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MongoDB Documentation Style and Conventions

This document provides an overview of the style for the MongoDB documentation stored in this repository. The overarching goal of this style guide is to provide an accessible base style to ensure that our documentation is easy to read, simple to use, and straightforward to maintain.

Also consider the Documentation Organization (meta.organization.rst) document for more information regarding the MongoDB Manual organization.

Document History

2011-09-27: Document created with a (very) rough list of style guidelines, conventions, and questions.

2012-01-12: Document revised based on slight shifts in practice, and as part of an effort of making it easier for people outside of the documentation team to contribute to documentation.

2012-03-21: Merged in content from the Jargon, and cleaned up style in light of recent experiences.

Naming Conventions

This section contains guidelines on naming files, sections, documents and other document elements.

  • File naming Convention:
    • For Sphinx, all files should have a .txt extension.
    • Separate words in file names with hyphens (i.e. -.)
    • For most documents, file names should have a terse one or two word name that describes the material covered in the document. Allow the path of the file within the document tree to add some of the required context/categorization. For example it's acceptable to have /core/sharding.rst and /administration/sharding.rst.
    • For tutorials, the full title of the document should be in the file name. For example, /tutorial/replace-one-configuration-server-in-a-shard-cluster.rst
  • Phrase headlines and titles so that they the content contained within the section so that users can determine what questions the text will answer, and material that it will address without needing them to read the content. This shortens the amount of time that people spend looking for answers, and improvise search/scanning, and possibly "SEO."
  • Prefer titles and headers in the form of "Using foo" over "How to Foo."
  • When using target references (i.e. :ref: references in documents,) use names that include enough context to be intelligible thought all documentations. For example, use "replica-set-secondary-only-node" as opposed to "secondary-only-node". This is to make the source more usable and easier to maintain.

Style Guide

This includes the local typesetting, English, grammatical, conventions and preferences that all documents in the manual should use. The goal here is to choose good standards, that are clear, and have a stylistic minimalism that does not interfere with or distract from the content. A uniform style will improve user experience, and minimize the effect of a multi-authored document.


  • Use the oxford comma.

    Oxford commas are the commas in a list of things (e.g. "something, something else, and another thing.") before the conjunction (e.g. "and" or "or.")

  • Do not add two spaces after terminal punctuation, such as periods.

  • Use "American style" punctuation when enclosing punctuation (i.e. parentheses, quotes, and similar) interacts with terminal punctuation (i.e. periods, commas, colons, and similar.) This rule dictates that the terminal punctuation always goes within the enclosing punctuation, even if the terminal punctuation affects the sentence/clause outside of the quote or parenthetical.

    This is counter to the "logical style" which is default in British English, because its easier to be consistent and edit using this rule, and because the style of the documents tends towards American English.

    The one exception is if a literal string or inline code snippet is enclosed in quotations or parenthesis, it may make sense to move a period or comma further away from the literal string to avoid copy-and-paste errors or other confusion. For example, in this case, "cfg.members[0].priorty = 1." is worse than "cfg.members[0].priorty = 1".

  • Use title case, that capitalizes the first letter of the first, last, and all significant words, for headings and document titles.


Verb tense and mood preferences, with examples:

  • Avoid the first person. For example do not say, "We will begin the backup process by locking the database," or "I begin the backup process by locking my database instance,"
  • Use the second person. "If you need to back up your database, start by locking the database first." In practice, however, it's more concise to imply second person using the imperative, as in "Before inititating a back up, lock the database."
  • When indicated, use the imperative mood. For example: "Backup your databases often" and "To prevent data loss, back up your databases."
  • The future perfect is also useful in some cases. For example, "Creating disk snapshots without locking the database, will lead to an inconsistent state."
  • Avoid helper verbs, as possible to increase clarity and concision. For example, attempt to avoid "this does foo" and "this will do foo" when possible. Use "does foo" over "will do foo" in situations where "this foos" is unacceptable.


  • To refer to future or planned functionality in MongoDB or a driver, always link to the Jira case. The Manual's provides for a ":issue:" role that will link directly to a Jira case (e.g. :issue:\`SERVER-9001\`).
  • For non-object references (i.e. functions, operators, methods, database commands, settings) always reference only the first occurrence of the reference in a section. You should always reference objects, except in section headings.

