Netdata style guide

This in-progress style guide establishes editorial guidelines for anyone who wants to write documentation for Netdata products.

Table of contents

Welcome

Proper documentation is essential to the success of any open-source project. Netdata is no different. The health of our monitoring agent, and the community it’s created, depends on this effort.

We’re here to make developers, sysadmins, and DevOps engineers better at their jobs, after all!

We welcome contributions to Netdata’s documentation. Begin with the contributing to documentation guide, followed by this style guide.

Goals of the Netdata style guide

An editorial style guide establishes standards for writing and maintaining documentation. At Netdata, we focus on the following principles:

  • Consistency
  • High-quality writing
  • Conciseness
  • Accessibility

These principles will make documentation better for everyone who wants to use Netdata, whether they’re a beginner or an expert.

Breaking the rules

None of the rules described in this style guide are absolute. We welcome rule-breaking if it creates better, more accessible documentation.

But be aware that Netdata staff or community members may ask you to justify your rule-breaking during the PR review process.

General principles

Yes, this style guide is pretty overwhelming! Establishing standards for a global community is never easy.

Here’s a few key points to start with. Where relevant, they link to more in-depth information about a given rule.

Tone and content:

Language and grammar:

  • Capitalize words at the beginning of sentences, for proper nouns, and at the beginning of document titles and section headers.
  • Use second person—“you” rather than “we”—when giving instructions.
  • Use active voice to make clear who or what is performing an action.
  • Always employ an Oxford comma on lists.

Markdown syntax:

Accessibility:


Tone and content

Netdata’s documentation should be conversational, concise, and informational, without feeling formal. This isn’t a textbook. It’s a repository of information that should (on occasion!) encourage and excite its readers.

By following a few principles on tone and content we’ll ensure more readers from every background and skill level will learn as much as possible about Netdata’s capabilities.

Conversational and friendly tone

Netdata’s documentation should be conversational and friendly. To borrow from Google’s fantastic developer style guide:

Try to sound like a knowledgeable friend who understands what the developer wants to do.

Feel free to let some of your personality show! Documentation can be highly professional without being dry, formal, or overly instructive.

Write concisely

You should always try to use as few words as possible to explain a particular feature, configuration, or process. Conciseness leads to more accurate and understandable writing.

Hyperlinks should clearly state its destination. Don’t use words like “here” to describe where a link will take your reader.

# Not recommended
To install Netdata, click [here](https://docs.netdata.cloud/packaging/installer/).

# Recommended
To install Netdata, read our [installation instructions](https://docs.netdata.cloud/packaging/installer/).

In general, guides should include fewer hyperlinks to keep the reader focused on the task at hand. Documentation should include as many hyperlinks as necessary to provide meaningful context.

Avoid words like “easy” or “simple”

Never assume readers of Netdata documentation are experts in Netdata’s inner workings or health monitoring/performance troubleshooting in general.

If you claim that a task is easy and the reader struggles to complete it, they’ll get discouraged.

If you perceive one option to be easier than another, be specific about how and why. For example, don’t write, “Netdata’s one-line installer is the easiest way to install Netdata.” Instead, you might want to say, “Netdata’s one-line installer requires fewer steps than manually installing from source.”

Avoid slang, metaphors, and jargon

A particular word, phrase, or metaphor you’re familiar with might not translate well to the other cultures featured among Netdata’s global community. It’s recommended you avoid slang or colloquialisms in your writing.

If you must use industry jargon, such as “white-box monitoring,” in a document, be sure to define the term as clearly and concisely as you can.

White-box monitoring: Monitoring of a system or application based on the metrics it directly exposes, such as logs.

Avoid emojis whenever possible for the same reasons—they can be difficult to understand immediately and don’t translate well.

Mentioning future releases or features

Documentation is meant to describe the product as-is, not as it will be or could be in the future. Netdata documentation generally avoids talking about future features or products, even if we know they are inevitable.

An exception can be made for documenting beta features that are subject to change with further development.

Language and grammar

Netdata’s documentation should be consistent in the way it uses certain words, phrases, and grammar. The following sections will outline the preferred usage for capitalization, point of view, active voice, and more.

Capitalization

In text, follow the general English standards for capitalization. In summary:

  • Capitalize the first word of every new sentence.
  • Don’t use uppercase for emphasis. (Netdata is the BEST!)
  • Capitalize the names of brands, software, products, and companies according to their official guidelines. (Netdata, Docker, Apache, Nginx)
  • Avoid camel case (NetData) or all caps (NETDATA).

Capitalization of ‘Netdata’ and ‘netdata’

Whenever you refer to the company Netdata, Inc., or the open-source monitoring agent the company develops, capitalize Netdata.

However, if you are referring to a process, user, or group on a Linux system, you should not capitalize, as by default those are typically lowercased. In this case, you should also fence these terms in an inline code block: `netdata`.

# Not recommended
The netdata agent, which spawns the netdata process, is actively maintained by netdata, inc.

# Recommended
The Netdata agent, which spawns the `netdata` process, is actively maintained by Netdata, Inc.

Capitalization of document titles and page headings

Document titles and page headings should use sentence case. That means you should only capitalize the first word.

If you need to use the name of a brand, software, product, and company, capitalize it according to their official guidelines.

Also, don’t put a period (.) or colon (:) at the end of a title or header.

