Grammar and mechanics

Our UX writing style follows our in-product voice principles. You can read more about those principles on the Voice and tone page.

AP style#


We use Associated Press (AP) style for in-product UX writing, with any exceptions noted on this page.

Active and passive voice#


Use active voice in most cases and use passive voice sparingly.

  • With active voice, sentences are simpler, shorter, clearer, and more conversational.
  • With passive voice, you can soften and provide distance in select situations (e.g., notification of a disabled account).

Active voice#

In an active sentence, it's clear who's doing what. The actor is the subject, and the subject of the sentence is doing something.

Key example showing how to use active voice. Correct usage, Jess Williams resolved your comment.
Key example showing how not to use active voice. Incorrect usage, Your comment was resolved by Jess Williams.

Passive voice#

At times, active voice can come across too harshly. In these cases, use passive voice. This separates the actor from the action enough to soften a sentence.

In a passive sentence, action is being taken upon the subject.

Key example showing how to use passive voice. Correct usage, Your payment was declined.
Key example showing how not to use active voice. Incorrect usage, We declined your payment.

Avoid passive voice by reframing the focus#

You can usually reframe a message to focus on the object, or on the actions someone could take, as another way to avoid passive voice.

Key example showing how to reframe a message to avoid passive voice. Two examples of correct usage. Something went wrong. No search results.
Key example showing how to reframe a message to avoid passive voice. Two examples of incorrect usage. An error was made. We couldn’t find any search results.

Contractions#


Use contractions to sound more conversational and natural.

Common contractions#

Use commonly understood contractions to keep sentences from feeling out-of-touch, robotic, or overly formal.

Some common contractions:

  • What's
  • We'll
  • You'll
  • You're
  • You've
  • We're
  • They're
  • Doesn't
  • Didn't
  • Isn't
  • Aren't
  • Can't
Key example showing how to use contractions. Three examples of correct usage. If you can’t. You aren’t connected. This app isn’t available.
Key example showing how not to write, using no contractions. Three examples of incorrect usage. If you cannot. You are not connected. This app is not available.

Contraction considerations#

  • Avoid contracting nouns with is, does, has, or was. This might make it look like the noun is possessive.
  • Don’t use uncommon or old-fashioned contractions (e.g., would’ve or tweren't).
  • Don’t use colloquial contractions (e.g., ain't, y'all, yinz).
  • Be mindful of how many contractions you use in a sentence. Too many contractions can make things difficult to read.
  • Avoid using contractions when dealing with legal concerns, payment processing, and account security. Casual isn’t always the best style when handling sensitive information.
Key example showing how to avoid colloquial contractions. Two examples of correct usage. Your account has been disabled. Your document is ready to view.
Key example showing how to avoid colloquial contractions. Two examples of incorrect usage. Ya’lls account has been disabled. Your document’s ready to view.

Verb tenses#


Use simple verb tenses: past, present, and future. Simple tenses are used to describe actions without specifically stating whether the actions are completed or ongoing.

Why we use simple verb tenses#

  • These use fewer words and are therefore more concise.
  • These can make content easier to scan and faster to read.
  • According to the latest U.S. Census, more than 20% of people living in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home. Simple verb tenses are easier to understand for non-native speakers.
  • Present tense improves readability scores. Fewer words and simpler phrases mean better readability.

What's not simple tense#

If any of the following comes before the verb in a sentence, it’s not simple tense:

  • Was/wasn’t, were, weren’t
  • Has/hasn’t, have/haven’t
  • Is/isn’t, are/aren’t
  • Be

If the verb in a sentence ends in “-ing,” it’s not simple tense.

Key example showing how to use simple tenses. Three examples of correct usage. She ran for president. He writes great poetry. Carmen will make the poster.
Key example showing how to use simple tenses. Three examples of incorrect usage. She was running for president. He is writing great poetry. Carmen will be making the poster.

Capitalization#


Sentence case#

Use sentence case across all Adobe product experiences.

