bolding, Caps, or Italicization

  • Entire paragraphs should not be bolded, capitalized, or italicized. Use these options only to help the reader find what they’re looking for or, in some cases, for stylistic effect.
  • It is sometimes okay for entire sentences to be intermittently bolded, but use these sparingly.

Necessary Italicization

Foreign words: Isolated words or phrases in a foreign language (not English) are to be italicized once if unfamiliar to the readers. If the word or phrase is repeated throughout the text, only italicize it on the first occurrence. If used infrequently, the italicization may be repeated.

  • If the word appears in Merriam-Webster, there is no need to italicize it (e.g. “froideur” and “gochujang” vs. “kaki-gori”).

Latin names: The Latin names of species of plants and animals are italicized. Binomial names consist of the capitalized genus (generic name) and the lowercase species name (specific name). For example: "the green sea turtle or Chelonia mydas."

  • Binomial names in titles and subtitles: It is acceptable to keep the species name in lowercase within a title or subtitle. For example, “Temperature-Dependent Nest Ratios in Chelonia mydas Populations”

Ships and other named vessels: Names of specific ships and other vessels should be capitalized and italicized. BUT, any abbreviations that precede the name should not be italicized (e.g. USS or HMS).

  • the USS Constitution
  • the space shuttle Enterprise
  • the Beagle

Author Bios

Creating Bios

Relevant author bios boost reader trust, so they should really be added to all articles. If you often write on the same subject, you can make a catch-all bio for that topic (e.g. “After 15 years as a landscaper, I’ve picked up a lot of gardening tips and tricks. Luckily for you, I’m willing to share!”).

Note: Errors in the bio might affect the reader’s first impression, so take extra care to proofread.

Relevancy

All author bios should be relevant to the article(s) they appear on. If the article is about making crock-pot chili, the bio shouldn’t say something like “Stan is an executive for Save the Date charity and loves his kids.” That bio doesn’t have anything to do with the article and could negatively impact reader trust. Don’t add bios that don’t have anything to do with the article’s content.

Refrain from saying "I have been writing for HubPages for 3 years" in the bio. Instead, say something like "writing for [insert network site]" or "writing online content."

Video Capsules

Add a video if an article can benefit from it. A video can round out a short article.

Tips for Selecting a Video

  • Make sure it’s high quality

  • Watch the video’s content and scan long videos to make sure it doesn’t violate Adsense policies or contain offensive dialogue, etc.

How to Link to a Specific Part of a YouTube Video

Put the time you want the video to start at the end of the URL. For example, if you want a video to start at 13 seconds in, put “t=13s” at the end of the URL.

Note: If you want a video to start at a minute or more in, you still have to put the value in seconds (e.g. a minute and thirteen seconds would be "t=73s").

Callouts

Callouts are a great way to add visual interest to a page (e.g. cute/catchy/chatty asides, interesting bits or quotes). However, Google can’t read their contents as clearly as H2, so they should be used with discretion.

Note: Subtitles should never appear in callouts unless it’s for a simple subtitle like “FAQs.”

Tables

  • You can add tables to an article that has long lists of short items that create long columns of white space on the page.

  • Tables make comparisons-at-a-glance much easier, so they work very well in reviews of several products, for example. They are often ideal in articles that compare two or more things.

  • Instead of downloading or cutting/pasting a table from another publication to use in an article, it’s always better to create your own table. Unless you can verify with complete certainty that the table is in the CC for commercial use, you should treat tables as you would any copyrighted photo or image.

Table of Contents (ToC)

Adding a ToC to the top of a longer article helps to give readers a heads-up about what answers they will find. Numbered or bulleted lists of content also help information convert to Featured Snippets, so they’re a good thing to add if necessary and possible (e.g. on reviews of many items and long articles that span multiple topics).

Try not to have any preamble, intro, or words between the subtitle and the list. This will make it easier to convert to a FS.

Note: Short articles and articles with a structure that’s already very strong probably don’t need a ToC.

Photos

Adding CC Images

If you do not have original photos, add relevant and useful CC images. All added photos should be properly sourced. Remember that photos should do two things: convey important information and set a mood/appeal visually. Here are a few good CC sites you might use:

  • Flickr: Flickr has a wide range of photos of varying quality. Keep in mind that not everything on Flickr is CC. You’ll need to select “all licenses” and select “commercial use” (or “commercial use and mods allowed” if you plan to add text or modify the image in any other way).
  • Wikimedia Commons: This site exclusively features CC and/or public domain photos.
  • Pixabay: Everything on Pixabay is CC as well.

