Greenbelt Alliance Editorial Style Guide

Punctuation and Formatting  |  Quotation Marks  |  Numbers  |  Word List

Writing a Letter to the Editor?

Start Here with this LTE generator.
It will help you organize your letter. It also has helpful examples from the New York Times and other notable publications.

Writing an Op-Ed?

1) Touch base with the Marketing Director and let her/him know first.

2) Check out this good advice from M+R. The most important part: “Work smarter, not harder. Because of the uncertainty of op-eds, there’s no harm in reaching out to the editor with an idea for an op-ed and asking her if she’s interested before you go through the trouble of writing it. If the editor is interested, move ahead with the writing.”

3) Find the outlet’s limits before submitting (ask MarCom if you can’t find them).

4) Never attach a word document. Paste into the body of your email. The only attachments to send or upload via the outlet’s form, should be images.

Tips for writing clearly
  1. Use short, direct sentences.
    If using a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so) this is a natural place to end the sentence and start a new one, reducing length.
  2. Avoid acronyms. If you must, spell out the full name on the first reference.
    The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) projects that the region will grow. ABAG’s projections also say…
  3. Use simple, accessible language.
    homes people can afford not affordable housing
    neighborhoods near train stations and bus stops not transit-oriented development
  4. Use active voice and direct language choices to strengthen points.
    Many residents attended the town hall meeting not The town hall meeting was attended by many residents.Uncontrolled logging is destroying rain forests not Rain forests are being destroyed by uncontrolled logging.
  5. Avoid large blocks of text; help readers to scan the text and get the main points with:
    Bold (more effective for emphasis than italics or underlining.)
  6. If you absolutely have to use technical terminology (jargon) explain it immediately with simple language.
    An inclusionary housing policy, which requires new residential developments to include affordable homes…Although different audiences require different language, it’s always good to be as clear and as succinct as possible. This is especially true for elected officials—make it very clear what we want them to do without making them read a lot of text.
  7. Avoid clichés.

example, good: Greenbelt Alliance is working locally to reach the state’s greenhouse gas targets.

example, cliché: Greenbelt Alliance is working on greenhouse gas reduction on the ground.

More Tips
Punctuation and text formatting rules


See Periods, below.


Use serial comma

One, two, and three things. [include comma after “two”]

not One, two and three things.


Use em-dashes with no surrounding spaces in text. Use en-dashes only for ranges of times or numbers and use with surrounding spaces.

  • Em-dash:—(shortcut: option-shift-hyphen)
  • En-dash: – (shortcut: option-hyphen)
  • Hyphen –

Em-dashes often surround parenthetical remarks—like this one—but create less of a break than parentheses. Or they can denote a pause—a long pause. There is never a space on either end of an em-dash—never.

En-dashes are used to indicate ranges, and always have a space on both sides:

600 – 900 acres

7 – 4 p.m., Wednesday, June 10

Dates and times

Use this order: time, day, date.

example: 6-9:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 10


See Places/Directions, below.


Use for compound adjectives. Don’t use if the first word is an adverb ending in –ly, or if it’s “very.”

poorly planned development

nine-county region

very tall buildings



Superscript number goes outside the period and outside any quotation marks.

Home prices doubled between 2005 and 2006.1

The mayor said they “positively skyrocketed.”2


Initial cap after bullets and numbers.

If it’s a list of items that are not sentences, omit periods and semicolons.

  • Dog
  • Bat
  • Monkey

Generally use bullets instead of numbers. Numbers are OK if it’s a sequence of things to do or clearly numerical.


The City should do three things immediately:

  1. Adopt an urban growth boundary to protect surrounding farmland
  2. Provide homes people can afford with an inclusionary housing ordinance
  3. Use design standards to make streets safe and pleasant for walking

Use parallel usage in lists (all past tense/present tense/etc.—be consistent).


  • Protecting open spaces
  • Creating vibrant places
  • Creating walkable neighborhoods

example, not:

  • Protecting open space
  • Vibrant places
  • Made neighborhoods walkable

Citations, references

Italicize the names of newspapers and journals, and magazine titles.


Use only one space after periods, exclamation points, question marks, and colons.

do not double space after punctuation


If an entire sentence is inside parentheses, the punctuation should go there too. If only the thought inside the parentheses is a question or exclamation, put the exclamation point or question make inside parentheses. Otherwise, the punctuation goes outside. Try to avoid parentheses in formal documents.


Greenbelt Alliance has been around a long time (since 1958).

Greenbelt Alliance has been around since 1958 (a long time!).

It’s been a long time. (Greenbelt Alliance was founded in 1958.)

Quotation marks

Do not use quotation marks when referring to voting.


Vote yes on Proposition A!

not Vote “yes” on Proposition A!

