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Following certain rules keeps our writing clear, consistent, and accessible.

The following applies to all of our content, unless otherwise noted.

General Guidelines

  • Write for everyone. Some people read every word while others skim. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headings and subheadings.
  • Focus your message. Create a hierarchy of information (refer to the Inverted Pyramid for Web Writing). Lead with the most important content. Ask yourself if the language would make sense to someone who doesn't work for the district or colleges.
  • Be specific. Avoid vague language and get rid of what's not necessary.
  • Use correct spelling and grammar. Consider using a browser plugin such as Grammarly that uses AI to review spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity.
  • Be consistent. Stick to this guide!

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Avoid acronyms when possible, as they often confuse readers.

If using an acronym, spell it out the first time you mention it and specify the short version in parentheses. Use the short version for all other references. If the abbreviation or acronym is well known, like USA, don't worry about spelling it out. Do not insert periods between letters in an acronym.

Don't use i.e., e.g.,, or etc. Use "for example," "that is," "including," or "and so on" as appropriate.

Abbreviation or acronym first use Abbreviation or acronym second use
American River College (ARC) ARC
Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) DSPS

Bulleted Lists and Numbered Lists

Capitalize the first word of every list item. Don't use semicolons or commas at the end of a list item. Include a period at the end of the list item if it is a complete sentence.

Only use a numbered list if you are indicating a numbered sequence. Most lists of links are bulleted.


Use title case structure for headings, subheadings, and titles (use the Title Capitalization Tool for help). For the rest of the text, capitalize the first word and use lower case for the following words, unless they are proper nouns.

Word(s) Correct capitalization
federal (unless as part of a formal name) Federal Express, federal judge
words that refer to online activities internet, website, webinar, email
generic names of seasons spring, summer, fall, winter
board, trustees Public comments are welcome at the board meeting. Our Board of Trustees meets once a month.


Use contractions where it feels natural. However, if you are writing for an international audience, know that contractions can cause problems for website translators.


Spell out numbers zero to ten or when they start a sentence. Use numerals for numbers 11 and above. Numbers over three digits get commas. For numbers greater than six digits, use words like million or billion.

Write numbers like this Don't write numbers like this
There were three students. There were 3 students.
Each person donated 20 hours of leave. Each person donated twenty hours of leave.
1,000 1000
150,000 150000
There are 18 million people. There are 18,000,000 people.
They raised one million dollars. They raised $1,000,000.


Do not use st, nd, rd, or th with dates. Always capitalize and spell out months and days of the week. Commas are not necessary if only a year and month are given, but commas should be used if the day, month, and year are given.

Use the letter "s" but not an apostrophe when expressing decades or centuries. Use an apostrophe before figures expressing a decade if numerals are left out.

Use "to" in date ranges rather than a hyphen or en dash (–). It's quicker to read than a hyphen or dash, and it's easier for screen readers.

Write Dates Like This Don't Write Dates Like This
Summer break starts May 10. Summer break starts May 10th.
November 2, 2016 Nov. 2, 2016
July 2016 July, 2016
1990s or '90s 1990's or 90s
Friday, January 16 Fri., Jan. 16
June 4 to 6, 2017 June 4–6, 2017

Decimals and Fractions

Spell out fractions and use decimal points only when a number can't be easily written out as a fraction, like 1.375.

Write fractions like this Don't write fractions like this
Two-thirds 2/3


Use the currency before the amount. Include a decimal and number of cents if more than zero.

Write money like this Don't write money like this
$20 $20.00 or 20 bucks


Use the % symbol instead of spelling out "percent."

Telephone Numbers

Use parentheses around the area code and a hyphen without spaces between the next seven digits.

Write phone numbers like this Don't write phone numbers like this
(916) 568-3021 916-568-3021 or 916.568.3021


Use numerals and the word "degrees." For example, 74 degrees.


Use numerals except for noon and midnight.

Use minutes, even for on-the-hour time. This will make it easier for smartphones to pick up on times and allow them to be easily added to a calendar. Separate the numerals and "am" or "pm" with a space.

Use "to" in time spans rather than a hyphen or en dash (–). It's quicker to read than a hyphen or dash, and it's easier for screen readers.

Write times like this Don't write times like this
3:00 pm 3 p.m.
3:25 am 3:25am
7:00 to 10:00 pm 7 - 10 pm



Don't use an ampersand (&) unless it is part of a department name, company name, or brand name.


Only capitalize the first word after a colon if what follows is a complete sentence.


When writing a list, use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma). If you find you are using a lot of commas within a sentence, then consider using a bulleted list instead.

Write like this Don't write like this
We provide individualized guidance, support, and feedback. We provide individualized guidance, support and feedback.


When offsetting a phrase with dashes you should use an en dash with one space on either side ( – ). Use a true en dash, not hyphens (- or --). This provides easier readability than using an em dash (—).

