Mother Jones’ style guide, published below for the first time in our 44-year history as the longest-running investigative nonprofit newsroom in the country, is a living document that’s constantly updated to reflect the choices and changes in language that shape our reporting. Where topics aren’t covered, we default to the Associated Press Stylebook and Merriam-Webster in that order, but ours takes precedence, so let us know if anything is glaringly missing from ours that doesn’t appear in theirs. Hit us up with tips, told-you-sos, copy challenges, and grammatical grievances at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click the highlighted text throughout to see which entries we most want feedback on.
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Table of Contents
Capitalization, Punctuation, Grammar, General Mother Jones Style
Names of People and Places; Languages; Nationalities
Mental Health, Physical Health, Ability, Disability
Common Legal Distinctions
Attribution, Captions, Credits
Newsletters, Fundraising Emails
Corrections, Updates, Clarifications
Capitalization, Punctuation, Grammar, General Mother Jones Style
• Well-known acronyms don’t need spelling out, even on first use: ACLU, AIDS, BDSM, CEO, CIA, CPR, CT scan, DIY, FBI, FDA, HIV, IQ, IRS, MIT, MRI, NAACP, NASA, NASCAR, Nasdaq, NATO, NBA, NBC, NFL, NHL, NGO, NSFW, PGA, SUV, TSA, UNESCO, UNICEF, YMCA, others as they come up. For less-common ones, spell out on first use and add the acronym in parentheses only if it’s mentioned again later and may not be clear. If the acronym is mentioned in the same paragraph as the first spelled-out reference, no need to put the acronym in parentheses. Plural acronyms take lowercase “s”: She’s got three DUIs on her record.
• Do not SHOUT IN ALL CAPS for companies or brands unless they’re actual acronyms. We’re not their megaphones. Examples: Fox (not FOX), Politico (not POLITICO), Facebook (not FACEBOOK), but C-SPAN is all caps because it’s Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. We got you, C-SPAN. In all other cases, stay true to name for accuracy, such as eBay, YouTube, ThinkProgress, BuzzFeed News. (This is called CamelCase capitalization.) Ebay when starting a sentence.
• Omit periods in academic/medical degrees: BA, MA, MD, JD, PhD
• Use an apostrophe before decade abbreviations like ’80s, ’90s. The apostrophe is added where characters are left out: 1990s → ’90s.
Use ampersands only in names that have them (e.g., Johnson & Johnson; Covington & Burling), common expressions that use them (e.g., Q&A), and social headlines limited by space. Otherwise resist the temptation.
as told to
Italicize as-told-to intros if two paragraphs max; any longer and italicized intros become strenuous to read, so don’t italicize if three grafs or more. Mark the start of interviewees’ words with bold section lead like this.
Lowercase when abbreviating, like best actor Oscar, but title case for official award names like Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.
Lowercase “the,” as in the Rolling Stones, the Beatles.
brands as verbs
Lowercase googled, photoshopped, skyped, snapchatted, maced, tased, etc.
Capitalize academic classes like Class of 2020. Lowercase classes of felonies: class D felony (no hyphen).
• Lowercase if the words form a fragment after the colon: like this.
• Capitalize if the words form a full sentence after the colon: Here’s an example.
• Use serial commas: one, two, and three.
• Use commas in university names like University of California, Berkeley, on first reference, and UC Berkeley on later references.
No space on either side…like this…when omitting words from a quote. Always three periods, not four, even when connecting a complete sentence and a fragment. (Four is technically correct in that case, but three suffices.)
em dash (option+shift+hyphen)
An em dash is the longest—like this—without spaces before or after.
Use an em dash to attribute quotes: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” —Mary Harris Jones
en dash (option+hyphen)
The en dash is longer than a hyphen (– vs. -) because the en dash has more work to do: It’s pulling the weight of multiple words before or after it. Use an en dash for open compounds:
San Francisco–based artist
Nobel Prize–winning scientist
post–World War II novelist
An en dash works like this: If an artist is based in San Francisco, that artist is San Francisco–based because the en dash connects two words, “San Francisco,” with a modifier after it, “–based.” The linking device is longer because it has more weight to pull. Also use en dashes for ranges, sports scores, voting results, and spans, like the 2020–2021 school year.
For headlines in print and on our website, use title case. (For social headlines, use sentence case.) Convert to title case automatically at CapitalizeMyTitle.com, but make sure AP is selected in that converter, and see exceptions below. Title case means this:
• Lowercase articles, prepositions, and conjunctions with fewer than four letters: a, an, and, as, at, by, for, if, in, nor, of, on, or, out, per, the, to, up, via, yet. (“But” is the exception, which gets capitalized.)
• Capitalize idioms like “Break Up” and “Put Up With” when a preposition is part of the meaning.
• Always cap the first and last words in a headline, and always the first word after a colon in headlines.
