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 Merriam-Webster. 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.
On first reference, spell out the 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.
- In general, schools that are named after people are referred to only by the last name. When listed in alphabetical lists, they should be organized by last names.
- Powell Elementary School
- Franklin Middle School
- Madison High School
- Robinson Secondary School
- An exception is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. On second reference, TJHSST is acceptable.
- Another exception is Franklin Sherman Elementary School
“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.”
It's preferred to write out the title of a degree in a phrase and to avoid using an abbreviation. For example,
- Correct: John Smith, who has a doctorate in astronomy, showed us constellations in the night sky.
- Wrong: John Smith, who has a Ph.D. in astronomy, showed us constellations in the night sky.
For FCPS staff, reference someone by title on the first reference only. In later references, use last name only.
An exception to this rule applies to the superintendent. Refer to the superintendent by full name and title on first reference, and Dr. XX on subsequent references.
- Example: Superintendent Michelle Reid on first reference and then Dr. Reid.
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.
(See Abbreviations for rule about "Dr." and "Ph.D.")
In text, use bachelor's degree or bachelor's rather than B.A. or B.S.; master's degree or master's rather than M.A. or M.S.; doctoral degree or doctorate rather than Ph.D. or Ed.D. Example: He has a bachelor's degree in English, a master's in translation, and a doctorate in comparative literature.
Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. For example,
- I have two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree.
An associate degree or a doctoral degree, however, does not use an apostrophe. For example,
- I received my associate degree before my bachelor’s.
There is also no apostrophe in Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science, etc.
- I have a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics.
Use no capitals when referring to degrees in general terms (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, associate degree) but always capitalizing specific degrees (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Business Administration).
Do not capitalize the discipline specialty unless it is a proper noun or it is part of a recognized degree name (such as MBA and MSAT).
Bachelor of Arts in English
Bachelor of Science in chemistry
Master of Business Administration
Spell out an acronym the first time you mention it, followed by the acronym in parenthesis. 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
When talking about fiscal years or school years, spelling out “SY” is preferred (School Year 2023-24). If using the phrase many times in a story or on a webpage, using the SY or FY acronym is acceptable. The shortened form should be SY 2023-24.
Common FCPS Acronyms
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)
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)
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)
Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES)
Functional Applications Support Team (FAST)
Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)
Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)
individualized education program (IEP)
instructional assistant (IA)
International Baccalaureate (IB)
International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP)
Leadership Team (LT)
Library Information Services (LIS)
Limited English Proficient (LEP)
National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT)
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
Network Operations Center (NOC)
Outstanding Performance Award (OPA)
Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)
Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA)
performance-based assessment (PBA)
Portrait of a Graduate (POG)
Portrait of a Graduate Presentation of Learning (POG POL)
Principal Performance Evaluation Program (PPEP)
professional learning community (PLC)
project-based learning (PBL)
Program of Studies (POS)
reduction in force (RIF)
region assistant superintendent (RAS)
School Age Child Care Center (SACC)
school-based technology specialist (SBTS)
Standards of Learning (SOL)
Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R)
Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council (SPAC)
Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council (STAC)
supplemental educational services (SES)
Teacher Materials Preparation Center (TMPC)
Teacher Performance Evaluation Program (TPEP)
technology support specialists (TSSpecs)
Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP)
Virginia Department of Education (VDOE)
Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA)
Virginia High School League (VHSL)
Virginia Retirement System (VRS)
Capitalize school names and departments.
- Spring Hill Elementary School
- Community Relations
If you’re not saying the full department name, use lower case.
- He works in human resources.
Fairfax County Public Schools, as a school system, is always capitalized. So is:
- Fairfax County School Board
- School Board (when referring to the School Board)
However, "the board" is not a proper noun and is not capitalized. Also, never refer to the School Board as the "FCPS School Board."
When referring to the school system as a division, do not capitalize.
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. Only use a comma if you are using the job title as an identifier
- I have a meeting with Superintendent Jane Smith.
- Jane Smith is the division superintendent.
- I have a meeting with Jane Smith, superintendent.
- I greeted the superintendent when she arrived for the meeting.
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”
When using bullets, capitalize the first word in each bulleted item.
Ethnic groups should be capitalized including African American, Black, Native American, Caucasian, etc. (but not white. See sensitive subjects for more).
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.
- The event occurred on November 12, 2017, and will be held again next year.
When possible, include the day of the week, followed by a comma. The year does not need to be included if you are talking about the current calendar year.
- The due date is Monday, November 13.
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.
Spell out all months. It makes text more accessible for screen readers and machine translations.
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.
Do not use suffixes with dates.
- The party is scheduled for December 15.
Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space (a change in 2019). Example: Her mortgage rate is 4.75%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In most cases, do not use hyphens when talking about what grade a student is in. The only exception is if there is a number nearby that will make the sentence confusing.
- She is a first grader.
- They are in first grade.
- There were six first-grade girls in the group.
Common Hyphenated Words and Phrases:
before- and after-school classes (noun)
critical-thinking skills (adjective);
critical thinking (noun)
decision-making process (adjective)
decision making (noun)
field test (noun)
first class (noun)
problem-solving techniques (adjective)
problem solving (noun)
school-based technology specialist (SBTS)
Use an em dash (—) with 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.
- On a PC keyboard, the em dash can be used by holding down alt + 0151. In Google docs, it can be made by triple hitting the - key.
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.
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.
If posting a stand alone quote, use an em dash before the author’s name.
- “Quote.” — Author
Ethnic groups should be capitalized including African American, Black, Native American, Caucasian, etc. (but white is not).
- When identifying a person’s ethnicity, try to be as specific as possible
- Columbian is preferred to Hispanic
- Korean is preferred to Asian
When in doubt, ask someone what they would prefer.
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 has a disability,…” as opposed to “The disabled student...” See the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) Disability Language Style Guide for more guidance.
When possible, ask a subject how they prefer people refer to their disability.
Autism spectrum disorder/autism
Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a range of developmental disorders that can involve widely varying degrees of intellectual, language, and social difficulties, and repetitive behaviors.
Describe a person as “autistic” only if it is relevant to the story, if a medical diagnosis has been made, or if the person uses the term. Many autistic people strongly prefer identity-first language: She is an autistic student. Some prefer person-first language: He has autism.
Try to determine the individual’s preference.
Do not refer to Asperger’s syndrome (now classified as part of the autism spectrum) unless an individual uses the term.
deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing
Lowercase deaf refers to the audiological condition of hearing loss. Hard of hearing can refer to those with a lesser degree of hearing loss. Do not use hearing impaired or partially deaf unless a person uses those words themselves. Capitalized Deaf refers to the culture and community built around the experience of deafness.
When possible, ask a person if they use identity-first language (deaf students) or person-first language (students who are deaf).
checkout (noun); check out (verb)
he or she (not he/she)
log in (verb); login (noun)
log out (verb)
toward (“Towards” is British usage.)
Generally, quotes are said in the past tense.
- “Write in the past tense,” she said. (not, she says)
Photo captions should be written in the present tense to describe what is happening in the photo. They should be no longer than one or two sentences
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.
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.
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.
Use the Hemingway App to help simplify your language. Nothing should be above the 7th or 8th grade level. ChatGPT will also rewrite your copy to be more simple, but always double check the accuracy of the content it suggests.
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. (hyperlink Eligibility)
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. If you don’t have an editor available, Grammarly is a great app to double check your writing.