AccountingWEB style guide

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Welcome to AccountingWEB’s house style guide. This is a document designed to steer our journalists and contributors through the complex and often contradictory maze of terms surrounding the accountancy profession.

This guide is not intended as a definitive ruling on any of the entries below. Instead, it is a template for our writers to achieve consistency in their terminology, grammar and tone.

For terminology and grammar see below. In terms of tone, AccountingWEB is professional and practical, not formal, academic or pompous. Our audience responds best to clear, relatable, accessible writing that is free from jargon, nerdview and other confusing copy.

Anything not included please refer to the Guardian’s style guide. If you have a question or, god forbid, spot an error, do contact the editorial team.

Thanks for reading,

Tom Herbert, Editor, AccountingWEB.

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Quick links

A -- B -- C -- D -- E -- F -- G -- H -- I -- J -- L -- M -- N -- O -- P -- Q -- R -- S -- T -- U -- V -- X -- Y -- Z

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A

  • AAT (professional body for accounting technicians), not The AAT

  • AccountingWEB (Capital A, no space, WEB in caps). Not Accounting Web, AccountingWeb, Accounting WEB or Accountancy WEB.

  • adviser, not advisor (BUT not “advisery”)

  • am/pm, written as 7am -- not 7 AM/7AM/7 am/7 A.M. etc.

  • ampersands (this little thing: &), forbidden unless in a brand name (eg M&S). It’s not style and it’s distracting. Just write ‘and’.

  • annex, not annexe

  • anti-money laundering (hyphen between ‘anti’ and ‘money’)

  • artificial intelligence, lowercase, abbreviate to AI after first usage

  • Use auto enrolment (lowercase, no hyphen). If the rather charming ‘automatic enrolment’ is used by a contributor or interviewee feel free to use it in the first instance, but then revert to auto enrolment.

B

  • Bacs, upper & lowercase (not BACS, uppercase), as per the website 

  • benefiting (one t)

  • benefits in kind: lowercase, no hyphen

  • Big Four: The ‘Big Four’ accounting firms are Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC. Cap up Big Four (unless they’ve been very, very naughty).

  • bitcoin: cap down unless at the start of a sentence eg “Is bitcoin a fraud?”

  • Cap down big data, regardless of how big the data actually is.

  • bookkeeping: one word. The mainstream media might still be hyphenating but here at AccountingWEB, we’re ahead of the curve.

  • business jargon: you’re welcome to push the envelope, move up the change curve and put the aces in their places, but not on this site (see pain points and cliches).

C

  • chatbot, one word, lowercase

  • cliches: avoid like the plague.

  • colons: In terms of body text, cap down the letter after the colon. However, there are exceptions (eg a bullet-pointed list) where this may look ungainly, so use common sense.

For titles only cap up the letter after the colon, for example: ‘VAT and the option to tax: Part 1’.

  • common sense (noun); commonsense (adjective), eg “William Hague’s ‘commonsense revolution’ showed little common sense” (from the Guardian style guide)

  • cul-de-sac: hyphens

  • cryptocurrency: one word. Cap down unless at the start of a sentence. For example: “HMRC’s rules on cryptocurrency seem rather hazy…”

  • cyber-attack (with hyphen)

  • cybersecurity (one word)

D

  • dates: AccountingWEB style is: 28 November 2017 (day month year; no funky commas etc).

Also 21st century (lower case, no hyphen) but 20th-century boy (should any T-Rex/Marc Bolan-accountancy crossover content crop up)

  • dilemma: not dilemna, as children of the 80s were often taught. The word suggests a choice between two difficult choices of action.

  • Use direct debit (lower case)

  • director's loan account (apostrophe + s), not directors or directors'

  • double space: we use a single space after a full stop. Period.

E

  • eg (no full stops)

  • entrepreneurs' relief (apostrophe after the s, as per gov.uk)

  • Excel is a brand name, so always cap up (have some respect for accountants' favourite tool!)