Hyphens are reserved for multipart words and phrasal adjectives.

  • For example: Cost-effective, high-school grades


In general, do not use ellipses (...), unless it is to show you are omitting words in a quote.

Exclamation Points

Use exclamation points sparingly, and only one at a time. Never use exclamation points in notices or alerts.


Punctuation goes outside of parentheses when the parenthetical is a part of a larger sentence, and inside when the parenthetic stands alone.

  • For example: Students notice a difference right away (and their grades improve).
  • For example: Students notice a difference right away. (Though they do have to make some behavioral changes.)

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks to refer to words and letters, titles of short works (like articles), and direct quotations. Punctuation goes inside of quotation marks.

  • For example: Bob said, "I noticed a difference right away."

If using a question mark with quotations, then follow logic – if the question mark is part of the quotation, then it goes within. If you're asking a question that ends with a quote, then it goes outside of the quote.

  • For example: Who was it that said, "You will learn more, and faster"?


Use semicolons sparingly. They usually indicate a long sentence that could be broken into two complete thoughts. An en dash with a space on either side ( – ) can be used instead when listing items that use a comma.


Sentences should be separated by a single space, not two spaces.



Don't reference a person's age unless it's relevant to what you're writing. If it is relevant, include the specific age, offset by commas. Don't refer to people using age-related descriptors like "young," "old," or "elderly."

For example: The student, 16, just got her driver's license.


Don't refer to a person's disability unless it's relevant to what you're writing. If you need to mention it, use language that emphasizes the person first. Don't use the words "suffer," "victim," or "handicapped." "Handicapped parking" is OK.

Write about disabilities like this Don't write about disabilities like this
She has a disability. She is disabled.


Use "deaf" as an adjective to describe a person with significant hearing loss. You can also use "partially deaf" or "hard of hearing."

Medical Conditions

Don't refer to a person's medical condition unless it's relevant to what you're writing. If you need to mention it, use the same rules as writing about people with disabilities and emphasize the person first. Don't call a person with a medical condition a "victim."

Mental and Cognitive Conditions

Don't refer to a person's mental or cognitive condition unless it's relevant to what you're writing. Never assume that someone has a mental or cognitive condition.

Don't describe a person as mentally ill. If you need to mention a person's mental or cognitive condition, use the same rules as writing about people with disabilities or medical conditions and emphasize the person first. Never refer to a person as crazy or insane.


The first time you mention a person, use first and last name. In most cases, use the first name only on additional mentions. District or college employees or trustees can be referred to by their title, last name, or combination of the two, on other mentions.

Write names like this Don't write names like this
Jane Doe graduated with an associate degree for transfer in math. Jane starts at UC Berkeley in the fall.
Dean Susan Smith volunteered for a few hours at Folsom Lake College. Dean Smith has been volunteering for many years.

Official Titles

Capitalize official titles and names of departments, but otherwise use more casual language that uses lower case. This includes "board" and "trustees."

Write titles like this Don't write titles like this
Chancellor Brian King chancellor Brian King
Visit the Human Resources Department. Visit the human resources department.
The college president was on campus. The college President was on campus.
Apply for financial aid. Apply for Financial Aid.
The Los Rios Board of Trustees The Los Rios Board of trustees
Attend a board meeting. Attend a Board meeting.

Pronouns and Gender

Generally, refer to our district and colleges as "we" and "our" to emphasize that we are a part of the community. There may be circumstances where "the college" or "it" fits better. Use your best judgment.

Refer to the user as "you" when possible. "It" is considered insulting, and "one" is impersonal. If your subject's gender is unknown or irrelevant and "you" does not work in the context, use generic language (student, faculty, and so on) to avoid gender-specific pronouns.

When writing about a specific individual, use "he/him/his" and "she/her/hers" pronouns as appropriate. It is acceptable to use "they/them/their" as a singular pronoun when necessary.

Don't call groups of people "guys." Don't call women "girls."


Don't use "same-sex" marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you're writing. Otherwise, it's just "marriage." Avoid "gay marriage."

Use the Following Words as Modifiers but Never as Nouns

  • lesbian
  • gay
  • bisexual
  • transgender or trans (but never transgendered)
  • queer
  • LGBT

Don't Use These Words in Reference to LGBT People or Communities

  • homosexual
  • lifestyle
  • preference


Use the adjective "blind" to describe a person who is unable to see. Use "low vision" to describe a person with limited vision.

Places and Things


Emails should be written out in all lowercase and hyperlinked. Do not use a person's name in place of their email.

Write emails like this Don't write emails like this Email: John Doe

File Extensions

When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase "s" to make plural. When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase.

