The Observatory’s Style Guide for Writers

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I. The Observatory’s Style Guide for Writers

The page you are currently viewing is the main page of the Observatory Style Guide with information on formatting.

Other important general points of style and writing are covered in the following Observatory Style Guide addenda subpages:

II. Important General Writing Standards

Information and resources on quoting; attributions; and fair use, public domain, and copyright.

III. Images and Multimedia Files: Rights and Practical Considerations

Guide to transmitting original or Wikimedia Commons images and other files.

IV. Links to Writing, Editing, and Rights Tools

Useful links to bookmark for tips on grammar, external style guides, and fair use.

V. Editorial Process and Article Templates

Tips on formatting an article for the Observatory in Google Documents or Microsoft Word before converting it into wikitext, including a glossary of frontmatter terms, headline/title naming conventions, and details on file type and file formatting settings.

VI. Stylistic Rules of Thumb

Writing advice, considerations of audience, flexibility versus consistency, and mental health trigger warnings.

VII. Branding Best Practices

Preferred Observatory terminology.

The Observatory’s Style Guide for Writers

Please refer to and follow these rules for all articles you write and file with the Observatory.


General Formatting

Don’t use double-spaces between sentences.

Don’t add space characters at the end of paragraphs.

Don’t add space characters or tabs or indent at the beginning of paragraphs.

Generally these types of formatting are acceptable: Bold, italics, and link formatting (more on these later).

Do not use strikethrough or underline or play with indentation, as your formatting is likely to be lost in some contexts, especially when copy-pasted, and the result won’t match your intention.

Do not use all-caps for emphasis; use bold or italics instead.

Do not use internal notes, comments, or formatting like color highlighting or notes to editors in brackets in the article document if you can help it. Your editor may not catch them, or may accidentally publish your internal note. Comments in an article document or a brief emailed note in the same email in which you submit the article to your editor are best.

The spaces before and after text formatted as links, bold, or italic should not have that special formatting. If they do, this might cause the text to run together in some contexts, especially when copy-pasted.

Incorrect bold example: The second word starts text intended as bold, incorrectly.

You can see above that the spaces around the bold-formatted phrase above (beginning with “second” and after the comma after “bold”) have bold formatting when they should not, and they might run together in some contexts, especially when copy-pasted.

Correct bold example: The second word starts text intended as bold, correctly.

You can see if you click to the left or right of this bolded phrase (beginning with “second” and after the comma after “bold”) and highlight just the single space before or after the bolded phrase that the spaces around it are formatted as normal, not bold, and this is correct.

Incorrect linked example: The link captures the space before and after.

You can see above that the spaces around the linked phrase are also formatted as links, and they might run together in some contexts, especially when copy-pasted.


Assume most members of your audience, as well as others who wish to reprint Observatory content, are web-based, so keep in mind how you usually see citations made in non-academic, general-audience websites. The goal is to make it as easy for readers as possible to understand your sources or links, and also to reduce the risk of error for any publishers or individuals reprinting your article under the Observatory terms (there are many different production processes and software involved, each with different possibilities for the accidental introduction of errors during the unseen work behind the scenes, html conversion, formatting cleanup, etc.).

Format text with the URL as hyperlink formatting over the text that makes the most sense, like so. Do not put links in parentheses after the text they’re referring to, as in this sentence (https://www.google.com/).

Do not include endnotes or footnotes. Assume most publishers and individuals who wish to reprint Observatory content do not include endnotes or footnotes. Any links or citations should be made in-text, like so:

Correct: As Jane Doe writes in the Fictional Times, this happened.

We don’t care that much if you prefer to make the text that visibly looks like a link is short, long, whatever. Try to keep consistent. Generally the best approach is shorter and relevant is better, with the link over either the publication name or the verb before a quotation (such as “She says [link here], “quotation that is in the link.”). Just make it super clear what the source of every quotation or idea is to which you’re linking.


Tips For Accurate Quoting

Check carefully to make sure you don’t accidentally introduce an error or incorrectly transcribe a phrase from the original text or speech.

The best practice is to copy-paste from a written source or transcribed speech without formatting, aka paste-and-match-style, and then reapply any links or bold/italic formatting that should be carried over into your article. Then, adapt the text for your context, using Observatory house style as is applicable and essential within the context of your piece and within the bounds of what the flexibility of the original source material reasonably permits.

Quoting From Written Text

If you are quoting from written text (from another article, press release, written transcript of an interview, emailed correspondence, etc.):

  1. Copy-paste the text and match the original text except making the formatting (font, font size, paragraph, color, etc.) Observatory house style. Leave the original link/bold/italic formatting, and then apply Observatory house style to the formatting (spaces around links/bold/italic should not carry over the special formatting).
  2. Use ellipses anywhere you are cutting text (for more on them, see the entry on ellipses in the Punctuation section of this guide… use the glyph with a space after it).
  3. Use brackets anywhere you are adding text. [like this]
  4. Make sure the entire sentence makes sense around the quotation, and that the quotation is transcribed correctly (and clearly indicating where you made changes, emphases, etc.).
  5. If you are re-keying (not copy-pasting), be absolutely sure you have typed the quote as it was written or spoken. Double-check, triple-check. People citing your article may repeat your quotation assuming it is straight from the source, and you don’t want to be the source of adding a typo or adding inappropriate color commentary in tone if you didn’t quote correctly.
  6. It is important to place quoted text in quotation marks and cite it properly. Get in the habit of doing this the second after you copy-paste text into your article draft or notes so you never accidentally leave out an attribution to someone else’s words.

Quoting From Spoken Words

If you are quoting from spoken words (a video without a transcript or with a transcript you need to update, a phone interview, an in-person interview, a speech you listened to, etc.), here’s a helpful guide to how to turn spoken speech into written speech, respectfully and in a fair way.

Be aware that using contractions and words like “gonna” instead of “going to” will insert an opinion and color the quote, so be cautious to come across as fair to those you’re quoting.

Block Quotes

Use quotation marks to set off the beginning and end of blockquotes.

Blockquote Formatting in Wiki Visual Editor

While editing a text field on the Observatory in Visual Editing mode, you can use the Block Quote setting (^8) in the Paragraph formatting options in the top ribbon of a text box—just keep in mind that it will be placed in italic formatting and to use reverse-italic formatting if the quoted text originally contained italic formatting.

Blockquote Formatting in Articles Filed to Your Editor as Google Documents or Word Documents

Indent on each margin (right and left) by .5”. Do not italicize block quotes in non-wiki word processor programs or software (Google Documents or Word Documents).