Note: Avoid adding blurry, pixelated, small, duplicate, or near-duplicate images.

HubTool Pro Tip

You can separate photos from a gallery by opening the Photo Capsule and clicking the “create capsule” button that moves that photo and all of its source info/caption to the bottom of the article.

Adding Text to an Image

You can use sites such as AdobeSpark, Canva, and Fotor to add text overlay to your images. They’re all more or less the same, so use whichever works best for you. Take extra care not to add photos with grammatical errors in the overlaid text.

Note: Keep in mind that while small text overlay may look great on desktop, it will likely be very hard to read on mobile, where most traffic comes from! Be sure to check the mobile preview to make sure your text overlay is readable in both formats.

Watermarks

Watermarked images are rarely hosted on Network Sites. Occasionally, a watermarked image may be allowed if one of these conditions is met:

  • The watermark is small and unobtrusive and the picture is necessary.

  • It is the author’s own watermark (though it must still be small and unobtrusive) and the content is irreproducible (e.g. DIYs, instructionals, recipes, art).

Not Allowed

  • Medium-sized watermarks (TatRing, Holidappy, Feltmagnet, and Delishably might be exceptions).

  • Watermarks that cover the majority of the image or appear all over the photo.

  • Promotional watermarks (e.g. watermark is promoting the author’s personal blog).

Photos from Amazon and eBay are allowed IF a link to the product is provided. Use these wisely. Oftentimes, an Amazon Capsule that displays a small version of the photo looks better than a full-size Amazon-style image.

Thumbnails

Avoid thumbnail galleries with just two photos. Instead, please create separate Photo Capsules for each photo. You can separate photos from a gallery by opening the Photo Capsule and clicking the “create capsule” button, which moves that photo and all its source info/caption to the bottom of the article.

  • A thumbnail gallery of 10 pictures of a waterfall should appear in a gallery (though if the majority of these photos are practically identical, you should pare it down so that only a few eye-catching ones remain).

  • A thumbnail gallery of a step-by-step process should be parsed out into single Photo Capsules, placed either above or below the text they describe, and appropriately captioned. (This is especially applicable for FeltMagnet, Delishably, AxleAddict, and Dengarden.)

Note: A step-by-step process written out in a single Text Capsule and followed by a wall of photos showing each step is only acceptable if each photo is properly captioned.

Captions

As a general rule, photos should have captions instead of subtitles. Google looks at captions for information about a photo so that it can translate well on Google Images. Google also uses captions to explain images for readers who are unable to see them (e.g., those that are visually impaired). Make sure your captions are engaging, specific, employ keywords, and help readers interpret the image.

Usually, captions are written in sentence case with terminal punctuation.

  • If the caption is a sentence fragment (e.g. “1982 Mercury Capri With a Broken Sunroof”), you don’t need to use terminal punctuation.

  • BUT if the caption is a sentence fragment with internal punctuation, convert to a full sentence or rework to remove internal punctuation (e.g. “Chocolate, sprinkles, and bananas on top” should be “Here’s a sundae with chocolate, sprinkles, and bananas on top.”).

Note: Since you can’t italicize in captions, all book titles, movie titles, etc. should be in quotation marks.

Text Capsule Subtitles and Photo Captions

  • The subtitle tells the readers what answer they will find in that Text Capsule, and the caption under a photo helps them interpret the image, so both should be as descriptive and as engaging as possible.

  • Google reads a photo’s caption to know how to categorize it in Google Images. Photos need descriptive captions if you want them to be searchable.

  • Subtitles should all be in APA title case. In some cases, each title can be a punctuated sentence, instead. Overall, an article’s punctuation and capitalization of titles should be consistent.

  • Captions are usually written in sentence case with terminal punctuation. Sometimes, the caption is written in APA title case and does not contain terminal punctuation. Again, it should be consistent within the article.

  • Photos should typically have captions instead of subtitles.

  • Videos usually don’t need subtitles (since those titles are printed right on the video), but there are some instances where a title is needed on a video (e.g. if the title of the video isn’t a good indicator of the video’s content).

