Style guide for LegalZoom’s customer service email team

This style guide was used by the customer service email team and QA department at LegalZoom.

Prepared in February 2016

Introduction

This guide is a collection of best practices and guidelines to ensure our customer emails are consistent in style, formatting, and grammar. This guide will be continually edited to reflect new company standards and concerns from the email team. If you have questions or a suggestion for the guide, please contact your manager.

Other Resources

This guide is not a complete guide to grammar, punctuation, capitalization, or writing style. If you have specific questions related to writing style that are not answered in this guide, use the following resources:

  • Purdue OWL: owl.english.purdue.edu/owl
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Grammar Handbook: cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/
  • Washington State University’s List of Non-Errors in English: public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/nonerrors.html

For more information about the company brand, review the company’s style guide: brand.companyname.com.

Best Practices

Inspire action in the subject line. Subject lines should be direct and clear, and inspire action if appropriate. Ensure that the company name is included in the subject line. If you reply to a customer’s email, edit their subject line if necessary.

Get straight to the point. Don’t start an email by thanking the customer for choosing the company, their order, or their email. Immediately respond to their question or get right to the solution to their problem.

Keep it personal and natural. Use a friendly, conversational tone. Don’t distance the customer by using stilted, overly-professional wording. Many of our customers are intimidated by legal jargon, so use everyday language.

Address all concerns. Use your resources to determine all customer concerns and all problems with all orders. Address all issues and questions in your email. Try to anticipate any future questions the customer may have.

Company should have one voice/persona. When possible, avoiding separating company teams. Say “representative,” not “agent” or “specialist.” Refer to the company as “we” and “us,” rather than using the company name. Do not use first person singular pronouns (I, me).

Direct to third parties when appropriate. If an actual or potential question is best answered by a third party, such as the Secretary of State, IRS, or USPTO, provide the customer with their contact information. This will lead to less back-and-forth with the customer and direct them to the most accurate information.

Use templates and read back to yourself. Always begin with a template. Separate paragraphs by blank lines and do not indent. Always save as a draft to ensure that the email is correct in spacing, spelling, and grammar before sending.

Formatting Words and Spelling

Singular They

In most situations, “they” is preferable to “he or she,” “he/she,” or “s/he” as a gender neutral singular pronoun. The singular “they” is well-established and more readable

Have each stockholder provide his or her social security number, then sign and date where indicated.

✓ Have each stockholder provide their social security number, then sign and date where indicated.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

In the first reference, spell out the acronym/abbreviation and place it in parentheses:

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

After the first reference, use the acronym alone throughout the email. You do not need to do this for well-known acronyms and abbreviations, e.g. IRS, USPS, and ext. (for extension).

You do not need to do this for well-known acronyms and abbreviations, e.g. IRS, USPS, and ext. (for extension). You do not need to do this for acronyms/abbreviations used in the customer’s previous email(s), e.g. if the customer requests their EIN, you do not need to spell out what this stands for in your response.

Capitalization

Avoid unnecessarily capitalized words. Capitalized product names and document names when being used as a proper noun. Always use lowercase for common nouns.

✓ You can purchase a Living Trust for $200. A living trust can help your loved ones avoid probate court.

 You can have us serve as your Registered Agent.

Your Registered Agent service provides you with access to the Filing Calendar.

Capitalizing Titles

In titles, capitalize the following:

  • First and last word of title
  • Nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Verbs
  • Subordinate conjunctions
  • Pronouns
  • Adverbs

These words should not be capitalized in a title, unless they are the first or last word:

  • The “to” in an infinitive (e.g. to shop)
  • Articles (the, a, an)
  • Coordinating conjunctions

Formatting Titles

Titles of independently published works, such as book titles, album titles, or movie titles, should be in italics. Titles of published works that are part of a larger work, such as poem titles, song titles, or episode titles, should be in quotation marks.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Business names are treated like personal names. They are not italicized or placed in quotation marks, but are capitalized.

Adam Lewis Smith

The Austin Writing Shop

Formatting Numbers

Phone Numbers

Do not use periods. Use parentheses for readability.

 1-800-555-0888

✓ (800) 555-0888

Dollar Amounts

Do not use unnecessary decimals.

 $200.00

$200

Dates

Dates can be formatted in any common format. Always include the year, even if it is the current year.

 Your documents were submitted on December 2, 2016.

Would you like to delay your filing until 12/13/2016?

We submitted your application on 12 March 2015.

Other Numbers

You may, but do not have to, spell out numbers one through nine. For 10 and above, always use numerals. For numbers of 1,000,000, you can use a combination of numerals and words, e.g. 1.5 million and 20 billion.

 We can hold your order for thirty days.

Your store credit is available for 30 days.

✓ You should receive your final package in 3 business days

✓ You should receive your final package in three business days.

✓ Open the 2nd attachment.

✓ Open the second attachment.

Punctuation

Colon Use

Colons precede explanations, enumerations, or lists.

If the phrase following the colon is a dependent clause, the first word should begin with a lowercase letter (unless it should be capitalized for some other reason). If the phrase following the colon is an independent clause, it can be capitalized or not.

1. Use a colon after an independent clause when introducing a list.

✓ We offer the following options: Three-day delivery, next-day delivery, and standard delivery.

2. Use a colon after an independent clause when introducing a quotation.

✓ The IRS website provides instructions for applying: “in order to become an S Corporation, the corporation must submit Form 2553 Election.”

Do not use a colon after a dependent clause.

Comma Use

Commas make complex sentences easier to read by breaking them up into manageable parts.

1. Use a comma followed by a conjunction to join two independent clauses

Your filing has been submitted to the Secretary of State, so we are awaiting its return.

2. Use a comma after an introductory clause, phrase, or word that comes before the main clause.

While they have filed your documents, they have not yet returned them to us.

3. Use commas to set off clauses, phrases, or words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Do not use commas to set off a clause beginning with “that.”

✗ The documents, that you provided, have a high risk of rejection.

The business name you provided, Build a Bear, conflicts with an existing registered business.

4. Use commas to separate items in a non-vertical list. Use the Oxford, or serial, comma.

✓ Please provide the name, address, and phone number of a personal reference.

5. Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives (adjectives that appear in sequence to modify the same noun).

Please provide a clear, legible copy of the documents.

6. Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinated elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift.

We need a copy of your professional license, not your driver’s license.

7. Use a comma after a dependent clause to introduce a quote.

As indicated on the IRS website, “the person applying must have a valid taxpayer identification number.”

8. Use commas whenever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.

Submit the documents as is, or provide new ones.

Formatting Hyperlinks

Use text to hyperlink web addresses, instead of spelling out the full address.

 Visit www.stokerwrites.com to learn more.

You can learn more on our website.