Quotations in Running Text

Use a comma when running text precedes the quotation, unless:

  • The quotation is preceded by the word “that”
  • The quotation is not one or more complete sentences
  • It would otherwise be awkward to have a comma before the quotation

Titles of Publications or Works of Art

We use a mixture of AP and CMS styles that we find to be the most commonsense use of both. For all, use AP headline-style capitalization (click to see the Observatory style guide section on headline-style capitalization). Below is a guide to how to format beyond that (italicize or put in quotation marks with roman formatting [not italicized]):

  1. Published book titles: italicize (CMS).
    1. Exception: Unpublished manuscript titles: don’t italicize. Use quotation marks and format as roman text. (Still use headline-style capitalization, as with all of the following cases.)
  2. Titles of publications (print or online): newspaper, website, blog, magazine, and journal titles: use roman formatting, as in don’t use italics or quotation marks (and if it starts with an article such as “the” or “a” or “an” leave that lowercase unless it starts a sentence—even if it’s included in the masthead) (AP).
    1. Articles, blog posts (these are posted on the publications listed above): use quotation marks and headline-style capitalization.
  3. Audio and video shows (series): radio and television (TV) shows, online/web video shows, podcasts: generally use quotation marks and don’t italicize for the series title (AP).
    1. Episodes: use quotation marks for the episode title.
  4. Movies/films titles: Use italics (CMS).
  5. Music recordings: italicize albums and use quotation marks for songs.
  6. Works of art: formal, individual works of art are in quotation marks; exhibition titles or series titles are italicized.
    1. Common or informal titles of artworks (such as Michelangelo’s statue of David) are treated as normal text (no italics, no quotation marks) (as opposed to Michelangelo’s “David”).
  7. Other titles:
    1. Use quotation marks for these:
      1. Short/episodic video titles (not included in the above Movies/films category—including YouTube or Facebook or social media)
      2. Poems
      3. Lectures
      4. Speeches
    2. Use italics for these:
      1. Operas
      2. Plays
    3. Neither quotation marks nor italics (just capitalize, per CMS):
      1. Titles of acts within plays
      2. Event titles
  8. Capitalize the principal words, including them only if they are four or more letters, prepositions and conjunctions (otherwise lowercase all other prepositions/conjunctions). Capitalize an article—the, a, an—or words of fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in a title. Note: In newspaper and magazine titles, don’t treat the initial “the” as part of the name, as in: According to the Wall Street Journal…

Court Cases

Set in italics, and use v. (not vs. and not v without a period): Roe v. Wade. (For use outside of legal cases, though, “versus” is preferred; for short expressions, “vs.” is permitted, per AP Stylebook’s guidelines on “versus.”)


Use the abbreviation SB (Senate Bill) or HR (House Resolution) with a space and then the number: SB 1, HR 82. This can be flexible as long as it is internally consistent; for example, it is acceptable to use periods (as in, S.B. 1 or H.R. 82) if it is done consistently within an article/series/author’s work/project, but preferred not to use periods. And sometimes S. is used instead of S.B., as in: S. 1. Some outlets do not insert a space between the initials and the numeral and this is not our preference but is acceptable if it is internally consistent. Writing out House Resolution 82 or Senate Bill 1 is not our preference but is acceptable as long as it’s consistent.

The first nine amendments of the U.S. Constitution use written-out numbers (First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, etc.), and the 10th Amendment and higher use numeral ordinals (not written-out numbers, and not superscript formatted ordinals: 18th Amendment, 19th Amendment, etc.). See also: Don’t use superscript formatting with ordinal numbers.


For interviews or transcriptions of meetings/hearings, use full name in first instance, and then use initials after that; bold the names/initials and colons but not the space after the colons:

Smart Reporter: What do you think of this issue?

Jane Doe: That’s a great question. I think exactly what you think I think.

Reporter: Creative second question.

Doe: Second answer.

For interviews with more than one interviewee, it is acceptable to make the entirety of the interviewer’s question bold (not just their name/initials) so it stands out:

Wise Interviewer: Here’s my question for both of you. What do you think?

Interviewee One: I agree.

Second Interviewee: Me too. I heartily agree with my colleague, in fact.

Interviewer: Anything you’d like to add?

One: Nope.

Interviewee: Me neither.

Party Affiliation

Written-out is best (there are fewer space constraints in web publishing as there were with print), as in: Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Indicating states and parties by setting them apart with commas or parentheses, whether written-out or abbreviated, if used, should be consistent within the article every time they are set apart: will they be set apart by commas or parentheses, and will the states and parties be written-out or abbreviated? Pick your rule and stick to it.

Acceptable ways to set apart party/state: Jane Doe, D-NY, or John Smith (Democrat, New York). State abbreviations should be all-caps and shouldn’t have periods. In general we prefer written-out titles instead of abbreviated ones (Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, not Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, not Gov. Ron DeSantis; Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, not Rep. Pramila Jayapal).

Scientific Names

We follow Chicago Manual of Style on scientific names of genus and species names of plants or animals: When the full scientific name of an animal, plant, or other organism is mentioned (with both genus name/generic name and species name/specific epithet), capitalize the genus name, lowercase the species name, and put the full name in italics (Homo sapiens). We prefer to write out the genus every time rather than to write it out only on the first use and after this to abbreviate the genus as its first letter (Homo sapiens is always preferred, without later using H. sapiens). In uses that only use the scientific genus or species name, do italicize the name (the genus Homo is both italicized and capitalized; and the species name sapiens is only italicized, but remains lowercase). For common names, do not italicize, and do follow AP style (which generally agrees with CMS) and Merriam-Webster’s rules on capitalization. We can be flexible if you are consistent throughout a piece.

​​Lists (aka Listicles)

The subheadings/section titles/numbered points in the list should be bold, be numbered with a period (not parentheses). If subheads are incomplete sentences, use headline-style capitalization; if subheads are a complete sentence, use only sentence-style capitalization. (Subheads should all be either complete or incomplete sentences, not a mix.)

Do not let Google or Word or your word processor automatically format numbered lists—hit “Undo” if it makes it automatic and changes the indentation.

For single-paragraph list items:

1. I am a perfectly formatted listicle. Text text textity text.

2. See how simple I am? Blabbity blab blab blab.


1. Point Number One If It Is a Fragment

Point 1 paragraph.

2. Point Number Two, Which Is Also a Fragment

Point 2 paragraph.

If your story promises a list of things in the first few paragraphs, please do remember to number your list.

Make sure the space after the bold, before the regular text, is formatted as not bold.


Quotation Marks and Apostrophes

Curved and Straight Marks

  1. Use curved or “smart” apostrophes (like ‘ and ’) and curved or “smart” double-quotation marks (like “ and ”).
  2. Don’t use 'straight' or "dumb" ones as shown here.

You may need to zoom in (adjust your browser view settings) to see the difference.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Curved/Curly/Smart Quotation Marks and Apostrophes

See: Quick Reference Chart of Keyboard Shortcuts


“ = option+[

” = option+shift+[

‘ = option+]

’ = option+shift+]


“ = alt+0147

” = alt+0148

‘ = alt+0145

’ = alt+0146

Contractions or Decades That Begin With an Apostrophe

We generally avoid contractions that are overly informal in written language, but if you are using one that begins with an apostrophe, use the normal contraction apostrophe (orientation is like a raised comma). For example, we strongly prefer “because” even when transcribing spoken interviews; if you have a reason to do so when transcribing speech, you may use ’cause but not ‘cause.