• Cap both words in hyphenated compounds like Government-Linked.
• Two-sentence headlines get end punctuation: “Here’s an Example. Like So.” Use double quotes (not single quotes) in headlines as needed.
• Web deks always take end punctuation, even if they’re not complete sentences.
• Write headlines the way we’d speak! “The Supreme Court Will Hear…” is preferred over “Supreme Court to Hear…” We have space, so include articles like “the.”
• If a compound is hyphenless in AP or Webster, do not hyphenate. For example, real estate is open in AP and Webster, so do not hyphenate real estate agent. Similarly, don’t hyphenate health care reform, high school student, fossil fuel industry, free trade agreement, public school teacher, special interest group, social media fight, and other compounds where there’s no possibility of misreading and a hyphen does not help the reader.
• Hyphenate second-biggest, second-largest, etc.
• “-ly” adverbs are never hyphenated: easily remembered rule, irresistibly good cheesecake.
• Hyphenate “well-” compounds before a noun but not after: A well-known fact, she is well known.
interior and paraphrased dialogue
Generally enclose imagined dialogue and thoughts in quotation marks: “I had better hurry,” thought Carlos. But in all cases, observe a writer’s preference if the writer has made a clear stylistic choice.
• Italicize titles of:
blogs, boats, books (including comic books), dance productions (e.g., Dance of the Seven Veils, but not styles like the waltz), journals, legal cases, magazines and newspapers (but not news services like the Associated Press and Reuters), newsletters, movies, music albums, longer musical compositions (like symphonies), online publications (like Salon and Vice), paintings, plays, podcasts/radio shows, sculptures/installations, series of articles (i.e., column names), and TV shows
• Use quotes (no italics) for titles of:
acts within larger productions (like “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in The Nutcracker), articles (in magazines and newspapers), cartoons, essays, illustrations, lectures/panel events (e.g., “In Conversation” series), official titles of reports (but lowercase without quotes for shorthand like the Mueller report), photos, poems, short stories (or novellas within a collection), songs, and TV episodes (e.g., Breaking Bad, “Granite State”)
• Capitalize (no quotes, no italics) titles of:
board games, book series/reference books/holy books, computer programs, news services, video games, and web addresses, except in directing readers to them (e.g., See motherjones.com/about.)
• Italicize names of magazines and newspapers, but lowercase and don’t italicize “the”: the New York Times. “The” can be capped for publications in rare cases for clarity, like when italics are not possible on social media and the New Yorker could mean a person or the magazine, so cap The New Yorker on social media or say the New Yorker magazine. Exception: The Root keeps The capped and italicized. Note: Times of London, not London Times. (Do not italicize pub names when listing with their postal addresses.)
• Italicize online publications like HuffPost and Salon. Also italicize the channels and verticals of online publications, like Motherboard on Vice.
• Always italicize Mother Jones, the Mother Jones Podcast, and the campaign The Moment for Mother Jones. As a shorthand noun: “Join The Moment, and help support…” As an adjective: “We’ll bring the Moment campaign…” (“The” goes outside when the title is an adjective.)
• Italicize foreign words that don’t appear in Webster, on first use. Don’t italicize on later uses.
legislative acts and bills
Capitalize when specific: the Violence Against Women Act, the Brady Bill, but the telecommunications bill. For House bills, use HR followed by a space and the number: HR 32. For Senate bills: SB 32. Lowercase “legislature” except in official names like the New York State Legislature. Always lowercase “executive order.”
mottos and slogans
Use title case and quotation marks, like “Make America Great Again.”
Capitalize if the name is a motto or slogan; lowercase otherwise: Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, Black Power, the Black Power movement, civil rights movement, gay rights movement, transgender rights movement, labor movement, environmental movement. Capitalize the Black Arts Movement to distinguish the 1960s movement from other movements of Black arts.
Generally spell out zero through nine and use numerals for 10 and higher.
Numerals for all ages: 5-year-old boy. 10-year-old girl. She’s in her 20s. The baby is 2 months old. Exception: twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething. Use “ages” instead of “aged” (e.g., voters ages 18 to 34, not aged 18 to 34), and “-age” instead of “-aged” (e.g., voting-age adults; underage). Exception: Use middle-aged, not middle-age.
beginning a sentence with a number (or range of numbers)
Spell out: Ten thousand students ran 10 miles. Five hundred to six hundred students ran 12 miles.
charts, timelines, graphics, statistical boxes
Always use numerals for integers, and generally spell out fractions,
like one-third, rather than using true fractions, like ⅓—but this is up
to the art department’s and data reporter’s discretion. X-axis and Y-axis intervals and plot points should be evenly spaced and consistently marked. Use symbols (%, $, °C or °F).
Spell out zero through nine and use numerals for 10 and higher:
First Amendment, Second Amendment, 14th Amendment
November 3, 2020
the November 3, 2020, election (use all those commas!)
