Open Panel
  • Writing Goals & Principles
  • Voice & Tone
  • Grammar & Mechanics
  • Content Guidelines
  • Compliance

Writing Goals & Principles

A basic overview of our goals when writing.

With every piece of content we publish, we aim to:

  • Empower. Help people understand Penn Foster and/or our programs or services by using language that informs them and encourages them.
  • Respect. Treat readers with the respect they deserve. Put yourself in their shoes, and don't patronize them, or inadvertently put them down. Don't market at people; communicate with them.
  • Educate. Tell readers what they need to know, not just what we want to say. Give them the exact information they need, along with opportunities to learn more. Remember that you're the expert, and readers don't have access to everything you know.
  • Speak truth. Follow compliance and regulatory guidelines. When in doubt, check with marketing communications team. Avoid dramatic storytelling and grandiose claims. Focus on our real strengths and benefits of our programs.

In order to achieve those goals, we make sure our content is:

  • Clear. Use simple words and sentences.
  • Useful. Before you start writing, ask yourself: What purpose does this serve? Who is going to read it? What do they need to know?
  • Friendly. Write like a human. Don't be afraid to break a few rules if it makes your writing more relatable. All of our content should be warm and human.
  • Appropriate. Write in a way that suits the situation. Just like you do in face-to-face conversations, adapt your tone depending on who you're writing to and what you're writing about.

Voice & Tone

We use a consistent voice but our tone changes based on the type of communication / content.

B2C Voice
Friendly, human, helpful, authentic, sincere, uplifting, positive

B2B Voice
Authoritative, informative, helpful, positive

B2C Tone

  • Informal, casual
  • Active
  • Positive
  • Avoid jargon
  • Speak simply

B2B Tone

  • Professional, formal
  • Active
  • Positive
  • Avoid jargon
  • Speak simply

Grammar & Mechanics

CONSISTENT: Utilize these guidelines for all content

CONCISE: Use short words and sentences

SPECIFIC: Avoid vague language and fluff

Names and Titles

Academic Degrees and Titles

When listing faculty and administrators with their credentials and titles, after the person's name, list the title and area, then list degrees from highest to lowest with periods, the area in which the degree was earned, and the school that granted the degree.

If possible, there should be a line break for the person's name, title, and credential(s). If space doesn't allow, then a semicolon should be used to separate the credentials.

  • Alanna Bright, B.A. English, Marywood University
  • Dr. Sherry Pietrzykoski, Instructor, Counseling and Human Development. Doctorate of Education in Counseling Psychology, Argosy University; M.S. English Literature, University of Scranton; B.A. Elementary Education and Psychology, Wilkes University.

Word Choice

  • Use conversational English, and always use familiar words (such as use instead of utilize).
  • Avoid jargon whenever possible.
  • Everyday words or commonly used technical terms should be used unless no other term exists except the jargon word. When such a word is used, make sure it's defined and italicized upon first use.


  • "A historical"-Because such expressions as an historical study or an hotel aren't idiomatic in American English, they shouldn't be used by Penn Foster. The correct form is a historical or a hotel.
  • Farther/Further—Use farther for physical space and further for everything else such as time, degree, and addition.


  • Penn Foster style is to use contractions wherever practical.

Unbiased or Nonsexist Language

Penn Foster uses nonsexist language. The following are some alternatives:

  • Make the sentence plural when possible.
  • Use he or she, him or her, or his or her. However, be careful not to overuse this construction—it can become tiring if used too frequently.
  • Use a relative clause.
  • Remove the pronoun entirely.

Use alternatives to gender-specific terms. For example, prefer worker or laborer to workman. Avoid references to stereotypes or "traditional" roles in terms of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, location, and physical abilities. In presenting different cultural or ethnic groups, portray subjects in a range of community roles, socioeconomic settings, and groups. Don't portray groups in stereotypical settings or roles.

Repeating Words

Never use two different words to mean the same thing if you can avoid it. If the meaning doesn't change, neither should the word. Use different words for different meanings.


To be as clear as possible, Penn Foster doesn't use an elliptical style of writing, which omits articles, such as the, an, and a. Be careful not to drop articles at the beginning of sentences, in headings, and in titles.


End a question stem or list with a/an rather than a(n).


The word only is often used between the components in a verb phrase. It's better used after the verb.