When to use sentence case:

  • Only capitalize the first word in a phrase, title, or UI reference (e.g., Adjust borders tool)
  • Always capitalize proper nouns and branded terms (e.g., Magic Heal tool, Adobe Help Center)
  • Capitalize acronyms (e.g., XD, AEM)
Key example of writing in sentence case. Two examples of correct usage. Edit your contact information, with only “Edit” capitalized. First, select the Brush tool, with “First” and “Brush” capitalized, and "brush" bolded.
Key example of writing in sentence case. Two examples of incorrect usage. Edit Your Contact Information, with all words capitalized. First, select the Brush Tool, with “First” capitalized, and both words in “Brush Tool” capitalized, and "Brush Tool" bolded.

Title case#

Use title case only when it clarifies that we’re speaking about a specific, official entity (such as a title or name). Title case is often a marker of formality in English, and overuse can cause users stress by implying formality or officialness where it doesn’t exist.

All caps#

Use all caps sparingly.

When to use all caps:

  • Acronyms, such as accepted product names on second attribution (e.g., Adobe Experience Manager (AEM))
  • Names of file extensions (e.g., TIF, ZIP, or PSD files)

All caps should never be used to emphasize a point.

Key example of when to use all caps. Two examples of correct usage. AEM offers a full set of features, with the acronym “AEM” in all caps. Always save your PSD file, with the acronym “PSD: in all caps.
Key example of when to use all caps. Two examples of incorrect usage. Aem offers a full set of features, with only the “A” in “AEM” capitalized. ALWAYS save your psd file, with “always” in all caps and “psd” with no capitalization.

Pronouns#


Referring to the user#

We avoid speaking as our users. In nearly all situations, we aim to be conversational and talk to the user — not as them. Any exceptions depend on situational needs for sensitivity and clarity.

Second person#

Most of the time, use second person (you, your, you’re) to address users and services.

Key example of using second person language. Three examples of correct usage. You can export your data here. Your profile. Your work.
Key example of using second person language. Three examples of incorrect usage. I can export my data here. My profile. My work.

First person#

Use first person (me, I, my) only in these situations:

  • Someone responds to the interface or answers a question they've been asked directly
  • When additional sensitivity is necessary, or to indicate privacy
  • When there's a legal need to use first person to ask for consent (e.g., “I agree to these terms and conditions”)
Key example of using first person language. One example of correct usage. Yes, I agree to these terms of service.
Key example of using first person language. One example of incorrect usage. You agree to these terms of service.

Singular they#

In most situations, Adobe doesn't need to know or assume the gender of our users. So when we refer to users, we use singular they.

We don’t use “he/she” or “(s)he” — those are clunky and they exclude users who identify outside of the male/female binary.

Use any of these variants of they in their proper grammatical contexts:

  • They
  • Them
  • Their
  • Theirs
  • Themselves
  • Themself
Key example of using a singular they. Two examples of correct usage. Assign them a role. Chris has commented on your post. Read what they wrote.
Key example of using a singular they. Two examples of incorrect usage. Assign him/her a role. Chris has commented on your post. Read what (s)he wrote.

Punctuation#


Punctuation marks are an essential part of language, and they extend beyond running text. They appear in code, mathematical equations, keyboard shortcuts, file names, and more. When there are established conventions for such contexts, punctuation marks should follow those conventions.

In general, don’t use punctuation marks in place of words (e.g., "&" instad of "and" or "@" instead of "at"). And, don’t use them as design elements, or for anything purely stylistic in purpose.

For punctuation within blocks of code, use the Code typography component to differentiate the code from other written text.

Ampersand#

Don’t use ampersands (&) in UI copy. Instead, use the word “and.”

Ampersands aren’t as accessible for people using screen readers. They also bring attention to the conjunction, which is the least important part of the sentence.

Key example of using ampersands. Two examples of correct usage. Digital video and audio, with “and” spelled out. Save your work and restart the app, with “and” spelled out.
Key example of using ampersands. Two examples of incorrect usage. Digital video & audio, using an ampersand. Save your work & restart the app, using an ampersand.