It’s preferred not to abbreviate decades (1980s is preferred over ’80s), but if you do abbreviate the first two digits of a year, use the normal contraction apostrophe (orientation is like a raised comma) instead of a single open-quotation mark that faces the opposite way. (We’d prefer 1990s, but ’90s works; but not ‘90s).

Possessives Ending in the Letter S

We diverge from AP Style and follow the Chicago Manual of Style on possessives of words ending in the letter s or an s sound. For more details, see: AP vs. Chicago.

For possessives of words that end in the letter s (plural proper nouns and singular common nouns), we insert the second s after the apostrophe. For example: Guterres’s not Guterres’.

Possessives of Singular Proper Nouns Ending in S

Example: United States and U.S.

As Grammarist says, “United States is a singular noun and takes singular verb forms.” For this (as with similar cases), it’s best to use the word United States as an adjective rather than a possessive noun. Rewrite if it makes sense in context:

  • Original, not great: The United States’ policy
  • Better: The United States policy

If it does not make sense as an adjective, then use an apostrophe without another s after it:

  • Correct: The United States’ policy
  • Incorrect: The United States’s policy

If abbreviating United States to U.S., consider writing it out in the possessive. If the context is better suited to abbreviation, use U.S. In other words:

  • Best to use the country as an adjective, either (if the context/preceding statement makes it reasonably clear which policy this is referring to):
    • The United States policy harms the climate.
    • or, you may abbreviate: The U.S. policy harms the climate.
  • These are also acceptable if the context calls for the country to be used as a possessive noun instead of an adjective:
    • The United States’ policy on climate is absurd.
    • or, you may abbreviate; but this is less preferable: The U.S.’s policy on climate is absurd.
  • Wrong:
    • Incorrect: The U.S.’ policy
      • Correction: needs an s after the apostrophe for the abbreviation: The U.S.’s policy
    • Incorrect: The United States’s policy
      • Correction: remove the s after the apostrophe when United States is written out as a possessive: The United States’ policy
Possessive Versus Adjective

Generally, most cases can take the adjective instead of the possessive. This is especially true for people’s titles, as in:

  • the U.S. ambassador
  • the United States president
  • United States President Joe Biden
  • as with noncountry titles such as:
    • Good: UN Secretary-General António Guterres says yes.
      • rather than (do not make UN possessive UN’s in cases like these; it is also unnecessary to add the commas around the name and The):
        • Incorrect: The UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, says yes.

Use your judgment for cases where possessive makes more sense. A great resource on this point is Grammarist’s article “How to Use Commas With Names and Titles Correctly.” See also: Possessive Nouns: How to Use Them, With Examples.


Use em dashes—with no spaces around them—as shown here.
Don’t use double hyphens --
Don’t use en dashes – when you mean to use em dashes

  • The only exception when en dashes may be used is for date ranges or number ranges/numeral ranges/currency ranges, such as “in the 2016–2017 data,” “$100–$200,” “1,200–1,300,” or “the 2020–2021 school year.”
  • 2024 Updates:
    • We currently prefer en dashes in these kinds of ranges. Our house style previously allowed that hyphens may be used in place of en dashes as long as they were used consistently throughout the article or series, as in: “in the 2016-2017 school year,” “$100-$200” or “1,200-1,300.”
    • We also now prefer an en dash in “K–12” (previously, we used hyphens, in “K-12”).
  • However, do not use either hyphens or en dashes in date ranges that use from/to construction because “from X to Y” connotes the same thing as a hyphen or en dash in between two numbers does. For example, we would say “from 2016 to 2017” but not “from 2016-2017.”

To type an em dash on a Mac, press Option-Shift-hyphen (on a PC, use Control-Alt-Minus Key on a Number Pad—if you don’t have a NumPad, you may need to customize your computer’s keyboard settings overall or in Word and your browser).

Commas for Nonessential Clauses

  1. i.e. and e.g.: use commas around them, and use periods inside. (correct usage, e.g., this, and, i.e., that)
  2. Jr. and Sr. do not get commas around them unless the rest of the sentence demands it.
    Correct: I asked Lorelai Gilmore Jr. about it.
    Incorrect: I asked John Smith, Sr., what he thought.
  3. States: Use full state names (do not abbreviate state names) per AP style. And when you are writing both a city and state, use a comma both between them and after the state.
  4. Example: I went to Detroit, Michigan, to see for myself. (For more on these rules and for more examples, see this article on Writing Explained.)
  5. The same rule for commas around city, state, applies to countries: Caracas, Venezuela, not Caracas (Venezuela).

Periods and Abbreviations

  1. D.C. gets periods after each initial, and commas around it when used mid-sentence—as in Washington, D.C., is the capital.
  2. U.S. gets periods after each initial.
  3. LA (not L.A.) for Los Angeles (no periods).
  4. Multiple Middle initials: no spaces around them (George H.W. Bush).
  5. No periods in degrees: PhD not Ph.D.; MA, MD, and MS, not M.A., M.D., and M.S. (or master’s, not capitalized); BA not B.A. (or bachelor’s, not capitalized); MPhil not MPhil.; EdD not Ed.D. This is against AP Stylebook, and we can be flexible on the rule within an article. Degree abbreviations also get commas around them when used mid-sentence: Rupa Marya, MD, is an author.
  6. UN does not get periods after each initial.
  7. USSR does not get periods after each initial.
  8. CIA and NSA do not get periods after each initial.
  9. Generally, place-related acronyms shouldn’t get periods inside with the exceptions of D.C. and U.S.
  10. Use AP’s rule on a.m. and p.m.: “abbreviated with lowercase letters and with periods (a.m. and p.m.)” and a space between the numeral and the abbreviation. Example: 4 p.m., not 4PM.
  11. aka not a.k.a. (per AP).

Punctuation for Lists (Commas, Semicolons)

Commas in lists: In general we do use the serial or Oxford comma: a, b, and c; not a, b and c. This should help avoid confusion. It’s in keeping with the Chicago Manual of Style rather than with AP Stylebook.


  • It’s okay not to use a serial comma when quoting from other sources with different style guides, as long as it’s done with a consistent rule throughout.
  • If you have used a serial comma consistently throughout your article, we occasionally won’t add it for the sake of time.

Semicolons in lists: The rules and exceptions about commas in lists above also apply to semicolons for complex lists. For more on using semicolons in lists with commas within each list item, see: Grammarly, #3: Use Semicolons in a Serial List.

Semicolons to Join Sentences

Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses. Do not use a colon for this purpose (for more on colons, see here). For more on how to use a semicolon, see Grammarly’s guide to semicolons.


Ellipses: Add a space after ellipses to separate them from the words around them. Do not add a space before the ellipses.