General Formulations

  • Contractions are acceptable insofar as they are necessary to increase readability and flow. Avoid otherwise.
  • Make lists grammatically correct.
    • Do not use a period after every item unless the list item completes the unfinished sentence before the list.
    • Use appropriate commas and conjunctions in the list items.
    • Typically begin a bulleted list with an introductory sentence or clause with a colon, comma, or semi-colon.
  • The following terms are one word:
    • standalone
    • workflow
  • Use "unavailable," "offline," or "unreachable" to refer to a mongod instance that cannot be accessed rather than the colloquialism "down."
  • Always write out units (e.g. "megabytes") rather than using abbreviations (e.g. "MB".)

Structural Formulations

  • There should be at least two headings at every nesting level. Within an "h2" block, there should either be: no "h3" blocks, 2 "h3" blocks, or more than 2 "h3" blocks.

  • Section headers should be in title case (capitalize first, last, and all important words,) and should effectively describe the contents of the section. In a single document you should strive to have section titles that are not redundant and grammatically consistent with each other.

  • Use paragraphs and paragraph breaks to increase clarity and flow. Avoid burying critical information in the middle of long paragraphs. Err on the side of shorter paragraphs when possible.

  • Shorter sentences are better than longer sentences. Use complex formations (e.g. compound complex structures that require semi-colons.) only as a last resort, if at all.

  • In general, avoid paragraphs that consist of single sentences as they often represent a sentence that has unintentionally become too complex or incomplete. However, sometimes such paragraphs are useful for emphasis, summary, or introductions.

    As a corollary, most sections should have multiple paragraphs.

  • For longer lists and more complex lists, use bulleted items rather than integrating them inline into a sentence.

  • Do not expect that the content of any example (inline or blocked,) will be self explanatory. Even when it feels redundant, make sure that the function and use of every example is clearly described.

ReStructured Text and Typesetting

  • Use spaces between nesting parentheticals (and elements) in JavScript examples. For example, prefer "{ [ a, a, a ] }" over "{[a,a,a]}".

  • For underlines associated with headers in RST, use:

    • = for heading level 1 or h1s. Use underlines and overlines for document titles.
    • - for heading level 2 or h2s.
    • ~ for heading level 3 or h3s.
    • ` for heading level 4 or h4s.
  • Use hyphens (-) to indicate items of an ordered list.

  • Place footnotes and other references, if you use them, at the end of a section rather than the end of a file.

    Use the footnote format that includes automatic numbering and a target name for ease of use. For instance a footnote tag may look like: "[#note]_" with the corresponding directive holding the body of the footnote that resembles the following: ".. [#note]".

  • As it makes sense, use the ".. code-block:: [language]" form to insert literal blocks into the text. While the double colon, "::", is functional, the directive makes the source easier to read and understand.

  • For all mentions of referenced types (i.e. database commands, query operators, aggregation framework expressions and pipeline operators, java script functions, statuses, etc.) use the reference types to ensure uniform formatting and cross-referencing.

Jargon and Common Terms

MongoDB and Database Organization

Refer to MongoDB as "MongoDB" rather than mongo or Mongo when referring to the entire database system, including possibly mongod and mongos.

Refer to mongod or mongos by name to indicate the database process, or server instance itself. These are "processes" or "instances." Reserve "database" for referring to a database (i.e. the structure that holds collections and refers to a group of files on disk.)

Data Structures

Use the following convention when referring to specific parts of MongoDB data:

  • document refers to "rows," or records in a MongoDB database. Potential confusion with "JSON Documents."

    Do not refer to documents as "objects," because drivers (and MongoDB) do not preserve the order of fields when fetching data. If the order of objects matter, use an array.

  • field refers to a "key" or "identifier" of data within a MongoDB document.

  • value refers to the contents of a field.

Use "sub-document" as needed to describe nested documents.

Notes on Specific Features

  • Geo-Location
    1. While MongoDB is capable of storing coordinates in (sub-documents,) in practice, users should only store coordinates in arrays. (See: DOCS-41)
  • Others...

Other Terms

  • Use "shard cluster," to refer to a collection of mongod instances that hold a sharded data set. Use the term "replica set," to refer to a collection of mongod instances that provide a replicated data set. Do not use the word "cluster" to refer to a replication only deployment.
  • Use "" (and .org or .com if needed) for all examples and samples.

The documentation project does not, as of early 2012, have a fixed set of nomenclature for describing interface elements, architectural components (daemons, databases, processes, drivers, hosts, mongos' etc.) Similarly, there is no standard nomenclature or examples for field names, values, variables, and other components of code examples.

At some point in the near future creating a more standardized the nomenclature for examples of architectural elements and code components may be necessary.