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Style Guide Home

Page history last edited by Stuart Froman 4 years, 4 months ago

Consider this usage note from Dictionary.com: "The transition from World Wide Web site to Web site to website seems to have progressed as rapidly as the technology itself. The development of website as a single uncapitalized word mirrors the development of other technological expressions which have tended to evolve into unhyphenated forms as they become more familiar. Thus email has recently been gaining ground over the forms E‑mail and e‑mail, especially in texts that are more technologically oriented. Similarly, there has been an increasing preference for closed forms like homepage, online, and printout."


Too liberal an approach some would say! But our language is always evolving, and no single reference guide works for all writers in all situations. Editors of newspapers, magazines, and trade journals are day‑by‑day establishing rules that will become standard usage in the years ahead. Reference guides such as the Associate Press Stylebook simply pick and choose from among what these editors do in order to create a professional standard that minimizes confusion -- and these guides change over time.


The best we can do is look for what competent writers in a discipline seem to be doing the most, then be consistent in our usage until we have a compelling reason to change. For the most part, readers don't care. They want useful information delivered clearly.

Still, it's useful to have some guidelines, and I hope this style and usage guide will serve this purpose and lead to useful discussion. The more you contribute, the more interesting the conversation will be.


Check out onlinestylebooks.com and  Grammar, Usage, and Style




a.m. / p.m.

Use a.m. and p.m., not AM and PM, or am and pm. Use A.M. and P.M. in titles.


a lot 

Not alot


academic degrees


Do not abbreviate in text unless spelling out the degrees of many individuals would make for difficult reading.

  • bachelor's degree, master's degree, master's
  • Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science‑‑associate degree
Standard abbreviations: B.A., M.A., LL.D. and Ph.D.



  • Affect is a verb: Your tone will affect the reader’s response.
  • Effect is a noun: Establishing an enthusiastic tone will have a positive effect on the audience.




Use figures: My son is 8 years old; the 4-year-old dog; the 50‑year‑old button. He is in his 50s.


all right


Not alright



These are general rules for forming the possessive.  Exceptions exist.

  • Singular nouns not ending in s, add ' s: Steve's document.
  • Singular nouns ending in s, add  's unless the next word starts with s: _hostess's coat but hostess' seat.
  • Plural nouns ending in s, add only the apostrophe: the companies' positions.
  • For plural nouns not ending in s, add  's: women's group.

Do not use apostrophes to for the plural of an acronym: PCs, IDs, WIPs.


B.C. / A.D.


Always capped with periods.


back up/backup

Backup is a noun. To back up is a verb form (backed up, backing up).

A backup is what you have after you back up your work.



  • Bimonthly means every two months; semimonthly means twice a month.
  • Biweekly means every two weeks; semiweekly means twice a week.
  • Biennial means every two years; biannual means twice a year.



bulleted sentences and phrases

  • Capitalize only the first word unless the list includes proper names or titles.
  • Put a period at the end of bulleted items only if they are complete sentences (like these).
  • Make bulleted lists consistent: all complete sentences, all noun phrases, all verb phrases, etc.



Resist the trend to capitalize for emphasis. Capitalize proper names, acronyms, titles, and the first word of sentences.

Professional titles are capitalized only when they are part of a name:
—CEO and Founder James Gill
The CEO and founder of the company, James Gill
—James Gill, CEO and founder


cell phone

Not cellphone. Use smart phone.



Use lower case unless a proper name:

—the 21st century

—the first centur7 (spell out numbers under 10)

—Century Real Estate Company


cliches and jargon 

Words and phrases to use rarely or not at all:

