Is it a bikeway or protected bike lane or cycletrack? Rideshare or ride-hailing? Do we believe in yesterday or not?
Greater Greater Washington mainly follows Associated Press style, but we’ve developed our own style guide with rules for terms we use often. Reading publications’ style guides can be a lot of fun (if you’re a language nerd, at least), as we saw when the Washington City Paper published their guide in 2014 or WAMU’s Jordan Pascale recently tweeted pieces of the 1989 Washington Post style guide.
We divide ours into a few sections: general rules for headlines, punctuation, numbers, etc.; geographic place names; and other specific terms. Here are our specific terms. What do you notice? Is anything missing?
For federal, state, and local agencies, use the full name on first mention except for agencies that are extremely widely known like the FBI or EPA. Use US if readers might not recognize if the agency is local or federal, such as US General Services Administration. Abbreviations are acceptable in headlines and tweets. Beware of abbreviations for agencies where federal and state/local agencies share an abbreviation, such as DHS which could mean the US Department of Homeland Security or many local jurisdictions’ Department of Human Services. As noted in Introductory Paragraphs, do not lead articles or headlines with agency names.
A policy research think tank in DC whose name is not Brookings Institute (while another think tank doing research on similar topics we often cover is Urban Institute). Use the definite article on first mention: A new report from the Brookings Institution. Can be shortened to Brookings or Urban (without the) on second mentions and in headlines.
There are two systems of courts in the United States, federal courts and state courts. Within DC, there is a system of “state” courts whose judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. These are federally-appointed judges but not federal judges or federal courts. The courts are the DC Superior Court and DC Court of Appeals. These courts hear most local cases including major and minor criminal matters rather than the federal courts.
The federal courts in DC are the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (DC Circuit on subsequent references), and US Supreme Court as well as a variety of other specialized courts. Most of the matters in these courts do not pertain to DC locally; for instance, much of the docket for the DC Circuit is challenges to decisions of federal agencies located in DC.
The legislature for the District of Columbia. Its formal name is Council of the District of Columbia. This is not a city council, but a hybrid city and state legislature, and so DC City Council and related terms are incorrect and forbidden.
District Department of Transportation
The District of Columbia’s transportation agency, sometimes incorrectly spelled out as DC Department of Transportation. DDOT is acceptable in headlines and on second reference.
In introductory paragraphs, rather than spelling out the full name, say for instance, DC will reconstruct the intersection and then at the next mention, say The plan, by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), will…
Greater Greater Washington
The name of our publication and the larger organization. Abbreviate to GGWash and not GGW or Greater Greater.
The transit service in the Washington region operated by WMATA. Metrorail is the official name for the rail service. Many people just call this the Metro and if it would not be confusing, it is acceptable to do the same.
The bus service is Metrobus. It is also acceptable to refer to this without the brand name, like Metro bus service or something similar. The paratransit service is MetroAccess, which has a middle capital letter while the other services do not.
If talking about the agency’s leadership, budget, etc. use WMATA. (See WMATA).
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
A formal association of governments in the Washington region. Abbreviate to COG (not MWCOG) on later mentions. See also Transportation Planning Board.
National Park Service
The federal agency which controls many park spaces in DC, including small circles, most squares, and some triangles. It is valuable to inform readers about whether small DC park spaces are under federal or local control. On second mention in headlines, can use NPS or the Park Service.
A term used to refer to Native Americans which is widely considered derogatory. Also the name of the Washington-area professional football team. Avoid using this term unless in a quotation or when criticizing the use of the term, and use Washington football team instead.
Transportation Planning Board
The official Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Washington region, which plays a federally-required role to review certain proposed transportation projects and monitor air quality. It is distinct and independent from, but housed inside, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Abbreviate to TPB.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates transit and paratransit service. It is often called Metro. It operates Metrorail and Metrobus service. If talking about the agency’s administration, use WMATA (e.g. WMATA board; Richard Sarles, WMATA’s general manager; the new WMATA budget). If talking generally about the service, use Metro or the specific brand name of the service. Note that this is not the same as style in many publications such as the Washington Post. Also see Metro.
