Style Guide

We encourage you to use the guidelines below to ensure that content on is clear, concise, and benefits the widest possible audience.

🎉 Welcome to the style guide!

Below you’ll find guidance for voice and tone, author bios and photos, branding, grammar, images, plain language, inclusive language, and more. We will soon update details on how to submit to

Voice and tone

Articles for—written by employees from across the federal government—use an informal, conversational tone.

Conscious inclusivity

Not everyone who uses government services or engages with federal agencies are U.S. citizens. When appropriate, use phrases or words such as: the public, users, people, or folks.

Additionally, where possible:

  • Avoid using gendered pronouns; instead, use they or their.
  • Avoid age-related descriptions of people unless absolutely necessary for the content; in those cases, try using older people or older person — instead of elderly or senior.

See the 18F Content Guide for more on inclusive language:

Grammar and spelling

In general, we follow AP Style. Use plain language in your writing for clarity. Avoid using acronyms or jargon that may be unfamiliar to the general public or those outside your agency.


Capitalize proper nouns for people, places, and agency names.

Do not capitalize words like federal, government, or agency unless it is:

  • The first word in a sentence.
  • An official title for or name of something (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)).

Content titles and headers


December 2022: We are switching from title case to sentence case for all titles and paragraph headers.

Headlines are key to a story. They have to stand on their own in conveying the story, and must include key context. They should tempt readers to want to read more, without misleading or overpromising. A concise, well-worded headline will tempt readers to want to learn more. Try to keep titles to under 64 characters.

Think carefully about keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media optimization. Which terms are users likely to be searching for? What will be easily recognizable and compelling in your headline? Include keywords that are central to the story’s content, and consider what keywords relevant to the story are trending in search engines and social media.

Use numerals; do not spell out numbers except in casual uses or formal names: use hundreds instead of 100s; Big Ten; or one of the first. Also use numerals for ordinals, such as: 2nd, 9th, etc.

Capitalize only the first word and proper nouns in headlines. If the title contains a colon, the first word after a colon is always uppercase in headlines.

Only use end punctuation for headers that ask a question (e.g., What Did We Learn?).

A few examples:

Title case: 18F Checks in With Jerome Lee and the eAPD Project
New sentence case: 18F checks in with Jerome Lee and the eAPD project

Title case: How Effective Is Your Communication?
New sentence case: How effective is your communication?

Title case: User Experience (UX) vs Customer Experience (CX): What’s the Dif?
New sentence case: User experience (UX) vs customer experience (CX): What’s the dif?

If you’re unsure, many free, web-based title case tools use filters to set AP Style and title case (Examples: and


Article titles should be set to H1, with any subsequent headers set as H2, H3, and so forth, in hierarchical order.

Do not use H3 or below to attempt to make the text appear bold; just apply bold formatting to the text with the Formatting Toolbar in Google Docs or Microsoft Word.

Publication titles

Blogs, magazines, books, etc. are in normal text (i.e., no italics or underlining). Ideally, the titles will be linked to the work that is being referenced.

Courtesy and professional titles

On first reference, introduce people by their first and last names without a courtesy title (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., Sir, Madam, Dr.).

If a person’s gender isn’t clear from their first name (e.g., Chris, Pat, Lesley, Jean), make this clear by referring to them by the appropriate pronoun after the first reference.

Numbers, symbols, dates, time, and places


  • Write out all numbers under 10.
  • Use numbers with the percent symbol (e.g.; 0.9%, 7%, 23%), but use words instead of figures in casual use (She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.).


  • Use a forward slash / between words can be ambiguous; do not use one to replace words like and or or.
  • Unless a symbol is part of a name or branding, use the word (e.g., use the word and instead of an ampersand & or a plus sign +).