Tired & Cliched

30,000-foot level
800 lb gorilla
all over the map
armed to the teeth
beat a hasty retreat
beat the street
beck and call
bend over backwards
better mousetrap
beyond the shadow of a doubt
bite the dust
bits and pieces
blessing in disguise
bottom fell out
bottom out
bound and determined
brain drain
buck stops here
bull in a china shop
burn one's bridges
burn the midnight oil
burning issue
bury the hatchet
business at hand
calm before the storm
cash cow
cherished belief
clean bill of health
clear and simple
complete picture
conspicuous by its absence
coveted award
death and destruction
dog eat dog
dramatic new move
drinking the Kool-Aid
dream come true
drop in the bucket
each and every
eat your own dog food
fair and just
fame and fortune
feast or famine
few and far between
firing on all cylinders
fly by night
fly by the seat of your pants
gentle hint
get your arms around it
get your foot in the door
glaring omission
hand in glove
hands on
hammer out
hard stop
hook, line and sinker
heart of gold
iron out
intensive investigation
last-ditch stand
last but not least
laugh all the way to the bank
leave no stone unturned
leaps and bounds
light at the end of the tunnel
lightning speed
lock, stock and barrel
long arm of the law
low hanging fruit
making money hand over fist
man in the street
marvels of science
nook and cranny
nose to the grindstone
open the kimono
pick and choose
picture of health
pinpoint the cause
posh resort
prestigious law firm
proud heritage
ready and willing
reins of government
right and proper
safe and sound
selling like hotcakes
spearheading the campaign
spirited debate
scintilla of evidence
sprawling facility
spreading like wildfire
sticks out like a sore thumb
stranger than fiction
surprise move
survival of the fittest
sweat equity
sweep under the rug
sweeten the pot
swim with the sharks
take a bath
talk shop
time is money
tip of the iceberg
tower of strength
true colors
up the ante
vanish in thin air
various and sundry
walking encyclopedia
wealth of information
what's he been smoking?
whirlwind campaign
wipe the slate clean

Redundant & Meaningless

absolutely conclusive
agricultural crops
awkward dilemma
centered around
close proximity
complete monopoly
completely full
divisive quarrel
end result
entirely absent
exact counterpart
future plan
general public
grateful thanks
hired mercenary
irreducible minimum
lonely hermit
lifeless corpse
meaningless gibberish
mutual cooperation
new record
old adage
organic life
original founder
patently obvious
personal friend
personal opinion
pragmatic realist
present incumbent
sworn affidavit
true facts
ultimate outcome
very unique
violent explosion

Technology Press Release Pain

Avoid these if possible

bandwidth (for time or resources:
---"we lack bandwidth for that project")
best in class
best of breed
bleeding edge
business critical
coveted award
critical mass
cutting edge
end to end
industry leading
industry standard
interface (for human interaction:
---"we interface with several groups")
leading edge
look and feel
mission critical
new breed
new paradigm
next generation
outside the box
price performance
pure play
user friendly
value added
world class

























































































































The general rule many editors use today is if you can leave a comma out without causing confusion, leave it out. But remembers, you know what you are saying, your reader doesn't. Err on the side of clarity.


Two Independent Clauses

The comma is often used to join together short sentences to make a single longer sentence. For example: We have finished the work, and we are looking forward to the weekend. But here, we is the only subject and no comma is necessary: We have finished the work and are looking forward to the weekend. Consider efficiency, sound, and emphasis when deciding between these constructions.


The Serial Comma

The serial comma separates elements in a series. The AP Stylebook recommends leaving the final comma out in a simple series. For example: The meeting was for manufacturers, partners and customers. No comma is used before “and.” Not all professional writers agree with leaving this comma out, and the use of the serial comma is accepted by many publications because it often avoids confusion. Always use the comma when the elements of the series are longer: The company chose the product because of its open architecture and web availability, the simple drag‑and‑drop interface, and the ability to easily learn the programs. When in doubt, use the comma and let an editor remove it. As an editor, you can remove the comma if doing so causes no confusion.



  • When referring to a company, use it not they:Nuance announced it has more great products on the way.
  • When substituting the word company for the name of a company, do not capitalize it: HardKnowlege is a leading provider of information services. The company has 40 employees. Many companies want to capitalize company in this case as if it is suddenly a proper name. This is unnecessary and most likely the result of boilerplate contract language.


company names

  • Do not use a comma before Inc. or Ltd., even if it is included in the formal name.
  • The formal name need not be used on first reference ‑‑ for example, Wal‑Mart is acceptable for Wal‑Mart Stores Inc. ‑‑ but it should be contained in the body of any story in which the subject matter could affect a company's business. For example, include the corporate name in a story on an earnings report, or in a story on a plane crash that could affect the airline's stock price. However, the corporate name might be irrelevant in a story about a political candidate's appearance at a local retail outlet.
  • When the full corporate name is NOT in the story, it should be included in a self‑contained paragraph separated from the bottom of the story by a dash: American Airlines is a unit of AMR Corp., or Disney's full corporate name is The Walt Disney Co. If more than one company is listed, each should be in a self‑contained paragraph below the dash.
  • Generally, follow the spelling and capitalization preferred by the company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence.
  • Do not use all capital letter names unless the letters are individually pronounced: BMW. Others should be uppercase and lowercase. Ikea not IKEA; USA Today, not USA TODAY.
  • Do not use symbols such as exclamation points, plus signs or asterisks that form contrived spellings that might distract or confuse a reader. Use Yahoo, not Yahoo!; Toys R Us, not Toys \"R\" Us; E‑Trade, not E*Trade.
  • Use an ampersand only if it is part of the company\'s formal name, but not otherwise in place of \"and.\"
  • Use \"the\" lowercase unless it is part of the company\'s formal name.