An apartment inside the building or on the same property as what is otherwise a single-family home, specifically authorized in zoning. Sometimes called an Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU in zoning code, but avoid using these terms excessively, since they’re jargon. If using an official zoning term, capitalize when defining it, but use accessory apartment in lowercase in other mentions when possible.
Do not use this term to describe an incident where some road users bump into one another in some way. The term has a connotation that it’s unavoidable, which it might or might not be. Use crash or collision.
When writing about plans for a project, like a park or a new building, name the architect or landscape architect whenever possible at an early location in the article but not the introductory paragraph.
A representative in a legislature who does not represent a specific district. This is hyphenated but not a proper noun (so not capitalized). Also see discussion under Councilmember.
A person riding a bicycle. Also can be cyclist. Prefer people-first language when feasible, like people riding bicycles. Avoid biker which is more associated with motorcycles. Avoid terms like avid bicyclist which tend to otherize cycling from the mainstream. Note that many reporters do subconsciously otherize cycling and so be extra aware when reflecting language from other news outlets on this topic.
A service offering a number of bicycles, often located at fixed stations, which people can use for a fee for a certain length of time and drop off elsewhere when done. The Washington region’s system is Capital Bikeshare. CaBi is acceptable for subsequent uses if it’s clear to the reader. Generically, refer to systems as bike sharing or bikeshare.
Take caution when saying the community or the neighborhood voiced any views, because members of a community are almost never of one mind. Prefer some people, community leaders, or other words that suggest an opinion was held by a set of individuals rather than everyone.
A legislator on a city or county council. Use one word rather than two. Do not abbreviate as CM. Avoid councilman or councilwoman. Some county legislatures use supervisor or board member or other terms; use the correct term for that legislature.
When introducing a councilmember (or supervisor, etc.) on first mention, include their district. If the legislature has not been previously mentioned, also introduce it with the jurisdiction: Prince George’s County Councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2), or when the jurisdiction is already clear, Councilmember Trayon White (Ward 8). See also rules under Party and capitalization rules in that section.
See (and use instead) protected bikeway.
Transponders which allow drivers to pay tolls. The hyphen comes between the E and the Z, and the P is also capitalized. Yes, it looks strange.
Hit by a car
A vernacular way of referring to a crash which improperly suggests that the car had agency rather than the driver. Make the driver the subject of the sentence or clause.
A vague term of transportation jargon. If used to mean, generically, that something will be better, prefer instead to explain what will be better. Transportation engineers often also use this term to mean widening of a road (as in: the two-mile street improvement project), but that erroneously assumes that wider is a priori better, as this hilarious video makes clear. Use a more specific and descriptive phrase instead.
Short for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer, an umbrella term used for groups of people who fall into any of these categories and/or have any sexual orientation or gender identity other than straight and cisgender. While other variants such as LGBT or LGBTQ+ or others with additional letters are used or have been used by some people, our style is to say LGBTQ. If discussing an individual person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, use whatever term they prefer (and get the subject’s consent before discussing such matters publicly).
Avoid or minimize using place names as stand-ins for governmental entities, like Capitol Hill and the White House reached agreement on a budget deal or Richmond has approved dedicated Metro funding. Capitol Hill is a neighborhood of mostly non-Congressmembers and an actual hill; the White House is a building; Richmond, a city. We in particular are often writing about those places as places, rather than the governments which sometimes feel to locals like occupying forces. Instead, say Congress, the Virginia legislature, etc.
A building designed to house more than one use. Most often this means street-level retail as well as residences or offices above. The term should always be hyphenated.
Some people use this as a term of pride. However, others feel only indigenous people should be referred to as “native.” Further, use of this term can bring up controversies over whether people who’ve lived here a long time are more qualified to have opinions than others, or alternately, whether newcomers are not respecting the history of a place and the needs of people who’ve stuck by it during hard times. Therefore, avoid using the term, or use more specific wording, like whose family has lived in the area for three generations.