Electric, Electrical, Electronic, and Electronics

Be consistent when matching nouns with the adjectives electric, electrical, electronic, and electronics. Some dictionaries blur the distinction between these words, but usage in the field of electronics has in general been restricted to the meanings given in these definitions.


You should always conform to popular usage when making decisions about any specialized language associated with a course or program you're editing or proofreading. Your first references should be CMS and M-W for usage rules. You can also refer to existing Penn Foster content or Help entries for Windows or Microsoft Office. For instance, in Help for Word, Microsoft uses the expressions Office Clipboard, clip art, and so forth. Here are some guidelines:

  • Use email, not e-mail.
  • World Wide Web is an outdated term. Eliminate its usage.
  • Online is never hyphenated.
  • Internet should be capitalized.
  • Spell website and web as one word and lowercase except in a title or heading or at the start of a sentence.

Frequently Used Terms

  • alumna = singular, feminine
  • alumnus = singular, masculine or non-specific gender
  • alumnae = plural, feminine
  • alumni = plural, masculine or mixed masculine and feminine
  • Avoid using "alum" or "alums."
  • Graduate/graduates are good alternatives for non-specific gender uses.
  • email; Internet; online; password; username; website; login
  • autumn, winter, spring, summer (seasons)

Common Usage

Oxford (or Serial) comma

When listing three or more items in a series, always put a comma before the "and" or "or" that precedes the last item. When listing a series within a series, use semicolons to separate the outer series.

  • Penn Foster High School is flexible, affordable, and supported by experienced instructors.
  • Many Penn Foster employees volunteer at the VA Hospital, local soup kitchens, and Habitat for Humanity; participate in the United Way Day of Caring, Boys and Girls Club Golf Tournament, and various other events to support the community.


Don't capitalize the common nouns course, study guide, study unit, exam, school, self-check, or page unless used as a header or at the beginning of a sentence.

Capitalize the expressions Questions 2–3, Item 4, and Figure 5.

Capitalize only the proper names in terms like Boyle's law; Reynold's number.

In titles, don't capitalize articles or prepositions of less than four letters unless they appear first or last.

Follow CMS for capitalizing hyphenated compounds used in titles.

Apply the following distinctions when capitalizing academic degrees.

  • Lowercase general degrees—Tom holds a bachelor's degree.
  • Capitalize specific degrees—Jean has a Associate of Science degree in Engineering Technology.
  • Capitalize subject areas when they appear with a degree—Master of Science in Correlated Business Studies.

Capitalize specific titles.

  • Frank Britt, Chief Executive Officer of Penn Foster
  • As Director of Content Operations, Tracey will ...


  • Use periods in a.m./p.m.; do not repeat in ranges.
  • Use noon, not 12 p.m. Use midnight, not 12 a.m.
  • Designate ranges with an en dash OR "from/to." Do not combine methods.
  • Omit :00

The morning session is 9-11:30 a.m. Lunch is at noon. Doors will be open from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


July 7, 2013; July 2013


  • Spell out single-digit numbers.
  • Use Arabic numerals otherwise.
  • Exception: Always use a numeral with percent.


Spell out directions, street names, and states, but use postal state abbreviations when followed by a zip code.

Phone Numbers


Non-School Titles

Professional titles and occupation titles are lowercased in running text.

  • Marcia Watson is senior vice president of sales for General Industry Corporation.
  • Take your first steps toward becoming a plumber.


Always omit "http://" and "www." unless required for functionality. Use end punctuation if the URL is part of a sentence.

For more information, go to

Avoid breaking a URL between lines. If unavoidable, do not hyphenate; do break after a period, underscore, or slash.

Standard Reference Works


The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.

Content Guidelines

Marketing Website Copy B2C

  • Description: Anticipate the information the reader will most be interested in, and deliver it in a clear and concise manner. Utilize bullets and images when possible.
  • Length:
    • Program Pages: 250 - 500 words; depending on the strength of program value proposition
    • Front matter pages: 100 - 150 words
  • Owner: Marketing Communications
  • Example: Medical Billing and Coding

Press Release

  • Description: Should read like a news article: answer the 5 W's (who, what, when, where, why) in the opening paragraph. Utilize internal quotes, as well as external expert quotes when possible. Press releases can be issued by Penn Foster, Inc., Penn Foster High School, Penn Foster College, Penn Foster Career School, or Penn Foster Education Group. Each has a standard boilerplate.
  • Length:750 - 1000 words
  • Owner: Marketing Communications (Bliss/Laurie)
  • Example:

Email Communications

Overall, in an effort to align our messaging with our company focus, we're always looking to place student benefits and needs first. Each email must include a strong Call to Action and drive students towards answers or information. Ideally, messaging is timely and compelling for the students.

