SCAG Writing Style Guide

Overview

SCAG Writing Style Guide

Formatting 

Abbreviations, acronyms, and shorthand – When introducing an acronym or abbreviation as a shorthand for an official title or term, always spell out the full term, with correct capitalization (if applicable), before introducing an abbreviation or an acronym in parenthesis—for example, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Listing the official abbreviation or acronym is not necessary if it doesn’t appear in subsequent passages.

In long documents, when multiple pages of text exist between uses of abbreviations oracronyms or abbreviated terms, reintroduce the official title, with its abbreviation in parenthesis, at the beginning of each new chapter or section of the document. This practice will ensure that readers scanning sections of the document can quickly identify the official title of abbreviated titles used in the document.

Exception: When sending communications through SCAG channels, i.e., when the audience signed up to receive communications specifically from SCAG, on social media or in newsletters, it is unnecessary to write Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) for the first use.

accessibility – For all accessibility requirements, reference Section 508 regulations, as adopted by the U.S. General Services Administration. A few quick tips for common accessibility issues: 

  • Avoid directional language – Avoid referring to directions on the page, I.e., “to the left,” “at the top,” “comment below,” and “click here” when referencing material on the page. 
  • Use headers – Use header styles as established by all SCAG templates and all Word documents (look for the style panel on the home tab in Word) rather than bolding text to indicate a new section. 
  • Employ hierarchy – Arrange information in order of importance, with the most important information under a primary heading (h1), corresponding information under a secondary heading (h2), etc. 
  • Descriptive links – Embed links in words that indicate the source of the link rather than spelling out the URL. 

Write: Section 508 regulations
Not: https://www.section508.gov/ 

ampersands – Avoid using ampersands unless referencing the formal name of a document, project, program, or agency title specifically branded with an acronym (e.g., AT&T, PG&E). If you’d like to include ampersands in the title of a project, program, or document, please discuss with Media Public Affairs during the naming exercise. Ampersands can be used sparingly in headings and subheadings (e.g., H1, H2, etc.) to save space, but words are preferred to symbols. 

AutoCorrect Options – Use the following settings from “AutoCorrect Options” while working in Word to automatically maintain SCAG style conformity on a few specific issues. 

city – Consistent with Associated Press Stylebook, capitalize “city” if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname: Kansas City, New York City, Windy City, City of Light, Fun City.

Lowercase elsewhere: a Texas city, the city government, the city Board of Education, and all city of phrases: the city of Boston.

Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: City Manager Francis McGrath. Lowercase when not part of the formal title: city Health Commissioner Frank Smith.

county – Conistent with Associated Press Stylebook, capitalize when an integral part of a proper name: Dade County, Nassau County, Suffolk County.

Capitalize the full names of county governmental units: the Dade County Commission, the Orange County Department of Social Services, the Suffolk County Legislature.tips

Retain capitalization for the name of a county body if the proper noun is not needed in the context; lowercase the word county when used to distinguish an agency from state or federal counterparts: the Board of Supervisors, the county Board of Supervisors; the Department of Social Services, the county Department of Social Services. Lowercase the board, the department, etc., whenever they stand alone.

Capitalize county if it is an integral part of a specific body’s name even without the proper noun: the County Commission, the County Legislature. Lowercase the commission, the legislature, etc., when not preceded by the word county.

Capitalize as part of a formal title before a name: County Manager John Smith. Lowercase when it is not part of the formal title: county Health Commissioner Frank Jones.

Avoid “county of” phrases, when possible, but, if necessary, always lowercase, e.g., “the county of Los Angeles.”

Always use the lowercase “counties” when referring to plural combinations, e.g., Riverside and San Bernardino counties, or the counties of Imperial, Ventura, and Orange.

dates – Avoid using ordinals (st, nd, rd, th) when listing dates. Use Associated Press style for all dates, e.g., March 21, 2023. Abbreviate only the following months when used as part of a specific date: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sep., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Spell out months when using alone, or with a year alone. Always include a comma after the year when listing a full month, date, and year before the end of a sentence, e.g., the event will be held on March 21, 2024, in Downtown Los Angeles.    

definite articles – Knowing when to use or not use definite articles—a, an, the—to modify a noun can be tricky. However, the general advice on definite articles is to include them before singular and plural nouns when the noun is specific or particular.

Consistent with the Associated Press Stylebook, definite articles should be used before acronyms spoken as individual letters, but not before those that can be spoken like one word.

Write: The U.S. DOT has decided…
Not: U.S. DOT has decided…
Write: SCAG has decided…
Not: The SCAG has decided…

Additionally, whether to use “a” or “an” before an acronym depends on the sound of the first letter—not the spelling.

Write: An SBCTA bus
Not: A SBCTA bus

headlines – Use title case for all titles and headlines—i.e., anything with a title or header style. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters should also be capitalized. Short propositions, when used as part of a compound phrase, can also be capitalized. The first word following a colon is always capitalized in a headline.

Write: SCAG Applauds State Leaders for Addressing Housing Crisis in Budget Deal
Not: SCAG applauds state leaders for addressing housing crisis in budget deal

lists – Use bulleted or vertically aligned numbered lists, such as those created with the formatting tools in the Home tab in Word, rather than listing numbered lists in line with the copy. Using vertically aligned lists is preferred to numbered lists for the sake of accessibility. Refer to the “Styles” tool in the SCAG Report Template Word document to find the preferred bullet styles for lists.  

Use periods, not semicolons or commas, at the end of each item of a bulleted list, whether it is a full sentence or a phrase. Also use periods instead of no punctuation at all, even when each item of a bulleted use falls short of a full and complete sentence.

months – Capitalize the names of months in all uses. Abbreviate only the following months when used as part of a specific date: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sep., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone. Always include a comma after the year when listing a full month, date, and year before the end of a sentence, i.e.,: the event will be held on March 21, 2024, in Downtown Los Angeles.    

Always include a comma after the year when listing a full month, date, and year before the end of a sentence, i.e.,: the event will be held on March 21, 2024, in Downtown Los Angeles. 