F

  • fintech (lower case, one word). A tricky one as it’s a relatively new term, but as the funky young tech PRs and the government seem to be using FinTech we’re going with something a little more reactionary.

  • For tax cases, use first tier tribunal (lower case, no hyphens) for the first use - not First Tier Tribunal, First-Tier Tribunal, First-Tier tribunal, First-tier tribunal etc - then for subsequent uses abbreviate to FTT.

  • focus, focused, focusing

  • free rein, not free reign eg "don't give HMRC free rein to make its own calculations".

G

  • gavels: English courts do not use gavels (the dinky hammers judges bang in American courtrooms). Please, please, don’t use gavels in pictures (unless writing about auctioneers). It makes our readers very angry.

  • GDPR: not ‘the GDPR’. While we realise that the R does stand for regulation, referring to it as the GDPR sounds a little affected.

  • gig economy (lower case)

  • gov.uk (the website) lowercase (unless at the start of a sentence)

  • government: Lower case in all forms. Like other collective nouns, government can be singular or plural, depending on context: “the government is on the rocks”, but “when the government say ‘we’re all in this together’ they mean the Old Etonian Association” (from the Guardian style guide)

H

  • headlines:  colons not hyphens wherever possible. In headlines only cap up the letter after the colon, for example: VAT and the option to tax: Part 1. For quotations in headlines use single quotation marks.

  • Hippocratic Oath: uppercase (it comes up more often than you'd think)

  • hyphens and en-dashes: We only use hyphens and en-dashes. Hyphens are used to join two words or parts of words together to avoid confusion or ambiguity (like run-down, up-to-date, son-in-law). It’s also used for numbers (like seventy-two). En-dashes (so-called because they’re the width of an uppercase N) indicate a pause in a sentence. It’s stronger than a comma but weaker than a full stop or semicolon.

  • HMRC - as a single tax authority, HMRC should be referred to in the singular, not as its predecessor the Inland Revenue (unless referring to it in a historical context), and never as 'the taxman' or 'the 'HMRC'.

    Yes: HMRC says it wants feedback
    No: HMRC say they want feedback
    Yes: HMRC is listening
    No: HMRC are listening

  • Honorifics: In the normal run of things, we don't include honorifics in run-of-site copy, but they are relevant in an article about honours. Since our members worked so hard for their qualifications (and continue to pay for them), they can be used in bios or article credits to enhance the writer's credibility. NB: A member of the ICAEW is designated as either ACA or FCA - an associate or fellow, with the latter signifying 10+ years' membership. Other accountancy bodies are available, for which the following designations are used:
    ACCA - ACCA or FCCA 
    AICPA - CPA (though confusingly, the Americans have merged wtih CIMA...)
    CIMA - CMA, FCMA or CGMA (latter is a global qualification)
    ICAS - CA
    AAT - MAAT or FMAAT
    CIOT - CTA
    CIPFA - CPFA
    CAI - ACA or FCA (Ireland)

I

  • ie (no full stops)

  • instalments (one l, not installments)

J

  • job titles: lower case eg Brian Palmer, tax policy adviser at AAT

  • judge: lowercase for the legal types in the silly wigs

  • judgment (no e), not judgement

L

  • licence/license: licence is a noun, license is a verb. For example: before learning to drive, you apply for a provisional driving licence, but the DVLA must license you to drive. AccountingWEB members are waiting with anticipation to point out this key difference should you err eg Do I need to be a licensed accountant?

  • learned (not learnt) eg “Rebecca has learned the tax tables off by heart”

  • LOOKUP: see ‘spreadsheet terms’

M

  • microbusiness/microbusinesses (one word, downcap)

N

  • if there's a no-deal Brexit (hyphen), if there's no deal on Brexit [no hyphen]

  • numbers

One to nine spelled out, 10 and above in numbers

£1m (not £1 million or one million pounds)

£1bn (not £1 billion or one billion pounds)

Rather than £15/month, use £15 a month.

