ASP.NET Docs Style Guide

By Steve Smith

This document provides an overview of how articles published on should be formatted. You can actually use this file, itself, as a template when contributing articles.

Article Structure

Articles should be submitted as individual text files with a .rst extension. Authors should be sure they are familiar with the Sphinx Style Guide, but where there are disagreements, this document takes precedence. The article should begin with its title on line 1, followed by a line of === characters. Next, the author should be displayed with a link to an author specific page (ex. the author’s GitHub user page, Twitter page, etc.).

Articles should typically begin with a brief abstract describing what will be covered, followed by a bulleted list of topics, if appropriate. If the article has associated sample files, a link to the samples should be included following this bulleted list.

Articles should typically include a Summary section at the end, and optionally additional sections like Next Steps or Additional Resources. These should not be included in the bulleted list of topics, however.


Typically articles will use at most 3 levels of headings. The title of the document is the highest level heading and must appear on lines 1-2 of the document. The title is designated by a row of === characters.

Section headings should correspond to the bulleted list of topics set out after the article abstract. Article Structure, above, is an example of a section heading. A section heading should appear on its own line, followed by a line consisting of — characters.

Subsection headings can be used to organize content within a section. Headings, above, is an example of a subsection heading. A subsection heading should appear on its own line, followed by a line of ^^^ characters.

Title (H1)
Section heading (H2)
Subsection heading (H3)

For section headings, only the first word should be capitalized:

  • Use this heading style
  • Do Not Use This Style

More on sections and headings in ReStructuredText:

ReStructuredText Syntax

The following ReStructuredText elements are commonly used in ASP.NET documentation articles. Note that indentation and blank lines are significant!

Inline Markup

Surround text with:

  • One asterisk for *emphasis* (italics)
  • Two asterisks for **strong emphasis** (bold)
  • Two backticks for ``code samples``(an <html> element)


Inline markup cannot be nested, nor can surrounded content start or end with whitespace (* foo* is wrong).

Escaping is done using the \ backslash.

Format specific items using these rules:

  • Italics (surround with *) - Files, folders, paths (for long items, split onto their own line) - New terms - URLs (unless rendered as links, which is the default)
  • Strong (surround with **) - UI elements
  • Code Elements (surround with ``) - Classes and members - Command-line commands - Database table and column names - Language keywords


Lists can be started with a - or * character:

- This is one item
- This is a second item

Numbered lists can start with a number, or they can be auto numbered by starting each item with the # character. Please use the # syntax.

1. Numbered list item one.(don't use numbers)
2. Numbered list item two.(don't use numbers)
#. Auto-numbered one.
#. Auto-numbered two.

Source Code

Source code is very commonly included in these articles. Images should never be used to display source code. Prefer literalinclude for most code samples. Reserve code-block for small snippets that are not included in the sample project. A code-block can be declared as shown below, including spaces, blank lines, and indentation:

.. code-block:: c#
public void Foo()
  // Foo all the things!

This results in:

public void Foo()
  // Foo all the things!

The code block ends when you begin a new paragraph without indentation. Sphinx supports quite a few different languages. Some common language strings that are available include:

  • c#
  • javascript
  • html

Line numbers should only be used while editing to assist in find the line numbers to emphasize. Code blocks also support line numbers and emphasizing or highlighting certain lines:

.. code-block:: c#
  :emphasize-lines: 3
  public void Foo()
    // Foo all the things!

This results in:

public void Foo()
  // Foo all the things!


Once the emphasize-lines is determined, remove :linenos:. When updating a doc, remove all occurrences of :linenos:.


caption and name will result in a code-block not being displayed due to our builds using a Sphinx version prior to version 1.3. If you don’t see a code block displayed above this note, it’s most likely because the version of Sphinx is < 1.3.


Images such as screen shots and explanatory figures or diagrams should be placed in a _static folder within a folder named the same as the article file. References to images should therefore always be made using relative references, e.g. article-name/style-guide/_static/asp-net.png. Note that images should always be saved as all lower-case file names, using hyphens to separate words, if necessary.


Do not use images for code. Use code-block or literalinclude instead.

To include an image in an article, use the .. image directive:

.. image:: style-guide/_static/asp-net.png


No quotes are needed around the file name.

Here’s an example using the above syntax:

Images are responsively sized according to the browser viewport when using this directive. Currently the maximum width supported by the theme is 697px.


To add a note callout, like the ones shown in this document, use the .. note:: directive.

.. note:: This is a note.

This results in:


This is a note.

Including External Source Files

One nice feature of ReStructuredText is its ability to reference external files. This allows actual sample source files to be referenced from documentation articles, reducing the chances of the documentation content getting out of sync with the actual, working code sample (assuming the code sample works, of course). However, if documentation articles are referencing samples by filename and line number, it is important that the documentation articles be reviewed whenever changes are made to the source code, otherwise these references may be broken or point to the wrong line number. For this reason, it is recommended that samples be specific to individual articles, so that updates to the sample will only affect a single article (at most, an article series could reference a common sample). Samples should therefore be placed in a subfolder named the same as the article file, in a sample folder (e.g. /article-name/sample/).

External file references can specify a language, emphasize certain lines, display line numbers (recommended), similar to Source Code. Remember that these line number references may need to be updated if the source file is changed.

.. literalinclude:: style-guide/_static/startup.cs
  :language: c#
  :emphasize-lines: 19,25-27
using System;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Builder;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Http;
using Microsoft.Framework.DependencyInjection;
namespace ProductsDnx
    public class Startup
        public Startup(IHostingEnvironment env)
        // This method gets called by a runtime.
        // Use this method to add services to the container
        public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
        // Configure is called after ConfigureServices is called.
        public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IHostingEnvironment env)
            // Add MVC to the request pipeline.

You can also include just a section of a larger file, if desired:

.. literalinclude:: style-guide/_static/startup.cs
  :language: c#
  :lines: 1,4,20-

This would include the first and fourth line, and then line 20 through the end of the file.

Literal includes also support Captions and names, as with code-block elements. If the caption is left blank, the file name will be used as the caption. Note that captions and names are available with Sphinx 1.3, which the ReadTheDocs theme used by this system is not yet updated to support.

Format code to eliminate or minimize horizontal scroll bars.


Tables should never render with horizontal scroll bars. Tables can be constructed using grid-like “ASCII Art” style text. In general they should only be used where it makes sense to present some tabular data. Rather than include all of the syntax options here, you will find a detailed reference at

UI navigation

When documenting how a user should navigate a series of menus, use the :menuselection: directive:

:menuselection:`Windows --> Views --> Other...`

This will result in Windows ‣ Views ‣ Other....

Additional Reading

Learn more about Sphinx and ReStructuredText:

  • Sphinx documentation
  • RST Quick Reference


This style guide is intended to help contributors quickly create new articles for It includes the most common RST syntax elements that are used, as well as overall document organization guidance. If you discover mistakes or gaps in this guide, please submit an issue.