The student news site of California State University, Chico

The Orion

Style and word use

Mark Plenke

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






about/around/some Use about to estimate numbers, time, distance. Avoidapproximately and at about. Reserve around to denote a spatial relationship: they sat around the table. Do not use some to provide estimates such as some 200 people. 

Alcoholic Beverage Control Spell out on first reference, ABC thereafter.

accident Do not use in news copy because it connotes guilt. If you are writing about two vehicles running together, use collisionwreck or crash.

academic courses Capitalize formal class designations: Journalism 327. Capitalize and enclose in quotes course titles: “Ethical Problems in Mass Media.” But in general mention of a course of study, do not capitalize unless it is a proper noun: This semester, she is enrolled in “Survey of American Authors,” biologyEconomics 112Russian historya public relations course and Spanish 001. Lowercase general subject names: 18th-century literaturemass media lawjournalism major.

academic degrees bachelor’s and master’s acceptable on all references (not M.A. or B.A.).

academic terms Use lowercase for academic terms: the fall semester 2013; the spring term (not Fall Semester 2013 or Spring semester). It’s 2013-2014 school year, not ‘13 to ‘14 or 2013-04.

academic titles Identify faculty members with rank as verified personally or in university publications. Give the rank after the name: Joe Blow, professor of journalism and mass communications. Members of the teaching faculty are ranked as follows: professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, teaching assistants. Use no titles on second reference: Professor Bill Smith, Smith. (See professor)

accent marks Use of diacritical marks such as the accent or the tilde require care. Yet they are necessary for accuracy, especially in the spelling of proper names. The “AP Stylebook,” however, bans such marks because they can be garbled by computer software. Online editors need to be especially vigilant in using the marks. Reporters should double check that they are using the correct mark. Copy editors should use a reference guide to verify correct usage.

according to Do not use as a verb of attribution, unless quoting documents. (See stated)

adviser Not advisor.

alleged Avoid in such constructions as “…the alleged murderer.” If a person has been charged with a crime, write: Joneswhom police arrested on suspicion of a hit and run, said …. (See arrested).

a.m., p.m. Lowercase, with periods. Always include the a.m. or p.m. with times given: The event goes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Happy Hour is from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The dance is from 8 to 11:30 p.m.

anonymous sources Reporters must not promise confidentiality to a source for any reason without the consent of the managing editor. Confidential sources should be used only in stories of vital public interest when there is a real danger of physical, emotional or financial harm to the source. Confidential sources must be used rarely and with care and only when absolutely necessary.

arrested and charged Do not say someone was “charged” with a crime at the time that person is arrested by police. In California, county district attorneys bring charges if there is sufficient evidence. If someone is arrested on an allegation of rape, for example, here is the fairest way to present it: “John Doe was arrested on suspicion of rape, police said.” Defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence. Sometimes the police accuse innocent people of crimes. Crime stories should be heavily attributed. Fairness is paramount.

athletic director Capitalize title before the full name.

attribution should go at the end of the first sentence of attributed material. Follow the basic rule of no more than one speaker per paragraph and one attribution per paragraph. However, in stories involving accusations, such as crime stories, every sentence containing an allegation against someone should be attributed. Avoid using attribution as a transitional device. Write good transitions to carry the reader through the story.
Correct: Should James resign, he would leave some disappointed constituents.
“It would be like he was giving up on us,” business owner Jim Seifert said
.
Incorrect: Jim Seifert, a business owner, said he supported James.
“I would be disappointed if he left,” Seifert said. “It would be like he was giving up on us.” 

ATM Acceptable on first reference; avoid redundancy ATM machine.

band/team names In general, plural names take plural verbs and pronouns, and singular nouns take singular verbs and pronouns. Yes: The Wildcats are playing in the championship. No: Chico State lost their game. But team or band names that have no plural forms take plural verbs: The Miami Heat are playing. But some names are singular:San Francisco is in first place; Coldplay is on tour. The word band, even if it refers to a plural word, is always singular. Thus: the band played its last song; it leaves town after the show. See Associated Press Stylebook entry under collective nouns.

Bay Area Capitalize when referring to the cities that surround San Francisco Bay.

because of/due to Use because of when writing about cause and effect. Due to is a predicate adjective and usually requires a linking verb to come before it. Correct: The team lost because of poor hitting; The team’s poor play is due to poor hitting. Note in the second example that due to follows the linking verb is. Therefore the following is incorrect:Due to poor play, the team lost.

believes/feels/thinks Not to be used as a verb of attribution. If a person says, “I believe the president ought to resign,” you may paraphrase as follows: Jones said she thinks the president ought to resign. Use each word for a specific idea. Believes refers to faith; feels refers to emotions; thinks should be reserved for ideas, concepts and thoughts.

biased language (See also racial and ethnic identification) Avoid use of language that indicates the sex of the participant as either male or female when, in fact, both men and women may be characters in your story. For example, avoid using he or she, him or her, in referring to schoolchildren unless you know for sure that the pupils are all male or all female. If not sure, use nouns for students, pupils, children, teenagers, as appropriate.

