Write in active voice

It’s typically clearer, more direct, and easier to read than passive voice. And it’s almost always shorter.

Do

Quickly categorize your transactions.

Don't

Your transactions can quickly be categorized.

Every now and again, it’ll sound better to put the focus on an object and omit the thing doing the action. This is the rare exception when passive voice is OK.

Do

Changes saved.

Don't

The system saved your changes.

Feeling lost? Here’s the deal: With active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb, usually on an object. (Think: she designed the screen.) With passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb. (Think: the screen was designed by her.) Passive sentences are longer than active ones because they usually need a helping verb like “is” or “was” to make sense. Passive voice is the hallmark of bureaucratic jargon, evasion, and skirting responsibility. Don’t use it.

Do

A chart of accounts lists all your tax categories.
The team conducted usability tests with customers.
We made mistakes in the weeks before launch.

Don't

All your tax categories are listed in the Chart of Accounts.
Usability tests with customers were conducted by the team.
Mistakes were made in the weeks before launch.

Favor simple tenses

For the most part, write in simple tenses—past, present, and future—because they’re direct, clear, and short. Stay away from other tenses. Sometimes they may make sense for the situation and sound natural, but often they just add extra words unnecessarily. Be mindful of that and have a rationale when you use them. Try to stay away from progressive tenses unless you need to convey ongoing action.

Know why else you should write using simple tenses? They’re easier for non-native speakers to understand and for translation teams to translate

Do

You get a discount for QuickBooks. (present)
You got a discount for QuickBooks. (past)
You’ll get a discount for QuickBooks. (future)

Don't

You’re getting a discount. (present progressive)
You’ve gotten a discount since January. (present perfect)
You’ve been getting a discount since January. (present perfect progressive)
You were getting a discount when you unsubscribed. (past progressive)
You had gotten a discount for months when you unsubscribed. (past perfect)
You had been getting a discount for months when you unsubscribed. (past perfect progressive)
You’ll be getting a discount next year. (future progressive)
You’ll have gotten a discount all year. (future perfect)
You’ll have been getting a discount for months when you unsubscribe. (future perfect progressive)

Aim for 5th-8th grade readability

You can test your content using readability tools to get an idea of the grade level or years of education someone needs to understand it.
Our target range is 5th to 8th grade. This might feel low—we know that accounting and finances are inherently complex. But these lower grade levels help our users comprehend the content faster and more easily. And they support our usage guidelines on writing shorter sentences, using simple tenses, and choosing familiar words.

They can also make localization and translation easier. Even more, they benefit our US users for whom English is a second language. (Over 20% of US residents don’t speak English at home.)

When scoring content, the most useful numbers to look at are the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Gunning Fog Index. The Flesch Reading Ease score is also interesting—a high number (close to 100) is better than a low number.

Try these tools

Readable.io

Readability formulas

Readability Analyzer

Tip!
Word’s spelling and grammar preferences have an option to show readability statistics when you perform a spell check. It shows Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease scores.

Be as precise and definitive as possible

Customers look to us for answers and guidance. So when you explain things, be as definitive and precise as you can. There will be times, of course, when you don’t know exactly what’s going on. That’s a good opportunity for you to push your partners to improve the experience so you can speak more directly to what’s happening. But if all else fails and you have to be vague, still try to be as straightforward as possible.

Do

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Don't

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