EXAMPLES: January 2016 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. My birthday is May 5. Feb. 14, 2013, was the target date.  

In tables, use these three-letter forms without a period: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec. 

numbers – Spell out all numbers one through nine. Use numerals for all numbers 10 and above. Always spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence or rewrite the sentence if necessary. Numbers requiring compound words, such as twenty-one, thirty-seven, one hundred and ninety-six, should be hyphenated. Do not use hyphens when linking million, billion to numerals etc., e.g., $45 million project, 19 million people.

ordinals – Spell out all ordinals below 10: first, ninth, etc. For all numbers above ten, use the numeral with the ordinal: 10th, 23rd, 104th. Do not use superscripts for ordinals (see superscript, below).

percent – Spell out the word percent instead of using the symbol % when using in copy. Some exceptions can be made when necessary for the sake of space or design in tables, infographics, and slide presentations. The % symbol can be used in tables or when space is at a premium, but words are generally preferred to symbols. For instances when symbols are used, be consistent. 

plans, reports, and book titles – When referencing plans, reports, and book titles, use title case (see “title case” and “headlines”). Any report published as a digital PDF or printed version should include quotation marks with every reference, e.g., “Clean Tech Compendium.” Book titles should be italicized, e.g., The High Cost of Free Parking. Note: these style rules apply to references in non-research settings. Formal citations for research-oriented work should defer to the “Links and Citations” section of this writing style guide.

quotation marks – Use “curly” quotation marks rather than “straight” quotation marks (i.e., “smart” vs. “dumb,” respectively). In general, references to shorter publications, e.g., reports, papers, articles, etc., should include quotation marks.

Always use single quotation marks in headlines. When including a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks for the interior quotation. See “AutoCorrect Options” in this document for instructions on how to automatically maintain style conformity on quotation marks while working in Microsoft Word.

single spaces between sentences – Remove all double spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. The “find and replace” feature can make quick work of this task in almost every word processing software in use by SCAG team members. In Microsoft Word, use ctrl + f to open the dialogue box.

staff – While a collective noun, most uses of “staff” to refer to staff at SCAG or partner organizations should be treated as a singular noun. Other collective nouns similar to staff include “family” and “class.” For more publicly available guidance on the use of collective nouns, including key exceptions, reference the MLA Style Guide.

Write: SCAG staff is reporting on the findings of the report to Regional Council.
Not: SCAG staff are reporting on the findings of the report to Regional Council.

state – Only capitalize when part of a government organization. Avoid “state of…” phrases, but when in use, do not capitalize state. Do not capitalize “state” when it’s used on as part of the shorthand “the state.”

Write: The state requires special approval of development in coastal areas.
Not: The State requires special approval of development in coastal areas.
Write: California requires special approval of development in coastal areas.
Not: The state of California requires special approval of development in coastal areas.

subheadings – Subheadings, or the introductory text immediately below a headline, should be written as a normal sentence, including punctuation and refraining from title case (see “title case” and “headlines”).

superscript – Do not use superscripts for dates, ordinals, citations, or any other purpose. Superscripts can make consistent line spacing difficult and create other formatting challenges in almost every format. (Dates should not use th, nd, st, etc.) See AutoCorrect Options for instructions on how to automatically maintain style conformity on superscripts while working in Word.

talking points style – When writing copy for use in verbal presentations by SCAG executive team members or regional council leadership, don’t do not use contractions. For script documents, use 16 pt font and black type.

times – Consistent with the Associated Press Stylebook, use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes and use a hyphen with no spaces, or the word to, to denote an intervening span of time: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 9-11 a.m., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

title case – Use title case for all titles and headlines—i.e., anything with a title or header style. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters should also be capitalized. Short prepositions, when used as part of a compound phrase such as “Buy-in,” can also be capitalized. The first word following a colon is always capitalized in a headline.

watermarks – All original images, including infographics, charts, and tables created by SCAG staff or SCAG consultants for use in SCAG publications, whether online or in print, should include a watermark on the image to ensure that SCAG and the publication recieve credit. For instructions on watermark requirements, please contact the appropriate Media and Public Affairs liaison.

Links and Citations 

citations – The preferred citation system will depend on the medium of publication as follows.

HTML publication citations (i.e., anything posted directly to a page on the SCAG website) should embed links directly to cited material for all citations (see descriptive links). On rare occasions, when a citation can’t be linked or must be presented in a more formal style, use APA style consistent with publication in a print or PDF publication.

Print and PDF publication citations should use APA style, following the author-date method of in-text citation, i.e., the author’s last name and the year of publication for the source should appear in the text, e.g., (Shoup, 2005). One complete reference for each source should appear in the reference list at the end of the paper.

If you are referring to an idea from another work but NOT directly quoting the material, or making reference to an entire book, article or other work, you only have to make reference to the author and year of publication, and not the page number, in your in-text reference.

On the other hand, if you are directly quoting or borrowing from another work, you should include the page number at the end of the parenthetical citation. Use the abbreviation “p.” (for one page) or “pp.” (for multiple pages) before listing the page number(s). Use an en dash for page ranges. For example, you might write (Arendt 1994, p. 113) or (Arendt 1994, pp. 113–148).   

Capitalization 

colons – Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.

compound words –When including a compound word (i.e., two or more words combined with the use of a hyphen) in a headline or title, capitalize all words except prepositions or coordinating conjunctions.

draft – Use the lowercase “draft” before titles of plans and reports when referring to draft releases (e.g., draft Connect SoCal 2024, draft Amendment 1, draft Federal Transportation Improvement Program), unless otherwise specified by some legal mandate, such as with the case of the Draft Program Environmental Impact Report for Connect SoCal.

governments – Do not capitalize the words “local,” “regional,” “state,” or “federal” when referring generally to levels of government. See entries in this writing style guide for “city,” “county,” and “state” for more guidance on when and how to capitalize government titles.

headlines – Use title case for all titles and headlines—i.e., anything with a title or header style. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters should also be capitalized. Short propositions can be capitalized when used as part of a compound phrase. The first word following a colon is always capitalized in a headline. Do not use periods at the end of headlines.

titles – Capitalize formal titles used directly before an individual’s name, e.g, SCAG Executive Director Kome Ajise. Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name: The president issued a statement. The pope gave his blessing. Also use lowercase and spell out titles in constructions that separate a title (or titles) from a name with a comma: The vice president, Kamala Harris, was elected in 2020. Pope Francis, the current pope, was born in Argentina. Capitalize formal titles when they are used immediately before one or more names: Pope Francis, President Joe Biden, Vice Presidents Yukari Nakamura and Vanessa Smith. Use the term councilmember instead of councilman or councilwoman.