Apostrophe#

Don’t use apostrophes (') in place of quotation marks.

When pluralizing singular and plural words, add apostrophe-"s" when there’s no "s" at the end. For plural nouns that end with "s," add only an apostrophe.

For any other specifics on possessive apostrophes, refer to the AP style handbook.

Asterisk#

Use asterisks ( ) or "(required)*" to establish form fields as required. Don’t use asterisks to denote anything as optional.

Make sure to use the Spectrum asterisk icon that comes built in with the design components — not the text form of an asterisk within the label string.

Don’t use asterisks in running text or labels when parentheses or a tooltip would suffice.

At sign#

Don’t use the at sign (@) in place of the word "at."

Brackets#

Don’t use brackets ([] {}) in UI copy or running sentences. Instead, use parentheses ( ( ) ).

Colon#

Use colons (:) when introducing lists of items or steps in a workflow. The lists and steps should be introduced on new lines.

Don’t use a colon at the end of a label for a form field. The design component should already communicate the relationship between the label and the input.

Comma#

When listing things, use the serial comma (Oxford comma). This means providing a comma before the “and” when listing multiple items in a sentence (e.g., “Bacon, lettuce, and tomato”).

If you’re having to use a lot of commas in a sentence, consider whether you can split the sentence up with periods or em dashes.

Ellipsis#

Use ellipses (…) when truncating text in small spaces.

You can use them when communicating progress of a process, but don’t use them on buttons to communicate that there’s a page or action beyond the button.

When using ellipses on More menus, don’t use it with the word "More" and make sure to use the Unicode character for the ellipses.

Emoji#

Don’t use emoji in any interface language.

Emoji often convey tones that may be inappropriate in certain contexts. They’re also difficult to localize, and tend to diminish readability and comprehension.

Equals sign#

Don’t use an equals sign (=) in place of the word "equals," and don’t use this as shorthand for "meaning," "means,” or "is."

Exclamation mark#

Don’t use exclamation marks (!) since they are difficult to localize and easy to overuse.

Greater than and less than#

Use the greater than and less than symbols (><) to navigate within a hierarchical structure (e.g., breadcrumbs, file structures). Don’t use them to communicate steps in a flow — use bulleted or numbered lists instead.

When using the symbols in the appropriate places, use chevron icons instead of the text forms.

Don’t use the greater than and less than symbols to replace the words "greater than" or "less than." And don’t use them to accent or decorate a word.

Hypens and dashes#

Use em dashes (—) to separate distinct but related thoughts. Include spaces before and after. (e.g., "Shaken — not stirred").

Use en dashes (–) for number ranges and lengths of time, with no spaces before or after (e.g., "Repeat steps 1–4"). Don’t use them when paired with the words “from” or “between.”

Use hyphens (-) between words, and with no spaces before or after (e.g., "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity").

Minus sign#

Don’t use the minus sign (-) in place of the word "minus."

Parentheses#

Use parentheses ( ( ) ) to provide supplementary context.

Don’t use parentheses in simple tooltips. In rich tooltips, they can indicate keyboard shortcuts. Don’t use brackets in place of parentheses.

Period#

In the majority of cases, don’t use periods (.) or any other punctuation on the end of bulleted or numbered lists.

If one list item is a complete sentence, then it would end with a period (or question mark). In this case, use periods at the end of all items.

Don’t use periods at the end of short, direct phrases within UI components (e.g., toasts, notifications).

Don’t use periods in headers or buttons.

Plus sign#

Don’t use plus signs (+) in place of the word "and," bullet points, or as any other design elements.

Don’t use plus signs when indicating there is more of something available.

Question mark#

When writing titles, questions marks (?) are the only acceptable punctuation mark to include.

Avoid using question marks to ask rhetorical questions.

Quotation mark#

Use quotation marks (“”) only when quoting someone’s words.