In referring to occupations, remember that there are few jobs solely the domain of either men or women today. Do not refer to firemen but rather to firefighters, policemen but rather to police officers, not to salesgirls but rather to salesclerks.

If you cannot determine the sexes of the participants and if it is impossible to use a noun substitute, use the plural pronoun and make sure that all elements of the sentence agree in number: Existing law requires that workers claiming compensation show that their disabilities were caused by the accidents.

brand names Don’t use them unless it is impossible to find a generic term. For example, Xerox is not a verb, change to photocopy, and Kleenex to tissue.

CD Acceptable on all references for compact disc.

cite, site, sight Use cite, if you mean “to mention as support, illustration or proof.” Usesite, if you mean “a physical location.” Use sight, if you mean “something seen.”

city council Capitalize on first reference when using the city name: the Chico City Council. On second reference shorten to the council. When the context does not require the city name, the City Council is correct. Note: use the.

city names Use city and state when the city is outside of California. Use abbreviations for the state name as contained in “The AP Stylebook.” Do not use state names with the list of major cities listed under datelines in the “The AP Stylebook.” If the context is clear, do not use Calif. with city names. YES: Visalia, Berkeley. NO: Gilroy, Calif.

claim is not a synonym for assert. He claimed the property is correct, but He claimed he had been arrested is not.

class standing  Use lowercase for class standing: first-year students, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

coach Lowercase in all references.

college and university departments, programs It’s the department of political science, all lower case, unless the department is a proper noun or a language, like the department of English. Also acceptable are English department and political science department. With programs, it’s the multicultural and gender studies program.

colleges are proper names, such as College of Natural Sciences.

councilman/councilwoman/council member Capitalize this formal title when used before the complete name; council member is two words. Do not use councilor.

courtesy titles Do not use Mr., Miss, Mrs., or Ms. If two people have the same last name, a careful writer will use context to keep references clear. If necessary for clarity, repeat the first name on second reference.

dates Use a hyphen, not the words “to” or “through.” Right July 1-4 , wrong July 1 to 4.

days of the week Use day of the week if within seven days. See time element in “AP Stylebook.” Because The Orion comes out on a Wednesday, any event on that day should be referred to as today. Events on the previous or next Wednesday should use the date.Note: the Thursday before or after the paper comes out should be Thursday. Avoid modifiers such as last or next, which are redundant. Online note: online news stories should follow the seven-day rule.

descriptions To avoid unfairly indicting an entire race of people, use descriptions of subjects only if they are fairly specific. “A black woman” is not fairly specific; “a 6-foot white man with purple hair and a tattoo of a rose on his hand” definitely meets the “fairly specific” test. (See racial and ethnic identification).

divisions For sports, all divisions are capitalized followed by roman numerals: Division I, Division II, etc.

driver’s license/drivers’ licenses 

DJ Acceptable on all references to disc jockey.

doubleheader One word referring to back-to-back sporting events, most often baseball games.

DUI Acceptable on all references for driving under the influence.

email Acceptable on all references for electronic mail. Not e-mail.

Emergency Blue Light

exclamation points are best avoided, but if absolutely necessary, no more than once per story and only use one. Correct: This stylebook is the greatest thing I’ve ever read!  Incorrect: The Wildcats played so well on Saturday!!!

First person personal pronouns Avoid use of I, me, we, us and our outside of direct quotation, except when writing columns and opinion pieces. Even in opinion articles, the use of the word can and should be kept to a minimum to avoid the sound of self-absorption

frontman, frontwoman one word.

fiance, fiancee A man who is engaged is a fiance, a woman is a fiancee.

flier, flyer When writing about a poster or handbill or a pilot, flier is the correct spelling. It is spelled flyer only when used as a proper noun, as in a Radio Flyer wagon, the Western Flyer railroad or the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

GPA Acceptable on all references for grade point average.

grades Use capital letters, no quotation marks. Correct: A, C-. Note that an apostrophe is used with the plural. Thus: Five students earned A’s.

hip-hop Use hyphen

HTML Acceptable on all references for Hypertext Markup Language, the language in which web pages are written.

ID cards Price of admission to the event will be $5 with student ID. 

L.A. spell out Los Angeles on first reference unless in a direct quote. Abbreviate on subsequent references.

media This is a plural noun that requires a plural verb and plural pronouns. The singular form is medium. Television is a medium that has received its share of criticism.

more than/over Generally use more than when referring to a number. Correct: more than $2 Use over to signify spatial concepts: The plane flew over the city. However, see “AP Stylebook” for a discussion about using over with numbers.

most refers to the superlative: the most exciting experience of my life. Yes: It was one of the more exciting experiences of my life. No: It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

music groups require no quotes around their names. For example, it is Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, not “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

National Basketball Association NBA is acceptable on all references.