City councilmembers and county supervisors serving on SCAG bodies should be recognized in SCAG publications in conformity with the following models:

Councilmembers
Hon. Frank Yokoyama (Cerritos/ Los Angeles County)
Hon. Gil Rebollar (Brawley/ Imperial County)

Supervisors
Sup. Curt Hagman (San Bernardino County)

Others
Hon. Jan C. Harnik, Chair (RCTC/ Riverside County)
Hon. Larry McCallon (Air District Representative/ San Bernardino County)

For SCAG Regional Council officers and committee chairs, always include the name of the body under which their title applies. The titles such as “president,” “vice president,” “chair” and so on, should never appear in a manner that allows them to be confused with staff titles. 

Write: SCAG Regional Council President Art Brown 
Not: SCAG President Art Brown 
Write: ; Tim Sandoval, chair of the SCAG Transportation Committee  
Not: Tim Sandoval, SCAG chair  

proper nouns – Proper nouns should be capitalized. When considering whether to capitalize a term, ask yourself whether it is a proper noun. Refrain from capitalizing shorthand phrases for proper nouns. For example, the Transit Transformation Task Force would be capitalized, but task force would not be capitalized on subsequent uses. The same applies to the Los Angeles City Council, or the city council on subsequent uses.

plans, reports, and book titles – When referencing plans, reports, and book titles, use title case (see “title case” and “headlines”). Any report published as a digital PDF or printed version should include quotation marks with every reference, e.g., “Clean Tech Compendium.” Book titles should be italicized, e.g., The High Cost of Free Parking. Note: these style rules apply to references in non-research settings. Formal citations for research-oriented work should defer to the “Links and Citations” section of this writing style guide.

subheadings – Subheadings, or the introductory text immediately below a headline should be written as a typical sentence, including punctuation and refraining from title case (see “title case” and “headlines” from this section of the writing style guide).

title case – Use title case for all titles and headlines—i.e., anything with a title or header style. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Conjunctions and prepositions of four or more letters should also be capitalized. Short prepositions, when used as part of a compound phrase, can also be capitalized. The first word following a colon is always capitalized in a headline.

Punctuation 

abbreviations – Abbreviations are materially distinct from acronyms. All abbreviations should conclude with a period, even if used mid-sentence, but acronyms should not include periods to delineate or conclude the term. If ending a sentence with an abbreviation, do not use two periods.

Abbreviations for geographic locations, such as U.S. and L.A., should include periods between the letters (U.S. should only be used as an adjective; otherwise spell out the full name. L.A. should only be used as part of a formal title, e.g., L.A. Metro). Postal abbreviations for states, however, should not include periods. 

colons – Colons are a symbolic synonym for “as follows.” Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun, the start of a complete sentence, or in a headline. Commas and em dashes can replace colons in grammatical terms, so the choice between the three should reflect the emphasis of the sentence.

commas – There are numerous uses for commas and countless debates about the subjectivity of the punctuation’s use; however, this writing style guide provides the following rules for most uses.

  • In a series.
    • Example: mobility, communities, environment, and economy.
  • With equal adjectives (modifying a noun).
    • Example: safe, accessible transit
  • To set off nonessential phrases and clauses.
  • With introductory clauses and phrases.
    • On April 4, the SCAG Regional Council approved Connect SoCal 2024.
  • With conjunctions that combine two independent clauses.
    • Connect SoCal 2024 sets a long-term vision for the region, and the Regional Early Action Planning program provides funding for implementation.
  • Introducing direct quotations of one sentence (more than one sentence should use a colon).
    • SCAG Regional Council President Curt Hagman said, “”I look forward to continuing that legacy with a commitment to bringing together partners from across the region to fit together the pieces of this big, complex puzzle that is Southern California.”
  • Before attribution.
    • “I look forward to continuing that legacy with a commitment to bringing together partners from across the region to fit together the pieces of this big, complex puzzle that is Southern California,” said SCAG Regional Council President Curt Hagman.
  • With hometowns and ages.
    • Examples: Maria, 30, and Roger, West Covina
  • With party affiliations, academic degrees, religious affiliations, and certifications.
    • Example: SCAG staff met with State Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R-Corona).
    • Example: James Brasuell, AICP.
  • Names of states and nations used with city names. A comma should also follow the state in this use.
    • Example: Los Angeles, California, is my hometown.
  • With yes and no
    • Example: Yes, it’s true.
  • In direct address.
    • Example: Thank you, Sarah.
  • Separating similar words.
    • Example: If you must drive, drive safely.
  • In large figures.
    • Example: 1,001.
  • With full dates.
    • Example: I was born on July 10, 1980.