Always spell out months. No comma if there’s no specific day: May+June 2021 issue.
Always numerals: 1960s, the ’60s (okay to use interchangeably).
For 2000–2009, use “early 2000s” or specify the years. Avoid “the ’00s,” “the aughts” (facetious is okay!), and “the teens.” Only use “mid-2000s” to mean midcentury; it does not mean mid-decade.
Use plural nouns with numbers less than 1: 0.7 pounds, 0.2 meters.
distance, height, temperature, other measurements
Always numerals: 5 feet 8 inches, 12-inch pizza, 3 miles, 75 mph, 7-inch record, 8 degrees
Always numerals: 4th District
Spelled out in body copy, but in videos, charts, timelines, and statistical boxes, use °C or °F.
Spell out and hyphenate: Two-thirds of registered voters didn’t vote. Exception: Use fractions like 2/3 for charts and stat boxes. For combinations of whole numbers and fractions, use decimals like 8.5-by-11-inch paper.
Spell out zero through nine and use numerals for 10 and higher, with the exceptions outlined above and below (e.g., units of measurement, percentages, ranked lists, dates).
Always numerals: 4 million people, 10 billion cars. M and B are optional in headlines, videos, social copy, graphs, print sidebars, and wherever space is tight (e.g., $70M or $70 million).
Always numerals after a currency sign: $7 billion, $33.90, $80
Always numerals with the word “cent”: 2 cents, 8 cents
Use an en dash (option+hyphen) for a range: $64–$72 million
Do not hyphenate if used adjectivally: $150 billion market
odds, margins, ratios, vote results
Always numerals: Her chance of winning is 3-to-1; a 3–1 chance (en dash).
Vote totals: The measure passed the Senate, 66–34 (en dash).
Always numerals: 3 percent, 10 percent, the 1 percenters
For ranges of percentages: 2 to 3 percent; 9 to 10 percent
Spell out “percent” everywhere but videos, charts, data sidebars, and some social headlines, which use % (when space is tight).
Use “percentage” only without a number: “What percentage of voters agree? The poll says 40 percent.”
Do not hyphenate as a modifier: It’s “80 percent chance,” not “80-percent chance.”
Always numerals when a range involves a number below 10 and a number above nine:
It took 8 to 10 weeks to complete the project. A 7- to 14-day period.
Abbreviate and use numerals: Her album reached No. 1 on the charts. But “number one” for steps in a process: Number one, wash your hands.
The Warriors won Game 7 (not Game Seven) of the NBA finals.
The Eagles won Super Bowl 52 (not Super Bowl LII).
Use numerals with a.m. and p.m.: 4 a.m., 6 p.m., with a space.
Use ET and PT, not EST/EDT/PST/PDT, but time zones are not needed if the setting is clear; only useful in listings of broadcasts or event times. When including both, lead with the time zone most relevant in context; for example: 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT.
Spell out numbers less than 10 when combined with “morning,” “evening,” and “o’clock,” like six in the evening, but lean toward 6 p.m. instead.
(A period goes inside parentheses if they contain a complete sentence.)
A period goes outside parens if they’re contained by a sentence (like this).
Only add an apostrophe, not an extra “s,” for names and singular proper nouns ending in “s”: Mother Jones’, not Mother Jones’s; Chris’, not Chris’s; Congress’, not Congress’s. Exceptions: acronyms ending in “s” like CBS’s and PBS’s (add apostrophes).
Hyphenate: anti-abortion, anti-aircraft, anti-labor, anti-racism, anti-tank, anti-vax, anti-war, and whenever a hyphen helps clarify.
Close: antibiotic, antibody, anticlimax, anticoagulant, antidepressant, antidote, antifa, antifreeze, antigen, antihistamine, antiknock, antimatter, antimony, antioxidant, antiparticle, antipasta, antiperspirant, antiphony, antipollution, antiproton, antipsychotic, antiseptic, antiserum, antithesis, antitoxin, antitrust, antitussive, antisocial
Hyphenate: co-author, co-chair, co-found, co-defendant, co-host, co-owner, co-partner, co-pilot, co-respondent (in a divorce suit), co-signer, co-sponsor, co-star, co-worker, co-writer
Close: coequal, coexist, cooperate, coordinate, copay, comorbidity
Hyphenate: half-baked, half-cocked, half-dozen, half-hour, half-life, half-mile, half-moon, half-truth
Close: halfback, halfhearted, halftime, halftone, halftrack
Two words: half dollar, half sibling, half size
(Hyphenate if not listed here.)
Hyphenate if it’s followed by a number, like mid-1960s, or a proper noun, like mid-Atlantic.
Otherwise close, like midair, midcentury, midday, midsemester, midterm
Hyphenate if it’s followed by an “i” word, like multi-instrumentalist.