An acronym meaning Not In My Backyard, a practice of opposing infrastructure or development near one’s home. In most cases, avoid using this term as either an adjective or noun, as the label can put people on the defensive and stifle productive discourse. In select cases, we make exceptions to this rule. It is acceptable to use this term in a quotation or otherwise when citing someone else’s use of the term.
When first mentioning an elected official, only include their party in parentheses, such as US Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) if the party is relevant to the article in any way; we do not simply write DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) every time she appears in a story. For places with partisan competition, this can be relevant if the story relates to differences between the parties; for one-party areas, we will only very rarely use a party identifier.
When writing about partisan primaries or partisan general elections, do discuss the party affiliations of the candidates: Five candidates are vying to succeed Sharon Bulova, all Democrats; there is no Republican primary for the seat.
People of color
People who do not identify as white as a broad category. Avoid minorities in this context (more here). For specific racial/ethnic groups, follow AP style including dropping hyphens in terms like African American but preferring black and Latino; contrary to AP style Latinx does not require explanation and can be used in a gender-neutral context.
If everyone in a group identifies with a particular race or ethnicity, use that; for instance, they are black rather than they are people of color if all of the people in the group are in fact black.
People with disabilities
Use people-first language rather than disabled people, the disabled, etc. People-first language describes people as having some condition instead of it being intrinsic to themselves; the disability does not define the person but is one of several attributes. Exceptions are blind and deaf/Deaf, as those communities reject people-first language. Avoid handicapped entirely as it has had a pejorative connotation.
Always use the pronouns used by any individual being discussed. It is good practice to ask the subjects of any interviews for their pronouns; be careful about assuming that anyone uses a particular pronoun unless that information is already known (such as if they have appeared in other press articles already, have a published bio, etc.). Beyond the possibility of people using pronouns other than he or she, some people have gender-ambiguous names or names less familiar to English speakers where an assumption may be incorrect.
Avoid the abstract compound term he or she (as in when the next president is sworn in, he or she will…) as this perpetuates a gender binary that is not matched by reality; when speaking in the abstract, use they.
Bicycle infrastructure with a physical barrier separating it from the roadway. Avoid the more technical (and previously preferred) term cycletrack. Use protected bikeway for any such path (but not for a shared sidepath or trail which includes walkers and runners). Bikeway alone is acceptable in headlines and on subsequent mentions. It is acceptable to use protected bike lane as an alternative when discussing a one-way in-road path, such as those on L and M streets NW.
Companies like Uber and Lyft. They often refer to themselves as rideshare or ride-sharing companies. However, this is not an accurate term because brokering a taxi-like paid transportation arrangement between a buyer and seller is not sharing. Follow the Associated Press and use ride-hailing instead. It is fine to use sharing for practices like slugging and commercial services which help people to carpool.
A house attached on two sides (or one for an end house) as part of a row of three or more houses. Do not write row house.
A service where a set of vehicles operate on fixed routes according to set schedules to transport people. Avoid mass transit.
While some media outlets give names to blizzards, that’s a practice started by the Weather Channel that most meteorologists don’t recognize as valid because winter storms tend to change and shift as they move across the country and there is no widely agreed-upon definition as there is for a hurricane. Only formal National Weather Service storm names should be used (currently, only for hurricanes).
Avoid saying something happened yesterday (or will happen tomorrow, etc.) That is because people might read the article on different days. Daily email subscribers, for instance, get articles the day after publication. Instead, use a day of the week: The agency announced it on Monday. If referring to something happening later today, clarify it with a day of the week: The meeting is tonight (Tuesday) at 6 pm.
An acronym meaning Yes In My Back Yard, as opposed to NIMBY. This term may be used when specifically referring to the pro-housing movement that self-identifies as YIMBY. Do not use it as a catch-all for any pro-development situation or people.
Correction: The first version of this post incorrectly named one of the courts in a style entry meant to clarify how to name courts. Aaaagh.