The Office of Communications uses the below Writing Style Guide — along with the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and Webster’s Dictionary — as the standard for writing web content, employee communications, news releases, broadcast information, articles and other materials. There are some exceptions to AP; most of the exceptions are noted. All departments should follow these guidelines. (Courtesy of Arlington Public Library, you can access the online AP Stylebook.)
Acronyms & abbreviations
General: On first usage, spell out the full name of the term, followed by the acronym/abbreviation in parentheses. All subsequent text references should just refer to the acronym/abbreviation.
Examples: The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) divides its 10 police beats into three districts. Each ACPD district has a team of officers and supervisors.
- Academic degrees:
Examples: B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
- Days of the week:
Examples: Mon., Tue., Wed., Thu., Fri., Sat., Sun.
Examples: Abbreviate only these months: Jan. Feb., Aug. Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec.
- Temperatures: When referring to Fahrenheit, use a space after the number, followed by an uppercase F with no period.
Example: 85 F
- Times: Use a.m. and p.m.
Examples: 8 a.m., 5 p.m.
Exception: With social media and in space-bound charts, OK to use 8am, 5pm, etc.
- Weights & measurements: Only use abbreviations in lists, graphics and charts, not in paragraph text. For ounces and pounds, use oz. and lb. with a space between the numeral and abbreviation. For feet and inches, use ft. and in. (not ‘ or “) with a space between the numeral and abbreviation. When using both feet and inches in a measurement, use a space in between with no comma.
Examples: 16 oz., 150 lb., 5 ft. 10 in.
Not ACCommons or AC commons or ac Commons.
Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address. Spell them out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number. Never abbreviate Drive and Road. Road direction always comes before streets with names (9 S. Adams St.) and after streets with numerals (900 18th St. S.). Always use figures for an address number. (Exception: In cases where space is tight — charts, graphs etc. — abbreviations are permissible.) Examples:
- 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
- Pennsylvania Avenue
- 19th Street North
- 6332 19th St. N.
- 9 S. Adams St.
- Arlington Ridge Road
- Fairfax Drive
Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used as street names; use figures with two letters for 10th and above. Examples:
- 7 Fifth Ave.
- 100 21st St.
Use United States Postal Service two-letter state abbreviations, with no periods except in the case of Washington, D.C. (See also Streets)
Administrative Professional Certificate Program
APCP is acceptable on second reference.
AA is acceptable on second reference.
Always use figures.
Example: The child is 5 years old.
For ages expressed as adjectives before a noun, use hyphens.
Example: The 25-year-old house needs to be remodeled.
- When used in a sentence, capitalize as such, Arlington County.
- When using the word County alone in a sentence, it should also be capitalized. You can also just use “Arlington” in many instances.
Arlington County Fire Department
ACFD is acceptable on second reference.
Arlington County Police Department
ACPD is acceptable on second reference.
Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE)
Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth & Families (APCYF)
Arlington Public Schools
APS is acceptable on second reference.
Use capitalization: Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Columbia Pike, Courthouse, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Rosslyn and Shirlington.
Arlington Economic Development
AED is acceptable on second reference.
ART is acceptable on second reference.
ATV is acceptable on second reference (was formerly Arlington Virginia Network or AVN).
One word, no space. Also, “biking” preferred over “cycling” (per BikeArlington staff).
One word and capitalized only at beginning of a sentence. If used as a noun in a sentence, no capitalization. See also Capital Bikeshare below.
Bimonthly is one word.
The Arlington County Board elects a chairman and vice chairman. The remaining persons on the board are referred to as “Member.” Example: Chairman Zimmerman and Vice Chairman Zimmerman urged Member Garvey to second the motion on the floor. Use Chair Hynes while Mary Hynes is chair (instead of chairman or chairperson).
BRASS (Board Reporting and Agenda Support System)
When creating a webpage, always use the HTML ordered (numbered) and unordered (bullet) lists (in an application like Microsoft® Word, use the bullets and numbering format feature) rather than manually indenting and/or numbering lists.
