Editorial Style Guide

FCPS follows the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.

All communication should be clear, consistent, and aligned with FCPS’ brand identity. Every message you communicate is a reflection upon you, your school or department, and the entire school division.

FCPS follows the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. For notes on style not addressed here, please refer to the AP Stylebook.

For notes on spelling not covered here, consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition. Use the first spelling listed unless a specific exception is noted in this guide. If your material is scholarly or technical, consult manuals specific to your discipline.

Fairfax County Public Schools

Fairfax County Public Schools is a singular entity; so is the Fairfax County School Board. Use a singular verb for either group. 

  • Fairfax County Public Schools is a large school system. 
  • The Fairfax County School Board meets several times each month.

Fairfax County Public Schools, as the name of the school system, should always be written in initial caps. When speaking of the schools themselves in Fairfax County, you would write: Fairfax County public schools.

  • Many recreation groups hold meetings in different Fairfax County public schools.

When writing “FCPS” as a possessive noun, put the apostrophe after the “S.”

  • FCPS’ reputation affects the entire county.

School Names

On first reference, spell out the entire school name, e.g., Silverbrook Elementary School, not Silverbrook ES. On second reference it's ok to shorten the school name, e.g., Silverbrook Elementary or Silverbrook. There’s flexibility with this rule when using Twitter due to character limitations.


Academic Degrees

“Dr.” is a courtesy title for an individual holding a doctorate degree or Ph.D. Never precede a name with “Dr.” then follow it with “Ph.D.” Also, only use “Ph.D.” after writing a full name.

  • Joseph Smith, Ph.D.

Use a comma after “Ph.D.” when additional text follows.

  • Joseph Smith, Ph.D., is the assistant director.

For FCPS staff, reference someone by title on the first reference and Dr. (if applicable) on all subsequent references. Example: Superintendent Scott Brabrand on first reference and then Dr. Brabrand.

City and State

Spell out the state in the body of an article, even when accompanying the name of a city.

When writing an address, use the zip code abbreviation for the state only when including the zip code. Otherwise, the state should be spelled out.

  • They moved to Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
  • The package was sent to Beverly Hills, California, and a return receipt was requested.

Follow a city and state reference with a comma.

  • Our family has lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and in Dallas, Texas.

Use “Washington, D.C.” Don’t use “D.C.” or “DC.”

Always spell out a state name if it’s part of a title or name: Virginia Department of Education, not VA Department of Education. There’s flexibility with this rule when using Twitter due to character limitations.


If it’s possible that some of your readers may not be familiar with an acronym, spell it out, then list the acronym next to it in parentheses the first time you mention it. Use the acronym for all references thereafter. Due to Twitter’s character limitations, there’s flexibility with this rule.