Don’t use them when directly referring to interface elements. See the Typography page for guidance on using bold text to do so.

Semicolon#

Don’t use semicolons (;). If you need a break in a sentence, use periods, commas, or occasionally em dashes.

While semicolons are useful for connecting two related thoughts, they add a formal and academic tone to text and have shown to negatively affect user comprehension in UX writing.

Slash#

Don’t use backward slashes, and don’t use a forward slash ( / ) to combine words or ideas. This comes across as noncommittal, and affects comprehension and clarity. Instead, choose “and” or “or.” Don’t use “and/or.”

Vertical bar#

Don’t use the vertical bar (|) in running text. Avoid using it to divide information in places other than webpage titles tags and footer info. It shouldn’t be used for purely stylistic reasons.

When you use the vertical bar, use the icon and not the text form. Additionally, make sure you change its name in JAWS to “Pause” for proper accessibility.

Abbreviations#


Amounts#

Use K for thousands, M for millions, B for billions, capitalized, no periods. Include a space between the number and the unit of measurement (e.g., "71 M records found").

Measurements and dimensions#

For full sentences where measurements or other numbers are present, use AP style and spell out the unit of measurement (e.g., 2 points, 2 picas, 2 pixels, 2 megabytes).

Similarly, use AP style when abbreviating measurements or time. Make sure there’s a space between the number and the unit of measurement (e.g., 2 pt, 2 MB, 2 min, 2 hr).

Months#

Use Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec (no periods).

Days#

Use Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat (no periods).

Time#

Use sec, min, hr (singular, no periods, no comma; e.g., 1 hr 21 min).

Use lowercase am and pm indicators without a preceding space, unless you’re describing 24-hour time (e.g., 17:15).

Numbers#


Currency#

Use the numerical form of $1.00 when formality is needed, or when the number is dynamic and might include cents.

Use the number form of $1 when you need a more casual, neutral tone or if there is a space constraint and you can round off to the nearest dollar.

Use the international abbreviation for the currency when you need to disambiguate types of currency (e.g., "$100 USD equals $138.21 SGD").

Key example of writing about currency. Two examples of correct usage. Total ad spend: $150.21 USD using the acronym for US dollars. They spend about $10 per month, omitting the cents decimal.
Key example of writing about currency. Two examples of incorrect usage. Total ad spend: $150 in US dollars, with “US dollars” spelled out. They spend about $10.00 a month, with the cents decimal included.

Large numbers#

Use a comma to offset groups of three digits, for readability:

  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000
  • 1,000,000

But for the best readability, when citing large, round numbers, spell out the word:

  • 4 thousand
  • 81 million
  • 2.5 billion

Numerals#

Spell out zero and one, but use the numerals for all other numbers.

Don’t spell out zero and one when telling time, presenting a series, or providing a timestamp.

Exceptions

If you’re mentioning currency or time alongside other types of numbers, spell out the number to make the currency or time more prominent.

Key example of using numbers in headlines and text. Two examples of correct usage. 1 – 10 possible results, with an en dash used to indicate range. Sign up for two months and save 20% for a year, with “two” spelled out.
Key example of using numbers in headlines and text. Two examples of incorrect usage. One to 10 possible results, with “one” spelled out and “to” used to indicate range. Sign up for 2 months and save $20 for a year, with the numeral “2” used.

Percentages#

Use the percent symbol (%) instead of spelling out the word "percent."

Dates and time#


Dates#

The date formats you use will depend on your product. Some experiences might require the full format, where others might require something more compact:

  • Full: Monday, August 21, 2017 at 3:07pm
  • Compact: Mon, Aug 21, 2017, 3:07pm

Additionally, dates are often localized. For example, in Europe and the UK, the previous date example would be written:

  • Full: Monday, 21 August at 15:07
  • Compact: Mon, 21 Aug, 15:07

Work with a localization expert to localize dates and times for your product’s specific cases.