General file type Specific file name
GIF slowclap.gif
PDF benefits.pdf
JPG arc-twitter-profile.jpg

Links, URLs, and Websites

Links should provide information about the associated action or destination. Avoid "click here" or "learn more." Don't use the word "link" in links.

Capitalize the names of websites. Don't italicize. Avoid spelling out URLs. If it makes more sense to spell out a URL, then leave off the "http://www."

Write links like this Don't write links like this
View additional classes. Click here to view additional classes.
The State Chancellor's Office offers
additional resources.
The State Chancellor's Office offers
resources at
To apply for financial aid, visit To apply for financial aid, visit https://fafsa.

Movies, TV, and Radio

Italicize the titles of movies, television shows, and radio shows. Enclose a single episode in quotation marks. Capitalize but don't italicize the formal names of broadcast channels and networks.

  • For example: The History Channel offers a variety of history-based documentaries.
  • For example: Fresh Air is an American radio talk show broadcast on National Public Radio stations.

Musical Works

Italicize the names of operas and musicals. Enclose individual songs and arias in quotation marks.

Italicize album and CD recording names. Enclose individual songs in quotation marks.

Capitalize but don't italicize instrumental music such as symphonies, quartets, and rhapsodies that also include a number or key signature in the title. Italicize descriptive titles of the same work. Keep the number (no.) or opus (op.) of the work lowercase.

  • For example: Handel's Messiah includes the well-known "Hallelujah" chorus.
  • For example: "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" is performed in the opening scene of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, Oklahoma!
  • For example: Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 is also known as the Third Symphony or Eroica Symphony.


Italicize the titles of full-length, freestanding publications, including books, blogs, journals, magazines, plays, periodicals, and newspapers. Preserve original spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation.

Titles of articles, chapters, poems, and shorter works within a larger work are enclosed with quotation marks. If quotation marks are used in the original titles, then substitute single quotation marks.

  • For example: She gets most of her news from The Sacramento Bee.
  • For example: In Little Women, Beth March dies in the chapter entitled, "The Valley of the Shadow."


The first time you mention a school, college, or university, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.

First reference Second reference
California State University, Sacramento CSUS or Sac State
University of California, Davis UC Davis

Works of Art

Italicize the names of paintings, photographs, sculptures, statues, regular cartoons and comic strips, and museum and gallery art exhibitions and catalogs.

  • For example: Dilbert is an American comic strip known for its satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office.
  • For example: Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.
  • For example: The Town, Trains, and Terrains exhibition at Crocker Art Museum features works showcasing details of life in California through printmaking techniques such as etching, engraving, and lithography.

Writing About Other Companies

Respect companies' own names for themselves and their products. Use what they use on their official website. Use the trademark symbol where necessary. Refer to a company or product as "it" (not "they").

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Write content that begins with users' needs, so that FAQs aren't necessary. Consider how you can revise your content to answer the important questions first.

Text Formatting

Font Styles

Use italics when citing an element, button, or navigation label in instructions. Do not underline, italicize, bold, or use all-caps just to make your point – these styles over long passages make text harder to read, which means it is less likely to be read. Underlined text is reserved for inline links and is automatically applied by the site-wide style sheet.

Text in all capital letters is read letter-by-letter by many screen readers for the visually impaired. Initialisms (abbreviations in all-caps) are okay.

Format text like this Don't format text like this
When you're done, click Send. When you're done, click "send"
Never throw recyclables in the trash. Never throw recyclables in the trash.
Complete these steps to receive priority registration. COMPLETE THESE STEPS TO RECEIVE PRIORITY REGISTRATION.

Text Alignment

Left-align text. Don't center or right-align text. Center- and right-aligned text is harder to read and makes the page layout look sloppy.

Format text like this Don't format text like this
This text is left-aligned. This text is center-aligned.
This text is left-aligned. This text is right-aligned.

Text Size

The default text size across our websites is 16px. Avoid changing text size manually. Changing the text size often makes the text too small to read or confuses the user about how the information is organized.

Text Color

Don't change the text color. On the Los Rios sites, a change in text color generally indicates that text is a link. Making non-linking text look like a link is confusing to users. It is better to allow the site-wide style sheet to style a page that is properly formatted.

Where a variation in text color is used, ensure that information that is conveyed by color differences is also available in text (for example in tables) or that patterns are included to convey the same information in a manner that does not depend on color.

Text Spacing

Don't hit Enter (or Return) multiple times within a text block to add extra spacing. This creates a poor experience for people using assistive technology. It is better to use hierarchical headings to visually organize the page. Visit our accessibility page to learn how to use headings.

Beware of Hidden Styles

Be careful when pasting text from sources such as email, PDFs, and Microsoft Word into a rich text field – often, hidden inline styles are carried over. Paste as plain text when you can and then format it in the CMS. Double-check the source code for hidden styles before publishing new content.