Writing Style Guide

Writing Guide


All Green River College communication products should portray excellence and openness, as there is a warmth and friendliness that accompanies the College’s accomplishments and drive.

Use the following guidelines to ensure that content fits the preeminence-without-pretension personality:

  • Do be concise. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary modifiers. While details add color, be mindful of length. Long blocks of text are difficult to read online and can convey pretension. Functional text on the site, such as navigation or page descriptions, should be brief.
  • Do be conversational. Write like you’re telling a story—not issuing a press release.
  • Do think like the audience (students, parents, faculty, etc.) to whom you’re speaking. Be mindful of each group’s different needs and demonstrate that you care. When talking to insider audiences, treat them as members of the Green River community. Tap into your shared knowledge of the College. For new audiences, be clear, informative and reassuring when necessary.

Some people will read every word you write. Others will just skim. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headers and subheaders.

Focus your message

Create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or the most important content, in sentences, paragraphs, sections and pages.

Don’t use Green River College lingo, insider references or acronyms with audiences who are not deeply connected with the school. For instance, spell out all acronyms and explain industry-specific items such as iGrad or FTE.

Identifying the College name

The official name of the College is “Green River College.”

The first reference to the College should always use the official name.

Any subsequent references to the College can be “GRC” and “Green River.”

  • Titles and subtitles can also use one of the two terms above in lieu of the entire title name.

Alternate campuses are distinguished with the following official names:

  • Green River College, Kent Campus
    • Subsequent references “GRC-Kent Station” or “the Green River College campus at Kent Station.”
  • Green River College, Enumclaw Campus
    • Subsequent references “GRC-Enumclaw” or “the Green River College campus in Enumclaw.”
  • Green River College, Auburn Center
    • Subsequent references “GRC-Auburn Center” or “the Green River College campus in downtown Auburn.”
  • Green River College, Main Auburn Campus
    • Subsequent references “GRC-Main Campus” or “the main Green River College campus.”

AP Style


Abbreviations and acronyms

If there’s a chance your reader won’t recognize an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time you mention it. Then use the short version for all other references. If the abbreviation isn’t clearly related to the full version, specify in parentheses.

  • First use: Mel Lindbloom Student Union
    • Second use: SU
  • First use: Full-Time Equivalent (FTE)
    • Second use: FTE

If the abbreviation or acronym is well known, like AM/FM or HTML, use it instead (and don’t worry about spelling it out).

Active voice

Use active voice. Avoid passive voice.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it.

  • Yes: Marti logged into the account.
  • No: The account was logged into by Marti.

Words like “was” and “by” may indicate that you’re writing in passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.

One exception is when you want to specifically emphasize the action over the subject. In some cases, this is fine.

  • Your account was flagged by our abuse team.


We use a few different forms of capitalization. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word.

When writing out an email address or website URL, use all lowercase.

  • slater@greenriver.edu
  • greenriver.com

Don't capitalize random words in the middle of sentences. Here are some words that we never capitalize in a sentence.

  • website
  • internet
  • online
  • email


They’re great! They give your writing an informal, friendly tone. In most cases, use them as you see fit. Avoid them if you're writing content that will be translated for an international audience.


Emoji are a fun way to add humor and visual interest to your writing, but use them infrequently and deliberately and never in official College communications, outside of social media.


Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Spell out numbers from one to nine (1-9), then use numerals for numbers 10 and up. Always use numerals for ordinal numbers.

  • Ten new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.
  • I ate three donuts at Coffee Hour.
  • Meg won 1st place in last year’s Walktober contest.

We hosted a group of 8th graders who are learning to code.

Numbers over 3 digits get commas:

  • 999
  • 1,000
  • 150,000

Write out big numbers in full. Abbreviate them if there are space restraints, as in a tweet or a chart: 1k, 150k.


Generally, spell out the day of the week and the month. Abbreviate only if space is an issue in the app.

  • Saturday, January 24
  • Sat., Jan. 24

Do not use ordinal numbers when writing dates (February 1st, March 3rd, June 24th, etc.).