A few other notes on commas:

  • Commas should always be placed inside quotation marks.
  • Avoid comma splices. Comma splices occur when commas link two independent clauses (an independent clause is a component of a sentence that could function as a complete sentence if it stood alone). When combining independent clauses, use a semi-colon, colon, comma and conjunction, or create two separate sentences.
  • Commas are also helpful guides for when to use “which” or “that.” Which should follow commas; that should be used when a comma cannot separate the following clause or phrase.
  • Use the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma. (See Oxford comma).
  • Oxford commas – Adopt the Oxford comma in all SCAG communications. Although the Oxford comma is not endorsed by Associated Press (AP) style, many publications, occasionally including the Los Angeles Times, ignore the AP’s guidance. In SCAG publications, not using the Oxford comma creates more inconsistencies than it prevents. The Oxford comma is easier for everyone, while conforming to AP style on this issue is more tenable for a newsroom full of professional writers.

ellipses – ellipses are three periods in sequence, surrounded by a single space on each side, to indicate a break or pause. Ellipses should be used sparingly. The primary use of ellipses for SCAG’s work will be to indicate the deletion of one or more words to condense a quotation. Be especially careful to avoid deletions that would distort the meaning of the quoted passage.

em dashes – Em dashes are the longest type of dash, so named for being the same length as the letter m. Em dashes are used to signal abrupt change; as one option to set off a series within a phrase; before attribution to an author or composer in some formats; after datelines; and to start lists. When using an em dash, do not use a space on either side of the punctuation. Em dashes can be used as a replacement for commas and colons but should be used sparingly. Do not use hyphens to replace em dashes.

en dashes – En dashes are so named for being the length of the letter n. En dashes will be the least frequently used of the three types of dashes. Use en dashes, with a single space on either side, to indicate ranges, such as with dates and times. Also use en dashes with no spaces to indicate page ranges for in-text citation, as recommended by APA style (see “Links and Citations”). This writing style guide uses en dashes to follow entries, for example.

hyphen – Like commas, there are numerous uses for hyphens and some subjectivity about the rules for their use. Hyphens are joiners used to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words in the instance of a compound modifier, such as when two adjectives or a noun and adjective are modifying a single noun.

Do not use a hyphen between an adverb, adjective, or noun combination. In this case, the adverb is modifying the adjective alone.

Write: Public-facing document
Write: Publicly published documentSome two-word terms have evolved to be commonly recognized as one word, such as bikeshare and matchmaker. Some terms with prefixes should similarly remove the hyphen, such as nonprofit. When in doubt, check the A-Z planning terms section of this writing style guide to decide when to use a hyphen or when a phrase has been accepted as a noun.

parenthesis – Place periods inside the closing parenthesis for a sentence that is entirely parenthetical. Parentheticals can also be punctuated with em dashes and commas—which punctuation to choose is a question of nuance and readability unique to every example. Overall, avoid excessive use of parentheticals. 

periods – The punctuation marks that conclude a full sentence, with a single space separating the period and the following sentence. Do not use periods at the end of headlines.

plans, reports, and book titles – When referencing plans, reports, and book titles, use title case (see “title case” and “headlines”). Any report published as a digital PDF or printed version should include quotation marks with every reference, e.g., “Clean Tech Compendium.” Book titles should be italicized, e.g., The High Cost of Free Parking. Note: these style rules apply to references in non-research settings. Formal citations for research-oriented work should defer to the “Links and Citations” section of this writing style guide.

quotation marks – In general, position commas and periods inside closing quotation marks. Position semi-colons and colons outside of closing quotation marks. When including a quote within a quote, single quotation marks should be used inside double quotation marks. Use single quotation marks in headlines.

semi-colons – Semi-colons should be used sparingly, most often for lists that contain complex arrangements of grouped items, themselves separated by commas. When used in a list, apply the same rules for Oxford commas to the use of semi-colons. Very rarely, two independent clauses (i.e., parts of sentences that could function on their own as a complete sentence) can be joined with a semi-colon. Other options include creating two sentences, separated by a period, or joining the two independent clauses with a comma and a conjunction, usually and but also including while, as, since, because, or etc. Examples:

Semi-colon: I am writing; they are reading.
Comma: I am writing, and they are reading.
Period: I am writing. They are reading.

slashes – D not add spaces on either side of a slash. Do not write and/or. Slashes are acceptable between Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy and the corresponding acronym, RTP/SCS. Slashes can also be used when listing multiple programs as part of one call for applications, such as STBG/CMAQ/CRP.

A-Z SCAG Programs and Planning Terms 

15-minute communities – Hyphenate the term 15-minute communities and do not use title case except when part of the official title for a program, project, or publication.

accessory dwelling unit – The terms “accessory dwelling unit” and “accessory dwelling units” should not be capitalized unless part of a project or program name. The correct abbreviations are ADU and ADUs, respectively.

affordable housing – This term applies to housing stock with covenants reserving it for people of certain income levels with rents not set to exceed a certain percentage of their income. To more generally describe the relationship between the cost of housing and an individual’s income, use the term “housing affordability.” Because of the complexity and general lack of familiarity with this issue, more specific terms and explanations are preferred. Using terms like “deed-restricted affordable housing” with an explainer tag can help to convey the specifics of the issue being discussed.  

Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is AHSC.

agency – Avoid describing SCAG as “the agency” in public communications—SCAG is always preferred except in examples of extreme repetition, when metropolitan planning organization and the abbreviation MPO are preferred.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – In some cases, the SCAG Legal Department requires the use, of “without limitation” before Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Please refer to the Legal Department about when to use the “without limitation” phrase.

The full phrase, “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color,” is preferred to the shorter phrase, “People of Color.”

Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is BIPOC. Refer to specific races or ethnicities, when known, for specific groups and individuals.

California Air Resources Board – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is CARB.

California Coastal Commission – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is CCC.

California Department of Housing and Community Development – Use title case on first use (and be sure to use the complete wording of the title). The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is HCD.

California Environmental Quality Act – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is CEQA.

Call for Applications – Use title case when referring to a stage in a specific grant program or other process. Lowercase when using the term generally.

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) – Use title case for this term. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is CMAQ. 

Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) – Use title case for this term. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is CRP. 

complete streets – The term complete streets, or complete street, should not be capitalized unless included in a project or program name. Refrain also from abbreviating complete streets unless it is included in the official abbreviation for a program or project.

community-based organizations – Do not use title case for the term “community-based organizations.” Always hyphenate the first two words of the phrase. The abbreviation CBO should be avoided unless for occasions of numerous (more than two or three) uses per page.

Connect SoCal – The official title is Connect SoCal Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. In specific references to adopted plans, always include the year, e.g., Connect SoCal 2024 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy.

Use Connect SoCal 2024 or Connect SoCal on subsequent uses. (Only refer to Connect SoCal without the year when writing generally about the long-range planning and the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Community Strategies process.)