  • Compliment is praise: The client complimented our efforts.
  • Complement means balance or accompaniment: Our IR services complement our PR services.




  • When it appears at the end of a company name, abbreviate it: HardKnowledge Corp. is the leading provider of ...
  • When it appears elsewhere in a name, spell it out: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • When it stands alone, spell it out and use lowercase.


dangling modifiers

They are pesky and sometimes embarrassing. Just pay attention to who does what: A leader in his field, Dr. Smith’s amazing abilities have led to frequent speaking opportunities. This says that the amazing abilities area leader in his field. Better: A leader in his field, Dr. Smith has amazing abilities that have led to frequent speaking opportunities.



Data is a plural noun; however, the AP Stylebook makes a distinction between data as individual items and data as a unit:

The data have been carefully collected. (individual items)
The data is sound. (a unit)


data center/datacenter

Both forms are common--even in the same document! I prefer data center, but choose one and be consistent.



In a news release, the date format is: CITY, State (non‑postal abbreviation), full date:


SANTA CLARA, Calif., January 25, 2001.


The following domestic cities do not need to have the state mentioned after them. This list is determined by the Associate Press based on the population of the city, the frequency of the city’s appearance in the news, the uniqueness of the name, and experience that has shown the name to be almost synonymous with the state where it is located.


No state with the following:








Las Vegas



Los Angeles

St. Louis



Salt Lake City



San Antonio



San Diego


New Orleans

San Francisco


New York



Oklahoma City


The following Canadian cities also stand alone: Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto.

In datelines, use the state abbreviations, not the zip code abbreviations (Use Calif., not CA).




The AP Stylebook recommends always using Arabic figures without st, nd, rd or th. So: "On Oct. 2 and 3, the client will attend..."



Use figures and spell out inches, feet, yards, etc., to indicate depth, height, length and width.


Hyphenate adjectival forms before nouns.

  • He is 5 feet 6 inches tall, the 5‑foot‑6‑inch man, the 5‑foot man, the basketball team signed a 7‑footer.
  • The car is 17 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet high. The rug is 9 feet by 12 feet, the 9‑by‑12 rug.
  • The storm left 5 inches of snow.


Use an apostrophe to indicate feet and quote marks to indicate inches (5'6") only in very technical contexts.



  • e.g. and i.e are not interchangeable and are not italicized.
  • e.g is Latin for exempli grati, meaning for example.
  • i.e. is Latin for id est, meaning that is or in other words.
  • ex. is simply an abbreviation for example and should not be used in copy instead of e.g.



or eBusiness/eCommerce

Usage is inconsistent. AP prefers the hyphens. Be consistent!



What follows the either grammatically should follow the or:

  • Either he takes the fifth, or she goes to jail. (different subjects)
  • He either takes the fifth or goes to jail. (different verbs)



Note: Construct with space‑period‑period‑period‑space.

An ellipsis marks the omission of words or phrases when condensing copy, quotes, and documents. Special cases:
—If eliminating words from the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next paragraph, put an ellipsis in both locations.
—If eliminating words after a complete sentence or question, use the appropriate mark, then add a space before the ellipsis.
—Can also be used to indicate a hesitation in speech. He said, “I’m focused on … no, I’m not really focused at all.” Use a dash for this hesitation if an ellipsis is used anywhere nearby to indicate an omission.
—Sometimes used to separate items within a paragraph of several short news items.