  • Correct Example: Ellipses should be a single character glyph consisting of three periods with no spaces between, like this… and then a single space after the ellipses glyph.
  • Incorrect Example: This … is wrong because a space was incorrectly added before the ellipses glyph.
  • Incorrect Example: Three periods instead of a glyph... is wrong, no matter the spacing.
  • Incorrect Example: This . . . is wrong because there are extra spaces in between each period inside the ellipses.

We prefer the glyph (a single character for the whole ellipses: …) rather than a separate character for each period (not ... or . . . ). When you type three periods and then a space, in most cases Google Documents or Microsoft Word will automatically convert the three period characters... into a single glyph character… Exceptions are if there is a comma or other punctuation directly preceding the ellipses, in which case you can make the glyph somewhere else and move it to your intended spot (copy-paste the glyph in). The way to check if it is a glyph is if you move your cursor from the end of the ellipses to the left, it should only take one arrow key-left to get to the beginning of the first period. This is how it is correctly formatted… here.

Avoid four periods: We generally use three periods where some publications might use four periods. Even if an ellipses separates two complete sentences and the word after the ellipses starts the next sentence with a capital letter, it’s still preferred to use three periods rather than four periods. Even if there is a quotation where there is an omission of an entire sentence/sentences from the original source, it is preferred to use three periods (especially the case when the quotation is from a spoken or flexible written source).

But if you must use four periods to faithfully copy a formal written source’s use of four periods or to represent the omission of a sentence or sentences, we prefer that at the end of a sentence, use the single period or sentence’s terminal punctuation (usually a period but can be an exclamation point, question mark, apostrophe or single or double quotation mark, etc.) first, and then a space, and then the ellipses glyph.

  • Acceptable Use of Four Periods: He’s a lunatic. … Four years later, he won a second term.
  • Better to Use Three Periods: He’s a lunatic… Four years later, he won a second term.
  • Incorrect: The single period should not follow the ellipses glyph… . so this is wrong.


In general, do not use ampersands, and write out the word “and” in between the compound instead, even when space is limited (including headlines, teasers, and section headers) or when the proper name of a company or website uses it.

One exception: S&P 500 (which is preferred over S and P 500). S&P 500 is preferred over spelling it out (not Standard & Poor 500 and not S and P 500).



Titles of People

Only capitalize the titles if they directly precede the name, and are an AP style approved title to be capitalized.

For example:

  • Attorney General Jim Who; but: Jim Who, President Whatsit’s attorney general
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; but (when a name does not directly follow the title): the late Supreme Court justice

Generally for business titles (excluding professors and government officials), it’s best to lowercase titles, but if you want to pay them respect, you can capitalize the title only when it directly precedes a name. For example: “Company director Iynna Cahill” is preferable to capitalizing D, but it’s permissible.

Don’t use courtesy titles Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. except in quotes. (We differ from AP Stylebook and some newsrooms on this.)

Titles of Departments: Government, Companies, and Academic

We follow (with some flexibility in certain cases) AP Stylebook and capitalize only when it is the official full title of a government or the name of a company (not a division within a company).

AP Style Governmental Bodies has excellent rules. (You can also see what other newsrooms of authority do, and check the government or company website to see how they use it in running text for guidance, although keep in mind press releases will often capitalize more often than news reporting like the Observatory’s will.)

See also:


We generally follow the rules of the Associated Press, with some variation. From the AP Stylebook’s guide to race-related coverage:

“Black(s), white(s) (n.) Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. White officers account for 64 percent of the police force, Black officers 21 percent and Latino officers 15 percent. The gunman targeted Black churchgoers. The plural nouns Blacks and whites are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction. He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans. Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant.

“Black (adj.) Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges.

“African American [without a hyphen even when used as an adjective before a noun, which is a change in 2019 for this and other dual heritage terms such as Asian American] is also acceptable for those in the U.S. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow an individual’s preference if known, and be specific when possible and relevant. Minneapolis has a large Somali American population because of refugee resettlement. The author is Senegalese American.

“Use of the capitalized Black recognizes that language has evolved, along with the common understanding that especially in the United States, the term reflects a shared identity and culture rather than a skin color alone.

“Indigenous (adj.) Capitalize this term used to refer to original inhabitants of a place. Aboriginal leaders welcomed a new era of Indigenous relations in Australia. Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples represent some 62 percent of the population.”

The following are addendums on race to AP’s guide, from the Observatory:

  1. The Observatory’s style is to capitalize Black, Brown, and Indigenous, but not white.
  2. Generally house style is flexible, following individuals’ preferences on whether or not to capitalize Black and Brown when used as adjectives to describe people. Respect matters more than consistency (although we recommend following one rule within an article), so please let us know about any special cases in particular articles.
  3. For quoted material, exceptions can be made to the rule followed throughout the rest of the article. Match to house style and stay consistent within the article, unless there is a conflict with a person’s preference to the house style, in which case exceptions can be made.
    1. Generally, spoken quotes can be adapted to the Observatory style, even if published with a different choice in transcription published somewhere else, and especially when they are original (from an interview you did).
    2. Written quotes from original sources should follow the preference of the speaker, but capitalization changes and other minor style updates should be fine. Please let us know if the speaker has a particular preference about how they are identified or particular capitalization or other term usage.
    3. Written quotes from previously published content that is linked to can have some flexibility in capitalization to match the rest of the Observatory article since the comparison can be made by readers instantly.
    4. For Brown, we differ with AP generally on this: capitalize when used as an adjective to describe a person’s skin color if that is a person’s preference.
    5. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) is an acceptable acronym (not listed in AP but fine with the Observatory).
    6. Indigenous is capitalized by us generally when referring to people (we can be flexible if you or someone you are quoting has a strong style preference, as long as a consistent rule is followed within an article, within reason).
    7. white: lowercase when referring to people.
    8. We generally prefer to use “people of color” or “BIPOC” or an applicable affirmative way of indicating race, rather than the negation of whiteness, if possible. It is acceptable to use “nonwhite” when authors have a strong preference. See: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/03/03/opinion/i-am-not-nonwhite/ also available without a paywall at: https://asiatimes.com/2021/03/i-am-not-non-white/.

We don’t strictly adhere to AP Stylebook’s guide to race-related coverage and are flexible, but AP is the closest to our style preferences.

As language changes, so do newsroom policies. For instance, the Washington Post discussed the changes to their stylebook in summer 2020 in the articles “The Washington Post announces writing style changes for racial and ethnic identifiers” and “Why hundreds of American newsrooms have started capitalizing the ‘b’ in ‘Black’”; we don’t agree with all their choices, such as we choose not to capitalize White, but these discussions are useful.

Gender and Sexuality

Gender and Pronouns

If a person’s pronouns are they/them/their or otherwise nonconforming, we want to respect that and also make sure the meaning of the text is clear. Generally, follow AP Stylebook’s guidelines:

“In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person. …

“When they is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb: Taylor said they need a new car. (Again, be sure it’s clear from the context that only one person is involved.)”