For extremely repetitive uses, establish the abbreviation RTP/SCS for use. During the planning and engagement process, refer to the draft Connect SoCal 2024 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, or while under consideration for approval, the final Connect SoCal 2024 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. Uses of the word “plan” to refer to Connect SoCal should not be capitalized.

county departments of transportation – The general term for county department of transportation, county departments of transportation, county transportation commission, or county transportation commissions should not be capitalized. The abbreviation CTC or CTCs should be avoided in public communications due to the more specific, common, and applicable acronym for the California Transportation Commission (CTC).

County Transportation Commission Partnership Program – Use title case on first use. The abbreviation CTC Partnership Program should be avoided in external communications. The County Transportation Commission Partnership Program is a component of the Transportation Partnership Programs referenced in this document, which is itself a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program, also referenced in this document.

environmental impact report – The term environmental impact report is only a proper noun when referring to a specific environmental impact report. EIR can be established as an abbreviation for subsequent uses. DEIR or PEIR can be used when the full term “Draft Environmental Impact Report” or “Program Environmental Impact Report” is established. EIRs are the applicable document for the state-level process for the California Environmental Quality Act. 

environmental impact statement – The term environmental impact statement is only a proper noun when referring to a specific environmental impact statement. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is EIS. An EIS is the applicable document for the federal-level process for the National Environmental Policy Act.

Equity Working Group – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate the title of this working group. The Equity Working Group is one of SCAG’s five Regional Planning Working Groups.

Federal Transportation Improvement Program – Use title case for this term. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is FTIP. 

first/last mile – Use a slash when combining first, last, and mile as a compound adjective or a noun. Only use title case when part of the official name of a planning document.

general plan – The term general plan is only a proper noun when referring to a specific general plan. Uses of the word “plan” to refer to a general plan should not be capitalized. For term recognition, repetition of the full name of the specific general plan is preferred to abbreviations or shorthand for the first few uses. A lowercase general term can be used in multiple subsequent uses, with the correct modifying nature preferred over the lone word plan (e.g., general plan, specific plan, regional plan, action plan).

geographic information system – Do not use title case for geographic information systems. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is GIS.

Global Land Use and Economic Council – Use title case for this term. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is GLUE.

Go HumanGo Human should be italicized and capitalized for every use. Go Human should be unitalicized if included in a passage of italicized text. The Go Human program should never be abbreviated.

Go Human Community Streets Grant Program – The official title for this program is Go Human Community Streets Grant Program. Community Streets Program can be established as shorthand for subsequent uses. Every year’s new program will be updated as follows: 2024 Go Human Community Streets Grants Program, 2025 Go Human Community Streets Grants Program, etc. 

greenhouse gas emissions – Do not use title case unless included in the official title of a project or program. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is GHG emissions. The term greenhouse gases can be abbreviated as GHGs on subsequent uses.

Green Region Resource Area – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is GRRA.

High-Quality Transit Area – Use title case and include hyphen. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is HQTA.

high-speed rail – SCAG defers to the style used by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Title case (i.e., the capitalization of the first letter of each word) should be used when referring to the California High-Speed Rail Authority or the California High-Speed Rail Project. Do not use title case when referring generally to high-speed rail or California’s high-speed rail ambitions, for example. Always hyphenate high speed when the phrase is used to modify a noun, such as rail or internet. Do not use a hyphen when describing a rail system as high speed, such as in this sentence. Use high-speed rail to describe systems that travel at more than 150 miles per hour. The abbreviation CAHSR can be established for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

higher-speed rail – Do not use title case when referring to higher-speed rail, which has various definitions but should be used when describing trains that run faster than average passenger rail speeds (in the neighborhood of 50 miles per hour) but reach top speeds below the threshold of 150 miles per hour. Use the same hyphenation rules as for high-speed rail. On first use, be sure to explicitly define the meaning of higher-speed rail as compared to high-speed rail.

Housing Infill on Public and Private Lands Pilot Program (HIPP) – The official title of this program is the Housing Infill on Public and Private Lands Pilot Program. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is HIPP. Do not list (HIPP) after the word Lands when establishing this abbreviation.

Housing Working Group – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is HWG. HWG is one of SCAG’s five Regional Planning Working Groups.

Implementation Strategies – Title case is acceptable for this term only when referring specifically to documented Implementation Strategies from Connect SoCal 2024 or future iterations of official planning documents. When using as a proper noun, be sure to reference Connect SoCal and rely on the following definition to explain the use: Connect SoCal 2024 Implementation Strategies include actions where SCAG will lead, partner or support other responsible parties for the implementation of Connect SoCal. SCAG’s methods of implementation can vary from convening, research or resource roles, depending on the specific strategy.

Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is IERS.

Indigenous – Consistent with the Chicago Manual of Style, capitalize “Indigenous” in both contexts: that of Indigenous people and groups, and Indigenous culture and society. Lowercase “indigenous” would be reserved for contexts in which the term does not apply to Indigenous people in any sense—for example, indigenous plant and animal species. See also Tribal and Tribe.

Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act – Title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is IIJA. Do not refer to this law as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or the BIL. If a reference year is deemed necessary, write in full: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

Inflation Reduction Act – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is IRA. If a reference year is deemed necessary, write in full: the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Intergovernmental Review Program – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is IRP.

Lasting Affordability Program – The official title of this program is the Lasting Affordability Program. Do not abbreviate this program.

laws – A bill is a draft proposal presented to a lawmaking body, such as a legislature, that requires debate, voting and final approval before it can become a law. Bills usually pass or fail, or are approved or signed. Do not capitalize when part of the text references to specific legislation: the Kennedy bill. Use conditional language for bills throughout the legislative process: The bill would prohibit such activity; the bill seeks to legalize the drug.

A law is a bill that has been approved by a lawmaking body, usually at the state or federal level, and that sometimes requires the signature of an executive such as a governor or president. Laws are usually enacted and don’t necessarily take effect at the time they are enacted.