Periods and commas go inside quotation marks. The dash, semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.


“Blah blah,” he said.

The program is called “Fun With Density.”

“Fun With Density” is a great TV show for kids.

Quotation marks are often used with technical terms, terms used in an unusual way, or other expressions that vary from standard usage. In these cases, use the same rules as above.

It’s an oil-extraction method known as “fracking.”
He did some “experimenting” in his college days.
I had a visit from my “friend” the tax man.

For article titles or quoting a person, question marks and exclamation points go outside of the quotation marks unless they’re part of the title or the quote.


Was that article called “Sprawl Mayhem”?

I think it was called “Who’s Next?”.

If a quote would normally end in a period, and is followed by something like “he said,” end the quote with a comma instead of a period, inside the quotation marks. If there is no attribution after the quote, use a period. For questions and exclamations, however, use question marks and exclamation points, not a comma. If the attribution is first, put a comma after it.


“That article was incredibly dull,” she said.

“Really?” I asked.

“It was stultifying!” she exclaimed.

I said, “I found it riveting.”

“That’s odd.”

see Periods, above

Use present tense unless referring specifically to a past (in which case use past tense) or future event (in which case use future tense).

Use title case, not sentence case.
example: This Is the Title to My Blogpost
example, not: This is the title to my blogpost

Not sure? Use this:


Numbers one through nine are spelled out. Above nine, use numerals. For numbers above 999, use commas.
example: Although the mayor said nine houses would be built, there were actually 10.
We request a grant of $100,000.
The new development would cover 4,600 acres.

Exceptions to this rule: measurements (acres, feet, inches, miles, etc.), numbers in millions and greater, and percentages—in those cases, use numerals at all times.


Today, 1 out of 10 acres are at risk.

That’s 10% of all the land in the entire region.

Oakley’s Atlantis development will be 5 feet below sea level.

The region’s population will grow from 6.5 million to 9 million people over the next generation.

Numbers at the beginning of a sentence are always spelled out.

example: One out of every 10 acres is at risk.



Use a number and a percent symbol. Don’t spell out “percent.”

example: Cities are doing only 34% of what they should be to prepare for growth.

Phone and fax numbers

Use hyphens between area code and number, hyphen, x for extension


415-543-6771 x301

not (415)543-6671

not 415.543.6771 ext.301


Bay Area is always capitalized.

Subregions are capitalized.


North Bay


East Bay

South Bay


Do not capitalize west, north, western, southern, etc. unless they are part of a proper name.


The East Bay and Solano County

In eastern Contra Costa County

To the east of San Jose

Our programs

Program names, such as “Greenbelt Outings” and “Greenbelt Alliance Endorsement Program,” are capitalized with title case.

Report titles

Italicize report titles. In places where italics are not available, use quotation marks instead.


URLs should not begin with “http://” or “www.”
Our website is not

Word list

A word list tracks our decisions about word choice, helps us maintain consistent writing standards, and saves time. This is the place for words and phrases that appear frequently in Greenbelt Alliance’s materials, or are those hard-to-remember capitalizations, rules, or spellings.

A good word list is never finished. If a word or phrase you need to use isn’t here, please contact the Marketing and Communications staff to decide how to spell/use it. We will add it here.

A to F


affordable housing
better to use phrases such as:
homes people can afford
ensuring that teachers, firefighters, and workers can live in the communities they serve
helping families find homes they can afford

use partners 


agricultural land
not ag or ag land

At Risk and the At Risk Map
At Risk
is a proper noun when referring to our report. It should be capitalized and italicized.
Land at risk of development is not a proper noun.

The At Risk Map refers to the regional map of lands at risk. It is a branded entity and should be capitalized when referring to that map. Because the At Risk Map is not a publication on its own, it should not be italicized.


not bikable

capitalized when referring internally to our Board of Directors. Use the full Board of Directors for external reference.

not capitalized when referring to board meeting or board member


City / County

City and County capitalized when talking about governments, not the broader community

example: Working with the City and other partners, Greenbelt Alliance spearheaded the adoption of the plan to guide the city’s growth.

and county – Not capitalized when talking about places

example: The City drew an urban growth boundary far outside the existing city, opening up acres of land to development.

and County as governments are singular, so use it

example: We told the County that it can’t do this without consulting the voters.
when talking about a single county by name, capitalize County

example: Sonoma County’s farmland is threatened.
when listing multiple counties by name, do not capitalize county.

example: Sonoma and Santa Clara counties are the biggest in the Bay Area.
capitalize names of government bodies


The City Council and Planning Commission will vote on this.

The measure goes before the Board of Supervisors on Monday.




Use climate-smart anytime you are not referring specifically to our climate SMART development program.