Otherwise close, like multicolored, multilateral, multimillion
Hyphenate if it’s followed by an “o” word like neo-orthodoxy, or a proper noun like neo-Nazi.
Otherwise close, like neoliberal, neoclassical, neoconservative
Hyphenate if it’s followed by a proper noun like non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Otherwise close, like nonbinary, nondisclosure, nonprofit
Hyphenate: post-bellum, post-convention, post-mortem
Close: postdate, postdoctoral, postelection, postgame, postgraduate, postnuptial, postscript, postwar
(Follow Webster for “post-” if not listed here.)
Generally close, like preelection, preeminent, preempt, preexisting, and anything closed in Webster.
Hyphenate pre-convention, pre-noon, and pre-[ProperNoun].
Hyphenate to mean support for something, like pro-business, pro-labor, pro-peace, pro-war.
Close otherwise: proactive, produce, profile, pronoun
Hyphenate homographs like re-create and re-cover, or possibly misleading words.
Close otherwise: reelect, reenter, reoffend
scholarships and grants
Capitalize the name but lowercase “grant,” “loan,” or “scholarship”: Pell grant, Stafford loan, Plus loan.
Close except for super-PAC.
Close unless confusion would result (then hyphenate).
Hyphenate if modifying a noun, like then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Guides to pronunciation should be spelled phonetically, and the syllable to be stressed should be capped: Latinx (pronounced la-TEEN-ex or latin-EX), italicized like so.
In pull quotes, use ellipses for omitted words from a direct quote, but it’s okay to paraphrase the writer’s own text. Check the PQ’s wording against the original, allowing for minor changes because of space limits.
Bold the questions, and don’t include the interviewer’s name or source’s name in each line (they’re already established in your introduction):
Why did you throw your shoes at George W. Bush?
George Bush lied to the people. He said the Iraqis would welcome him with flowers…
Did you have a plan?
I had been planning to do that for years…
Exception: When two or more sources are interviewed, use names first (and then initials) to clarify:
Interviewer Name: Hello, presidents.
Vladimir Putin: Hi.
Donald Trump: Hi.
IN: Did you do that grave thing?
VP: Do what?
DT: Yeah do what?
Before or at the end of Q&As, use a note like this if applicable: This interview has been edited and condensed.
• Quotes said directly to our reporters can be lightly edited for clarity without adding ellipses for omitted words unless the meaning would be changed. But in legally sensitive quotes, no words can be removed without the inclusion of ellipses.
• Do not use (sic) for misspellings—just fix—unless you’re facetiously using (sic) to ridicule a public figure’s typos. Paraphrase instead if possible.
• No brackets are needed when you’re capitalizing an excerpt’s first word. With that exception, when quoting printed material, the quote should otherwise match the original exactly (wording, style, punctuation, etc.).
• For spoken quotes, apply our house style for spelling, and minor editing is allowed for grammatical fixes. If inserting an editor’s or author’s note: [Editor’s note: like this.]
• For a person’s reaction in a quote, capitalize the first letter and use italics in brackets: [Laughs.] When the bracketed phrase is outside a sentence, add a period after the phrase within brackets:
“My father is not a schemer. [Laughs.]” “Well, [laughs], he schemes, but…”
Lowercase “season” and “episode”: season 1, episode 3 (numerals, no hyphens), for TV/television, podcast, and other series.
Use slashes to separate lyrics or lines of poetry, with one space on each side of the slash. The only punctuation at the end of a line (and before a slash) should be a question mark. Capitalize the first word in each line: “We’ve got to find some time to get together / How’s never?”
Closed unless the letter “e” would be doubled or tripled (Abramoffesque, office-esque, melee-esque)
Closed unless the letter “l” would be doubled or tripled (catlike, sail-like)
Hyphenated as compound: 100-plus people; 20 percent-plus increase.
• Capitalize websites like MotherJones.com (cap initials) but lowercase URLs that run longer: motherjones.com/this-story-is-great.
• Always omit www. unless the result opens the wrong site.
• Follow the site’s style for caps (but never all caps): MoveOn.org, MoveOn. Online publications are italicized: Jezebel, Salon.
• Add hyphens between end words of all Mother Jones URLs for online features teased in the magazine. Use periods normally at the end of sentences. No end slashes at the end of web addresses.
Ask sources how to identify their gender and sexual identities if it’s relevant to the story and appropriate to ask. Below are some recommended words and definitions.
LGBTQ is Mother Jones’ preferred style—the most encompassing and still concise initialism—but LGBT is accepted if a source prefers it. Avoid LGBTQ+ (unless a source uses it) because the + symbol’s meaning is already embodied in the initialism’s letters. Avoid GLBT except in formal titles like San Francisco’s GLBT History Museum; otherwise it can look like our typo.