See also Merriam-Webster’s note on the historical precedence of “they/them” singular: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/singular-nonbinary-they

And Grammarly too: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/use-the-singular-they/

LGBTQ+ and Inclusive Terms About Sexual Orientation

LGBTQ+ is generally preferred over LGBT or LGBTQ as per AP Stylebook and the NLGJA and GLAAD guidelines, unless there is a reason to use more letters (LGBTQIA) or to remove the plus sign or the Q in a particular use (i.e., if quoting from a written source, or if referring specifically to an organization name or event).

We generally follow AP style guidelines but will be flexible if a speaker/interviewee/author feels strongly or if a quotation or organization/event name differs from our house style. Consistency within an article or series of related articles should be kept in mind too.

Capitalization: Pride, LGBTQ+ Pride, Gay Pride

Pride should be capitalized when referencing the LGBTQ+ Pride month, events, etc.; pride is lowercase only when used in the generic sense of the word. (AP)

LGBTQ+ Bookmarkable Links

See also:


First Names/Given Names and Last Names/Surnames/Family Names

On first reference, use the person’s full name, and if you are introducing them with a descriptor, title, role, or explanation of the source of their quote or involvement in the piece (such as an original interview or a quoted source), include it at the first mention (don’t bury the lede on introducing a person).

On second reference and thereafter, you may use only the last name (or surname). Do not use the first name (given name) alone. (See more on foreign names below.)

If it has been many paragraphs since that person was first mentioned, or if there are multiple individuals with the same last name in the same piece, you might opt to use the full name every time or another distinguishing feature such as the familial relationship, if any, or their role/organization that might jog a reader’s memory.

Courtesy Titles and Professional Titles Before Names

Do not use title abbreviations before the last name (i.e., don’t use Mr., Mrs., or Ms.). You may use professional titles (such as Dr. Fauci [but only for medical doctors, rather than PhDs] or Professor X or President Biden or Senator Warren, capitalized only when directly preceding the name—do not capitalize titles that are not political/recommended to capitalize by AP Stylebook, such as chief executive officer Jones or company president Smith) before the last name or full name.

Foreign Names/Proper Nouns: AP Style, Flexibility, and Consistency

For non-U.S. English (in other words, what U.S. audiences consider “foreign”) names of people, places, titles of works, etc., and other phrases that have multiple accepted spellings, capitalizations, punctuations based on the country, language, culture, or other identity being discussed: AP style is preferred; however, in the interest of our aim to respect the choice of the people or community to which these names are applied, we can be flexible and defer to an expert author or authority as long as you do your best to use a clear rule consistently within a single article, as well as within all the articles you submit.

See: https://www.apstylebook.com/ap_stylebook/foreign-names (requires an AP Stylebook subscription to open).

Accented Letters/Diacritical Marks/Special Characters

General Rules

In general, follow AP, CMS, and/or MW; pay attention to the latest news coverage and politicization of spellings as well. Your editor can help with specific questions.

For non-cognates that are not in the English MW dictionary (especially proper nouns like names and places or translated non-English words/phrases), we generally prefer to retain the original accents.

Respecting Cultural-Linguistic Apostrophe Variants: Phonemic Glottal Stop Punctuation (e.g., the ʻOkina)

If an apostrophe that represents a phoneme of a glottal stop in an Indigenous or Polynesian language—such as the ʻokina (a diacritical marking in Hawaiian and Samoan languages, typographically represented as an open single quotation mark or reversed apostrophe: ‘) is used, we will do our best to respect and follow the author or interviewee’s decision and generally will use it if it can be done consistently throughout an article or series or subject area. For example, using both “Hawaiian” (without an ʻokina) and “Hawai‘i” (with an ʻokina) throughout an article is acceptable since it follows a rule.

The same principle of following an author’s/interviewee’s preference would apply to the kahakō or macron (the line above a letter).


Numbers Versus Numerals

  • Use AP style, generally. We also accept CMS style if it makes sense, as long as you’re consistent and it reads easily.
  • One through nine: write out (seven years, four hours, two elections, one time) and don’t use a numeral.
    • The only exceptions when you would use numerals for one through nine are:
      • if it precedes a measurement of distance, size, or temperature (see: Temperature): 2 miles, 9 tons, 98 degrees Fahrenheit
      • if it precedes a large number word like million, billion, or trillion: 9 million, 4.6 billion
      • with currency symbols: $2.4 billion, $20, €1 trillion, ₹10,000
  • 10+: use a numeral (unless the sentence begins with the number… see the section “Don’t start a sentence with a numeral” below).
  • The above rules also apply to ages:
    • For ages one through nine, write out, even though this goes against AP style: a four-year-old; she is nine years old (note the hyphen versus space choices in these examples differ based on year versus years).
    • For ages 10+, use a numeral (an 11-year-old; he is 33 years old).

Don’t Use Superscript Formatting With Ordinal Numbers

For ordinal numbers, do not use superscript formatting over the suffixes: 19th century, not 19th century (and not 19th-century if it is used as a noun and not as an adjectival phrase before the word it’s modifying, where it should be open with a space and not a hyphen; for adjectives, hyphenate and do not use a superscript: 21st-century technology, not 21st-century technology and not 21st century technology). Some word processors automatically make ordinals superscript—undo the automatic superscript formatting if you catch it right away, or you can select the superscript characters (make sure to check spaces around superscript characters too, which should not be superscript) and go to Format→Text→Superscript to remove it. (These instructions are for Google Documents. In other word processors, it will be somewhere in Font options.) See also: Legislation, Dates.


Use numerals for dates (including 1-9). Do not use ordinals for the day number in dates in any use, whether running text or headlines/teasers (i.e., April 12, not April 12th, and not the superscript ordinal of April 12th). This applies even in running text. See also: Don’t use superscript formatting with ordinal numbers.


We are generally flexible as long as this is consistent; our default rule is to prefer 100 BC (BC follows the year) and AD 100 (AD precedes the year) (per CMS 10.38) over using periods (B.C. or A.D. in the same spots, which is AP’s preference). As long as a piece/series is internally consistent in the rule it uses, either is fine. BCE instead of BC and CE instead of AD are also fine, as long as the choice is consistent throughout (and BCE and CE are preferred over B.C.E. and C.E., but we can be flexible). In general, there is no need to indicate AD/CE unless ambiguity would result (in a piece that refers to ancient history BC or BCE dates, for example).

Examples: 100 BC, AD 100; 100 BCE, CE 100; 100 B.C., A.D. 100.

Don’t Start a Sentence With a Numeral

Write it out as a word instead. If it’s a large number that would be unwieldy, try rearranging the sentence so you don’t have to spell out the number.

For example:

  • Incorrect: 2019 was the hottest year on record.
  • Awkward: Two thousand nineteen was the hottest year on record.
  • Better: The year 2019 was the hottest on record.

