This is an as yet incomplete guide to the language and style conventions used for Canonical documentation projects. Topics are listed in the navigation to the left, and presented here as a single page to aid searching.
Canonical is a UK based company, and uses British English throughout. There are many small differences between that and US English, but for the most part it comes down to spelling.
Some common differences are:
|US English||UK English|
|license (verb) license (noun)||license (verb) licence (noun)|
|defense (noun)||defence (noun)|
|sausages, beans, and mash||sausages, beans and mash|
|program (TV, agenda) program (IT)||programme (TV, agenda) program (IT)|
In the most part this can be mitigated by simply enabling spell checking on your editing software and choosing an en-gb dictionary. The minor differences in grammar will (hopefully) be picked up in review by the documentation team.
We would like to standardise on the following spellings for common technology terms:
- setup (noun), set up (verb)
- backup (noun), back up (verb)
- login (noun), log in (verb)
- systems management
Contractions are very common in spoken English and in many types of writing. Avoiding the use of them entirely makes it difficult to achieve a friendly, conversational tone. However, we should keep to contractions that are commonly understood and not part of some regional dialect, and only use them in "conversational" parts of the documentation (i.e. explanatory text).
|it's||it has / it is|
|o'clock||of the clock|
|you'd||you had /you would|
|you'll||you shall /you will|
|ain't||is not||colloquial - use isn't|
|how'd||how did / how would|
|I'd||I would||We don't use first person!|
|'twas||it was||only relevant in Christmas fables|
|something's||something is||avoid - confusion with possessive|
All headings and headlines should be sentence case. This means that you should only capitalise the first word.
Use: Ubuntu reaches new heights Don't use: Ubuntu Reaches New Heights
You should only capitalise:
- product names
- personal names
- company names
- Ubuntu Server, not Ubuntu server
If it is not the actual product name, it should not be capitalised. Never capitalise keywords, technical terms and jargon.
For consistency, we will use the following date format:
- Single day: 1 January 2013
- Date range within same month: 1-2 January 2013
- Date range across two or more months: 1 January - 2 February 2013
Numbers in single figures should be spelled out in most cases. From 10 onwards, numbers should be written in digits.
Exceptions to this rule include numbered lists and units of measurement.
When writing out numbers over the 100s, remember to include commas.
Don't use: 7000
This details how to present code samples in documentation, and how to work around some of the limitations there are in static media when trying to show an interactive behaviour.
In general ALL code samples should be marked as code via whatever markup system is in use. In the case of most output, this will normally result in the code:
- being slightly indented
- being highlighted in some way
- appearing in a monospace font
There are some types of final output which cannot easily reproduce all these elements, but in such cases the best approximation will be made.
Most of our documentation is generated from Markdown sources. There are two relevant conventions to follow:
A code block is enclosed by three backticks and includes the type of code:
```bash maas command do something maas command do something else ```
The most common types used are:
The last is like a miscellaneous type. It is often used to display
Use a backtick to
inline filenames and other literals like this:
Use a backtick to `inline filenames and other literals` like this:
DO NOT use prompt marks (e.g.
#) in code samples. These cause problems
for users who sometimes mistakenly type them in, or who want to copy and paste
sections of code. They also encourage poor explanation of the code.
DO NOT use comments in normal bash code. E.g.:
juju deploy wordpress juju deploy ntp-master --to 2 #colocates with wordpress juju add-relation mysql wordpress
This may be a useful comment if you just have a bash script to communicate information, but we have words! It is clearer, more obvious and more helpful to simply explain, before after or during the code.
DO NOT use long blocks of code. Anything which doesn't comfortably fit on a screen is too long. Consider why you are showing it. Can it be broken up into parts? Long sections of code are rarely read in documentation. If the code is an example intended to be used rather than read, offer it as a download instead.
DO separate commands and output where appropriate. For example, instead of:
juju status environment: gce3 machines: "0": agent-state: started agent-version: 1.24.2 dns-name: 220.127.116.11 ... ...
It is more informative to break between the command and the output with explanation. This doesn't even have to be long. It breaks up the code blocks somewhat and makes the whole document more legible and less likely to cause unintended naps. For example
To check what is going on, run: juju status ... which should return some formatted information giving the current state of each unit and service: environment: gce3 machines: "0": agent-state: started agent-version: 1.24.2 ... ...
Links to internal files or external URLs use the following format:
visible text is what will appear on the web page. The
label is used to
refer to the destination, which is placed at the bottom of the file:
<!-- LINKS --> [label]: destination
- For more on this topic see [DHCP][dhcp]. - To understand haproxy, see the [upstream configuration manual][upstream-haproxy-manual]. ... [dhcp]: installconfig-networking-dhcp.md [upstream-haproxy-manual]: http://cbonte.github.io/haproxy-dconv/1.6/configuration.html
The visible text should use an active style as opposed to a passive style. For instance, try to avoid:
A [proxy][maas-proxy] can optionally be configured.
- An internal page is referred to by its source filename (i.e.
- Try to use the same
label:destinationpair throughout the documentation.
An image should not be overly cropped - allow for context.
In terms of linking, they are managed very similarly to hyperlinks. However, they are placed on their own line; are preceded by an exclamation point; and both the label and destination have a specific naming convention:
The bottom of the file will look like:
Try to avoid jargon, long-winded phrases and words with negative connotations. Steer clear of the following:
- Allow - This suggests that we are in a position of power, permitting users or customers to conduct certain activities.
- The ability to – Use 'We can' instead of 'We have the ability to'
- Is able to – Use 'Ubuntu can' instead of 'Ubuntu is able to'
- Not only...but also...
- Going forward
- In order to
- Form factor
- Use case
- End user – Use 'user' instead
- Linux for human beings
It can be tempting to use flowery, official-sounding words rather than plain English. Try to keep it simple.