In general, use gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language unless you have reason not to. For example, instead of “policeman,” “fireman,” and “mailman,” use “police officer,” “firefighter,” and “mail carrier.” Instead of “manmade,” use “manufactured,” “artificial,” or “synthetic.” Instead of “mankind,” use “humanity” or “humankind.” The legacy of male-centered language continues to shape style guides, but Mother Jones takes a more inclusive stance. Try to avoid “strongman” because it doesn’t have a corresponding title for women who can (and have) run countries corruptly and forcefully. “Oilman” similarly. “Journeyman” similarly. “Fisherman” similarly. “National Guardsman” similarly; the Guard’s first all-women command formed in March 2019. Many titles like TKman don’t have parallel nouns for women because barriers to entry in professions and public life have been exclusionary and engineered in men’s favor, reflected in the job titles. Jobs can (or should) be open to people of any gender.
Unless a source prefers gendered titles, or gender is relevant, lean toward:
“band leader” instead of “frontman/frontwoman”
“chair” or “chairperson” instead of “chairman/chairwoman”
“crewed” instead of “manned,” unless a crew is all men and you’re pointing that out
“firefighter” instead of “fireman/firewoman”
“fisher” instead of “fisherman/fisherwoman”
“heir” instead of “heiress”
“host” instead of “hostess”
“humanity” or “humankind” instead of “mankind”
“mail carrier” instead of “mailman”
“manufactured,” “artificial,” or “synthetic” instead of “manmade”
“police officer” instead of “policeman/policewoman”
“spokesperson” or “representative” instead of “spokesman/spokeswoman”
“sales rep” or “salesperson” instead of “salesman/saleswoman”
“server” instead of “waitress/waiter”
“Congress member,” “member of Congress,” “the representative,” “the
lawmaker,” “Rep. [Name],” instead of “congressman/woman” (at your discretion)
“Actor” is Mother Jones’ house style except when someone identifies as “actress” or it’s important to signal gender (e.g., award ceremonies), or in social headlines when relevant.
gender pronouns and singular “they/them/their”
Singular “they/them/their” is accepted for someone who doesn’t use “he” or “she”; when it’s necessary to shield an anonymous source’s gender; or to move beyond the “he or she” binary. Avoid “both genders” for the same reason; use “all genders.” If you’re using singular “they,” make sure it agrees in number with the antecedent or, if it doesn’t, it’s clear in context.
gender transition, gender-affirming surgery, sex-reassignment surgery
Distinguish between these terms. A “gender transition” involves changing someone’s gender presentation, which could mean new names, clothes, hormones, and pronouns. “Gender-affirming surgery” is accepted for anyone going through “sex-reassignment surgery” (both terms accepted), which implies surgery or other medical means (e.g., facial feminization).
Latinx (pronounced la-TEEN-ex or latin-EX) is a widely debated gender-inclusive description for people of Latin American descent who live in the United States. Use it for any source who prefers it, but don’t stop using “Latina” or “Latino” for someone who identifies as Latina or Latino, or when you want to specify gender, and don’t take for granted that “Latinx” is broadly accepted—it’s not. Just 2 percent of respondents to a nationwide poll said they prefer the term “Latinx,” and a 2020 Pew poll showed only 3 percent using it to describe themselves. The word is celebrated by some for including all genders but criticized as an Anglicized bulldozing of the Spanish language, which, like all romance languages, assigns a gender to each noun. This is a rapidly evolving area of language, and “Latinos” still works as an all-gender plural; consistency is not necessary, because a majority of people do not want “Latinx” assigned to them.
Historically, the word “Latinx” originated to avoid defaulting to the masculine plural “Latinos.” More recently, “Latinx” has been used as an LGBTQ identifier, especially in the aftermath of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting, most of whose victims were gay or bisexual and widely reported as “Latinx.”
Except as described above, use “Latinx” on a case-by-case basis at your discretion, but keep in mind the Pew figure of just 3 percent national support. In reference to polls and surveys, use the same words used in the studies.
Genders that don’t conform to male and female can be called nonbinary. Also accepted are genderqueer (one word), genderfluid (one word), and gender nonconforming (no hyphen).
Capitalize as Pride Day, Pride Month, pride events, pride flag.
reproductive rights, abortion
Mother Jones’ preferred terms are pro-choice and anti-choice or anti-abortion rights—not pro-life unless attributed or important in context. There may be times you want to use pro-life to allow each side to define itself, even though pro-life is a fundamentally misleading term because it implies some advocates are not for life. In all cases, avoid scare quotes, which can read as facetious (unless facetious is what you’re going for).
“Woman/women” is acceptable as the default gender to describe people who get abortions. For example, use “Roe v. Wade affirmed a woman’s right to choose” rather than “a person’s right to choose.” “Woman” is preferred in this context because women are the group most targeted and affected by anti-abortion legislation. Degendering abortion language is a misleading move that obscures the impact of abortion restrictions on women’s lives.