Organization: How to Organize an Article

Inverted Pyramid

Information should be presented in an inverted pyramid. This means that the answer should be presented at the top of the article, and capsules should be arranged from most to least relevant.

What is the inverted pyramid?

The inverted pyramid is a way of organizing and prioritizing text in an article. This is especially important for online content, as readers have a high likelihood of clicking away if their query is not answered immediately. The inverted pyramid doesn’t build to a climax (as traditional writing does). Instead, a quick, elegant, and concise answer should be given right at the top and then followed by an explanation.

SEO

What weight do the different headings have in terms of SEO?

  • H1: This is reserved for the title and has the most weight.

  • H2: These are what we use for subtitles and have less weight than an H1 but more than H3s. They should be as conversational as possible.

  • H3: This is the least powerful heading, but it’s still important. Often, nesting these below an H2 heading can create an easily skimmable, organized article.

We should worry about reader happiness before SEO when creating subtitles. Online readers read in F-shaped patterns and skim to find what they’re looking for. Specific, helpful, conversational subtitles make this easy.

Subtitles like “Introduction” and “Conclusion” serve no purpose. Either replace these with better subtitles or delete them altogether.

What is a featured snippet?

Certain queries may pull up a featured snippet (FS) at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The FS contains a summary of the answer to the search query. This can be in the form of a bulleted/numbered list, a paragraph, or a table.

Whenever possible, it’s smart to give the reader the answer to their search query as quickly and succinctly as possible.

Scannability

Formatting information with bullets, callouts, numbering, tables, etc. helps readers scan to find the answers they’re looking for. Other elements that boost scannability include headings, bold text, graphics, captions, and tables of contents (ToCs). (This is a time to put on your “reader hat” and think about what elements would best help you navigate the page.)

Headers

H1 is the title, the most prominent and public and searchable phrase in the article. H2 is subtitles (second-most important and visible), and H3 is a slightly smaller header (and slightly less visible to readers and less important to search engines). Though these headers have a huge impact on searchability, we should be focusing primarily on using H2 and H3 as a hierarchy that helps the reader scan the text without losing the overall thread of the article. This is more important than worrying about them for SEO reasons.

Subtitles: H2 and H3

H2 and H3 help to format an article and can add visual interest to the page. Double-check your subtitles by scanning the article (as a reader might) to see if they are coherent and convey useful info.

Polls

Polls typically go near the end of an article. If you put them at the top, it’s like asking readers to give you something (information) before you’ve given them anything (content/answers), so it can feel spammy to have the polls first.

Removing Text (or Moving Text)

Remove portions of text that repeat, distract from, or don’t add to the main topic and might affect reader trust. Anecdotal or tangential details that contribute to (rather than hurt) reader trust might be appropriate if it is a personal story and serves the purpose and topic of the article.

Rich Vocabulary (or Word Choice)

When writing an article, it’s a good idea to use a variety of words to describe things rather than repeat the same words (which can lead to stuffing). Apt synonyms and expert terminology will enrich understanding and enliven the writing. For example, if you’re writing an article about split little toenails and do a Google search, you’ll come across the term “accessory nail of the fifth toenail” in Wikipedia; adding this term to the article is an excellent idea.

Crafting Titles (H1)

The title (H1) is the most important sentence in the entire article and the one with the most eyes on it. It is weighted most heavily by both readers and search engines. Titles must be an accurate representation of the content and they should contain words that people are searching for online. Take extra time and care to ensure that a title is clear, direct, and as conversational as possible.

  • A title should not truncate on a SERP. Use the MOZ title tool to make sure it doesn’t.
  • We usually avoid em dashes since they take up too much horizontal space.

  • APA capitalizes all words four letters or more. That includes “with” and “from.” Verbs, including “is,” are capitalized.

  • Songs, article titles, and short pieces should be in quotation marks (since the HubTool won’t italicize in a title).

  • Ampersands are usually avoided in titles, especially for academic subjects.

  • If possible, try to write the title without a colon (it sounds more conversational).

  • It’s usually smart to remove specific dates from titles (Top 10 Whatnots of 2011!), since they make that content less evergreen and we can’t depend on the author to update it next year.

Read How to Craft a Search-Friendly Title for more information.