Decimals and fractions

Spell out fractions.

  • Yes: two-thirds
  • No: 2/3

Use decimal points when a number can’t be easily written out as a fraction, like 1.375 or 47.2.


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

Ranges and spans

Use a hyphen (-) to indicate a range or span of numbers.

  • It takes 20-30 days.


When writing about US currency, use the dollar sign before the amount. Include a decimal and number of cents if more than 0.

  • $.50
  • $20
  • $19.99

When writing about other currencies, follow the same symbol-amount format:

  • ¥1
  • €1

Telephone numbers

Use dashes without spaces between numbers.

Use a country code if your reader is in another country.

If listing an extension, use the abbreviation “ext.”

  • 253-833-9111, ext. 9999
  • +1-253-833-9111


Use the degree symbol and the capital F abbreviation for Fahrenheit.

  • 98°F


Use numerals and a.m. or p.m., with a space in between. Don’t use minutes for on-the-hour time.

  • 7 a.m.

  • 7:30 p.m.

Use a hyphen between times to indicate a time period.

  • 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Specify time zones when writing about an event or something else people would need to schedule. Since Green River College is in Auburn, Washington we default to PT.

Abbreviate time zones within the continental United States as follows:

  • Eastern time: ET
  • Central time: CT
  • Mountain time: MT
  • Pacific time: PT

When referring to international time zones, spell them out: Nepal Standard Time, Australian Eastern Time. If a time zone does not have a set name, use its Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) offset.

Abbreviate decades when referring to those within the past 100 years.

  • the 00s
  • the 90s

When referring to decades more than 100 years ago, be more specific:

  • the 1900s
  • the 1890s



The apostrophe’s most common use is making a word possessive. If the word already ends in an “s” and it’s singular, you also add an “‘s.” If the word ends in an “s” and is plural, just add an apostrophe.

The donut thief ate Sam’s donut.

The donut thief ate Chris’s donut.

The donut thief ate the managers’ donuts.

Apostrophes can also be used to denote that you’ve dropped some letters from a word, usually for humor or emphasis. This is fine, but do it sparingly. This should be avoided completely in official college communications, outside of social media.


Use a colon (rather than an ellipsis, em dash, or comma) to offset a list.

  • Erin ordered 3 kinds of donuts: glazed, chocolate, and pumpkin.

You can also use a colon to join 2 related phrases. If a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize the 1st word.

  • I was faced with a dilemma: I wanted a donut, but I’d just eaten a bagel.


When writing a list, do not use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma), unless it adds clarity to the sentence.

  • No: David enjoys eating apples, peaches, and pears.
  • Yes: David enjoys eating apples, peaches and pears.

Adding clarity:

  • Yes: David admires his parents, Oprah, and Justin Timberlake.
  • No: David admires his parents, Oprah and Justin Timberlake.

Dashes and hyphens

Use a hyphen (-) without spaces on either side to link words into single phrase, or to indicate a span or range.

  • first-time user
  • Monday-Friday

Use an em dash (—) without spaces on either side to offset an aside.

Use a true em dash, not hyphens (- or --).

  • Multivariate testing—just one of our new Pro features—can help you grow your business.
  • Franklin thought Alex was the donut thief, but he was wrong—it was Aaron.


Ellipses (...) can be used to indicate that you’re trailing off before the end of a thought. Use them sparingly. Don’t use them for emphasis or drama, and don’t use them in titles or headers.

  • “Where did all those donuts go?” Christy asked. Lain said, “I don't know...”

Ellipses, in brackets, can also be used to show that you're omitting words in a quote.

  • “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, [...] a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”


Periods go inside quotation marks. They go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

  • Christy said, “I ate a donut.”
  • I ate a donut (and I ate a bagel, too).
  • I ate a donut and a bagel. (The donut was Sam’s.)

Leave a single space between sentences. Never use two spaces following a period.

Question marks

Question marks go inside quotation marks if they’re part of the quote. Like periods, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

Exclamation points

Use exclamation points sparingly, and never more than one at a time. They’re like high-fives: A well-timed one is great, but too many can be annoying.