Avoid “females” as a noun. Even though “females” accurately refers to people biologically capable of getting abortions, “females” is commonly used as a pejorative against women, reducing women to anatomy in contexts when anatomy is not the core focus. Instead of “females who get abortions,” use “women who get abortions.”
sex work, sex worker, prostitute, prostitution
Use “sex work” and “sex worker” rather than “prostitution” and “prostitute” when meanings overlap. But note that “prostitution” still fits in police and court references when attributed. If minors (who by definition cannot consent) are coerced into sex work, avoid “child prostitution” and instead use “child sexual exploitation,” “sex trafficking victims,” or “child sexual abuse.”
sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
“STIs” is preferred over “STDs.” “STIs” emphasizes that anyone can be infected even without symptoms of disease.
Use “transgender” instead of “transgendered.” Shorthand “trans” is accepted. Try to use “transgender” on first reference, except when essayists want to start with “trans” on first mention. Examples: trans woman (not transwoman); trans rights.
See “Legal Reporting” for distinctions between assault, harassment, misconduct, and wrongdoing.
Ask sources how to identify their racial and ethnic identities if it’s relevant to the story and appropriate to ask. Below are some recommended words and definitions.
African American, Black
Always follow a person’s preference. If a person’s preference is not known, lean toward Black but keep in mind that the terms African American and Black are not interchangeable: African American refers to an American Black person of African descent, while Americans of Caribbean heritage generally identify as Caribbean American.
Asian, Asian American
Asian fits the diaspora or a community of people who identify as Asians, but be specific if you mean Asian Americans, and even more specific if you mean Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Cambodian Americans, Filipino Americans, Indonesian Americans, and so on.
Instead of “Blacks” and “whites” as nouns, which define people by race, use “Black” and “white” as adjectives, which describe (instead of define) people by race: “Black people,” “white people,” “Black voters,” “white voters,” “Black communities,” “white communities.”
community vs. communities
Consider using the plural “communities” rather than singular “the black/Black/white community” to avoid implying a monolith. Similarly, “experiences” rather than “the…experience.”
dual heritage, compound nationalities/ethnicities
Do not use a hyphen unless a source prefers it. Mother Jones style (consistent with AP): African American, Caribbean American, Irish American, Latvian American
Hispanic is not interchangeable with Latino, Latina, and Latinx, but overlaps to some extent. Defer to individual preference. It often depends on geographical region; people in the Southwest tend to use Hispanic and only recently have started replacing it with Latino. When preference isn’t known, use Latino/a/x instead of Hispanic, unless Hispanic is attributed to polls, census reports, or studies.
Each term refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries or cultures, but people from Spain are generally not Latino/a/x. Portuguese-speaking Brazilians rarely identify as Hispanic but sometimes do.
Be as specific as possible: Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Colombian, and so on.
Instead of “mixed,” lean toward “multiracial,” “biracial,” or “interracial,” unless a person prefers “mixed,” in which case attribute it, like “TK, who refers to herself as mixed.”
people of color
Default to “people of color” instead of racial “minorities” in the United States, and see the NAHJ’s August 4, 2020, statement for more context and recommendations for alternatives, including “communities of color” and “emerging majority” when referencing statistics and data. By 2055 the United States will have no racial or ethnic majority group, according to Pew, and the Census Bureau projects that the country will have more people of color than white people by 2044.
Be cautious about crutch terms like “the Black vote,” “the Latino vote,” and “the Asian American vote,” which imply that a group’s individuals vote as a bloc with a monolithic voice and interests. Use plural “Black voters,” “Latino/Latina/Latinx voters,” and “Asian American voters.”
white supremacy, white nationalism
These terms overlap, and whether there’s a distinction at all is a point of dispute between the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which disagree on whether white nationalism is just a euphemism for white supremacy. ADL says it’s a marketing trick by white supremacists to rebrand themselves. SPLC says there’s an ideological difference—white supremacy is the belief that white people are superior, whereas white nationalism posits that white people should have separate territory and legal rights.
Decide which term to use based on the beliefs or actions of the person or group in your story. Lean toward “white supremacy” if the focus is on ideology. White nationalism requires white supremacy to exist, but don’t gloss over important differences: Use specific modifiers to differentiate, for example, between overt white supremacists and people who enable them in thinly coded ways.
Names of People and Places; Languages; Nationalities
Names of people
• Always include accents like ñ, ó, í, é, and ç in people’s names (e.g., Rigoberta Menchú, Roque Sáenz Peña, Beyoncé).
• All names constructed as Firstname al-Lastname should follow that style for full names, but drop “al-” when using only Lastname. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr, but Sadr on subsequence references.
• For people’s initials, use periods and no space: J.K. Rowling, R.L. Burnside, e.e. cummings. But: MLK Jr., JFK (no periods).