Products

We prefer in-text products to Amazon Capsules since they look more elegant and less spammy, so use these whenever possible.

In some cases, is it okay to leave a product in an Amazon Capsule: If the reader will want to see the image of the product, for example, or if it adds visual interest to the page. If you have a detailed and personal description attached to the Amazon product, that might be a good reason for using a capsule instead of an in-text link.

Links

Open-Faced or Bald Links

Open-faced (or bald) links, such as https://hubpageshelp.com, are not allowed within the body of the article and are not allowed to be hyperlinked in Text Capsules that are used for citations. Instead, write descriptive anchor text, such as “visit the HubPages help center,” and use that (see next section).

What is anchor text?

Anchor text is descriptive text that is hyperlinked, informs the reader of what they are clicking on, and opens to the target web page.

Unhelpful Links

Any link included in an article should:

  • be helpful to the reader,
  • include additional information,
  • have specific anchor text,
  • meet our network site quality standards,
  • and be relevant to the information.

For example, a link to a Wikipedia page may or may not be necessary depending on the content. A generic redirect to “sunflower” on Wikipedia is unnecessary, whereas a redirect to “Hashimoto’s disease,” an uncommon condition, may be helpful.

Linking to HubPages

An article on a network site should NOT link to HubPages. Additionally, it’s best not to mention HubPages on a network site in most cases.

Self-Promotional Links

Do not add links that redirect to your social media page or personal page (including blogs). Affiliate links should be used very sparingly; they must reinforce the content of an article, be necessary, and be paired with a personal recommendation. (Affiliate links are sometimes acceptable for commercial topics/general reviews.)

Acceptable Links

External links should be used sparingly, as each one is an invitation for the reader to go elsewhere. Reserve hyperlinking for only the most relevant, trustworthy, and necessary links.

The heavy use of links may be acceptable for craft and DIY projects when the project concept and project examples referred to in an article are hosted on another site. Feltmagnet is one such Network Site that often requires links for original and irreproducible material.

Anchor Text

Anchor text should be as specific as possible and aim to let the reader know exactly where they’re going. Here are some examples of good versus bad or unacceptable anchor text.

  • Open-faced (or bald) links, such as https://dengarden.com, are not allowed. Instead, write anchor text, such as “visit Dengarden,” and hypertext that.

  • “Click here!” or “Go Here for More Information” are examples of weak and untrustworthy anchor text. Who knows where that will take them?

  • “This no-fuss fried-apple dessert is otherworldly.” Strong. You know exactly where that link goes.

  • “If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of distress, consider calling a vet immediately and start to administer basic canine first aid.”

YMYL or "Your Money Your Life" Content

What Is YMYL?

YMYL (Your Money Your Life) content is heavily scrutinized by Google because of the impact it can have on an individual’s physical health, finances, safety, etc. YMYL content should demonstrate a high level of "E-A-T" or expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness:

  • Expertise: Author has a degree, is credentialed, or is licensed in an applicable field; author has completed coursework or research on the topic or actively works in the field (author serves as a primary source). Example: registered yoga teacher, pediatrician, veterinarian.

    Note: Expertise also refers to the “everyday expert”; a layperson can be an expert on what it’s like to be a cancer patient (applies to trustworthiness as well).

  • Authoritativeness: As related to expertise, author demonstrates command of language and depth of knowledge concerning topic. Authority may be demonstrated via technical and professional skills (e.g. works in a blood bank clinic, business owner of a holistic women’s center).

  • Trustworthiness: Typically demonstrated by first-hand experience or cited sources. For example, a woman who has given birth naturally shares her firsthand account of childbirth and provides baby photos of her newborn in the hospital.

Using Disclaimers for YMYL Topics

Authors are encouraged to use the HubPages disclaimer when appropriate. The purpose of a disclaimer is to:

  • alert the reader to a YMYL topic.

  • allow the author to feel comfortable sharing their expertise.

  • assist in the responsible publishing of YMYL content.