Subject Lines: Keep subject lines short and direct. Subject lines should reflect the content of the body of your email so that students know what to expect from your email. Avoid spam words and tricky, complex sentence structures to ensure deliverability.

Preview Text: Your preview text is the blurb at the very top of the email which shows directly following the subject line in most browsers and inboxes. These are best written when paired with the subject line. Many emails use the preview text as a continuation of thought from the subject line. This is not to say that there is ample space here; we keep preview texts, abbreviated to PT, to 30-60 characters or it will run into the text for "view on webpage."


  • Description: Drip nurture campaigns designed to further hook a prospective student on the program, provide an increasingly greater insight or reward for conversions and a more compelling and timely offer.
  • Length: 1-5 emails, each at about 100-300 words. Requires a SL, PT, Hero Text, and short body text which places student benefits/quality above cost. Each message must have an assertive, clear CTA, a compelling and timely message to increase conversions, and content/images tailored to the program.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: Vet Tech LN Touch 5

Congratulations, Milestone Emails, Transactional Emails are standardly triggered by either a student action, completion, or date.

  • Description: Short, colloquial, image-based emails proposed to help engagement or goal completion.
  • Length: 60-80 words.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: Milestone 90% Complete

Transactional triggered by payment or enrollment.

  • Description: These emails perform best when information is provided in a straight-forward and short message void of our usual casual tone.
  • Length: 60-80 words.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: Shipping Confirmation


  • Description: Deployed after enrollment, this email series welcomes new students to Penn Foster, providing both the information they need to start their coursework and necessary paperwork.
  • Length: 60-80 words.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: Welcome Email Touch 1

Survey + Email

  • Description: When deploying a survey through email, we always communicate how the student's responses will be used, their anonymity, and the benefit to the student community or future of Penn Foster. When adding an incentive to a survey, we place the incentive in either the subject line or preview text and additionally on the Thank You page of the survey.
  • Length: 30-40 words.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: High School Profile Demographics Survey

In app messaging - notifications

  • Description: Message Center notifications are always plain-text and mirror the email correspondence in content and approach. These are often used for more direct communications.
  • Length: 60-80 words.
  • Owner: Lifecycle Marketing
  • Example: Office Closure Email

Blog Post B2B

  • Description: The FosterEDU blog serves content intended to educate and inform a variety of audiences: employers, career colleges, high school guidance counselors/administration and youth organizations. The blog is managed by the B2B marketing team, with content coming from internal and external sources.
  • Length: 500 - 750 words
  • Owner: B2B (Steve C)
  • Example: additional guidelines can be found here.

Blog Post B2C

  • Description: Penn Foster's B2C blog is the Student Life Blog, and is intended to help current and prospective students develop strong study habits and become career-ready. Although it is managed by the Marketing Communications team, blog posts come from employees throughout multiple departments as well as Penn Foster's Student Ambassadors.
  • Length: 500 - 1000 words
  • Owner: Marketing Communications (Adam)
  • Example:

Social Media B2C

  • Description: We utilize social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter) to build relationships with existing and lead students by amplifying their achievements, breaking down their obstacles, and offering thoughtful service. The key difference with social media is efficiency of expression- aka short but smart. Offer resource links whenever possible.
  • Length: 120 to 300 characters
  • Example: Instagram - Amplifying Student Achievement

Social Media B2B

  • Description: Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are utilized to establish Penn Foster and our leadership as an authority in online/hybrid education. The communications through these channels also serves as a relationship builder with potential and existing partnerships. This language is more formal but still short and smart.
  • Length: 120 to 150 characters
  • Example: LinkedIn - Workforce Development at Wal-Mart Commentary

Student Community Content

  • Description: The Community is a way for Penn Foster as a company to better service it's students from a one-to-many communication model, represent the student experience to prospective students, receive real-time feedback on programs and curriculum, and support business objectives through student retention, motivation, engagement, and trust.
  • Length: Response length is based on complexity of the inquiry. Responses should reflect an efficiency of expression - aka short but smart, but the text editor is forgiving in allowing more characters to express further and thorough detail. Be sure to put a touch of personality behind it and offer resource links to authoritative documents whenever possible
  • Example: High School Individual Courses

Writing for Social Media

Writing for social media should closely follow the voice of our blogs and other marketing communications with an increase in formality for our B2B focused channels. The key difference for social being brevity. When linking to longer form content only share the high-level theme or one takeaway. When creating original posts simplify your statement but refrain from abbreviation or altered spelling.