• Use parentheses to set off state and political party affiliation: Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.). Use old-style state abbreviations, not two-letter zip code style:
New Hampshire: N.H.
New Jersey: N.J.
New Mexico: N.M.
New York: N.Y.
North Carolina: N.C.
North Dakota: N.D.
Rhode Island: R.I.
South Carolina: S.C.
South Dakota: S.D.
West Virginia: W.Va.
Party and state affiliation can be omitted on a case-by-case basis for some well-known politicians.
Capitalize formal titles only when they precede a person’s name: President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Lowercase informal titles (e.g., special counsel Robert Mueller). Use first and last names on first reference except when your tone calls for more familiarity (then just President LastName).
Academic titles: Do not capitalize “professor” before a person’s name. Cap named professorships and fellowships: Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University.
Military titles: Spell out “General,” “Colonel,” “Major,” “Lieutenant” preceding a name. For compound titles, abbreviate first word, spell out second word: Brig. General and Lt. Colonel.
Plural titles: presidents Clinton and Obama, Sens. Warren and Sanders.
Police titles: Spell out “Sergeant,” “Captain,” preceding a name; spell out and cap “Detective” if it’s a formal title preceding name.
Political titles: Cap and abbreviate “Sen.” (for Senator), “Gov.” (for Governor), and “Rep.” (for Representative) preceding the name. For state officials: “state Rep. TK,” “state Sen. TK”
Religious titles: Spell out “the Reverend” preceding a name.
Names of places
• Spell out states in most cases, including in captions: Wildfires in Paradise, California, destroyed thousands of homes. Exceptions: Abbreviate places with party affiliations like (R-Minn.). State abbreviations are okay in charts and graphs. (Do not use two-letter postal code abbreviations except for mailing addresses.)
• Consider referring to the United States instead of America, and US as the default adjective (and as a noun when initials avoid repetition or save space in sidebars, stat boxes, and wherever space is tight). If a specific reference or tone you’re going for calls for America, refer to it, but lean toward United States first.
• Do not use accents in a place name.
• The following US cities stand alone in copy, without needing state locators:
Austin, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle
• The following international cities also stand alone:
Amsterdam, Baghdad, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo, Dublin, Guatemala City, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kuwait City, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Nairobi, Paris, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Vatican City
Avoid datelines in articles.
Refers to the people and culture of Afghanistan. Afghani is the Afghan unit of currency.
The preferred term, rather than Argentinian, for the people and culture of Argentina.
The country’s official language is Mandarin, and Mandarin refers to a spoken language: One speaks Mandarin but writes Chinese. Use Pinyin (not Zhuyin) transliteration if given a choice.
Not “the” Congo. “The” refers to the Congo River, which gave the country its name, but “the” has fallen out of use in the country’s name, which AP shortens to Congo (not Democratic Republic of Congo and not DRC). Distinct from Republic of Congo (neighboring country).
Not Gaza City; see AP for more.
Follow an individual’s preference. Iranian tends to emphasize nationality; Persian tends to emphasize history and the cultural diaspora. There’s plenty of overlap. Farsi (also called Persian) is Iran’s official language.
Japanese American, “internment”
The United States incarcerated more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them US citizens, during World War II. Call these events what they were: incarceration, not internment. The US government uses the word “internment” to distinguish many detainees from the few convicted as spies and sent to prison. But make no mistake: “Internment” is a euphemism for incarceration. Use incarceration whenever possible.
Hāfu (accented “ā”; not “haafu”)
Refers to someone with one Japanese parent. Hāfu means half. Use only when someone identifies this way.
Kazakhstan (with the “h”)
Use the new spelling adopted by Korea’s Ministry of Culture:
The letters k, t, p, and ch have been changed to g, d, b, and j
k’, t’, p’, and ch’ have been changed to k, t, p, and ch
sh has been changed to s
Examples: Choson is now spelled Joseon; Inchon is now spelled Incheon; Pusan is now spelled Busan.
Use Myanmar for this country’s current name (formerly Burma) except when a source prefers Burma. Historically, many news outlets and exile organizations continued to use Burma even after the 1989 official name change because the name Myanmar was preferred by the junta, whereas Burma was preferred by pro-democracy activists. But in recent years, more people and organizations are calling it Myanmar.
The language spoken in this country is called Myanmar. Refer to people as the people of Myanmar or the Myanmar people.
Follow a source’s preference for description, and specify nation if known (e.g., Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee). Indigenous is accepted. Native people and shorthand Native are also accepted. Some younger Natives still prefer Indian, and a lot of groups and reservations have Indian in their names (i.e., American Indian Movement, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), so Indian is okay if it’s attributed. In Canadian contexts, use Indigenous or Native or First Peoples, although First Peoples is more formal (encompassing Inuit, Métis, and First Nations); specify nation if known (e.g. Sagamok Anishnawbek). Do not use “the Natives,” but “Native” alone is fine as an adjective: Native communities, Native activists, Native populations.
