Help:Documentation Guidelines From Online Manual

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The documentation team wants to make the documentation clear and easy for everyone to understand. So it has settled on these guidelines. Everyone who works on SMF documentation at this site is encouraged to follow these guidelines.

General Guidelines

  • Do not use question marks (?) in any page title.
  • Be clear - The reader may not know anything about SMF.
  • Keep it on topic - Link elsewhere for more information.
  • Keep it simple - Not everyone reads English easily.
  • Proper grammar and spelling - US or British is acceptable.
  • No sentence fragments - All sentences need both a subject and a verb. Exceptions: fragments can be used judiciously in lists.
  • Avoid slang, jargon, and idioms - We have users from all over the world (see "Keep it Simple" above).
  • Avoid contractions - This is in line with a more formal style and it helps non-native readers to understand the text more easily.
  • No abbreviations - Please spell out "Internal Revenue Service" at least the first time, providing the abbreviations behind it: "Internal Revenue Service (IRS)". Exception: SMF is always an acceptable abbreviation.
  • Never use exclamation points - Unless you are quoting someone.
  • Avoid parentheses - At least, as much as possible. They can make text harder to understand.
  • Avoid using "etc", e.g. or "so on" - Be clear, and use "such as" or "for example" to indicate an incomplete list. "Bright colors such as raspberry and neon green" is easier to understand than "Raspberry, neon green, etc." (interesting discussion at typical writing style discussion)
  • Use an instructional style in how-to sections, and separate how-to from descriptions.
  • Link to another page as few times as possible - When creating or editing a page try to link to another page as few times as possible, it looks cluttered if the page has multiple links to the same page.

Articles Describing Parts of the Software

These articles describe exactly what can be done on a particular page of the software. It would be confusing to add a how-to that dragged the user across several pages of the software, or through other types of software.

  • In descriptive sections use an impassive, impersonal style. Use active voice where possible, and passive voice where necessary, to put the emphasis correctly. Sometimes, to put the emphasis on "the road", it is necessary to say "the road was crossed by the chicken", but not usually. Remember to keep things simple and clear.
  • Describe only what can be done on this page - If there is a good how-to or FAQ, provide a link.
  • Refrain from using first person (I and we) - Let's not make it about us and them. It's about the page on the screen.
  • Avoid asking questions - User documentation generally should answer questions, not pose them.

FAQs and How-tos

These articles are designed to answer common questions, or explain, step-by-step, a process that might take the user through several pages of their SMF forum. It is still important to be clear, and keep it simple enough for readers from around the world to understand, but it is OK to use slightly less formal language. The reader can be addressed as "you", because the emphasis is on something the reader will accomplish, not just on what options are presented on various pages of the application.

Word Choice

Words Not to Use

Some words just work better than others to keep the documentation clear and professional, and to maintain the style the team has selected. Here are some examples of words that generally should not be used.

Avoid using Recommended Reason
Folder Directory Consistency. The team's choice -- the term "directory" predates the "folder" metaphor.
I/We can The administrator/You may Formal style
Get Download Clarity.
Tick Check Consistency.
Thread Topic The SMF software uses "topic", so it is less confusing if we follow that.

This list may be updated as the documentation team settles on consistent terms to make the documentation easier to understand.

SMF Words to Use

Some of these words are non-standard. They are to be used in SMF documentation for consistency with the application interface. These are the terms SMF uses.

  • checkbox
  • drop-down list
  • login
  • membergroup one word, rather than two
  • smiley - for emoticon
  • smileys - This apparent misspelling is used throughout SMF

Other Elements of Style

Single Word Spelling and Formatting

For consistency, all SMF documents should use the following conventions:

  • Options - "Select the New Topic option." The option is in italics when it appears in a sentence.
  • Navigational Directions - "Admin > Members > Membergroups... > Add Membergroup". Each navigational element is separated by " > ", and the entire expression is in italics.
  • File Paths - For directories or files, the path should be separated by forward slashes /.

The documentation team may add new entries to this list from time to time.

Naming Articles, Categories and Files

Follow the wiki naming convention used at Wikipedia.

  • Use lower case only (there are very few exceptions)
  • Avoid abbreviations in article titles
  • Avoid all punctuation in article titles. The characters "?" and "&" are not permitted in article titles, because they can cause the webserver or the wiki to get confused about the article's title.

Headings for Sections and Subsections

The title of the document serves as the document's level-one heading. No heading should be used at the top of the document. The document may be divided into sections using level-two headings. If sections are used, there must be two or more. Some introductory material (at least one paragraph) must precede the first section. In this wiki, a level-two heading is created by enclosing the heading text in matching sets of 2 equal signs.

==A Level-Two Heading==

Subsections may be created within sections by using level-three headings. In this wiki, a level-three heading is created by enclosing the heading text in matching sets of 3 equal signs. If subsections are used, there must be two or more subsections in a section. A subsection must always be a part of a section. A level-three heading may never appear before the first level-two heading.

===A Level-Three Heading===

All wiki headings should follow the Oxford Manual of Style for capitalisation, which states that the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs begin with a capital letter, while articles, conjunctions, and short prepositions, generally, do not.

How to Format a List

* '''Item 1''' - Explanation of Item 1
* '''Item 2''' - Explanation of Item 2
  • Item 1 - Explanation of Item 1
  • Item 2 - Explanation of Item 2
# '''Item 1''' - Explanation of Item 1
# '''Item 2''' - Explanation of Item 2
  1. Item 1 - Explanation of Item 1
  2. Item 2 - Explanation of Item 2

When a list is used to define or explain terms, options or elements, the term, option, or element (the item) should be bolded, followed by a space, single dash, and space (" - ") and then by the definition or explanation in unbolded text.


Hyperlinks should not interrupt the flow of the documentation. Phrases such as "Click here" should not be used to set off the hyperlink, and raw URLs should not be used. Do not add any formatting to hypertext links simply to set them off. Hyperlinks within SMF documentation should only point to URLs at, with very rare exceptions.

When we create pages, there are often times terms that we would like to define with definitions on other wiki pages. For instance forum or member. Please use them wisely. Remember your audience. If you're directing documentation at developer's of customizations, it only serves to complicate the documentation by having links back to "forum" on the page. So, here goes a simple rule:

Link back to terms that relate to the level of user you're documenting for.