Content style guide
We follow standard American English and AP Style on VA.gov. Areas where we differ are listed below.
Don’t use ampersands (&) in headers or body copy. Spell out “and.” Exceptions are when it’s part of a proper noun such as a program name. Example: VR&E program.
Use curly apostrophes (ex. don’t) instead of straight up and down ones (ex. don't).
We use the serial comma, sometimes called the Oxford comma. This is the comma used before a conjunction in a sentence with a series of 3 or more items. Sometimes the sentence can be misread if the serial comma is omitted.
In his acceptance speech the actor thanked his parents, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro.
In his acceptance speech the actor thanked his parents, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.
We use contractions on VA.gov. It supports our conversational, person-to-person voice and tone. Some situations might call for spelling out all the words, like in legal or warning messages, but in general, we prefer using contractions.
- Be careful not to mix up “its” and “it’s.”
- Use “it’s” as a contraction of “it is,” never “it has.”
- Don’t use non-standard contractions like “would’ve,” “could’ve,” or “should’ve.”
We’re available 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday.
We are available 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday.
Em and en dashes, hyphens
Use the em dash similar to a parenthetical or commas to set off an important clause, when commas might be awkward. Try not to overuse them. We don’t use a space on either side of the em dash.
- Like this: You may be eligible if you have an illness or injury caused—or made worse—by your time in service.
We use the en dash to indicate a range. We use a space on either side of the en dash.
- Like this: 9:00 a.m. ‒ 5:30 p.m. CT
This is the short, single dash. We use it to connect words that modify a noun or in names.
- Like this: active-duty service member; VA-related claim; Merriam-Webster
Don’t use the exclamation point on VA.gov for any text elements (body copy, headers, subheaders, field labels, CTAs, etc.). It doesn’t align with our voice and tone, which is conversational, helpful, and straightforward. We don’t yell, and we’re not hyperbolic or casual.
Section header example:
Find out what happens after you apply
After you apply
Section header example:
You’re enrolled! Now what?
You’ve successfully applied!
Note: Some design components may use the exclamation point as an icon for visual accent—in alert components, for example—but don’t use it in the message copy itself.
Use curly quotation marks (ex. “quotation marks”) instead of straight up and down ones (ex. "quotation marks").