Writing for QuickBooks is like having a conversation with a friend. We know all the basic grammar rules (and even some obscure ones), but we’re not sticklers. When in doubt, pick the conventions of everyday conversation over the grammar book.

 
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.

 
 
End sentences with prepositions—most of the time


It’s fine to end sentences with prepositions. We prefer it, in fact. Just be careful not to slip into something that’s too informal. If you’d never say it in conversation, our copilot wouldn’t either.

Do
What are you looking for?

Who should this invoice go to?

Where is it?

Don’t
For what are you looking?

To whom should this invoice go?

Where’s it at?

 


Favor simple tenses


For the most part, write in simple tenses—past, present, and future—because they’re direct, clear, and short. Sometimes they make sense for the situation and sound natural, but often they they just add extra words unnecessarily. Be mindful of that and have rationale when you use them. It’s fine to use  But 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)

Review your transactions. (present)

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)

 
 
Don’t overuse exclamations


Show your enthusiasm with exclamations. Just make sure they sound like a natural reaction to the situation. They work best with single words and short phrases. Don’t ever use a double (!!) or triple (!!!) exclamation. If you’re that excited, use visual supplements like color, illustrations, and motion to amplify the excitement. And don’t use two or three exclamatory words in a row.

Do
Nice! You completed your first payroll run.

Well done! You created your first invoice.

Congratulations! You’re ready to make online payments.

Way to go! You created your first Profit and Loss.

Don’t miss out! Sign up for QuickBooks Connect before it sells out.

Don’t
Do you really want to delete these transactions? Yikes!

Uh-oh! We couldn’t sync your app with QuickBooks.

Voila! Here’s the customer you’re looking for!

We found 10 more transactions like that one!!

Get the first 30 days free!!!

Sign up for QuickBooks Connect before it’s too late!

Sign up for QuickBooks Online and get your first month free!

 
 
Use first person for QuickBooks


Use “we,” “our,” and “us” when you write as the QuickBooks copilot. It’s one way that we make experiences feel more personal. We want customers to know that there are people behind QuickBooks and that we’re in this with them. Just don’t be creepy. We never want them to think we’re spying on them. Exception: when you’re referring to the actual product, especially in Marketing and Sales, use “it,” not “us.”

Do
Let’s get started. What’s your email address?

Pick a tax category and we’ll take care of the rest.

Still need help? Contact us.

We’ll help you create professional-looking receipts and invoices.

QuickBooks helps you get organized. It saves people about 8 hours per week.

Don’t
Let’s get started. Tell us your email address and we’ll add it to your account.

We see you your app hasn’t updated since 3/10/17. Want us to update it now?

QuickBooks helps you get organized. We save people about 8 hours per week.

 
 
Be 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
We can’t connect to your Square account right now. Give us a few minutes.
Don’t
Looks like there might be a problem with your Square account. Try again later.

 
 
Use second person for customers, except for buttons and legal stuff


Our product experiences are a conversation with customers. We talk directly to them, so use second person to address them. Buttons are the exception, though. They represent the customer’s side of the conversation, so it’s OK to use first person there to represent the customer’s voice and maintain the conversational quality of our writing. Note that first person in buttons is an option, not a mandate.

Do
You added 5 new customers this month.

Add my customers (button label)

Enter your email address and phone number.

See a snapshot of where you stand.

Make any changes you want.

I agree

Don’t
5 new customers were added this month.

Add customers (button label)

Enter an email address and phone number.

See a snapshot of where I stand.

You agree.

 
 
Describe things before using the technical terms for them


As much as we’d like to, we can’t just stop using the language of accounting, finance, and technology. Customers will need to talk to accountants, lenders, and other finance people, and those people are bound to use terms like deduction, liability, Profit and Loss, and so on. We want to empower them with knowledge, not make them feel defeated by speaking a different language and assuming fluency.

As the copilot, you’re the customer’s filter, so be a good judge of what terms they need to know. If they need to know something, describe it in a simple way first, then give it a name. After that, use the term and maybe include a reminder.

Do
Here’s a list of your tax categories. Accountants call this a chart of accounts.

Do you own this business? (Or as lawyers like to say, “Are you the responsible party here?”)

Double-check the tax category and add it to your books.

We’ll import all the transactions for you.

Have customers transfer money straight to your account.

Don’t
Here’s your chart of accounts.

Are you the responsible party for this business?

Reconcile this transaction.

We’ll get all the transactions from your bank. We call this “importing.”

Get paid via ACH.

 
 
Use third person for people who aren’t the customer, and keep things gender neutral


Use third person when you refer to someone (or something) other than the customer performing the action.

But try to keep things gender neutral, including pronouns. If you find yourself in the awkward spot where the subject’s gender is unknown, write your way around it. Don’t use “she/he,” “s/he,” “they” or “them,” or “one.” If you absolutely can’t write your way around it, then it’s OK to use they, them, or their.