Traditionally more than is used to refer to countable numerical items, while over is used for uncountables. For example, it was once deemed ‘grammatically accurate’ to tell your friends that you ate more than 10 bananas in one day but inaccurate to say that you ate over 10 bananas. However, in 2014 the AP style guide scrapped all that and it’s now a bit of a free-for-all. Therefore you’re welcome to use your common sense but be aware eagle-eyed AWeb readers may pick you up on this - be prepared to stand your ground.

O

  • Open Banking (cap up): We’re capping this up for now as it’s relatively new legislation, and the term could cause confusion among the less tech-initiated who may believe that banks just need to be more open.

P

  • pain points: unless you’re an acupuncturist, this jargon-heavy phrased should be consigned the recycling bin (see cliches)

  • practising certificate (not practicing, lc)

  • A legal precedent, not precedence

  • principal (not principle) private residence relief

  • pronouns: Where possible, pieces should be gender neutral - it’s the 21st century, people. Replace with 'they', which is now a perfectly acceptable singular pronoun. For example: “If a landowner wants to charge VAT on their supplies, they must make an election with HMRC…”.  'He or she' is a bit clunky, but where appropriate his or her could work depending on context.

  • punctuation and layout

Single space after a full stop (we’re not barristers after all)

ie and eg (no full stops)

Q

  • quotations: generally in the past tense eg “The majority of the ‘soft-skill’ and technology advancements required in the profession today are not focused upon, despite their clear importance,” she said (not he says).

Headlines and standfirsts, captions and display quotes all take single quote marks.

R

  • re (as a prefix) Generally no hyphen (eg resubmit, refile), unless followed by the letter e (eg re-enter) or any other word or letter where it could be generally confusing to the reader. Basically, (re)use your common sense.

  • ringfence (one word)

S

  • self assessment lower case, no hyphen (controversial, but we’ve got this far and we’re sticking to our guns)

  • slam dunk two words as per the sporting term. For anyone wondering...

  • spreadsheet terms: check Microsoft’s pages for clarity, but terms such as LOOKUP AND VLOOKUP should be capped up.

  • standard rated or standard-rated (see zero rated)

  • startup noun (as in business startup); start up (verb) - also known as ‘the Badenhorst protocol’. Scale-up is hyphenated for clarity’s sake (it’s still more of a neologism).

T

  • targeting (one t)

  • Please do not refer to HMRC as 'the taxman' (see HMRC for details)

  • taxpayer(s) (one word)

  • thinktank (one word)

  • timesheet(s) (one word)

U

  • For upper tier tribunal use lower case (see first tier tribunal)

V

  • verbs: wherever possible try to avoid overwrought verbs that depend on qualifying prepositions when there's a perfectly good single-word substitute. Especially when that verb is "impact". 

For example: 
"This ruling... is likely to impact upon the wider network of 14,500 Hermes couriers"
"This ruling... is likely to affect the wider network of 14,500 Hermes couriers" (better)
  • vs not v, v., vs. or versus, for example: “Virtual FD vs advisory accountant”. The reason we’ve gone against most style guides on this (which present as ‘England v Australia’ etc) is because in an accountancy/business content just having a ‘v’ tends to frame common accounting terms in a (more) confused jumble of letters.

  • VLOOKUP: see ‘spreadsheet terms’

X

  • Xero: With an X, not a Z.

Y

  • year end (noun), year-end (adjective)
Banks have been slow to increase their lending at year end.
The year-end results will be published this week.

Z

  • zero-hours contracts
  • zero rated or zero-rated (VAT terms) - to hyphenate or not to hyphenate: both uses are appropriate depending on the circumstances.

When an object is zero rated, that is just an inversion of the verb, it's equivalent to rated zero. No hyphen needed.

But when you use the same words as an adjective, a hyphen connects the phrase to avoid potential misunderstandings: zero-rated goods. These two sentences illustrate the point: I saw a man-eating alligator; I saw a man eating alligator.

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