  • First use: Adult and Community Education (ACE)
  • After the first use: ACE

Common FCPS Acronyms

Academic Learning Group (ALG)
Adult and Community Education (ACE)
Advanced Academic Programs (AAP)
Advanced Placement (AP)
Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID)
alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD)
Alternative Learning Center (ALC)
assistant principal (AP)
athletic administration fee (AAF)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Back-to-School Night (BTSN)
Career and Technical Education (CTE)
collaborative leadership teams (CLT)
College Partnership Program (CPP)
College Success Program (CSP)
Dental Maintenance Organization (DMO)
Dental Preferred Provider Organization (DPPO)
Department of Facilities and Transportation Services (FTS)
Department of Financial Services (FS)
Department of Human Resources (HR)
Department of Information Technology (IT)
Department of Instructional Services (IS)
Department of Special Services (DSS)
Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)
Early Head Start (EHS)
Early Identification Program (EIP)
Education Decision Support Library (EDSL)
eCART (electronic curriculum assessment resource tool)
Educational Employees’ Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC)
Note: “ERFC” is a slogan that stands for Enter Retirement Feeling Confident.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
Extended School Year (ESY)
Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA)
Fairfax County Employees’ Retirement System (FCERS)
Fairfax Education Association (FEA)
Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP)
Family Life Education (FLE)
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
fiscal year (FY)
Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES)
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Functional Applications Support Team (FAST)
Gatehouse Administration Center (GAC)
General Educational Development Test (GED)
grade point average (GPA)
Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)
Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)
individualized education program (IEP)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
instructional assistant (IA)
International Baccalaureate (IB)
International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP)
Keep in Touch (KIT). KIT is now known as “e-notify.”
Leadership Team (LT)
Library Information Services (LIS)
Limited English Proficient (LEP)
local-area network (LAN)
long-term disability (LTD)
Math Reasoning Assessment (MRA)
National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT)
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
Network Operations Center (NOC)
Office of Communication and Community Relations (CCR)
Office of Equity and Employee Relations (EER)
Office of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS)
Office of Student Safety and Wellness (SSAW)
Other Health Impaired (OHI)
Outstanding Performance Award (OPA)
Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)
Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA)
Partners in Education (PIE)
performance-based assessment (PBA)
physical education (PE)
Principal Performance Evaluation Program (PPEP)
Priority Schools Initiative (PSI)
professional learning community (PLC)
project-based learning (PBL)
Program of Studies (POS)
public school choice (PSC)
reduction in force (RIF)
region assistant superintendent (RAS)
School Age Child Care Center (SACC)
school-based technology specialist (SBTS)
social security number (SSN)
Standards of Learning (SOL)
student achievement goal (SAG)
Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R)
Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council (SPAC)
Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council (STAC)
supplemental educational services (SES)
tax-deferred annuity (TDA)
Teacher Materials Preparation Center (TMPC)
Teacher Performance Evaluation Program (TPEP)
technology support specialists (TSSpecs)
telephonic device for the deaf (TDD)
total school approach (TSA)
Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP)
Virginia Department of Education (VDOE)
Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA)
Virginia High School League (VHSL)
Virginia Retirement System (VRS)
Virginia Substitute Evaluation Program (VSEP)
wide-area network (WAN)


Capitalize school names and departments.

  • Spring Hill Elementary School
  • Communication and Community Relations

If you’re not saying the full department name, use lower case.

  • He works in the communications office.

Fairfax County Public Schools, as a school system, is always capitalized. So is:

  • Fairfax County School Board
  • the School Board

The only school subjects that should be capitalized are languages, such as English, Spanish, French, etc., unless referring to a specific class. 

  • The teacher assigned English and social studies homework yesterday.
  • I will be taking Algebra II next school year.  

Capitalize “Fairfax County,” but “government” is lower case. When referring to Fairfax County as “the county,” the “c” in “county” should be lower case as well.

Capitalize job titles when used immediately before a name. Lowercase job titles in other cases.

  • I have a meeting with the Assistant Director Joseph Smith.
  • Joseph Smith is the assistant director.

Capitalize the following in a title:

  • all nouns
  • all verbs (including “is,” “are,” and “will be”)
  • all words of four or more letters
  • the first word or letter: “A Gift for Many”

Ethnic groups should be capitalized including African-American, Black, Native American, Caucasian, etc.


Make sure that margins and spacing are the same throughout your document. 

Spell the same word the same way throughout a document. For example, if ”theatre” is in the first paragraph, don’t switch to “theater” in the fourth paragraph.

Use hyphens similarly throughout a document. If you’ve received input from several sources, one person may have written the word “multicultural” and another person may have written “multi-cultural.” “Multicultural” is correct and should be used.

If you are numbering pages, make sure that the numerals are in the same spot on each page.

Dates, Times, and Numbers


Always follow a full date with a comma.

  • November 12, 2017, is the due date.

Never put a comma between the month and the year when the day is omitted.

  • We plan to move before December 2017.

Also note that the year does not need to be followed by a comma when only the month and year are included.

  • January 2015 was very cold.

Abbreviate months: Jan., Feb., Mar., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. All other months should always be spelled out.


Use lower case “a.m.” and “p.m.” with periods. Hours are written without zeros.

  • 6:35 p.m.
  • 6 p.m. 

If a time frame is indicated, it should be written 6-8 p.m. or 6 to 8 p.m. When using a dash, no spaces are needed between the numbers and the dash.

If a time frame covers both a.m. and p.m., it should be written 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Do not repeat the letters if both times are in the morning or if both times are in the afternoon.