Here is another example:

  • Incorrect: 75 percent would benefit. Or: 2/3 would benefit.
  • Better: Seventy-five percent would benefit.
  • Or: Two-thirds would benefit.


Don’t use numerals until you get over 21 (two-thirds, but 3/21).


Use a numeral and then write out “percent” (54 percent). This applies even if the number is less than 10, as in: 9 percent.


Use a numeral, then write out “degrees” and (if it’s not clear from the context) add “Fahrenheit” or “Celsius”: 86 degrees Fahrenheit; 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is consistent with AP style.

Flexibility: The degree sign (°) instead of the word “degrees” is not our preference, but it is acceptable if it is consistent throughout the article: 1.5° Celsius. It is better to write out “Celsius” or “Fahrenheit” rather than to use the abbreviation C or F.

Use American English, Not British English

  1. toward not towards; defense not defence.
  2. -our instead of -or (labour versus labor).
  3. verbs ending in -ise (or -ised, -ises, -ising) and nouns ending in -isation are usually supposed to end in -ize or -ization, respectively.
  4. punctuation ending sentences (comma or period) usually should go inside the end-quotation marks.


If you are ever unsure if you’re spelling a word correctly, or don’t understand why your editor has corrected your spelling, Google the two spellings first. There are many helpful lists like this one of commonly confused words. Everyone gets them wrong from time to time, so don’t feel bad about it unless your mistake really hurt someone’s feelings.

Commonly Confused Words/Phrases

  • In general, follow AP style and use Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.
  • Capitalize all words in a title headline except articles and prepositions with less than four letters; the same rules apply to subheads. Use: headlinecapitalization.com and the AP radio button (or, if that site goes down, use capitalizemytitle.com and the AP tab).

List of Commonly Confused or Ambiguous or Multiple Accepted Versions of Words/Phrases (Capitalization, Spelling, Punctuation)