Capitalize official Arlington County Government bureau names: Water, Sewer, Streets.
Cancellation (but canceled and cancel)
Always spell out and never refer to it as CaBi.
Capital Improvement Program
CIP is acceptable on second reference.
Don’t use capitalization for emphasis. Use a bold-style format instead.
Example: Do not use capitalization for emphasis.
Composition titles: Capitalize the principal words in the names of composition titles (books, magazines, radio and TV programs, movies, song titles, etc.), including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. Capitalize words fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in a title. Also use quotation marks with these titles except use italics for reference materials, including dictionaries, directories, almanacs, handbooks, etc.
Examples: “The Elements of Style,” “Homeland,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Seven Ways to Manage Up,” Webster’s New World Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Brittanica
Exception: Don’t use quotes or italics for magazine and newspaper names. Examples: Vogue, The Washington Post
Job titles: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name, and lowercase when used alone, set off by commas or used as a generic job description.
Examples: Marketing Director Sarah Smith set up a meeting. Sarah Smith, marketing director, set up a meeting. The marketing director set up a meeting.
Legislative titles: First reference: Use Rep./U.S. Rep and Reps./U.S. Reps., Sen./U.S. and Sens./U.S. Sens. as formal titles before one or more names in regular text, but spell out these titles in a direct quotation. Spell out lowercase representative and senator in other uses.
Examples: Sen. Mark Warner will be in Richmond. Rep. James Moran will speak at the conference. The senator voted against the bill.
Spell out other legislative titles in all uses and capitalize formal titles such as
assemblywoman, councilman, delegate, etc., when used before a name but
lowercase in other uses.
Examples: Delegate Al Eisenberg attended the meeting. The delegate attended the
Exception to AP Style: Capitalize congressman and congresswoman before a name. Example: The meeting included Congressman Jim Moran.
Webpage headings & subheadings: Capitalize the principal words in the names of headings and subheadings, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. Capitalize words fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in a title.
Examples: Meeting Schedules, Agendas and Meeting Minutes, Facility Hours of Operation
The Citizen should be italicized upon reference and both words capitalized.
Try to avoid using clip art. If you must use it, use it sparingly.
Don’t use a serial (Oxford) comma before the conjunction (and, or) in a simple series.
Examples: The flag is red, white and blue. Sarah, Tom or Alice will revise the document.
Exception: Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: He needs to determine whether the change to the project has been completed correctly, whether it delayed the project, and whether it has been communicated to all project stakeholders.
Commissioner of Revenue
COR is acceptable on second reference.
ConnectArlington is one word with no space; previously C-Net.
Constituent is preferred; resident may be used for variety; don’t use citizen.
Use contractions on webpages; in social media; and for personal, informal communications — they make copy shorter, friendlier and more readable.
Example: The County is happy to have new business and tourists. Special Note: A portion of the County’s branding campaign includes an effort to demphasize the word “County” and make references to “Arlington, Virginia” since these words are more representative of a place one would work, live, and play. The word “County” often invokes the thought of government.
Capitalize all references to the County Board and the Board.Examples: The County Board will meet tomorrow. The Board will make a decision today.
County Board Office
CBO is acceptable on second reference.
Capitalize both when using for the first time, then “Code” if using in a second nearby reference.
Always capitalize County Manager when used alone and as part of a formal title.
Examples: The County Manager is Arlington’s chief administrative officer. County Manager Barbara Donnellan will provide her input on the budget.
When used in reference to the building that contains our courts, two words: Court house.
Court House Metro
When used in reference to a Metrorail station, Court House is two words.
When used in reference to the road, it’s one word: Courthouse
CHP is acceptable on second reference.
Dashes (—) & hyphens (-)
Use an em dash (—) to indicate an abrupt change in thought in a sentence, as an emphatic pause and with a series within a phrase. Put a space on both sides of a dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph.
Examples: We plan to visit Spain this summer — if I get a raise. She adapted — quite nicely— to her new job responsibilities. She listed the qualities — intelligence, confidence, independence — that she liked in her manager.