Time#

  • Do not use :00 with whole numbers
  • When presenting a range of time, use an en dash without spaces in between, and do not include am or pm on the first time if it’s the same as the last
  • When translating to 24-hour time, do not include am and pm (e.g., 17:15)
Key example of writing about time. Four examples of correct usage. Posted at 12:45pm, with “pm” lowercase and without a preceding space. Schedule for 1pm, without the colon. Meeting is at 1:30–2pm, using an en dash to separate the ranges. Seen at 17:16
Key example of writing about time. Four examples of incorrect usage. Posted at 12:45 PM, with PM in all caps and with a preceding space. Schedule for 1:00pm, indicating the colon. Meeting is from 1:30pm to 2pm, with the word “to” separating the ranges. Seen at 17:16pm, with a “pm” being used for a 24-hour time.

Timestamps#

For a timestamp in a video editor where precision is needed, go by hour, then minute, then second, following this formula: HH:MM:SS.

In a tutorial playlist, for example, less detail is needed. If the video is less than an hour long, omit the hours.

Key example of writing timestamps. Two examples of correct usage. Insert marker at 01:12:34.55. Skip to 12:51 for instructions.
Key example of writing timestamps. Two examples of incorrect usage. Insert marker: 1hr 12min 34.55 sec. Skip to 12 min and 51 sec.

Time zones#

Avoid time zones unless absolutely necessary — if possible, dynamically convert to the user’s time zone.

  • If the time zone is absolute, use the common name, like Pacific Time, or India Standard Time. Don’t use UTC formulas.
  • If space is constrained, use a time zone's acronym (e.g., PST, EST), but make sure you provide extra context to your localization team if doing so.
  • For relative time and clarity, say “in your time zone.”
Key example of writing time zones. One example of correct usage. Yesterday at 4:58 pm Eastern.
Key example of writing time zones. One example of incorrect usage. Yesterday at 4:58pm UTC-5.

Lists#


Use lists to break down complex ideas and make them more readable and scannable. You can also use them to make parallel choices easy to compare.

  • Use bulleted (unordered) lists to present two or more concepts of equal weight
  • Use numbered (ordered) lists to present a series of sequential steps

Introductory phrases#

Use an introductory phrase with a colon to lead into the list, and write each list item so it works with that phrase.

Key example of using introductory phrases in lists. One example of correct usage. You can choose:, with a colon. Three options, Small, Medium, Large.
Key example of using introductory phrases in lists. One example of incorrect usage. Choose one, with a period. Three options, Small, Medium, Large.

Be consistent and use parallel construction#

Phrase your list items to be consistent with each other as much as possible. This helps with comprehension and readability.

Some things to keep in mind when writing lists:

  • Capitalize the first letter of each list item.
  • Generally, don’t use terminal punctuation in list items, unless it’s a complete sentence or sentences.
  • If the list includes action items (as in a series of instructions), the entire list should follow the same format, with the verb first. If it’s a list of nouns, all items on the list should include nouns.
Key example of consistency and parallel construction in lists. One example of correct usage. It’s happening in cities in: Three options, Indiana (with a capital “I”), Illinois (with a capital “I”, Ohio (with a capital “O”).
Key example of consistent capitalization in lists. One example of incorrect usage. It’s happening in: Three options. Cities in Indiana (With a capital “C” for “Cities”). Illinois,. and in Ohio, too.

Capitalize each list item#

Capitalize the first letter of each list item and use sentence case.

Key example of consistent capitalization in lists. One example of correct usage. Ice cream flavors. Three options, Vanilla bean (with a capital “V” in “vanilla”), Mint chocolate chip (with a capital “M” in “mint”), Mocha (with a capital “M” in “mocha”).
Key example of consistent capitalization in lists. One example of incorrect usage. Ice cream flavors: Three options, Vanilla Bean (with a capital “V” in “vanilla” and a capital “B” in “bean”), mint chocolate chip, with no capital letters, Mocha (with a capital “M” in “mocha”).