  1. administration: lowercase. Bush administration, Clinton administration, the administration (AP)
  2. adviser (not advisor) (AP)
  3. affect vs. effect: See MW (affect is usually the verb and effect is usually the noun, with a few exceptions such as “to effect change”).
  4. African American: not hyphenated as noun or adjective (see AP’s latest rule). But if the author or speaker has a consistent preference, you may follow that instead. See also: the Observatory’s style guide note on Race.
  5. air conditioning (n.); air-conditioned (v. and adj.); air-condition (v.); non-air-conditioned (adj.) but without air conditioning is preferred. (Note hyphens and spaces for different uses) (AP)
  6. Al Qaeda
  7. Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) (not Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaa; not Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo; not Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah)
  8. alt-right (n. and adj.); but generally, it’s better to put it in quotation marks, or say “white nationalist” or “white supremacist” or whatever the case may be. See a memo from the AP here.
  9. amid: not amidst
  10. among: not amongst
  11. anti-war
  12. Antony Blinken (not Anthony Blinken)
  13. artificial intelligence (AI) (do not capitalize Artificial Intelligence in running text) (AP)
  14. babysitter: one word (MW)
  15. backstabbing
  16. backup (n. and adj.), back up (v.)
  17. bestseller: Do not hyphenate (against AP).
  18. Big Pharma: capitalized, with the flexibility that it’s okay to use lowercase “big pharma” consistently throughout an article. Use lowercase “pharma” when it’s used without “big,” but writing out “pharmaceutical” or “pharmaceutical industry” is preferable to “pharma.”
  19. Big Tech: capitalized, with the flexibility that it’s okay to use lowercase “big tech” consistently throughout an article.
  20. Black (or Brown): Generally capitalized when used as an adjective describing a person’s skin color. (Inadvisable to use either as a noun.) But if the author or speaker has a consistent preference to lowercase it, you may follow that instead. Don’t capitalize white for usage like this though. See also: the Observatory’s style guide note on Race.
  21. blue state / red state (lowercase)
  22. boardroom: one word (MW)
  23. brackets: Use in place of parentheses to clarify a quote, unless you’re quoting published, printed material.
  24. buildup (n.); to build up (v.)
  25. counterculture (not counter-culture)
  26. cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation (one letter l for all, except cancellation and not cancelation) (AP)
  27. cell phone: not “cellphone” (against AP)
  28. child care: two words, no hyphen (n. and adj.) (AP)
  29. city/state: comma after both (e.g., “The site near Phoenix, Arizona, was recently closed”)
  30. civil rights movement: lowercase (AP)
  31. clear-cut (v., adj.), clear-cutting (v., n. gerund) (AP) both with regard to forest as opposed to the adjective about clarity
  32. clickbait (not click-bait nor click bait) (AP)
  33. community schools approach or community schools strategy: “schools” plural with the s at the end; not community school approach or community school strategy.
    • The exception is to drop the “s” only when describing a specific community school.
    • “approach” and “strategy” are preferred over “model” (not community schools model) as of May 2022.
  34. cooperate, cooperative: both one word, not hyphenated; not co-operative and not co-operate); but co-op not coop as a short version, per AP.
  35. coup d’état is preferred over coup d’etat without the accent; coup is also acceptable.
  36. COP26 / COP25 / COP27 / COP15, etc.: (no hyphen, no space between COP and 26) when used as United Nations “Conference of Parties”: This goes against AP Stylebook, but Associated Press articles use this as of 2021 (such as here). Generally it is well known enough to use the abbreviation on the first use without writing out “Conference of Parties (COP).”
  37. cover-up (n. and adj. before a noun); cover up (v.)
  38. Cuban Revolution (capital R, against AP)
  39. cybersecurity (n. and adj.) (not cyber-security nor cyber security); the same applies to cyberattack, cyberwar, cyberwarfare, cyberweapon, cyberespionage, cybercriminal, cyberspace, cyberinfrastructure.
  40. For anything not listed in AP or Merriam-Webster that is not very common, go with a space for nouns (cyber hegemon, cyber power, cyber exchange, cyber operations, cyber offensive, cyber peace, cyber dominance, cyber era, cyber intrusion, cyber community, cyber intelligence, etc.). If a cyber word that is hyphenated as a noun is used as an adjective, or if you think there might be confusion based on the context, you could add a hyphen (cyber-offensive strategies, but readers generally would know what this means as cyber offensive strategies). This can be flexible with quotes. Follow AP and MW and try to be consistent throughout your article, generally.
  41. Donbas (not Donbass) (AP)
  42. down-and-out (n. and adj.)
  43. drugmaker: one word (MW)
  44. Earth (capitalize when talking about the planet, as in Sense 4 of Merriam-Webster’s entry explained below) / earth (lowercase when talking idiomatically).
  45. Three approaches are acceptable within one article or series:
  46. follow the rule above, or
  47. capitalize throughout your entire article consistently, or
  48. lowercase throughout your entire article consistently.
  49. When a quote you’re including in your article from a written source, try to retain their choice on this.
  50. See Sense 4 of Merriam-Webster: “often capitalized: the planet on which we live that is third in order from the sun”
  51. Election Day: capitalize
  52. election night: lowercase
  53. Electoral College: capitalize
  54. email: not e-mail (AP)
  55. em dashes: An em dash is one long dash, not two hyphens. To type an em dash on a Mac, press Option-Shift-hyphen (on a PC, use Control-Alt-Minus Key on a Number Pad—if you don’t have a NumPad, you may need to customize your computer’s keyboard settings overall or in Word and your browser). Although AP style puts a space before and after the em dash, the Observatory goes with Chicago style, which is no space before or after em dashes. This applies to headlines, teasers, article body text, and email subject lines, etc.
  56. entitled/titled: A book or other work is “titled” something, not “entitled.”
  57. ever more/evermore: there are two adverb senses to be aware of:
    • ever more (open, no hyphen) when used as an adverb before the adjective it describes (as in, ever more sophisticated chips (open with a space, no hyphen; not ever-more sophisticated and not evermore sophisticated)
    • evermore (closed) when the meaning is forever, as in MW
  58. Eventbrite (not EventBrite)
  59. Facebook: capitalize; do not abbreviate to FB
  60. farmers market (this is AP and MW’s preference; farmers’ market is the next preference, but farmer’s market is our least preferred. We can be flexible as long as there is internal consistency in an article.)
  61. Fayez Serraj (not Fayez al-Sarraj or Fayez al-Serraj): No “al-” and use an e as the first vowel in the last name, not an a.
  62. fenceline (adj.) generally is preferred over fence-line or fence line, depending on the context.
  63. founding father, founding fathers: lowercase is our preference; fine to capitalize Founding Father(s) throughout a piece or in quotations.
  64. framer (as in, framers of the Constitution): lowercase is our preference; fine to capitalize framer(s) throughout a piece or in quotations.
  65. front line (n.) or front lines (n. pl.); front-line (adj.). Don’t use one word in any use—not frontline or frontlines.
  66. First Nations (n.), First Nation (adj.): “Tribes in Canada should be referred to as First Nations” according to Indian Country Today’s style guide.
  67. fresh water (n.) / freshwater (adj.) (MW)
  68. fundraiser, fundraising: one word in all cases (AP)
  69. G7 / G8 / G20 / etc.: (no hyphen, no space) when used as the intergovernmental body, as in “Group of 20” or “Group of Seven” countries. This goes against AP Stylebook, but Associated Press articles use this in headlines (although not article bodies) as of 202, such as here.
  70. G20 summit (and “Rome summit of G20”): Our preference is to use lowercase for “summit” even when it directly follows “G20” (AP also lowercase summit in their articles, although they use a hyphen in G-20 and we do not). If an author has a strong preference, it is possible to be flexible and capitalize “Summit” in “G20 Summit,” or when used to describe the official name of the summit, such as a place or year that is used officially by the summit, as in “Rome Summit of G20,” as long as it is done consistently throughout an article.
  71. gases is the plural of gas (not gasses) (AP)
  72. Global South and Global North (capitalize both when referring to regions)
  73. grassroots: one word in all cases (MW)
  74. H-1B visa or simply H-1B (hyphen after H, and then no space after 1) per AP and the U.S. Department of Labor and State Department (not H1 B nor H1-B).
  75. hangar / hanger: hangar is a building (usually where aircraft are stored); a hanger is what clothes are stored on in a closet. (MW [see: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/hangar-vs-hanger] and AP)
  76. hard-core (adj.) (MW) hyphenated (except in the rare case it’s used as a noun for some reason, in which case “hard core” is acceptable).
  77. hard-line (adj.); hard-liner (n.) (MW)
  78. Hillary Clinton: Try to avoid referring to her as “Hillary” after the first reference; we don’t refer to Obama as Barack, and referring to Trump as Donald is a little tongue-in-cheek but acceptable.
  79. health care: two words, no hyphen (n. and adj.) (AP)
  80. homegrown (not home-grown) (MW)
  81. homeowner (one word) unless it’s a compound with a compound work with another word+home, such as tiny home owner or mobile home owner (AP)
  82. hot spot
  83. indexes (AP and CMS) is preferred as the plural of index (not indices; although indices is acceptable for formal and/or financial contexts when an author uses it consistently throughout).
  84. internet: lowercase (AP)