The Bay Area needs to consider climate-smart growth when planning for the future.

climate SMART development

All caps SMART when talking about Greenbelt Alliance’s Climate SMART Development program. When introducing SMART for the first time in your writing, be sure to define what it means: Sustainable, Mixed, Affordable, Resilient, Transit-Oriented


Greenbelt Alliance is addressing how our region grows by advocating for climate SMART—Sustainable, Mixed, Affordable, Resilient, Transit-Oriented—development.

community separator


only capitalize when using as a title


Councilmember Liccardo enjoys bicycling. The councilmember bikes to work.


Countywide Park and Open Space District

Countywide Park and Open Space District capitalized when talking about the entity, not the broader community

example: The Solano Countywide Park and Open Space District will be on the ballot.

Lowercasing when referring to it as a general thing or place.

example: Countywide park and open space districts are good for the environment.


decision maker



East Bay


east and eastern are not capitalized unless part of a name


not e-mail

environmental impact report (EIR)

if you need to reference it multiple times, spell it out on the first time followed by the acronym in parentheses





Find a more plainspoken term where possible.

G to L


general plan / General Plan

see plan / Plan

greenbelt / Greenbelt

Greenbelt is capitalized only in the name of Greenbelt Alliance, not in talking about the greenbelt of open spaces.

Greenbelt Alliance 

The organization’s name should always be Greenbelt Alliance, not The Greenbelt Alliance, Greenbelt, GA, GBA or any other abbreviation.

Greenbelt Alliance Endorsement Program
not development endorsement

not DEP or CDT or any other acronym

not The Greenbelt Alliance Endorsement Program 

greenhouse gases

greenhouse gas emissions

greenhouse gas pollution

not GHG

Find a more plainspoken term where possible.


Find a more plainspoken term where possible.




hone means to sharpen; the phrase is home in on, not hone in on

houseshomes / units

when they’re in a good place (smart growth), use homes

when they’re sprawl, use houses or units

Find a more plainspoken term where possible.


providing 400 new homes near the BART station

not a sprawling new development of over 3,000 houses outside the city

not a 200-unit proposed development on coastal wetlands

housing element




not in-fill

Find a more plainspoken term where possible.






land use / land-use

land-use planning

land-use is only hyphenated if modifying a subsequent noun, see section on hyphenation


land-use attorney

land-use planning

deals with land use and planning

Find a more plainspoken term where possible.



not liveable

not livable communities

better to use descriptive phrases such as:

creating vibrant, walkable neighborhoods

making cities and towns better places to live

creating more vibrant neighborhoods

revitalizing downtowns

guiding growth into existing cities and towns

directing growth into already urbanized areas

providing homes for all, at all income levels

promoting well-planned growth

mixed-use development is not preferred because it’s jargon; instead, use something like a mix of jobs, shops, and homes


N to Z



not non-profit or not-for-profit 


North Bay


north and northern are not capitalized unless part of a name



not on-line



rather than planning process, it is better to use descriptive phrases such as:

helping residents decide the future of their communities

mobilizing citizens

giving local residents a voice


Planning Commission is capitalized.


The City Council and Planning Commission will vote on this.

plan / Plan

plan is capitalized only when used as part of the name of a plan


El Camino Real Specific Plan

Diridon Station Area Plan

San Jose’s general plan

poorly-planned development

see sprawl


priority development areas

not PDAs, and not capitalized

not progressive

do not use this term, Greenbelt Alliance is non-partisan


ranch land



Find a more plainspoken term where possible.








South Bay


south and southern are not capitalized unless part of a name


poorly-planned development

sprawl development

sprawling development

suburban sprawl

not urban sprawl (urban is not bad!)





transit-oriented development

not preferred because it’s jargon; instead, use something like homes, jobs, and shops close to public transportation





see houses and homes


urban growth boundary

lower case and on subsequent use, it’s the boundary, not UGB

Capitalize when referring to a specific Urban Growth Boundary

This is the most commonly used term in the North Bay. Other regions use a mix of terms based on the specific policy. Always look up the specific policy to be sure.

Always define on first use.


Sonoma County is the only Bay Area county with urban growth boundaries—which designate where a city can and cannot grow and are one of the most effective policies for open space protection—around each of its incorporated cities.

Urban growth boundaries—which designate where a city can and cannot grow—are one of the most effective policies for open space protection.

We must renew the city of Sonoma’s Urban Growth Boundary to protect critical open space lands.

urban limit line

lower case and on subsequent use it’s the line, not ULL

Capitalize when referring to a specific Urban Limit Line

Always define on first use. See urban growth boundary for examples.

Different cities use a mix of terms based on the specific policy, i.e. urban growth boundary, green line, etc. Always look up the specific policy to be sure.




the web





west and western are not capitalized unless part of a name

West Oakland





work plan

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