AP prefers e-mail, but I prefer email.


file formats

Capitalize file formats, such as GIF, TIFF, JPEG, DOC, and EPS.


gigabyte (GB)

Usage is inconsistent: A 250GB drive, a 250‑GB drive, a 250 GB drive, a 250‑gigabyte drive, and a 250‑Gigabyte drive. I prefer 250GB, but whatever you choose, be consistent.


health care

The AP Stylebook recommends two words, no hyphen, in all usage, but some dictionaries list "healthcare" as the first entry. Most important: be consistent.



Uppercase, not html



From the AP Stylebook: "Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion. (Small‑businessman, but health care center.)"


But also: "When a compound modifier – two or more words that express a single concept – precedes a noun, use hyphens to link all the words in the compound except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in ‑ly.” Which gives us “next‑generation solutions” and “industry‑leading results."


These contradictory recommendations result in inconsistent usage everywhere. Take open source, which is commonly written as both open source software and open‑source software. On the one hand the compound should be hyphenated. On the other hand, open source is now so common that open source software would not be confusing.


Generally, err on the side of clarity, and use sound and rhythm as a guide. Read “industry‑leading results” aloud. The gap between industry and leading is clearly shorter than between leading and results. If there is no standard in your industry or place of business, establish one. 


With service‑oriented architecture, we hyphenate all anything‑oriented modifiers (which are ugly and to be avoided), so it makes sense to continue to do so with this label, which is usually reduced to SOA after the first reference.


Read Charles McGrath's article from the NY Times.



—Lowercase for internet is becoming the standard.
—The word intranet should not be capitalized unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence.



—It's is a contraction for it is or it has: It's not up to you. It's been fun.
—Its is the possessive form of the pronoun: The company lost its assets.


megabyte (MB)


Usage is inconsistent: A 250MB drive, a 250‑MB drive, a 250 MB drive, a 250‑megabyte drive, and a 250‑Megabyte drive. I prefer 250MB, but whatever you choose, be consistent.



For amounts under $10, use zeros after the decimal. For $10 and larger, drop the decimals. ($5.00, but $55) For larger amounts:

$5 million
$5 billion
$5.5 billion
$5.55 billion

We need a $1 million budget. (no hyphen)
The total is exactly $1,223,447.03.



What follows the neither grammatically should follow the nor:

  • He wants neither cake nor ice cream. (different objects)
  • He neither wants ice cream nor needs exercise. (different verbs)



Make singular or plural according to sense:

None of the companies has a useful product.
—None of the taxes have been paid.


not only...but also...

What follows the not only grammatically should follow the but also:

  • He wants not only ice cream, but also cake. (different objects)
  • He not only wants ice cream, but also needs milk. (different verbs)



—Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and higher: They had 10 computers and two printers.
—Spell out a number at the beginning of a sentence.
—Always use figures for:

• Dimensions: The fence was 6 feet tall and 12 feet long.

• Page numbers: The exception to this is in the header of letters; spell out the page number.

• Percentages: Profits increase by only 3 percent.

• Sizes: He wore a size 9 shoe.



No hyphen



Usage is inconsistent, but on-site is more common.



—Over generally refers to spatial relationships: The plane flew over the city.
—More than is usually used for quantity: The company has more than 500 employees.
Over can, at times, be numerical relationships: She is over 30.


In 2014, the AP Stylebook removed the restriction on using "over" for numerical relationships.




The repetition of like grammatical structures.

Read the Whiskey model.




Desktop publishing (proportionally spaced fonts, justified right text) has brought confusion to the standard typing rule of following a period with two spaces. With proportionately space fonts (e.g. Times Roman, Arial), only one space is needed following a period unless the space is unattractively small.



Names of publications should be put in italics, articles within those publications should be put in quotes: “Tips for Investing” in Money magazine. For newspaper names, the should be capitalized and italicized before a newspaper’s name if the is part of the newspaper’s name: The New York Times but the San Jose Mercury News. If you are mentioning several papers, some of which use The as part of the name and some of which do not, use one lowercase the before the entire list of names: the San Jose Mercury News, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Atlanta Journal.

The names of online‑only pubs and TV and radio stations are not italicized.


quotation marks

In American English, commas and periods are always placed inside closing quotation marks. Semicolons and colons are always placed outside closing quotation marks. “Yes,” he said, “I do believe pigs can dance.”


The exception to this is when including the comma could cause confusion: When the registration window appears, type “FIRSTNAME,” then hit Enter. Should the comma be typed or not?  This problem can be easily avoided by not using quotation marks to indicate typed entries.