Use a hyphen (-) as a compound modifier, with certain prefixes and suffixes; with fractions in amounts less than 1; and to separate numerals in date/time ranges, ratios, and scores.Examples: Full-time job, well-known woman, pre-empt, anti-intellectual, co-worker, two-thirds, 1995-2005, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th.
Examples: October 5; April 21 (Not: October 5th; April 21st)
Also see the Abbreviations entry in this list for day, month and time abbreviations.
Use an apostrophe to indicate numerals that are left out, and don’t use an “apostrophe s” (‘s). The apostrophe should always be a single closing quote, not an opening quote.
Examples: The ’90s; the 1940s
Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development
CPHD is acceptable on second reference.
Department of Environmental Services
DES is acceptable on second reference.
Department of Human Services
DHS is acceptable on second reference.
Department of Management and Finance
DMF is acceptable on second reference.
Department of Parks and Recreation
DPR is acceptable on second reference.
Department of Technology Services
DTS is acceptable on second reference.
District of Columbia
Abbreviate as D.C. when the context requires that it be used in conjunction with Washington. Spell out when used alone. “The district,” rather than D.C., should be used in subsequent references. A comma should always separate “Washington” and “D.C.” as in “Washington, D.C.”
E-CARE is always capitalized.
Email, Enewsletter, eNews
Use email without a hyphen (not: e-mail). This is an exception to AP.
Emergency Communications Center
ECC is acceptable on second reference. Also use 9-1-1 (not 911).
Emergency Medical Services
EMS is acceptable on second reference.
Emergency Operations Center
EOC is acceptable on second reference.
Employee Assistance Program
EAP is acceptable on second reference.
Employee In Transition
EIT is acceptable on second reference.
The “®” symbol should be used upon first reference. ENERGY STAR is acceptable on second reference. A product is never ENERGY STAR compliant, rated or certified. It is acceptable to say a product is ENERGY STAR qualified. For more information on ENERGY STAR, read the guidelines.
Equal Employment Opportunity
EEO is acceptable on second reference.
Exclamation point (!)
Never use an exclamation point in text.
Executive Leadership Team
ELT is acceptable on second reference. Example: The executive leadership team was involved in the budget discussions.
Extended Management Team
XMT is acceptable on second reference. Example: The extended management team was involved in the budget discussions.
Abbreviate the days of the week, followed by the times. Separate multiple sets of hours by semicolons. Use a hyphen — with no spaces — in time ranges.
Example: Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 12-4 p.m.
Exception: With social media and in charts/graphics, OK to use 8am-5pm.
Farmers Market (not Farmers’ Market)
Use Fiscal Year 2016 on first reference. And FY 2016 (not FY2016) on second reference. FY16 permitted in charts or Twitter (where space is an issue).
Spell out amounts less than 1, using hyphens between the words.
Examples: two-thirds, one-fourth.
Use figures for numbers larger than 1 (with a space between the whole number and the fraction).
Examples: 1 ½, 2 5/8.
Form Based Code
GLUP is acceptable on second reference.
Geographic Information System
GIS is acceptable on second reference.
Use “must” instead of “have/has to.”
Example: We must finish the presentation before tomorrow’s meeting.
Use these forms, as appropriate in the context, for highways identified by number: U.S. Highway 1, U.S. Route 1, U.S. 1, state Route 34, Route 34, Interstate Highway 495. On second reference only for Interstate: I-495.
Holidays and holy days
Capitalize them: New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Groundhog Day, Easter, Hanukkah, etc.
One word, lowercase within a sentence, uppercase only when beginning a sentence.
Human Resources Department
HRD or HR is acceptable on second reference.
Hyperlink the actual document rather than linking phrases like “Click Here.”
Example: Read more about water conservation tips.
Always capitalize “Internet.”
Don’t capitalize “intranet.” Arlington’s intranet should always be referred to as AC Source (soon to be AC Share).