An ordinance is the municipal equivalent of a law. Ordinances are enacted. Before they become ordinances, they should usually be called proposals or proposed ordinances. Though terminology varies from place to place, it’s usually best to avoid referring to such proposals as bills, to avoid confusion with higher levels of government.

For federal laws, refer to the full official title of the law before using an acronym or shorthand, e.g., Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). For state laws, refer to the official numbering for the house from which it originated before establishing a corresponding shorthand, e.g., Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) or Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32). Use the full official title of a state law with discretion and when crediting authoring legislators, e.g., the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (Pavley), also known as SB 375.

local jurisdictions – SCAG uses various terms when referring to the various agencies and municipalities within the region: cities, counties, subregional agencies, local jurisdictions, etc. To avoid excluding specific municipalities, defaulting to “local jurisdictions” (or, simply, “jurisdictions”) is a safe choice.

Los Angeles – Always spell out Los Angeles unless using the abbreviation as part of a formal title or shorthand for a formal title (e.g., L.A. Metro).

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority – Use title case for first use and use the complete wording of the title. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is L.A. Metro. The names Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Agency or Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority are incorrect.

metropolitan planning organization – When writing generally or when describing SCAG, do not use title case for this term or its plural form (i.e., only use title case when included in the official name of an organization, such as the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations). The correct abbreviations for singular and plural use in subsequent uses are MPO and MPOs, respectively.

micromobility – Do not hyphenate.

multi-family – Hyphenate in every use that modifies a noun, e.g., multi-family housing, multi-family development, multi-family zoning. Avoid using as a standalone noun.

multimodal – Do not hyphenate.

Natural and Farm Lands Conservation Working Group – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate the title of this working group. The Natural and Farm Lands Conservation Working Group is one of SCAG’s five Regional Planning Working Groups.

nonprofit – Do not hyphenate.

Notice of Funding Availability – A Notice of Funding Availability is not a program, and should neither be described as such, nor positioned in sentences as such. NOFA is the abbreviation for the action, not the corresponding program. A Notice of Funding Availability can be treated as a proper noun when referring to a specific point in a specific process. Plural and general uses should not be written in title case.

policy committees – While PC is an acceptable shorthand in internal communications for the multiple SCAG policy committees (i.e., Community, Economic, and Human Development Committee; Transportation Committee; and Energy and Environment Committee), the term “policy committees” is not a proper noun and should not be capitalized. The individual names of each committee, however, are capitalized as shown in the preceding parenthetical). Do not use the abbreviation PC in external communications.

Priority Development Areas – Title case is acceptable for this term only when referring specifically to documented Implementation Strategies from Connect SoCal 2024 or future iterations of official planning documents. When using as a proper noun, be sure to reference Connect SoCal and rely on the following definition to explain the use: Priority Development Areas are places within the SCAG region identified by Connect SoCal 2024 for future growth to help the region reach mobility or environmental goals. The correct abbreviations for singular and plural use in subsequent uses are PDA and PDAs, respectively.

Priority Equity Communities – Title case is acceptable for this term only when referring specifically to documented Priority Equity Communities from Connect SoCal 2024 or future iterations of official planning documents. When using as a proper noun, be sure to reference Connect SoCal and rely on the following definition to explain the use: Priority Equity Communities are census tracts in the SCAG region with a greater concentration of populations that have been historically marginalized and are susceptible to inequitable outcomes based on several socioeconomic factors. The correct abbreviations for singular and plural use in subsequent uses are PEC and PECs, respectively.

Programs to Accelerate Transformative Housing – Title case for Programs to Accelerate Transformative Housing. PATH can be established for subsequent uses. The Programs to Accelerate Transformative Housing are a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program included in this document comprising three separate grant funding programs: Regional Utilities Supporting Housing, the Lasting Affordability Program, and Housing Infill on Public and Private Lands.

program environmental impact report – Do not hyphenate, i.e., program-level environmental impact report, and do not use programmatic environmental impact report. Do not use title case when speaking generally about this documentation or requirement. Use title case when included as an official name, i.e., Connect SoCal 2024 Program Environmental Impact Report. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is PEIR.

public-private partnership – Hyphenate when using the term public-private partnership (or when the words public and private are used together to modify other nouns). Do not use title case for this term unless part of the official title of a program, project, or publication.

Racial Equity Early Action Plan – Title case for Racial Equity Early Action Plan. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is Early Action Plan.

Regional Council – Capitalize Regional Council as a proper noun, but be sure to use SCAG Regional Council on first use in external communications when the term might not be familiar to the reader. Only use the abbreviation RC in internal communications.

Regional Data Platform – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is RDP.

Regional Early Action Plan Grant Program – Use title case for Regional Early Action Plan Grant Program. REAP 1.0 or REAP 2.0 can be established for subsequent uses. It should be clear which REAP edition is at work in any instance, so avoid general use of REAP. Use similar language to the definition provided in Connect SoCal 2024 for explainer tags: “REAP is a state program that provides funding to support local governments and stakeholders with housing planning activities that accelerate housing production and meet the region’s goals for producing 1.3 million new units of housing by 2029.” REAP 1.0 and 2.0 encompass several categories of grant funding programs, all referenced in this document: the Programs to Accelerate Transformative Housing, the Transportation Partnership Programs, the Subregional Partnership Program, and the Sustainable Communities Program Call for Applications focused on Civic Engagement, Equity, and Environmental Justice.

racial equity baseline indicators – Do not use title case for this term.

Regional Housing Needs Allocation – Avoid this wording and use Regional Housing Needs Assessment instead. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is RHNA.

Regional Housing Needs Assessment – Establish RHNA for subsequent uses. Do not use the name Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

Regional Pilot Initiatives Partnership Program – Use title case for the official title. RPI can be established for subsequent uses as follows Regional Pilot Initiatives Partnership Program (RPI). RPI is a component of the Transportation Partnership Programs referenced in this document, which is itself a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program, also referenced in this document.