Toggle through to select the appropriate disclaimer.
Toggle through to select the appropriate disclaimer.
HubPages' Veterinary Disclaimer
HubPages' Veterinary Disclaimer

Choosing an Appropriate Disclaimer

There are five disclaimers to choose from at the bottom of the article while writing in the HubTool. You can toggle through all five to make your selection as follows:

  • -no disclaimer-: None selected. Suitable for safe craft articles (i.e. no dangerous tools), recipes, sports commentary, etc.
  • Veterinary: Lets the reader know that any advice given should be passed by and approved of by a veterinarian.
  • General: Encourages the reader to further fact-check.
  • Financial/Legal/Technical Services: Lets the reader know that any financial (e.g. investing), legal (e.g. auditing), technical (e.g. DIY bleeding brakes), or services (e.g. predicting future decisions via tarot) advice does not substitute for individualized professional counsel or advice.
  • Medical: Lets the reader know that any advice cannot supplement for that which is provided by a medical professional.
  • Medical Professional: To be used by licensed or certified (or similar) professionals; enforces that any information given does not supplement for individualized professional advice and medical care.

Copyright

  • In an Article: Copyright should be HubPages’ (offered in the HubTool), if there’s one at all.

  • In a Photo: If you choose, you may add your own © in the photo source.

Citations

In lists of sources, we use APA citation format. You may choose to use this app that helps you format properly. Sources that are frequently cited include journal articles (print or online), websites, magazines (print or online), and books (edited, e-books, and chapters). Some things to keep in mind:

Include the retrieved date for websites (when available).

  • Ex: Smith, P. Studies in Animal Behavior. Journal of Feline Behavior, 45(2), 81-95. Retrieved July 10, 2013.

Hyperlink the title rather than the URL.

Spammy Elements

“Spammy elements” are products, links, and wording (including keyword stuffing) that feel excessive and make the article as a whole appear to be motivated by earnings rather than motivated by a desire to share information. What is classified as spammy?

  • “Sign up for HubPages” language (remove all references to HubPages on Network Sites.)

  • Promotional links. These include:

    • Links that promote something rather than help the reader better understand the content of the article.

    • Links that have an ulterior motive (monetary or otherwise).

  • Self-referential, redundant, or poor-quality links.

  • Unnecessary or unused Product Capsules (products should be useful to the reader and something they would expect or be pleased to find).

Which products or Amazon links are okay to leave in?

  • An article called Gorgeous Gifts for Teenage Girls will likely have products of the items mentioned. (An article called How to Cook Tater Tots should not have any products. A reader searching for this topic is unlikely to want to buy a product.)

  • The product is mentioned in the text of the article, you have clearly used it, and it’s relevant to the article’s main search query.

  • Your recommendation is genuine, trustworthy, unbiased, and unmotivated by earnings.

  • If the product is removed, the article would no longer satisfy the reader.

What is keyword stuffing and what should I do about it?

Keyword stuffing is an SEO technique where important search terms are repeated excessively in an attempt to gain a rank advantage in search. Keyword stuffing can be annoying, redundant, spammy-feeling, and trust-reducing for the reader. Keyword stuffing of “German Shepherd”:

German Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds in North America. Why? The German Shepherd is known for its trainability and intelligence; the breed has also served the public for ages. It’s widely known that German Shepherds assist police officers, search and rescue volunteers, and military personnel. Are you thinking about making your next dog a German Shepherd?

How do I know if an article is stuffed?

  • CMND+F: If you’re wondering if an article is keyword stuffed, hit cmnd+f, enter your keyword(s), and see how your article lights up.

  • Read It Aloud: When you read the article out loud, does it sound unnatural? If it sounds off, it’s probably stuffed.

Reader-Trust-Affecting Errors

The following reader-trust-affecting errors negatively impact an article:

  • misspellings
  • words that are missing or duplicated (e.g. “The cat cat sat in my lap” or “The dog barked the child”)
  • punctuation that convolutes the meaning of a sentence or is missing at the end of a sentence
  • errors that make it necessary to re-read a sentence multiple times in order to understand what the author is trying to say
  • ESL phrases
  • run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, or comma splices
  • subject-verb disagreements (e.g. “The banks stores money”)
  • changing tense mid-sentence or using tense inappropriately
  • lack of parallel structure (e.g. “I walked the dog, the cat, and fed the bird”)

  • not capitalizing proper nouns or incorrectly capitalizing words; sentences that don’t begin with a capital letter

Note: Errors in prominent locations (e.g. the Welcome Mat) are more likely to affect reader trust. Slight over- or under-use of commas, hyphens, or other small bits of punctuation do not typically count as reader-trust-affecting unless they interfere with the ability to read a sentence without confusion on the first try.