Institutional Network. I-Net is acceptable on first reference.
Refer to the general term of “iOS devices” rather than using specific names like iPhone or iPad.
Its vs. it’s
Use the apostrophe to indicate “it is” or “it has” and no apostrophe to indicate the possessive form of the neuter program or entity.
Examples: It’s up to you. The company lost its assets.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
Also OK to refer to as Juvenile Court [per Rick Strobach, Deputy Director, Oct. 2012]
This is a trademarked term; always capitalize. Or you can use “email discussion group” instead.
Although used often online as “Locator” there is only one correct spelling. Example: You might want to find the government service locater.
Lowercase all references when referring to the County’s logo (unless it begins a sentence).
Multiuse (follows AP; not multi-use)
Municipal separate storm sewer system permits
Always lowercase this term. On second reference, use MS4 permits.
This is a County exception to the AP Stylebook (which would be nonemergency). Also see details about “Prefixes” below.
Noon & midnight
Noon is 12 p.m. and midnight is 12 a.m. Use either the numeral form (preferred style) or word form — it is redundant to use both. Also see Times.
In general, spell out whole numbers below 10 and use figures for 10 and above. Examples: three, seven, 15, 75
North is lower-case.
Office of Emergency Management
OEM is acceptable on second reference.
Office of the County Manager
Don’t use County Manager’s Office. Note: In internal communications only, it is acceptable to refer to the office as CMO (on second reference).
On site is two words. Unless it’s modifying something: The on-site demo was thorough.
One on one vs. One-on-one
Use the hyphens when the entire phrase modifies a noun. You meet one one one, but you have a one-on-one meeting.
“Over” generally refers to spatial relationships, whereas “more than” is preferred with numerals.
Examples: He jumped over the puddle. More than 1,000 people attended the fair.
Do not use passive voice.
- Treat fire alarms as the real thing. (not: All fire alarms should be treated as the real thing.)
- Mrs. Simms opened an account. (not: An account was opened by Mrs. Simms.)
- The research department checked your figures. (not: Your figures were checked by the research department.)
One word per Webster’s New College Dictionary, the official AP Stylebook authority.
On first usage, spell out the full name of the term, followed by the acronym in parentheses. All subsequent text references should refer to the acronym.
Example: The Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) Budget provides funding for capital improvements. Annual PAYG appropriations fund the capital projects.
PDF files, Web
Unless the PDF icon automatically appears (as it does in our WordPress sites), always put PDF in parentheses next to the file name. It’s not necessary to list the file size.
Always use figures and spell out “percent” instead of using the % symbol.
Example: 5 percent, 25 percent
Exception: With social media and in charts/graphics, the % symbol is OK: 5%, 25%.
Please and thank you
Don’t use these words in articles and on webpages — they are unnecessary words that people don’t really “read,” and they fall into the category of superfluous content. (They are more appropriate for personal communications.)
In general, don’t use a hyphen with the following prefixes unless the prefix is followed by a word that is a proper noun or begins with the same vowel. The exception to this rule is “co” (see below).
- Pre: pre-election, pre-establish — BUT: prearrange, predispose, pretax
- Post: postdate, postgraduate — BUT: post-WWII, post-Harvard
- Non: nongovernment, nonrestrictive, nonworking, nonprofit, multiagency— BUT: non-U.S.
- Co: Retain the hyphen when forming nouns, adjectives and verbs that indicate an occupation or status.
Examples: co-author, co-worker, co-owner
Exception: Use no hyphen in other combinations.
Examples: coexist, coeducation, cooperate, coordinate
Note: The County’s use of non-emergency is an exception to AP.
In titles, capitalize prepositions with four or more letters and when they appear as the first or last word of the title.
Examples: “Gone With the Wind,” “The Elements of Style,” “Seven Ways to Manage Up”
PRISM/Planned Reengineering for Information Systems Management
PRISM is acceptable on first reference.
Capitalize names of official County programs: Capital Improvement Program.
“QR code” is two words.