Capitalize when used for regions, lowercase for physical coastlines:

• The reseller serves the West Coast and the Southern U.S. Some southern states are not served at all.

• The waves are small along the east coast.


restrictive/non-restrictive modifiers

The CEO who attended DEMO became a celebrity. (no commas)


Not any CEO, only the CEO who attended DEMO. The clause “who attended DEMO” is essential for sense. The “who” clause restricts the meaning of “CEO.”


The CEO, who attended DEMO, became a celebrity. (with commas)


The reader knows who the CEO is, and “who attended DEMO” is additional information but not essential for sense. “The CEO became a celebrity” would make sense to the reader. The “who” clause is non‑restrictive.


state abbreviations

Here is the format for the states that are abbreviated in datelines and text. The ZIP code abbreviations are in parentheses:


Ala. (AL)

Md. (MD)

N.D. (ND)

Ariz. (AZ)

Mass. (MA)

Okla. (OK)

Ark. (AR)

Mich. (MI)

Ore. (OR)

Calif. (CA)

Minn. (MN)

Pa. (PA)

Colo. (CO)

Miss. (MS)

R.I. (RI)

Conn. (CT)

Mo. (MO)

S.C. (SC)

Del. (DE)

Mont. (MT)

S.D. (SD)

Fla. (FL)

Neb. (NE)

Tenn. (TN)

Ga. (GA)

Nev. (NV)

Vt. (VT)

Ill. (IL)

N.H. (NH)

Va. (VA)

Ind. (IN)

N.J. (NJ)

Wash. (WA)

Kan. (KS)

N.M. (NM)

W.Va. (WV)

Ky. (KY)

N.Y. (NY)

Wis. (WI)

La. (LA)

N.C. (NC)

Wyo. (WY)


Eight states are never abbreviated (ZIP code abbreviations in parentheses):

Alaska (AK)

Hawaii (HI)

Idaho (ID)

Iowa (IA)

Maine (ME)

Ohio (OH)

Texas (TX)

Utah (UT)



Use that and which for inanimate objects, unnamed animals, and companies. Who and whom should refer to people and to named animals.


—That introduces an essential clause (cannot be removed without changing the meaning or introducing confusion) and is not set off by commas: We won the account that our competitor so desired.

—Which introduces a non‑essential clause (can be removed without changing the meaning or introducing confusion) and usually takes a comma: The new account, which we won last Friday, will require several new hires.




—Their is possessive: They gave it their best shot.
There is the opposite of here.
—They’re is short for they are.


time zones

Use EST/EDT or PST/PDT in all "official" communications (releases, case studies, contributed articles, status reports, etc.). Even though ET and PT are now often used in broadcasting for air times, including "Daylight" or "Standard" is more precise. It's easy to determine whether or not we're on DST at www.time.org.



—Use lowercase for titles or positions: "We have a great product," said Bob Green, vice president of marketing.
—Use uppercase when the title comes directly before a person’s name: Vice President of Marketing Bob Green said the product was great.
—But: The company’s vice president of marketing, Bob Green, said the product was great.



Spell out versus except in short expressions (The issue of newsletters vs. blogs is a new one) – and legal cases, which take only a v: Microsoft v. Sun.



Usage varies. I prefer one word lowercase.

     Note: As of April 2010, the AP Stylebook agrees, but still capitalizes the Web.



Who and whom should refer to people and to named animals. Use that and which for inanimate objects, unnamed animals, and companies.

—Who serves as the subject of a verb: The woman who attended the meeting was from Washington, D.C.
Whom does not serve as the subject of a verb:The man to whom you spoke is an expert in finance.

Use commas only if the clauses are non‑essential (can be removed without changing the meaning or introducing confusion). This is sometimes determined only by context. See -restrictive/non restrictive modifiers.

—Here, several women are being discussed. Without the who clause, the sentence would not make sense: The woman who attended the meeting was from Washington D.C.
—Here, only one woman is being discussed. The who clause simply provides additional information and the sentence would make sense without it: The woman, who attended the meeting, was from Washington D.C.



AP style calls for one word, no hyphen for words extended with wide: citywide, statewide, industrywide, enterprisewide. I find this unappealing except for the shorter and more common constructions. I recommend using the hyphen on longer and less common uses, including enterprise‑wide, industry‑wide, and company‑wide.



Your is possessive. You’re is short for you are.






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