Write “noon” and “midnight,” not 12 p.m. or 12 a.m., and not 12 noon or 12 midnight.


Generally, spell out one through nine. Use figures for 10 or above and if it precedes a unit of measure or refers to ages of people, animals, events, or things.

  • He studied in France for eight years.
  • She is 8 years old.

Do not include the number and the word, e.g., ten (10).

Use hyphens when ages are written as adjectives.

  • A 2-year-old girl is playing outside.

Never start a sentence with a numeral.

When referencing a span of years, use a hyphen (without spaces) and use only the last two numbers of the second year. If the years span different centuries, use all four numbers of the second year.

  • 2012-14
  • 1984-2002

Do not use suffixes with dates except when the day precedes the month.

  • The party is scheduled for December 15.
  • Let’s meet on the 4th of July.

Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space (a change in 2019). Example: Her mortgage rate is 4.75%.  


Staff Names

On first reference, use the first and last name.

  • James Smith is our school's librarian.

On second reference, use the person's first name if you are writing for an internal (staff) audience, or their last name if you are writing for an external (parents, community members) audience.

  • James has been with our school for seven years. (Internal)
  • Smith has been with our school for seven years. (External)

Do not use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. unless part of a direct quote.

Student Names

On first reference, use the first and last name.

  • Abby Thompson is a student at our school.

On second reference, use the student's first name.

  • Abby received an award for her academic achievements. 


With compound words, make the most important word plural.

assistant commissioners
attorneys general
vice chairmen

When writing figures as a plural, add an s.

  • The corporation owns two 727s.
  • They were born in the 1940s.

To make single letters plural, use ‘s. For multiple letters, add s.

  • Her report card was filled with A’s and B’s.
  • Now we know our ABCs.

Tricky Words

alumnus (man)
alumna (woman)

agenda (also accepted as singular)
alumni (also plural for men and women together)


Apostrophes indicate possession, or an omission of letters or numbers. Sometimes, they’re added for clarity, but only if the word is unclear without the apostrophe.

  • Education is FCPS’ responsibility.
  • Please put that on the children’s table.
  • I liked living in the ‘90s. (The apostrophe takes the place of 19.)


“Its” is possessive.
“It’s” is a contraction that stands for “it is.”

“Your” is possessive.
“You’re” is a contraction for “you are.”

“Their” is possessive.
“They’re” is a contraction for “they are.”

Pronouns - Gender Neutral

Pronouns are words that refer to people by replacing proper nouns, like names. Some pronouns indicate the gender of a person: she/her/hers and he/him/his. In recent years, the Associated Press changed its style guide to allow they/them/theirs to be used as gender-neutral, singular pronouns. Here are some examples

  • The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay. (Instead of: The patient should be told at the outset how much he or she will be required to pay.)
  • A journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources. (Instead of: A journalist should not be forced to reveal his or her sources. 

Proofreading Tips

Ask a colleague to review your writing when working on a very long or extremely important document.

Read out loud. You’ll be amazed by the number of mistakes you’ll catch. It will also help to confirm that your writing flows appropriately.

Read everything. Sometimes, headings can hide errors because the reader tends to skim them. This is also true for the beginning of paragraphs, sections, and pages.

If you can, let your rough draft or proof rest before you send it out or have it printed. Later, you can proofread the copy with fresh eyes.

Check all proper names, especially those with unusual spellings. “Carrie” might also be spelled “Cari,” “Kery,” or “Kerry.”



Don’t use an ampersand unless it’s part of a company or brand name.

  • Health and Nutrition
  • Barnes & Noble

In either case, ampersands are fine on Twitter given character limitations.


Use a serial or Oxford comma. (We do not follow the AP Stylebook in this instance.)

  • Parents want to raise healthy, happy, and resilient children. 


Use a hyphen (-) without spaces on either side to connect words into single phrase or to reference a time span.

