Waging Nonviolence Style Guide

This style guide is a living document, intended to provide information on the common terms and style issues encountered in our work. Much of the information listed here comports with the Associated Press Stylebook. For topics aren’t covered, we default to AP Style. Our preferred dictionary is Merriam-Webster



Well-known acronyms don’t need spelling out on first use: ACLU, AIDS, BDSM, CEO, CIA, CPR, CT scan, DIY, FBI, FDA, HIV, IQ, IRS, MIT, MRI, NAACP, NASA, NASCAR, Nasdaq, NATO, NBA, NBC, NFL, NHL, NGO, NSFW, PGA, SUV, TSA, UNESCO, UNICEF, YMCA, others as they come up.

As a general rule, if the acronym is pronounced by spelling out its letters, use “the” in front of it, e.g. “the FBI. If it’s pronounced like a word, don’t use the article, e.g. “NASA.

Omit periods in academic/medical degrees: BA, MA, MD, JD, PhD

When citing an acronym for the first time, do not place it inside parentheses or set off by dashes after spelling out the words that form it. Style the first mention of an acronym as follows:

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or VVAW, piled into D.C. from every state.

Plurals do not need apostrophes: IOUs. 


The following domestic cities stand alone and do not need to be followed by their state names: 

Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C.

All other U.S. cities should include state names, e.g. Peoria, Illinois.

The following international cities also stand alone without needing to cite their country: 

Amsterdam, Baghdad, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo, Dublin, Guatemala City, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kuwait City, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Nairobi, Paris, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Vatican City


Do not use datelines.

Dates, months, years

When a phrase includes a day, month and year, set off the year with commas: Jan. 25, 2021, was the coldest day of the year.

When a phrase contains only a month and a year no commas are needed.

When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. 

Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th.

Use an apostrophe before decade abbreviations like ’80s, ’90s. 

Foreign words

Do not ignore accents when using foreign words. For example: Guantánamo, not Guantanamo.

Do not place foreign words, phrases or sentences in italics. Style them like you would in English, and provide a translation afterwards.

Gender, sexuality

gender-inclusive, gender-neutral
Use language that doesn’t denote gender wherever possible, e.g. humankind not mankind

Latino, Latina, Latinx
All are acceptable and should be capitalized. Go with the source’s preference.

This is our preferred style, but LGBT is accepted if a source prefers it.

Nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid and gender nonconforming are all acceptable.

Use the pronouns the source uses. They/them/their is acceptable as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun. 


Capitalize the following:

  • Arctic
  • East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast
  • Lower 48 (but “the lower 48 states”)
  • North, South, Northeast, Southwest when referring to regions of the country (but northerner, southerner, etc.)
  • Other regions with distinct identities: Southern California, Northern California (but southern Oregon, northern Minnesota)
  • Global South


Capitalize only the first letter of this term for undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Do not put in quotation marks.

legal status
Refer to people as “undocumented.” Use “legal” and “illegal” only to describe an action, not a person. 

Movements, Campaigns and Organizations

Capitalize campaigns and organization names. Capitalize movements only if the name is a motto or slogan; lowercase otherwise: Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, Black Power, the Black Power movement, civil rights movement, gay rights movement, transgender rights movement, labor movement, environmental movement. 

For movements that use a hashtag, capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag, e.g. the #MeToo movement. Movements that use hashtags in their name can also be referred to without the hashtag, e.g. the “me too” movement.


Spell out numbers one through nine — unless it’s in a headline. Use figures for numbers 10 and higher. 

Do not start a sentence with a numeral. Spell it out if needed.

Use English units, i.e. lbs, Fahrenheit, miles.

Use American currency.

Use numerals with: 

  • percent (but spell out percent): 99 percent
  • temperature, and spell out “degrees Fahrenheit.”
  • Time (noting a.m. and p.m. with periods): 9:30 a.m., 10 p.m. (not 10:00 p.m.)
  • currency, but spell out million and billion: $2 million.
  • ages: 5-year-old girl; She’s in her 30s; the baby is 5 months old
  • distance and height: 3 miles, 5 feet 8 inches
  • ranges: 5-10 years


Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a full sentence.