National Football League NFL is acceptable on all references.

911 The emergency phone number. Do not use hyphens or spaces between the numbers.

not guilty Use innocent, rather than not guilty, in describing a defendant’s plea or a jury’s verdict to guard against the word not being dropped inadvertently.

No. 1 We are the No. 1 team, not We are the number one team.

OK Not okay, it’s OK.

online One word, no hyphen.

physical education Spell out unless in direct quote, and then use PE (no periods).

plead, pleaded, pleading.

police departments The proper names are University Police and Chico Police Department. When referring to the city’s police department, it should be Chico police, notChico Police. Unless it is part of a proper name, the word police is not capitalized.

Profanity, vulgar words, explicit sexual language The primary audience of a college publication is adults. Profane and vulgar words are a part of everyday conversation, but are not generally used for journalistic writing. During the interview stage of news gathering, staffers will encounter interviewees who use words viewed as vulgar and profane. The staff may publish these words if the words are important to the reader’s understanding of the situation — the reality of life — or if the words help establish the character of the interviewee.

The staff may decide to limit references to prevent the vulgar or profane language from overshadowing the other, more important facts of the story. Profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing. Though they may be vulgar or profane, individual words are not obscene. Explicit language — but not vulgar, street language — describing sexual activities and human body parts and functions should be used for accurate reporting of health stories and, in a more limited way, for sexual crime stories.

professor Capitalize ONLY before the name; do not abbreviate. Used as title only if that person is a full professor, associate professor or assistant professor. Do not use the word doctor for a professor unless the person is a medical doctor. (See academic titles).

punctuation in quotes Commas and periods are always placed inside the closing quote marks: “Copy editors get really sick of using the transpose symbol.” Colons and semicolons are almost always placed outside the quote marks.

Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside the quotes when they belong to the quoted material; outside the quotes when they do not. For example, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” won numerous special effects awards. (The question mark is part of the title). But in the following sentence, Is the new movie called “The Adventures of Bob and Eddy”?, the question mark is not part of the title, it is part of the sentence.

race (See racial and ethnic identification)

RBI, RBIs In baseball, short for runs batted in.

regionals Lowercase unless part of a formal title. Correct: The Wildcats won the regionals. Correct: The Wildcats won the West Regional playoffs.

registered nurse

resume See accent marks.

rock ’n’ roll

said The all-purpose word of attribution. Don’t be afraid to repeat it. Also, it is Smith said, not said Smith. But avoid the awkward construction Smith, vice president for marketing and sales, said … by putting said before the name. Occasional variety is appropriate and perhaps desirable as long as the substitute attribution is precise. (Seebelieves/feels/thinks)

sexual orientation Use only when relevant to the story. Gay may be used as an adjective for homosexual men: gay man, gay activistLesbian is generally preferred in reference to homosexual women. Avoid identifying places or products as being used by people of a particular sexual preference. Do not use terms such as avowed or admitted. Use caution. Be sensitive.

spacing One space, not two, between sentences. No space before most punctuation, one space after. One space on each side of an ellipsis … and, yes — a dash (which looks better than a double hyphen and is produced on many systems by: apple or command 2 shift 2 hyphen).

spokesman, spokeswoman but not spokesperson. Use a representative if you do not know the gender of the individual.

spring break 

sports teams See bands.

stated Not to be used as a verb of attribution, except when quoting documents, in which case use the present tense states.

St. Patrick’s Day

streets, intersections Abbreviate avenue, boulevard and street ONLY with a numbered address — in all other cases, spell it out. Spell out road, way, drive, etc., in all instances.
No: At the intersection of Nord and Sacramento Avenues 
Yes: At the intersection of Nord and Sacramento avenues 
Yes: At the intersection of Warner Street and Sacramento Avenue … 

stereotypes Take care in writing to avoid applying commonly thought but usually erroneous group stereotypes to individuals who are members of a particular group. Generalizations based upon stereotypes can be misleading and inaccurate. In a broader sense, writers and photographers should avoid subtler stereotyping in their selection of interviewees and subjects of photographs.

students, identifying Identification should be by college class, by major and by hometown: Becky Sager, senior mathematics major from Durham. Change the order when clarity and variety dictates: Jack Daniels, a junior from Lynchburg majoring in journalism. College class and hometown information should always be double-checked.

suspects In general, do not name a suspect in a crime unless the individual has been arrested or an arrest warrant has been issued for the individual.

television TV is acceptable for all references.