  • Use the expanded form of Month Day, Year (e.g., February 16, 2022) to avoid confusion that may arise by using the numeric format; for users in some other countries, 01/11/2018 would mean November 1st; not January 11th.
    • For specific dates, use the full, four-digit year
  • Can abbreviate for informal dates (the ‘90s)
  • Include ordinal indicators (st, nd, rd, th) on dates (e.g., use November 23rd instead of November 23)


  • Time descriptors “ante meridiem” (before noon) and “post meridiem” (after noon) should be abbreviated with lowercase letters as am and pm, respectively.
  • Use the 12-hour clock (8:00 am, 4:00 pm)
  • Avoid redundancies, such as, “10 am this morning”
  • Seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall, autumn) are not capitalized


  • When referring to a number of states, the word “state” should be lowercase (e.g., All 50 states responded.)
  • Locations
    • District of Columbia: abbreviate as D.C. in copy, but use the official postal code, DC (without periods), for an address
    • United States: abbreviate as U.S.
    • In copy, spell out state names, such as California. This will help keep naming conventions consistent (while the 2-character abbreviation without periods is the current postal standard for addresses in U.S. states and territories, older versions are still used by some people), and it can help avoid confusion; people often mix up the abbreviation for Louisiana (LA) with the one for Los Angeles (L.A.)

Agency abbreviations

Initialisms and acronyms

To avoid confusion, always provide the full name of an agency or program the first time you mention it, followed by its abbreviation (as an initialism or acronym) within parentheses. You can then use just the abbreviation elsewhere in the copy. Example:

Lorem ipsum National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

Duis aute irure dolor NASA in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Initialism examples:

An initialism is an acronym where you pronounce each letter.

  • OMG — Oh, my God (or gosh)
  • LOL — laughing out loud
  • BIA — Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • GSA — U.S. General Services Administration
  • TTS — Technology Transformation Services
  • FBI — Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • CDC — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • OPM — U.S. Office of Personnel Management
  • SEO — search engine optimization
  • CMS — content management system, call management system, or Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS))
  • HTML — HyperText Markup Language
  • CSS — Cascading Style Sheets

Acronym examples:

An acronym is an initialism that is used as a word.

  • scuba — Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
  • laser — Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation
  • radar — Radio Detection and Ranging
  • WYSIWYG (pronounced: Whizzy-wig) — What You See Is What You Get
  • WCAG (pronounced: way-cag or wuh-cag) — Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  • NIOSH (pronouned: nigh-osh) — National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • NASA — National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • OPEC (pronounced: oh-peck) — Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
  • NARA — National Archives and Records Administration
  • DARPA — Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
  • NATO (pronounced: nay-toe) — North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • FEMA — Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • SWAT — special weapons and tactics

Note: Avoid redundancies, such as, “ATM machine” (automated teller machine machine) and “PIN number” (personal identification number number).


There is no need to add an s to the end of an initialism or acronym if a word in the original name is already plural.

For example, we use CoE for both Center of Excellence and Centers of Excellence. Adding an s on the end — CoEs — would be, Center of Excellences.



In writing, oral pauses are indicated by commas. They are also used to order things, like lists, clauses, or a series of terms. Much like debates over what counts as a sandwich and the proper pronunciation for the image file type, gif, disagreements about whether or not to use an Oxford comma (also known as the Harvard comma and the serial comma) are quite common.

It can be confusing (or potentially costly in unexpected ways) to omit the Oxford comma, so, we’d like to err on the side of caution. As noted by AP Stylebook in their Twitter Chat on September 12, 2017:

  • “We don’t ban Oxford commas! We say: If omitting a comma could lead to confusion or misinterpretation, then use the comma.”
  • “But: If a comma doesn’t help make clear what is being said, don’t use it. “The flag is red, white and blue” is clear.”

So, use your best judgement. If anything is unclear, we’ll help you clarify.


After a colon, capitalize the next word if it starts a complete sentence (i.e., is not a fragment).

Apostrophe abuse

Use an apostrophe to indicate:

  • Possession — “Agile also improves the development team’s ability to commit to work.”
  • Missing letters or numbers
    • Contractions: “For example, with a bilingual English and Spanish website, we would’ve clearly labeled captions (for English text) and subtitles (for Spanish text).”
    • Date abbreviations: “the ‘90s” (the apostrophe replaces the 19 in 1990s)

Do not use an apostrophe to make words plural. Ever. Ev. Er. 😉

Em dash

You can easily offset a phrase within a sentence with the long em dash — instead of using parentheses, commas, colons, etc. (see link for examples).

