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AccountingWEB style guide

4th Jun 2024
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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 general, 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 mystifying language.

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,

The AccountingWEB editorial team

* * *

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

* * *

A

  • AAT: Association of Taxation Technicians first time. 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”)

  • Agent Dedicated Line (ADL): initial caps then abbreviated 

  • agent services account (ASA): agent (not agents), lowercase, use in full on first usage then abbreviate. This is the new agent services account (the MTD one). The old one is the online services for agents account (OSAA)

  • 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’, and AML after first mention

  • application programming interface (API), write out first time for those not in the know

  • the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA), in full first time

  • 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 

  • Bank of England (BoE): lower case o

  • basis period reform: no initial caps needed

  • benefiting, benefited (one t)

  • benefits in kind (BiK): 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.

  • Bounce Back Loans: in full first time and then BBL after that

  • 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).

  • business property relief (BPR): write out in full first time

C

  • capital gains tax (CGT)

  • cashflow, one word (see also Kashflow)

  • central bank digital currency, CBDC after first mention

  • CGT, write out in full first time mentioned as capital gains tax 

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer (initial caps)

  • chatbot, one word, lowercase

  • ChatGPT: OpenAI’s creation has no space in it

  • 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)

  • compass points: no initial caps unless referring to a specific region, eg ‘she was heading north’ but ‘she was heading to the North East’.

  • Construction Industry Scheme (CIS): in full first time

  • corporation tax: in full first time, CT after that

  • the court of appeal: in full, all lower case, first time, CoA after that

  • coronavirus (caps down)

  • Covid-19 (Upper & lower case with hyphen)

  • cul-de-sac: hyphens

  • cryptoassets: one word (but crypto accounting and crypto tax)

  • 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 (lowercase, no hyphen) but 20th-century boy (should any T-Rex/Marc Bolan-accountancy crossover content crop up)

  • decentralised finance (DeFi)

  • digitisation: putting something that’s analogue, for example a paper receipt, into digital form

  • digitalisation or digital transformation: where the use of digital technologies changes business processes or models

  • 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 (lowercase)

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

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

E

  • e-commerce (all lowercase, hyphen)

  • e-invoice, e-invoicing (double check you're using this term correctly before publication - an e-invoice is NOT an emailed copy of a PDF)

  • earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA): write out in full first time

  • eg (no full stops)

  • end of period statement: EOPS after first mention

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

  • ESG: mention as environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns first

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

  • externally provided workers: EPWs after first mention

F

  • fintech (lowercase, 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

  • forex, use foreign exchange

  • Financial Reporting Council (FRC): in full first time

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

  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA after first use) or Freedom of Information request (FOI request after first use)

G

  • a gaff is a sharp metal hook used to land large fish, while a gaffe is an embarrassing mistake or social blunder. Don't make a gaffe like this...

  • 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.

  • generative artificial intelligence (GenAI): write out first time

  • gig economy (lowercase)

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

  • government: Lowercase 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)

  • Government Gateway: initial caps

  • GPT-4: AI tool from OpenAI

  • Great British Bake Off (capitalised, no hyphen as branded on TV). Bake Off (capitalised) or GBBO are OK.

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.

  • high-income child benefit charge (HICBC): write in full first time

  • high volume agents (HVAs): no hyphen

  • 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 with CIMA...)
    CIMA - CMA, FCMA or CGMA (the latter is a global qualification)
    ICAS - CA
    AAT - MAAT or FMAAT
    CIOT - CTA
    CIPFA - CPFA
    CAI - ACA or FCA (Ireland)

I

  • the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), in full first time

  • ie (no full stops)

  • inheritance tax, abbreviated as IHT

  • instalments (one l, not installments)

  • income tax self assessment: as in MTD ITSA, is no more. Now Making Tax Digital (MTD) for income tax first time and MTD for income tax afterwards

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

K

  • Kashflow (one of the first cloud accounting tools and spelt with a K, as in "we don't hear much from Kashflow these days")
  • know your customer (KYC): in full first time mentioned

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”

  • limited liability partnership (LLP): LLP after first mention

  • LOOKUP: see ‘spreadsheet terms’

M

  • Making Tax Digital: initial caps, MTD after first mention

  • Making Tax Digital for income tax: in full first mention, then MTD for income tax (note - no longer MTD ITSA)

  • mergers and acquisitions (M&A): write out in full initially

  • microbusiness/microbusinesses (one word, downcap)

  • month-end: with hyphen when a noun or compound adjective

N

  • names: One of the most hotly contested and oft-queried aspects of our writing seems, rather mystifyingly, to be around how people's names appear when quotes are attributed to them. Use people's full name, job title and company (where appropriate) in the first instance, and surname after first use. AccountingWEB is a professional site, so please do not use first names.

  • national insurance and national insurance contributions (all lowercase) but NI and NIC

  • 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

  • online services for agents account (OSAA): lowercase, this is the old agent services account. The newer one is the agent services account (ASA).

  • Open Banking (cap up)

P

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

  • payroll bureaux (plural for organisations), not bureaus (plural for furniture)

  • Post Office: no “the” in front

  • practising certificate (not practicing, lc)

  • A legal precedent, not precedence

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Barak Obama - exceptions, like Lord Hattersley and Chancellor Sunak to our no capitals for titles rule, but decapitalise for the prime minister visited...

  • principal (not principle) private residence relief

  • computer program; programme for everything else: “I saw a fascinating TV programme about computer programs”

  • 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). no full stops in abbreviations, including ie and eg

Q

  • qualified by experience (QBE): write in full first time

  • 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 stand firsts, captions and display quotes all take single quote marks.

R

  • R&D: research and development 

  • 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)

  • roadmap: one word when talking about a planning device (road map when talking about an A-Z book)

  • rollout: (one word)

  • Real Time Information: in full first time, RTI after that

S

  • sat nav two words

  • self assessment lowercase, 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...

  • SME: small or medium-sized enterprise 

  • software as a service (SaaS): write out first time

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

  • stamp duty land tax: all lowercase and abbreviated to SDLT after first mention

  • 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).

  • subpostmaster: no hyphen

  • suspicious activity report: SAR after first mention

T

  • targeting (one t)

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

  • taxpayer(s) (one word)

  • tax years: write as 2023/24, rather than 2023–24

  • thinktank (one word)

  • timesheet(s) (one word)

  • transfer of a going concern (TOGC): write out in full first time

  • trillion: abbreviate to tn

U

  • unique taxpayer reference: lower case and UTR after first mention 

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

  • upper tribunal: in full then UT

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’

W

  • wellbeing: one word
  • white paper: two words, lowercase.
  • winding-up petition (WUP): hyphen

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.
  • years: write as 2023/24, rather than 2023–24
 

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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