Document titles:

Capitalization Not recommended Recommended
Document titles Getting Started Guide Getting started guide
Page headings Service Discovery and Auto-Detection: Service discovery and auto-detection
Proper nouns Install netdata with docker Install Netdata with Docker

Second person

When writing documentation, you should use the second person (“you”) to give instructions. When using the second person, you give the impression that you’re personally leading your reader through the steps or tips in question.

See how that works? It’s a core part of making Netdata’s documentation feel welcoming to all.

Avoid using “we,” “I,” “let’s,” and “us” in documentation whenever possible.

The “you” pronoun can also be implied, depending on your sentence structure.

# Not recommended
To install Netdata, we should try the one-line installer...

# Recommended
To install Netdata, you should try the one-line installer...

# Recommended, implied "you"
To install Netdata, try the one-line installer...

Active voice

Use active voice instead of passive voice, because active voice is more concise and easier to understand.

When using voice, the subject of the sentence is performing the action. In passive voice, the subject is being acted upon. A famous example of passive voice is the phrase “mistakes were made.”

# Not recommended (passive)
When an alarm is triggered by a metric, a notification is sent by Netdata...

# Recommended (active)
When a metric triggers an alarm, Netdata sends a notification...

Standard American spelling

While the Netdata team is mostly not American, we still aspire to use American spelling whenever possible, as it is more commonly used within the monitoring industry.

Clause order

If you want to instruct your reader to take some action in a particular circumstance, such as optional steps, the beginning of the sentence should indicate that circumstance.

# Not recommended
Read the reference guide if you'd like to learn more about custom dashboards.

# Recommended
If you'd like to learn more about custom dashboards, read the reference guide.

By placing the circumstance at the beginning of the sentence, those who don’t want to follow can stop reading and move on. Those who do want to read it are less likely to skip over the sentence.

Oxford comma

The Oxford comma is the comma used after the second-to-last item in a list of three or more items. It appears just before “and” or “or.”

# Not recommended
Netdata can monitor RAM, disk I/O, MySQL queries per second and lm-sensors.

# Recommended
Netdata can monitor RAM, disk I/O, MySQL queries per second, and lm-sensors.

Markdown syntax

The Netdata documentation uses the Markdown syntax for styling and formatting. If you’re not familiar with how it works, please read the Markdown introduction post by its creator, followed by Mastering Markdown guide from GitHub.

We also leverage the power of the Material theme for MkDocs, which features several extensions, such as the ability to create notes, warnings, and collapsible blocks.

You can follow the syntax specified in the above resources for the majority of documents, but the following sections specify a few particular use cases.

References to UI elements

If you need to instruct your reader to click a user interface (UI) element inside of a Netdata interface, you should reference the label text of the link/button with Markdown’s (**bold text**) tag.

Click on the **Sign in** button.

Note

Whenever possible, avoid using directional language to orient readers, because not every reader can use instructions like “look at the top-left corner” to find their way around an interface.

If you feel that you must use directional language, perhaps use an [image](#images) (with proper alt text) instead.

We're also working to establish standards for how we refer to certain elements of the Netdata's web interface. We'll include that in this style guide as soon as it's complete.

Language-specific syntax highlighting in code blocks

Our documentation uses the Highlight extension for syntax highlighting. Highlight is fully compatible with Pygments, allowing you to highlight the syntax within code blocks in a number of interesting ways.

For a full list of languages, see Pygment’s supported languages. Netdata documentation will use the following for the most part: c, python, js, shell, markdown, bash, css, html, and go. If no language is specified, the Highlight extension doesn’t apply syntax highlighting.

Include the language directly after the three backticks (```) that start the code block. For highlighting C code, for example:

```c
inline char *health_stock_config_dir(void) {
    char buffer[FILENAME_MAX + 1];
    snprintfz(buffer, FILENAME_MAX, "%s/health.d", netdata_configured_stock_config_dir);
    return config_get(CONFIG_SECTION_HEALTH, "stock health configuration directory", buffer);
}
```

And the prettified result:

inline char *health_stock_config_dir(void) {
    char buffer[FILENAME_MAX + 1];
    snprintfz(buffer, FILENAME_MAX, "%s/health.d", netdata_configured_stock_config_dir);
    return config_get(CONFIG_SECTION_HEALTH, "stock health configuration directory", buffer);
}

You can also use the Highlight and SuperFences extensions together to show line numbers or highlight specific lines.

Display line numbers by appending linenums="1" after the language declaration, replacing 1 with the starting line number of your choice. Highlight lines by appending hl_lines="2", replacing 2 with the line you’d like to highlight. Or, multiple lines: hl_lines="1 2 4 12.

Note

Line numbers and highlights are not compatible with GitHub’s Markdown parser, and thus will only be viewable on our documentation site. They should be used sparingly and only when necessary.

Accessibility

Netdata’s documentation should be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. While the rules about tone and content and language and grammar are helpful to an extent, we also need some additional rules to improve the reading experience for all readers.

Images

Images are an important component to documentation, which is why we have a few rules around their usage.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t use only images to convey instructions. Each image should be accompanied by alt text and text-based instructions to ensure that every reader can access the information in the best way for them.

Alt text

Provide alt text for every image you include in Netdata’s documentation. It should summarize the intent and content of the image.

In Markdown, use the standard image syntax, ![](), and place the alt text between the brackets []. Here’s an example using our logo:

![The Netdata logo](https://github.com/netdata/netdata/tree/master/./docs/contributing/../../web/gui/images/netdata-logomark.svg)

Images of text

Don’t use images of text, code samples, or terminal output. Instead, put that text content in a code block so that all devices can render it clearly and screen readers can parse it.