Do not use a serial, or Oxford comma 


Use three periods with spaces before and after. If the ellipsis follows a complete sentence, place a period after the last word preceding the ellipsis, and insert a space between this period and the ellipsis: Ellipses can be tricky. … Use with care.


Use spaces before and after the em dash.


Put inside of parentheses if the sentence within the parentheses is a complete sentence. If not, the period goes outside the parentheses, e.g. “He went to the market (on the other side of town).”

possessive form
In most cases, for singular possessive, add: ’s — unless the next word begins with s. Add apostrophe only for proper nouns ending in s. Go here to read about special cases.

quote marks

Commas and periods go inside quote marks; colons and semicolons go outside quote marks. 

Quote citations

When citing the source of a quote, use the source’s full name upon first mention — last name or pronoun only for subsequent mentions. Style citations as follows: “It was the most dramatic protest I’ve ever attended,” Martinez said. Do not style: said Martinez. Keep speaking actions in the past: said, noted, told, asked.

Races and ethnicities

Capitalize Black, African American, Brown, Native American, Indigenous and Asian when referring to people’s racial identities. 

Indigenous, Native American, First Peoples
In U.S. contexts, Indigenous, Native American, Native people and the shorthand Native are all accepted. Follow a source’s preference, and specify nation if known (e.g., Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee). In Canadian contexts use Indigenous, Native or First Peoples. Use First Nation when referring to a tribe.


Lean toward using enslaved person (instead of slave) and enslavers (rather than masters, slaveholders or slave owners). In general, avoid terms that dehumanize those who were in bondage.

State names

All U.S. state names should be spelled out, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city or other location (that does not stand on its own — see cities).


Capitalize all words in a title except articles, prepositions of three or fewer letters and conjunctions of three or fewer letters — unless any of those start or end the title.

Use quotation marks for books (except holy books), movies, plays, poems, albums, songs, operas, radio and television programs, lectures, speeches and works of art.

Use italics for publication names that aren’t blogs

Capitalize formal titles when immediately preceding a person’s name, e.g. President Biden. Otherwise, when titles are set off from a name, they should be lowercase, e.g. Joe Biden, the president of the United States. 

Capitalize and abbreviate the following formal titles when immediately preceding a name: Dr., Rev., Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., Sen. and certain military rank. 

Use Dr. only when referring to medical doctors. Avoid citing academic titles. Use Rev. instead of Father.

Do not capitalize occupational titles such as farmer or professor, no matter the placement.


Capitalize websites like WagingNonviolence.org (cap initials) but lowercase URLs that run longer: wagingnonviolence.org/about/donate.





civil rights movement
Lower case. See Movements and Campaigns. 

Capitalize all letters as it is an acronym. Do not drop -19. Upon subsequent mentions, coronavirus is accepted. It must be all lowercase unless it is the first word of a sentence.

Dakota Access pipeline, Keystone XL pipeline
In general, pipeline is always lowercase.

European Union
Can be abbreviated to EU, no periods.

Lowercase when referring to soil; capitalize for the planet

front line vs. frontline
Keep as two words when used as a noun, e.g. “on the front lines.” Keep as one word when used as an adjective, e.g. “frontline communities.”

Style as one word when either a noun or adjective.

health care vs. healthcare
Never use a hyphen. Style as two words when used as a noun and one word when used as an adjective, e.g. “healthcare reform” 

Preferred over “homeless” in most instances

Capitalize when referring to a person’s race. See Race and Ethnicities.

the left, the right
In general, try to avoid these terms due to their subjective ambiguity. But if needed do not capitalize.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Include “Jr.” upon first mention, but do not put a comma before it. “King” is acceptable upon subsequent mentions. Avoid using the titles “Dr.” and “Rev.”

nonviolence, nonviolent
one word, no hyphen.

not protestors

United Kingdom
The abbreviation U.K. is acceptable as a noun or adjective. Use UK (no periods) in headlines.

United Nations
The abbreviation U.N. is acceptable as a noun or adjective. Use UN (no periods) in headlines.

United States
The abbreviation U.S. is acceptable as a noun or adjective. Use US (no periods) in headlines.