Regardless of the audience, our social channels will focus more on offering information of value than direct marketing.


  • Never directly ask for engagement. Always offer an opinion first.
  • Correct: "We think Cats are fluffy, what is your take?"
  • Incorrect: "Like this photo if you think Cats are fluffy // Do you think Cats are fluffy?"


A large portion of our social interactions are answering questions for leads & current students. Service is an opportunity to positively influence student outcomes or brand opinion. So it is vital that no matter what tone is used to ask a question or inquiry, Penn Foster (or persona accounts) responds with empathy.

Additional requirements:

  • Point to resources where applicable to enable self-service in the future.
  • Always move conversations that involve personal information to a private channel. This can be as simple as the city someone lives in.
  • Identify yourself so students have a clear point of contact. You can identify yourself by using your Penn Foster persona (twitter, or Facebook comments & wall posts) or a typed out signature (Thank you for your question, Jenn B. - Student CARE)


Hashtags should be used with purpose. This may include brand association, amplifying the reach of a message, or to establish themes for lead generation. For Twitter and Instagram only one hashtag should be employed (at most two). Refrain from using hashtags on Facebook and LinkedIn. Do not create new branded hashtags without consulting the Social and Community Team.

Brand hashtags:

  • #pennfoster - used for news, brand marketing & PR, all other student life activities (such as studying or goal setting).
  • #pfproud - used for student achievement.

Trending Topics

Use caution when commenting on trending topics or current events. Trends are a great way to gain exposure and show relevance to targets.

Trends to avoid:

  • Political affiliations
  • Commentary on ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Pop culture fads or celebrities, unless there is a strong correlation to our messaging

Commonly used words and their meaning

  • Opportunity Youth: The 6.7 million (2015 data) young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.
  • Accreditation: Accreditation is a voluntary, independent review of educational programs to determine that the education provided is uniform and of sound quality. Being awarded accreditation ensures that an institution has been evaluated and that it met set standards of quality determined by the accrediting organization granting the accreditation. A school's accreditation is maintained by continued adherence to the set criteria.
  • Matriculation: Matriculate is a noun that means someone who has been admitted to a college or university. When you matriculate (used as a verb) at your local university, that means that you've enrolled there as a student. In the B2B context, we talk about the percentage of high school completion program students who matriculate (enroll) in the college sponsoring the student's high school education.
  • Meet-up: Informal meeting or gathering, meant for networking, studying or just meeting new people. Can be in-person or online.
  • Hands-on: Learning material or concepts through activities versus reading or lecture alone. Involves the use of your hands, or being actively or personally involved in an activity.
  • Student Portal (Foster or PFX): An online gateway where students can log in to a school website to access important program information.
  • Completion Date: Used when referring to a course or expected program completion
  • Graduation Date: Used when a student transitions to a "CO" from a "C1" status
  • Graduation Pack: Materials sent to students when they have fulfilled academic and financial obligations for their coursework.

Words or phrases to avoid

  • "prepared for (exam or career)"
  • "all you need"
  • "skills needed to become"
  • "skills required for"
  • "job ready"
  • "free"
    • The exception, we can use "free" for anything that comes before the enrollment process and is not contingent on the exchange of money. "Free transcript evaluation" or "Free ebook" is okay.
  • "guarantee"
  • "promise"
  • "This program is easy to complete" (enrollment process can be easy, or it's easy to get started)
  • "risk free"
  • "always"
  • "no hidden fees"
  • "on-demand" when referring to instructors or tutors
  • "fully accredited"
  • "discount"
  • "accredited" - can not be used alone. Must be specified if it is regional, national or regional, and national accreditation.


For complete compliance guidelines please contact [email protected].