that In many instances, the word that can be omitted from a sentence with no effect on comprehension. Jones said he was tired of working on the car. In other cases, however, that acts as a signpost for the reader; its omission can be disturbing. Some guidelines include the following:
1. In most cases, use that after acoordinating conjunction to indicate when attribution continues. Look at the following sentence: He said the boat had been overloaded, and it had sunk. Is the last half part of the speaker’s comment, or is it an addition by the writer? Using that makes it clear: He said the boat had been overloaded and that it had sunk. Now, however, the sentence is not parallel in structure. A that must be added before said: He said that the boat had been overloaded and that it had sunk. When that is used to indicate continuing attribution, it must be used twice.
2. Always use that when a time element comes between the verb and the that clause. The mayor said today the town would ignore parking meter violations. Notice how the placement of that can affect meaning: The mayor said today that the town would ignore parking meter violations. And The mayor said that today the town would ignore parking meter violations.
3. That often clarifies the meaning of phrases immediately after the attribution: He said in a meeting the town had decided to withdraw its civil suit against the utility. Again, notice how placement of that can affect meaning: He said that in a meeting the town had decided to withdraw its civil suit against the utility. And He said in a meeting that the town had decided to withdraw its civil suit against the utility.
4. Always use that when the noun after a verb may be misconstrued as its object. See how the reader might stumble in this sentence: The teacher pointed out two magazines were included on the reading list, even though they were no longer being published. That is a signpost making meaning immediately clear: The teacher pointed out that two magazines were included on the reading list, even though they were no longer being published.
5. To make it instantly clear who is speaking, use that when proper names appear on each side of said. Here, a quick reader could stumble over who is speaking: In his opening statement, Jones said Smith had been driving at an unsafe speed. Again, that aids clarity:In his opening statement, Jones said that Smith had been driving at an unsafe speed.

theater, theatre Use theater unless used in the proper name of a building. Theaters on or near campus:
Harlen Adams Theatre
Ruth Rowland Taylor Hall
Larry Wismer Theatre
Little Theatre, the Senator Theatre

three-pointers, three-point line

thinks Not to be used as a verb of attribution.

this and that (these and those) R. Thomas Berner, in his “Language Skills for Journalists,” wrote, “Generally, that refers to something already mentioned and this refers to something coming up.” Distance is another criterion. Something close takes this; something farther away takes that.

time Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 10 a.m., 3 p.m., 3:30 p.m.

time, date and place When all three of these elements appear in the same sentence, use them in the following order, as in: The meeting will be at 3 p.m. Monday in BMU 228.

time range Use to, not a hyphen. It’s from 8 to 9:30 a.m., not It’s from 8:00 – 9:30 a.m. 

today Use in reference to events occurring on the day of publication.

tomorrow, yesterday Do not use except in quotes. Instead write the day of the week. Use Friday when referring to events occurring on the Friday of the previous week or the following week: The verb tense will make it clear. For more distant past and future references, use dates.

touchdown One word, referring to 6 points scored in football.

unique Something is unique only if it is one of a kind. It is always wrong to write that something is very unique or one of the more unique experiences of my life. In general, avoid this word because it conveys little or no information to the reader.

university Lower case, the university. (See California State University schools)

URL Acceptable on all references for uniform resource locator. It is pronounced “U-R-L,” (not “earl”). It refers to the address for a page on the Web. If a URL is at the end of a sentence, add the period. Don’t break up a long URL with a hyphen — this will confuse readers and may be mistaken as being part of the address. There are no spaces used between characters in a URL.
According to the “The Associated Press Stylebook,” URLs “should be self-contained paragraphs at the end of the story.”

vinyl Acceptable when referring to actual long-playing records, as in Pearl Jam released the vinyl version of its new album two weeks before releasing the CD.

Web  Capitalize when referring to the World Wide Web and in short forms when it is a noun or adjective the Web, Web page, and Web feed. But lowercase when used as one word: website, webcam, webcast, webmaster. See The Associated Press Stylebook for Web. Double-check URLs to ensure their accuracy. In some cases, the www may also be skipped if the site is well known. For example, The big story was reported first by CNN.com. Or, She uses Facebook. In some cases, use the publication name: The Orion Online reported the story. Spell all websites according to the spelling used by the site: www.csuchico.edu; www.theorion.com; The Orion Online. As a general practice, the URL of a website is important information and should be included in the text. Follow the rules as spelled out in the AP Stylebook entry for Internet and URL.

when asked, when asked about Avoid introducing a source’s answer to a question with these phrases. They only remind the reader that a reporter is conducting an interview, and reporters should be as unobtrusive as possible in their articles.

yardage For sports:
She ran for 30 yards.
It was a 30-yard field goal.
The ball was snapped from the 5-yard line

year Events that have occurred within the past 11 months need only the month, not the month and the year.

years It is the 1990s or the ’90s, not the 1990’s or the 90’s.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




The student news site of California State University, Chico
Style and word use