Do
If you add users, their dashboard looks different from yours.

Add an accountant so you can work together in QuickBooks.

Give developers their own web space for uploads.

Managed users get their own user ID and password.

Don’t
If you add a user, his or her dashboard will look different from yours.

Add an accountant so she/he can work with you in QuickBooks.

Add an accountant so they can work with you in QuickBooks.

Give each developer his own web space for uploads.

One has one’s own web spaces for uploads.

Each managed user gets his/her own user ID and password.

Each managed user gets their own user ID and password.

 
 
Use similes and metaphors when it’s appropriate


A metaphor puts one thing in terms of another. A simile does it by using “like” or “as” to make the comparison. They’re useful when you want to explain something technical or difficult in terms that are more friendly and approachable. Feel free to use metaphors anywhere you have the room to explain something. Just be careful with these. What sounds good to you may not resonate with others.

Do
Everyone needs sleep, even our servers. They’ll be down for maintenance 9:00–9:30 PM PT, so you can both get some shut-eye.

Think of interest rates and APR like a bill at a restaurant. The interest rate is just the cost of the food. But APR includes the food, tax, and tip.

Unlike real life, here you can easily visit your past. Just select the year you’re interested in to step back in time.

Don’t
Our servers are like insomniacs—every so often they need a medically-induced Nap.

Think of an interest rate like the price of gas when you pay with cash, APR when you pay with a credit card.

Ready for a blast from the past? Step into our time machine and check out last year’s data.

 

 
 
Use everyday contractions


Use the contractions of everyday conversation. Just don’t get carried away. We don’t use regional contractions like “ain’t”, “shan’t”, “y’all” (sorry, Texas), “mustn’t”, and so on. Here’s a list of contractions that are usually fine:

  • aren’t
  • can’t
  • couldn’t
  • didn’t
  • doesn’t
  • don’t
  • hasn’t
  • haven’t
  • isn’t
  • it’s
  • let’s
  • shouldn’t
  • that’s
  • there’s
  • they’re
  • they’ve
  • wasn’t
  • we’ll
  • we’re
  • weren’t
  • what’s
  • where’s
  • won’t
  • you’ll
  • you’re
  • you’ve

Don’t turn nouns into contractions. And beware: Contractions get tricky when it comes to translation. Work with your regional content designers to decide how to handle them.

Do
We’ll get you every deduction and credit you’re entitled to.

Ready to create an invoice?

It’ll help later, we promise.

Thanks! We’ll send you an email when we know more.

Don’t
We will make sure you get every deduction and credit you are entitled to.

Y’all fixin’ to create an invoice?

This’ll help later, we promise.

Thanks! An update’s on the way.

Your feedback’s valuable to us.

 
 
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 the 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 accessible to everyone


Some of our users can’t see. They use screen readers when doing things on the web. Someone can tell a screen reader to only read headings (h1, h2, etc.), or to skip from section to section, or just from link to link.

We use descriptive alt text for images, icons, and controls. If it’s text meant to be read, we don’t put it in an image.

We don’t refer to where things physically appear on a screen.

We write meaningful link text. Long text links can be partially hidden in the code for people using screen readers.

We create text alternatives for charts and graphs. A cool way to do this is to include a data table near the chart.

Do
Training webinars for small businesses
alt=”Training webinars for small businesses”

Learn more < div class=”sr-only”>about how bank feeds work< /div>

sample of a graphic accompanied by a data table
Don’t
Sample of image containing text

alt=”image”

Click the pencil icon on the right.
See table below.

Learn more
Next
Continue

Some of our users are color blind. Others have low vision and needs lots of contrast between background and text. Some people use screen magnifiers, and others just prefer to zoom or enlarge text to make things easier to read.

Include icons with text to make things clear. And don’t use images of text. It’s not screen-reader-friendly, and this type of text can’t be enlarged when someone zooms in on the screen.

Do
Include icons with text to indicate status changes.

A message showing an icon along with text

Don’t
Don’t rely on color alone to indicate status change.

Click the green button on the next page.

Sample of image containing text

Some of our users can’t hear. They need to be able to read text versions of voice-overs or recordings.

Do
Make sure videos have captions indicating who is speaking, and synced with what’s happening on the screen.
Don’t
Don’t rely on sound alone for notifications.

Some of our users have cognitive impairments or learning disabilities. These folks need content that is simple, clear, and direct, to help focus their attention.

Do
Give just the info our users need, just when they need it.

Keep sentences simple. Aim for 5th-8th grade readability.

Use images to support content. Illustrations and graphs can clarify complex concepts.

Pair icons with text labels to provide contextual cues and help with comprehension.

Keep UI terms consistent throughout the product or on a screen.

Don’t
Don’t give instructions before they’re needed.

Don’t have lines longer than 80 characters, or sentences longer than 30 words.

Don’t use form field ghost text in place of a field label.

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