  • Follow-up (noun)
  • 12-year-old girl
  • Monday-Friday

Common Hyphenated Words and Phrases:

back-to-school (adjective)
before- and after-school classes (noun)
critical-thinking skills (adjective);
critical thinking (noun)
decision-making process (adjective)
decision making (noun)
field-test (verb)
field test (noun)
in-school suspension
in-service (adjective)
out-of-school suspension
problem-solving techniques (adjective)
problem solving (noun)
school-based technology specialist (SBTS)
take-home reading

Use an em dash (—) without spaces on either side to add emphasis or to replace other punctuation such as commas or parentheses.

  • She only eats two kinds of vegetables—French fries and waffle fries.


When a parenthetical statement falls at the end of a sentence, placement of the closing punctuation depends on whether there is a complete sentence inside the parentheses.

If it isn’t a complete sentence, the ending punctuation goes after the parentheses.

  • John looks very healthy (and happy).

If the sentence is complete, the ending punctuation goes inside the parentheses.

  • Please be quiet. (Is it bedtime yet?)


Add only one space after a period.

Quotation Marks

Always put the comma and period inside of quotation marks.

  • She said, “It’s time to go home.”

The exclamation point and question mark only go inside of quotation marks when they are tied to the quote.

  • I can’t believe he just asked me, “How old are you?”
  • “Hurry up!” he said. 

Sensitive Subjects


It is appropriate to use “African-American” or “Black.” Stick with whichever you choose. Do not capitalize "white."

“Hispanic” often refers to someone with a Spanish-speaking background. “Latino/Latina/ Latin” are commonly used in the U.S. to refer to U.S. residents with links to Latin America.

People With Disabilities

Only reference an individual’s disability when it is critical to the article or story. If it is essential, refer to the person first, then follow with the disability. For example: “The  student, who is on the autism spectrum,…” as opposed to “The autistic student...” See the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) Disability Language Style Guide for more guidance.


a lot
bar code
checkout (noun); check out (verb)
field trip
he or she (not he/she)
home page
log in (verb); login (noun)
log out (verb)
postsecondary education
the Beltway
time frame
Title I
toward (“Towards” is British usage.)
under way

Common Mistakes

The abbreviation e.g., means “for example,” as in “We will play some children’s games, e.g., tag, catch, and hopscotch.“

The abbreviation “i.e.,” means “that is,” as in “I am speaking about a full place setting of china, i.e., a cup, a saucer, a dinner plate, a salad plate, and a dessert plate.”

The proper article to use with a word depends on the initial sound of the word, not the first letter. Generally, use "a" if the word begins with a consonant sound, and use "an" if it begins with a vowel sound. 

  • He is an FCPS employee. (“F” begins with a short “e” sound as in eff.)
  • This ceremony will be a historic event. (“Historic” begins with a consonant sound.)

A historic event is an important occurrence that stands out in history.

Any occurrence in the past is a historical event.

Writing Tips

Write at an Eighth Grade Level

Keep things simple so the average person can understand. Avoid jargon. Use the Hemingway App website to make your writing as clear as possible.

Keep it short.

This is especially critical for any writing that will appear online. If brevity is not possible, organize your text into easily digestible sections.

Write clearly and concisely.

Get to the point quickly. Limit each paragraph to three to five sentences, encompassing a few ideas at most.

Add visuals.

Excluding emails, letters, and other business communications, add photos, videos (for web writing), and other graphics to your text. Visuals increase reader engagement and help reinforce the information.

Use an active voice.

Don’t: The survey was administered by the finance department last week.

Do: The finance department administered the survey last week.

Use familiar words.

Use plain language and words that your readers will understand. Slang, jargon, technical, or overly academic language may alienate your audiences.

Put your most important information first.

Follow it with secondary and supporting information.

Write engaging headings.

The heading should engage your audience’s interest and indicate what you’re writing about.

Write descriptive link text.

When writing for the web, avoid using “click here” and writing out URLs.  The term "here" is inaccessible to a vision-impaired visitor with a screen reader. Descriptive link text is more intuitive. Long URLs look clunky and take up a lot of space.

Don’t: For details about eligibility, visit our Eligibility page at https://www.fcps.edu/ information/toolong.html.

Do: Visit the Eligibility section of our site for more information.

Check your spelling and proofread.

Check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Read your work out loud, too, so you’ll know how it will sound to your readers. If time allows, have someone else proofread your writing.