  85. in regard to (without an s at the end; regarding is often better; not in regards to) (see: ‘In Regard To’ Versus ‘In Regards To’ - Quick and Dirty Tips ™)
  86. iPhone: use the common capitalization in running text and in headlines; avoid using at the beginning of a sentence
  87. Iraq War
  88. Kim Jong Il (AP)
  89. Kim Jong Un (AP)
  90. Latinx (adj.) (does not need quotation marks around it, which is different from the AP’s rule)
  91. left, right, religious right, left wing (n.), right wing (n.), left-wing (adj.), right-wing (adj.)
  92. less than/fewer: In general, use fewer for individual items, less for bulk or quantity.
    • Incorrect: The trend is toward more machines and less people. (People in this sense refers to individuals.)
    • Incorrect: She was fewer than 60 years old. (Years in this sense refers to a period of time, not individual years.)
    • Correct: Fewer than 10 applicants called. (Individuals)
    • Correct: I had less than $50 in my pocket. (An amount.)
    • But: I had fewer than 50 $1 bills in my pocket. (Individual items.) (AP)
  93. lifesaving (not life-saving) (adj.) (AP and MW)
  94. Listserv (trademark, MW)
  95. long-standing (MW)
  96. -ly: Adverbs ending in -ly do not get a hyphen between them and the word they’re describing. Example: publicly funded schools, not publicly-funded schools.
  97. matchup
  98. mindset (AP: one word, no hyphen; not mind-set)
  99. mix-up (MW)
  100. Mohammad bin Salman (Mohammed bin Salman, spelled with an e instead of an a, is acceptable if you have been consistently using it in all your articles; but don’t capitalize the “b”); for the abbreviation, MBS is preferable to MbS.
  101. Muammar Gaddafi (rather than Moammar Gadhafi or Muammar al-Qaddafi). We can be flexible if an author or article series has a strong preference, but for consistency with other Observatory articles (in a divergence from AP and NPR), we prefer the spelling Muammar Gaddafi. Our second choice spelling, if an author prefers it strongly, is AP’s Moammar Gadhafi.
  102. more than (not over): Avoid using “over” for number estimates (as in, “more than 200 people attended” and not “over 200 people attended”). We differ slightly from AP Stylebook’s “over” entry, but it is helpful: “It generally refers to spacial [sic: spatial] relationships: The plane flew over the airport. Over can, at times, be used with numerals. She is over 30. I paid over $300 for this suit. But more than may be better. Their salaries went up more than $20 a week. Let your ear be your guide.”
  103. murder: only use when there has been a trial and conviction (instead, use “kill” or “died” with the specific circumstances). See: “The Associated Press Stylebook entry for homicide, murder, manslaughter, for example, says that murder ‘is a malicious, premeditated homicide. … A homicide should not be described as murder unless a person has been convicted of that charge.’”
  104. neocon, neoconservative: lowercase
  105. neofascist, neofascism (no hyphen per MW)
  106. neoliberal (no hyphen per AP)
  107. neo-Nazi
  108. Non-Aligned Movement (hyphenated and capitalized only for the organization name); otherwise, nonaligned and nonalignment (no hyphen, no capitalization, as in: nonaligned world, nonaligned countries, etc.)
  109. nonprofit (AP)
  110. nonviolent (see AP “non” entry)
  111. okay (as opposed to OK): We go against AP here. As long as it is consistent within your article/authorship/project, it’s not a big deal. Some editors actually prefer OK.)
  112. overreliance (not over-reliance)
  113. pdf file: lowercase is preferred over all-caps PDF (MW, against AP)
  114. percent: not per cent, not %, and use a numeral before, unless it begins a sentence; i.e., There is 54 percent; but: Fifty-four percent was left. (We differ from AP style’s 2019 update in our preference, with very little flexibility. For example, one exception is that % in quotations from unalterable written sources, charts/graphs, and headlines is acceptable, though not preferred.)
  115. pickup truck
  116. preindustrial (no hyphen; not pre-industrial) (for example, common use: “1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels”) (MW)
  117. primary: Lowercase when preceded by a party or a state (Republican primary, California primary); caucus too.
  118. policymaker: one word
  119. protester (not protestor)
  120. Quran
  121. red state / blue state (lowercase)
  122. regimen versus regiment: regimen is a course of treatment you can follow; regiment is a “body of soldiers.” More at Merriam-Webster here.
  123. rein, reign, rain: See this Grammarist article for the difference.
  124. right-to-work (adj. before the noun it describes); right to work (n. or adj. after the noun it describes); either of these can be in quotation marks on either one’s first use if you wish but doesn’t have to be; generally do not capitalize unless it is the formal name of a law. They object to the concept of the right to work and right-to-work states or states with so-called “right-to-work” laws.
  125. run-up (MW)
  126. skulduggery (MW)
  127. slave: Generally, refrain from using the word “slave” as a noun referring to enslaved people—people aren’t slaves, though they can be enslaved.
  128. smartphone (not smart phone)
  129. Social Security number
  130. spellcheck and spellchecker: Do not hyphenate or add a space in all cases: spellchecked (v.) to use spellcheck (n.) or a spellcheck program (adj.); not spell-check or spell check. We prefer the commonly used closing of the compound, against AP’s spell check (v.) and spell-checker and MW’s spell-check (they hyphenate) and spellchecker (one word).
  131. startup (one word as a noun), start-up (hyphenated as an adjective); but as a verb, two words: “to start up a business.”
  132. subprime
  133. swath, swaths (n. meaning large area of land, most common); usually not swathe (only in cases of the verb meaning to enclose or, rarely, the noun meaning a bandage/wrapping, per AP).
  134. teachers’ union (not teachers union or teacher’s union)
  135. the in newspaper/magazine titles: lowercase; don’t treat as part of the name: “According to the Wall Street Journal…”
  136. Third World (we are flexible, but typically, capitalize and do not hyphenate even if it is an adjective preceding a noun if you use this phrase.) AP advises avoiding the phrase in favor of either “developing nations” (for economic or socioeconomic categorization) or “nonaligned nations” (for political categorization)—although the Observatory accepts the use of “Third World” in a positive and suitable context.
  137. titled/entitled: A book or other work is “titled” something, not “entitled.”
  138. touch screen (n. and adj.) (not touchscreen)
  139. toward: not towards (AP)
  140. traveled, traveling, traveler (not travelled, travelling, traveller) (AP)
  141. Twitter (now X) is capitalized; tweet (the preferred verb or noun) is not. Per AP, use “X, formerly known as Twitter,” on first use when space allows; in general, go with common usage trends over dated style guides or Elon Musk’s whims.
  142. Two-Spirit (n. and adj.): all uses are capitalized and hyphenated, rather than lowercase and/or with a space (not Two Spirit or two-spirit). We can be flexible depending on if an author or person who is Two-Spirit or Indigenous indicates they prefer different usage. AP currently has no guidance. See also: GLAAD’s media reference glossary on LGBTQ terms.
  143. twofold, threefold, fourfold, etc.: one word, no hyphen
  144. ultranationalism (AP, see “ultra” entry)
  145. union-busting (adj.), union busting (n.) (AP)
  146. United States, U.S.: Spell out as a noun; abbreviating as an adjective is okay.
  147. versus, vs., and v.: versus is preferred in running text in general contexts in written sentences and headlines. v. is preferred in court cases (Roe v. Wade). vs. is acceptable for contexts where space is at a premium, although versus is still preferred (including in headlines where it would be capitalized per house headline capitalization rules).
  148. vice president: no hyphen
  149. warmonger, fearmonger, hatemonger, etc.: one word, as well as the gerunds: warmongering (MW), fearmongering (MW), hatemongering
  150. website: lowercase, one word (AP)
  151. WeChat: capitalize W and C
  152. well-being (n.), well-known (adj. before or after the noun it describes): hyphenate (AP)
  153. WhatsApp: capitalize W and A
  154. Wi-Fi (not wifi nor wi-fi)
  155. witch hunt, witch-hunter, witch-hunting (MW)
  156. with regard to (without an s at the end; regarding is often better; not with regards to) (see: ‘In Regard To’ Versus ‘In Regards To’ - Quick and Dirty Tips ™)
  157. workforce: one word (MW)
  158. workweek: one word (AP) workplace: one word (MW) work site
  159. World War II, not World War 2 nor World War Two (World War II is preferred over Second World War). WWII is generally avoided, even if it’s not the first use in the article.
  160. Zaporizhzhia (not Zaporozhye nor Zaporizhzhya)

Grammar Tips

Parallel Structure

Not Only… But Also Construction

  • See: Parallelism With Not Only But Also from Grammarly.
  • If x and y each are complete clauses, add a comma before “but also”: Not only does x happen, but also y happens.
  • If x and y each are incomplete clauses, no comma is required before “but also”: It is of interest not only to x but also to y.
  • Also important: make sure the sentence mapping creates consistency / parallel structure on both sides of the “not only” / “but also” (note the “to” is consistent in the second example above).

Split Infinitives

See Merriam Webster’s entry on the famous “Star Trek” line “to boldly go,” also covered in the following good advice from Anne Curzan’s Says Who?: “It is fine to split infinitives with an adverb, even in formal writing. For clarity, though, you might want to avoid splitting an infinitive with a long adverbial phrase. Given that the two parts of the infinitive (to and the main verb) are closely related grammatically, it can be more stylistically effective not to separate them by more than one to four words” (emphasis added).

About This Guide

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Last Updated: April 10, 2024

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