Regional Planning Policies – Title case is acceptable for this term only when referring specifically to documented Regional Planning Policies from Connect SoCal 2024 or future iterations of official planning documents. When using as a proper noun, be sure to reference Connect SoCal 2024 and rely on the following definition to explain the use: Regional Planning Policies provide guidance for integrating land use and transportation planning to realize the vision of Connect SoCal 2024. They offer a resource by which county transportation commissions or local jurisdictions, when seeking resources from state or federal programs, can refer to specific policies to demonstrate alignment with Connect SoCal 2024. Do not abbreviate this term.

Regional Planning Working Groups – Use title case on first use. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is RPWGs. RPWGs are always plural; singular uses should be reserved for specific working groups, e.g., Equity Working Group.

Regional Strategic Investments – Title case is acceptable for this term only when referring specifically to documented Regional Strategic Investments from Connect SoCal 2024 or future iterations of official planning documents. When using as a proper noun, be sure to reference Connect SoCal 2024 and rely on the following definition to explain the use: Regional Strategic Investments are necessary to supplement the local input received from county transportation commissions and local jurisdictions to reach performance targets and goals. Do not abbreviate this term.

Regional Transportation Plan – Use title case. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is RTP.

Regional Utilities Supporting Housing Pilot Program – Use title case. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is RUSH.

results – When writing about effectiveness of projects and programs, clarity on the level of impact is important. Because SCAG works at many levels, consistency in this terminology can accurately convey the level of impact when reporting across diverse types of work:  

  • outcome – refers to a large-scale result, often affected by reaching goals and targets, and is the ultimate achievement of a body of work.  
  • goal or target – refers to a measurable benchmark that represents a desired result.  
  • objective – refers to specific, measurable accomplishments that indicate incremental success toward facets of a goal or target. 
  • strategy – describes an approach that gives direction to multiple tactics and aligns them with objectives. 
  • tactic, activity, or action – refer to specific tasks, deliverables or other clearly defined blocks of work that ideally drive success toward achieving objectives, goals and targets, and eventually the overall outcome.  
  • metric, measure, key result, or key performance indicator (KPI) – refer to specific measurements that indicate effectiveness of tactics, activities, actions, and strategies toward achieving objectives, goals, and targets. 

Safe and Active Streets Working Group – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate the title of this working group. The Safe and Active Streets Working Group is one of SCAG’s five Regional Planning Working Groups.

single-family – Hyphenate when using this term to modify a noun, such as residential or development. Avoid using as a standalone noun.

single-occupancy vehicles – Hyphenate single-occupancy when using this term.

smart growth – Do not use title case for general uses of this term. Avoid using this term unless discussing it in the specific context of the political movement. More specific, less political terms are preferred in most cases.

Smart Growth Infrastructure Funding and Financing – Title case when referring specifically to this SCAG program. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is IFF.

SoCal Greenprint – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate this term in external communications. 

SoCal Economic Trends Tool – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate this term in external communications. 

Southern California Association of Governments – Should be referred to as the Southern California Association of Governments in initial use and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) when establishing the acronym for subsequent uses. Use SCAG in the first use in communications sent with an opt-in component that implies knowledge of SCAG, such as many email communications. Avoid using SCAG to cover all purposes. For example, use SCAG Regional Council, SCAG policy committees, or the SCAG region when further detail is appropriate. Do not use the names of departments or teams when describing the organization’s work, except in detailed staff reports or when referring to a specific contact channel, such as LIST@scag.ca.gov.  

Southern California Zero Emissions Truck Infrastructure Study – Use title case. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is SoCal ZETI Study.

state – Only capitalize when part of a government organization. Avoid “state of…” phrases, but when in use, do not capitalize state. Do not capitalize “state” when it’s used on its own.

Subregional Partnership Program – Use title case for official title. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is SRP. SRP is a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program, referenced in this document.

Surface Transportation Block Grants – Use title case for first use of official title. The correct abbreviation in subsequent uses is STBG. 

Sustainable Communities Strategy – Use title case for official title. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is SCS.

Sustainable Communities Program – Explainer tag should describe these programs as implementation of a specific instance of Connect SoCal. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is SCP.

Sustainable Communities Program – Civic Engagement, Equity and Environmental Justice – Use title case for the official title. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is SCP Civic Engagement, Equity and Environmental Justice. SCP Civic Engagement, Equity and Environmental Justice is a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program, referenced in this document.

Sustainable and Resilient Communities Working Group – Use title case on first use. Do not abbreviate the title of this working group. The Sustainable and Resilient Communities Working Group is one of SCAG’s five Regional Planning Working Groups.

traffic collision – Use terminology that describes the event as “crash,” “collision” or “fatality,” rather than the euphemism ”accident,” which glosses over issues that can be addressed in policy and design. Similarly, avoid shifting blame to victims of these events.

transit-oriented communities – Hyphenate the first two words in this term. Do not use title case, but the correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is TOC.

transit-oriented development – Hyphenate the first two words in this term. Do not use title case, but the correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is TOD.

Transportation Partnership Programs – Use title case for the official title. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is TPP. TPP is a component of the Regional Early Action Planning program, referenced in this document. TPP encompasses the County Transportation Commission Partnership Program and the Regional Pilot Initiatives Partnership Program.

Tribal and Tribe – Directly from the Native Governance Center Style Guide: Capitalize the words Tribe and Tribal, regardless of whether they appear as part of a proper noun.

Example: The United States is home to 574 federally recognized Tribes.
Example: Pearl Walker-Swaney is actively working to protect her Tribal homelands.
Example: SCAG membership includes representatives from Tribal governments.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Use title case for the official title. The correct abbreviation for subsequent uses is HUD.

United States – Abbreviated, with periods, when using as a modifying adjective (e.g., U.S. residents) or at the beginning of a federal department with U.S. in the title (e.g., U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Use United States whenever used as a noun. The use of the abbreviation, U.S., can be appropriate as a noun in headlines and subheadings.

vehicle miles traveled – The term used by planners to measure total driving by individuals and groups. Do not use title case for the full term, but the abbreviation VMT should be deployed on subsequent uses. The American spelling is traveled; the British spelling is travelled. Use the American spelling.

zero-emissions vehicles – Always use a hyphen when the words zero emission or zero emissions modify a noun, such as vehicles, buses, or trucks. When not modifying a noun, zero emission does not require a hyphen, e.g., set a goal to reach zero emissions from the electricity grid by 2045. ZEV, ZEB, and ZET can be established for subsequent uses or zero-emissions vehicle, zero-emission bus, and zero-emission truck, respectively.