Bulleted and numbered lists

If it’s a complete sentence, use punctuation (usually a period) at the end of the list; not after every bullet point.

If it’s a list of fragments, do not use punctuation at the end. Capitalize the first word in each bullet point.

i.e., vs. e.g.,

These two terms are not interchangeable; each has its own meaning and usage.

The abbreviation “i.e.” stands for the Latin phrase, id est, which means “that is” or “in other words.”

Since 1977, Star Wars, which belongs to a sub-genre of science fiction (i.e., the space opera or science fantasy), has released nine main live-action films in the Skywalker Saga, and three spin-off films; two live-action, and one computer-animated film.

The abbreviation “e.g.” stands for the Latin phrase exempli gratia, which means “for example” — use it to list one or more examples.

Since 1966, Star Trek has been an example of diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g., lead characters who are: women and people of color, people with disabilities, and folks in the LGBTQIA+ community). Each of its 13 TV series and 13 films represent the creator’s vision for a society with “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” (IDIC).


Spell the word out in regular writing, and when quoting someone:

“The proposal to revamp Medicare versus proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid at the same time is …”

In short expressions, however, use of the abbreviation vs. is permitted:

The comparison of Star Trek vs. Star Wars has long been an issue with fans of the sci-fi genre.

For court cases, use v.:

Haaland v. Brackeen branding

The overarching name of the site is You may see references to “DigitalGov” in our archives, but it should be referred to as “” going forward.


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Additionally, we often abbreviate Community of Practice as CoP, and we have over 20 communities listed on However, they are run by federal employees at agencies across the federal government, so they don’t always follow the same naming conventions. If writing about them or topics covered in their listservs, you can get the full, proper name (and any alternates) from their individual Community pages on

Name examples include: MobileGov (mobile site, apps, devices), SocialGov (Social Media), OpenGov, Open Data, PLAIN, Government Contact Center Council (G3C), Web Content Managers Forum, and Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (CCS).

Image use

We must have permission or license to use any image posted on Please do not send copyrighted images such as cartoon characters, or stills from movies or TV shows.

Image File Types:

  • .png (preferred)
  • .jpg
  • .gif (only if animated)

Image dimensions:

Please always send us the original image, as large as possible. Our content management system (CMS) will optimize and resize photos as necessary.

  • The images seen when a page is shared on social media platforms (featured image) must be sent to us in landscape orientation (a rectangle that is more wide than tall). Currently, the dimensions for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. must be sized at 1200 x 628 pixels (width by height).
  • Images of people can be sent as square images or in portrait orientation (a rectangle that is more tall than wide). A width of at least 600 pixels is preferred.


All images require alt text for screen readers, and/or a caption that appears below the photo. Be descriptive, yet succinct. Take care to note if the image is an infographic, factoid, diagram, chart, photo, or logo. If related to a program, agency, or event, include the name and/or acronym (and if an event, please include the date).

Please do not use images of text; we can highlight text in call-out box, an accordion (e.g., event transcripts or policy memos), a quote box, or other styles.


All stock images require source information. Below are some examples of requirements based on source:

  1. Getty Images
  • Getty Images Content License Agreement: — Section 6 has intellectual property rights and how to properly format attribution for an image.


  1. photos (formerly Thinkstock)
  1. Creative Commons (CC)

Best Practices for Attribution (with examples):

Examples on

  1. flickr photos

Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license. example

Give attribution to photographers with CC license

Definitions and general guidelines are available on Creative Commons website. We also provide guidelines for attributing Creative Commons content. However, specifics about how to attribute All Rights Reserved content are not provided. When in doubt, contact the photographer. See our forum thread about what is considered adequate attribution.

When searching Flickr, use filters to narrow results:

[flickr IMAGE] alt text: A screen capture of search results. Seven filter options are circled in red (Advanced, Orientation, Minimum Size, Date Taken, Content, Search in, and Any License), and the drop down list for Any License is expanded to show various options. caption: Available search filters on

Free image resources

Below are some free image and media resources. Take care to read and supply any attribution requirements for images used from these sources

Note: does have access to Getty’s website (not free). If you wish to use an image from there, just include the URL for each image with your draft; we’ll log in, review, and download them for your posts.