Don’t use relative dates like “last month” or “last year,” as these can be confusing on a page that may be viewed months or years later.
Examples: In May 2013, Jim Smith became the program director. (not: Last month, Jim Smith became the program director.) In 2012, the program was put on hold. (not: Last year, the program was put on hold.)
Request for Proposal
RFP is acceptable on second reference.
Truly only one spelling, but often made one word. The entire family went to Powhatan Springs Skatepark to roller skate.
Don’t capitalize the word room: County Board room.
Lowercase. “The roundtable was on October 24.”
Lowercase the word seal when it pertains to the County’s official seal.
Sign-up, Sign up
Use sign-up for nouns and adjectives. Use sign up for verb.
Smart Growth is two words.
South is lower-case.
Do not use two spaces between sentences — in letters, on webpages, in social media or anywhere.
Should use “sprayground,” all one word, in all instances (not spraypark, spray park, water park, etc).
DES prefers ACG use streetlight as one word (not two words).
- With no exact address: 19th Street North (not: North 19th Street) and North Harrison Street (not: Harrison Street North)
- With exact address: 6332 19th St. N. and 2001 N. Harrison St. (not: Harrison St. N.)
Exception: In cases where space is tight — charts, graphs etc. — abbreviations are permissible.
Stormwater is one word.
Capitalize when used on its own or when used as the proper name of the stop. Lowercase when referring to it as the stop. Examples: The Walter Reed Super Stop is great. The stop is nifty.
Use figures in this format: 703-228-7510 — not: (703) 228-7510
If extension numbers are given: Ext. 2, Ext. 364, Ext. 4071. (AP uses parentheses around the area code; our format departs from the AP style.)
Use Fahrenheit or F (no period) with temperatures. Don’t list temperatures in Celsius, unless the content warrants its use. See also Acronyms & abbreviations.
Examples: 80 Fahrenheit, 50 F (note the space before the F)
That vs. which
Use “that” for essential clauses important to the meaning of the sentence and don’t use commas. Use “which” for nonessential clauses less necessary to the meaning of the sentence, and always use commas.
Examples: The farmer’s market, which formed a year ago, operates only on Saturday mornings. The speech that you delivered on Wednesday was stellar.
Also, you can often delete the word “that” from a sentence.
Example: The farmer’s market
that is on Columbia Pike only operates on Saturday mornings.
Use these time formats (depending on the situation):
- 2 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-5 p.m. for more formal communications (this is AP Style)
- 2am-3pm and 4-5pm also is acceptable for more informal communications and for space reasons (in brochures, emails, tables, social media, etc.)
- Not 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (instead 2-3 p.m.)
- 2-2:30 p.m. or 3:30-4 p.m.
Noon is 12 p.m. and midnight is 12 a.m. Use either the numeral form (preferred style) or word form — it is redundant to use both. Also see Noon & midnight. Do not say 10 p.m. tonight or 10 a.m. this morning — which is redundant phrasing.
Always use as one word (per the 2013 update to The AP Style Manual).
The U.S. abbreviation for United States is acceptable when used as a noun or adjective.
Examples: The U.S. will hold two days of talks with China. The U.S. economy will come back strong.
When referring to most federal agencies, it’s not necessary to use U.S.
Examples: The EPA protects human health and the environment. The Department of Defense is the largest employer in the world.
U.S. federal government
Always lowercase “federal government.”
Example: The U.S. federal government plans to cut back on funds.
Example: “The information you need can be found on the County website.” Only capitalize if the first word of a sentence.
Weights & measurements
Always use figures. Also see Acronyms & abbreviations.
Examples: 3 ounces, 6 pounds, 4 feet, 7 feet, 9 miles
Wrap-up vs wrap up
“Wrap-Up” – when used as a show title, noun or adjective
“Wrap up” – when used as a verb/transitive verb.
Example: The show is called County Wrap-Up; Give us a wrap-up of the meeting. But: Can you wrap up the video?
No space, P capitalized
Work session is two words; capitalize first word only at beginning of sentence.