Advice and Resources

What Is a Style Guide? 

The “SCAG Writing Style Guide” provides a quick reference guide to ensure consistent writing to support SCAG’s mission. In this document, you will find answers about whether to capitalize a term, whether to use a serial comma (i.e., the Oxford comma), and which inclusive words to use instead of obsolete words, among many other rules. SCAG staff should apply these rules to all external communications and public-facing written material, including reports, plans, compendia, web posts, press releases, and more. 

Because SCAG often deals with planning jargon, terms related to emerging trends, and names of specific projects and programs, the “SCAG Writing Style Guide” is a living document, with new style rules added as necessary in regular updates. Please notify a Media and Public Affairs liaison if you believe new terms should be added to this writing style guide. 

Why Does SCAG Need a Style Guide? 

Consistent style contributes directly to SCAG’s creating a holistic vision for the future by reflecting the tone and voice of the organization and maintaining consistent terminology on important issues to support agency messaging.  

Planning issues are complex and require attention to word choice and sentence’s structure for accuracy, clarity, and descriptive power. Communicating about a study, grant program, or planning concept becomes easier when well defined words are used consistently; consistency also helps writing achieve the intended effect on target audiences.

This writing style guide is designed to reduce staff time for writing. Time and effort to weigh style options or maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of writing style rules will be relieved by an easy-to-use reference document. Think of style as a critical consideration but one less thing to worry about—the rules are a ctl+f away. 

References For Style Rules

The “SCAG Writing Style Guide” draws on conventions from each of the following sources which can be referenced for additional guidance on general writing best practices:

Associated Press Stylebook – Associated Press (AP) style is intended for newspaper writers, addressing conventions that don’t apply as neatly to the technical documents and other resources created by SCAG. The Associated Press Stylebook is useful for referencing straightforward conventions for punctuation, terminology and spelling. If you want or need to reference AP style for a specific question, please ask a colleague in Media and Public Affairs. 

The Chicago Manual of Style – A comprehensive resource for writing advice and recommended for reference on sentence structure, grammatical conventions, and style.  

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) – APA style is SCAG’s chosen style for citation in research papers published in digital .PDF and print formats as well as the rare HTML publication that requires a more robust citation system beyond the standard practice of embedded links.    

Tips for Clear, Descriptive Writing 

Pay Attention to Verb Choices 

Accurately describing a sentence’s action is foundational to clear, descriptive writing. When looking for ways to improve your writing, start with verbs. Are you using multiple verbs where you only need one? Do your sentences depend on is or are, or other vague verbs like do and go? Verbs such as serve, ensure, seek, allow, and aim, for a few examples, frequently weigh down sentences in weak writing. 

Write: The Go Human Kit of Parts demonstrates traffic safety improvements. 
Not: The Go Human Kit of Parts is an opportunity for traffic safety improvements. 
Not: The Go Human Kit of Parts aims to demonstrate traffic safety improvements.

Clearly Define Subjects

Subjects are the actors—the person, place, or thing driving the action of a sentence. Because every verb conjugates, or takes its grammatical form, based on the sentence’s subject, establishing a clear subject is essential for writing clearly and descriptively.

To clearly define the subject of a sentence, avoid starting with demonstrative pronouns (i.e., this, these, that, those). Demonstrative pronouns imply a pointing gesture that substitutes for a descriptive or concise word choice and creates ambiguity. For example, when opening a new sentence with only this as the subject, any of the subjects and objects of previous sentences could be reasonably assumed as the subject of the new sentence.

Write: Street design and vehicle size explain why pedestrian fatalities are increasing.
Not: This explains why pedestrian fatalities are increasing.

Along with demonstrative pronouns, avoid personal pronouns such as “we,” “our,” and “you” and gendered pronouns such as “he” and “she.” Personal and gendered pronouns assume inclusions and exclusions that can feel unfair to individuals and groups.

Also avoid passive voice. Structurally, passive voice is created with the use of a “to be” verb (e.g., is, are, were, was) and a past participle (a verb ending most in -ed or -en). Passive voice removes the subject as the actor of the sentence, leaving the essential component of a clear sentence open for interpretation.

Write: The SCAG Regional Council approved the final project list for the Sustainable Communities Program.
Not: The final project list for the Sustainable Communities Program was approved.

Explain and Define Key Concepts and Jargon on First Use

Writing about planning sometimes requires complex concepts and jargon. In cases requiring complexity or jargon, never assume the reader already knows and understands as much as you do.

Media and Public Affairs uses the term “explainer tag” to describe the brief asides that explain, define, or contextualize use of a word or phrase. Always include an explainer tag when introducing a new or complex concept or term. Explainer tags should be as compulsory as writing out the full name of a key term or organization before using the abbreviation or acronym.

Write: Some advocates argue that inclusionary zoning, requirements or voluntary incentives for affordable units in new housing developments, can ensure economic diversity and inclusivity in the housing market.
Not: Some advocates argue that inclusionary zoning can ensure economic diversity and inclusivity in the housing market.

Maintain Consistent Style and Names

SCAG’s style rules should stay consistent across platforms—from the website to social media to the various SCAG newsletters, with some exceptions for specific style rules that apply to reports and other publications with strong research components.

Consistent use of project and program names and the words used to describe key concepts are essential for clear communication. Repetition of names or concepts reinforces understanding for the reader, allows for nuance when modifiers are included, and establishes a clear identity for specific projects and programs. Official names and abbreviations should be established and vetted for external publication before launch. Official names and abbreviations should be applied consistently across platforms and publications. Abbreviations should also be used sparingly. Don’t settle for a synonym or abbreviation when writing about terms or titles with specific and important definitions or relevance to SCAG’s work.

Write: Active Transportation and Safety
Not: ATS