Exclamation points go inside quotation marks. Like periods and question marks, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.

Never use exclamation points in failure messages or alerts. When in doubt, avoid!

Quotation marks

Use quotes to refer to words and letters, titles of short works (like articles and poems), and direct quotations.

Periods and commas go within quotation marks. Question marks within quotes follow logic—if the question mark is part of the quotation, it goes within. If you’re asking a question that ends with a quote, it goes outside the quote.

Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.

  • Who was it that said, “A fool and his donut are easily parted”?
  • Brad said, “A wise man once told me, ‘A fool and his donut are easily parted.’”


Go easy on semicolons. They usually support long, complicated sentences that could easily be simplified. Try an em dash (—) instead, or simply start a new sentence.


Don't use ampersands in writing, unless one is part of a company or brand name.

  • Ben and Dan
  • Ben & Jerry’s

Ampersands should be used in the titles of departments and offices at Green River College.

  • Recruitment & Outreach
  • Human Resources & Legal Affairs

People, Places, and Things

File extensions

When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase “s” to make plural.

  • GIF
  • PDF
  • HTML
  • JPGs

When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase:

  • poptartcat.gif
  • GRCBenefits.pdf
  • slator-twitter-profile.jpg
  • ilovegreenriver.html


If your subject’s gender is unknown or irrelevant, use “they,” “them,” and “their” as a singular pronoun. Use “he/him/his” and “she/her/her” pronouns as appropriate. Don’t use “one” as a pronoun.

For more on writing about gender, see Writing about people.


When quoting someone in a publication, use the present tense.

  • “Using Radius helps to grow enrollment,” Jamie Smith said.

Names and titles

The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.

Capitalize the names of departments and teams (but not the word "team" or "department").

  • Advising team
  • IT department

Capitalize individual job titles when referencing to a specific role. Don't capitalize when referring to the role in general terms.

  • Our new Project Manager starts today.
  • All the managers ate donuts.

Don't refer to someone as a “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “wizard” unless they literally are one.

Avoid terms like “precious,” “rising stars,” or other adjectives that imply childishness when referencing students.


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

  • Green River College, GRC
  • University of Washington, UW
  • Washington State University, WSU

States, cities, and countries

Spell out all city and state names. Don’t abbreviate city names.

Per AP Style, all cities should be accompanied by their state, with the exception of: 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.

On the first mention, write out United States. On subsequent mentions, US is fine. The same rule applies to any other country or federation with a common abbreviation (European Union, EU; United Kingdom, UK).

URLs and websites

Capitalize the names of websites and web publications. Don’t italicize.

Do not capitalize web addresses or URLs. Avoid spelling out URLs, but when necessary leave off the “http://www.” unless required by the site for access.

Writing about other companies

Honor companies’ own names for themselves and their products. Go by what’s used on their official website.

  • iPad
  • YouTube
  • Yahoo!

Refer to a company or product as “it” (not “they”).

Slang and jargon

Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand.

  • Green River's IT team is constantly scaling our servers to make sure our users have a great experience with our website and applications. One way we do this is with shards, or partitions, which help us better horizontally scale our database infrastructure.

Text formatting (Italics, Underlines and Justification)

Use italics to indicate the title of a long work (like a book, movie, or album) or to emphasize a word.

  • Donnie Darko
  • Jeffery really loves Donnie Darko.

Use italics when citing an example of an in-app Green River element, or referencing button and navigation labels in step-by-step instructions:

  • When you're all done, click Send.
  • The familiar A/B testing variables—Subject line, From name, and Send time—have now been joined by Content, and up to 3 combinations of a single variable can now be tested at once.

Don’t use underline formatting, and don’t use any combination of italic, bold, caps, and underline.

Left-align text, never center or right-aligned.

Leave one space between sentences, never two.

Write positively

Use positive language rather than negative language. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like “can’t,” “don’t,” etc.

  • Yes: To get a donut, stand in line.
  • No: You can’t get a donut if you don’t stand in line.

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