Additional Helpful Resources

  • American Psychological Association: Our main style guide. The APA style guide is based on American psychology standards. If you’d like more information, you can visit their website, or if you need formatting help, Purdue’s OWL has a formatting and style section devoted to this guide.

  • Chicago Manual of Style: Chicago Manual of Style (better known as CMS) is the go-to guide for most book publishers. CMS does not make their book available online; however, they do have a “but what about this instance that isn’t in the printed guide” section.

  • Grammar Girl: Grammar Girl is incredibly helpful, very accessible, and a bit quirky. Her blog offers a great guide to anyone looking for answers.

  • Grammarly: Grammarly’s Word Blog is often a great resource for any questions that you might have. They often present their information in very succinct, straightforward, easy-to-read articles.

  • Purdue OWL: One of the more academically minded resources you’re going to find, Purdue's Online Writing Lab is an invaluable resource for all of your editing and grammar needs.

  • Capitalize My Title: This is the quick way to be sure that your title is capitalized according to APA guidelines.

  • MOZ Title Tool: This is an excellent site for determining the length of an article’s title tag.

© 2019 HubPages

Comments

Submit a Comment
  • ZxRed profile image

    Red Fernan 

    5 hours ago from Philippines

    This is so helpful. I learned a lot from here than from my entire English class.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    25 hours ago from Houston, Texas

    This is important information to know. I will be bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks!

  • Thelma Alberts profile image

    Thelma Alberts 

    31 hours ago from Germany and Philippines

    This is a great guide for me whenever I write an article. Very informative. Thanks for sharing. I have bookmarked this for later use.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    4 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thank you very much for creating this guide. It's great to have so many important rules in one document!

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 

    4 days ago from Long Island, NY

    This is a wonderful addition to the learning center. Definitely a comprehensive guide that should be a requirement for all to read.

  • Jean Bakula profile image

    Jean Bakula 

    4 days ago from New Jersey

    Thanks for such a great guide!

  • HubPages profile imageAUTHOR

    HubPages 

    4 days ago from San Francisco, CA

    @Susan Ng Yu, just fixed the year thing! Thanks for pointing that out. ;)

    Yes, in American English, periods and commas should always go inside of quotation marks!

  • Pearldiver profile image

    Rob Welsh 

    4 days ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

    This is very well compiled and will benefit a whole lot of people.

    Will you be adding a style guide in future, on how to emphasize one's personal spoken accent within a hub?

    I ask that on behalf of all Kiwis who write on Hubpages and want to capitalize on the results of recent surveys which indicated, that New Zealanders speak with the sexiest accent in the world... :)

  • TessSchlesinger profile image

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    4 days ago from South Africa

    Thanks for this. Absolutely brilliant style sheet, but more than a style sheet. It has answered things that I have wanted to know for a while, plus confirmed other methodologies I have used continually. Thank you so very much for putting this together for us.

  • Venkatachari M profile image

    Venkatachari M 

    4 days ago from Hyderabad, India

    Very informative and useful guide. Thanks to the HP Team for coming up with this wonderful style guide.

  • Susan Ng profile image

    Susan Ng Yu 

    5 days ago

    Thank you for this comprehensive guide. It's very helpful.

    I'm confused about dates though. You mentioned early on that the correct way to abbreviate decades is '70s, '80s, etc. But later on you also gave this example as correct: “The Top Country Albums From the 90s.” Shouldn't it be '90s?

    Also, you mentioned these rules about using punctuation with quotation marks:

    ▪Colons, semicolons and dashes always go outside quotation marks.

    ▪Question marks and exclamation points go outside quotation marks unless they belong with the quote.

    What about periods and commas? Do they always go inside quotation marks?

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    5 days ago from Southern Illinois

    This was very helpful and really appreciated, Thank you.

  • Rupert Taylor profile image

    Rupert Taylor 

    5 days ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

    This is terrific. Might I suggest, perhaps a little tongue in cheek, that all newcomers be required to read this before submitting their first article, just as we all read the complete license agreement for software we install.

    Such a requirement might cut down on the number of people who post whose grasp of English is very shaky.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 

    6 days ago from the short journey

    Bravo! Looking forward to studying more of this updated post and referring others to it.

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