Capitalize Indigenous and Native in proper names or identifiers like “Indigenous/Native rights,” but lowercase in descriptive terms like “people indigenous to” and “people native to.” “Indigenous” (capped) refers to identities of original inhabitants of a place, with historical ties to pre-colonial or pre-settler times.
People from Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. Mother Jones’ default is Nepali, the way many people from Nepal tend to refer to themselves—departing from AP—unless a source prefers otherwise.
Until the government gets back to the Associated Press with guidance and AP takes a stance, use some form of “Eswatini, the country formerly known as Swaziland,” or “Swaziland, now known as/whose king wants to rename the country Eswatini,” with initial-cap Es rather than sE.
Taiwan has been governed separately from China since 1949. When precision is needed, call it an island, and its government the Republic of China. In all other cases, call it Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, but some countries recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. (The United States officially does not.) “Mainland China” is okay to distinguish China from the island of Taiwan.
Avoid, unless it’s in a direct quote. Instead try “developing nations” or “emerging economies.” Also avoid First World; use “industrialized” instead of “developed” because countries and regions are never fully “developed” but they can be fully “industrialized.”
Not “the” Ukraine, which refers to the Soviet era.
Capitalize for the film or book genre, but lowercase country western music. Capitalize the West and the South in reference to US regions. For directions: west and western.
Lean toward the following terms:
• “enslaved people” rather than “slaves”
• “enslavers” rather than “masters,” “slaveholders,” or “slave owners”
• “fugitives from slavery” or “self-emancipated people” rather than “runaway slaves”
• “born with slave status” or “born into slavery” rather than “born a slave”
• “forced-labor camp” rather than “plantation”
Make exceptions as context or clarity calls for it.
(Hat tip: P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. “Writing About Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help” community-sourced document)
Use “partisanship” or “provincialism” rather than “tribalism” to describe extreme group loyalty. Use of “tribalism” in politics is misleading, a pejorative that does not resemble how tribes actually behave and interact.
Dreamers refers to young immigrants without legal status in the United States, but unless someone prefers the label or it’s relevant historically, avoid it. The label referred to the DREAM Act proposal, which excluded millions of immigrants who didn’t fit the storyline of high-achieving youth, and the act did not pass. DACA recipient (if accurate) is more specific.
If using Dreamer, style it this way, avoiding the clunkier DREAMer (even though DREAMer is technically correct, rooted in the acronym).
Use “legal” and “illegal” only to describe an action, not a person. Instead of “illegal immigrant” or “illegals,” alternatives include “undocumented immigrant,” “unauthorized immigrant,” and “people without legal immigration status.”
refugee, asylum seeker, immigrant, migrant, displaced person, internally displaced person
• “Refugees” are forced to flee home countries by violence, persecution, or natural disaster.
• “Internally displaced” people are forced to flee but not across national borders.
• “Displaced” refers to anyone who matches either of the above.
• “Migrants” are in the process of moving, commonly for economic reasons but not always.
• “Immigrants” have moved permanently (changed countries of residence) for any number of reasons.
• “Asylum seekers” seek official government protection.
• “Asylees” seek or have already secured official government protection.
Mental Health, Physical Health, Ability, Disability
Labels should describe people, not define them, unless people define themselves by labels. Rule of thumb: Ask your source for preferred terminology, but when that’s not possible, use “people with,” known as people-first language, like “people with disabilities” instead of “the disabled” or “disabled people,” even though there’s a lot of disagreement about defaults. People-first language is recommended (when source preference isn’t known) by the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s style guide and reader feedback to our callout in this essay.
Lean toward “autistic person” instead of “person with autism.” This is an exception to people-first language, known as identity-first language. Opinions vary on this, but many advocacy groups opt for “autistic person” on the view that autism is part of an identity, not just a condition. Defer to personal preference.
Deaf is widely preferred for people with complete or severe hearing loss. Milder hearing loss is “hard of hearing.” Avoid “hearing-impaired,” which overemphasizes impairment, according to the World Federation of the Deaf. But always defer to a source’s preference.
Distinguish between disorders and conditions. “Disorders” fits when disorders are diagnosed by the American Psychiatric Association; when military benefits depend on the distinction; or when a source or medical expert uses it.
drug use, addiction
See AP, which advises against calling someone an “addict” unless the person calls themself an addict. In addition to AP’s advice, avoid “got clean,” which implies the person had been dirty, unless the person sees it that way.
Do not use “commit suicide,” per AP and mental health researchers who report a spread of suicide (a contagion) from the term’s use, and because the verb “commit” can imply a criminal act, but laws against suicide have been widely repealed. Preferred: “killed [oneself],” “took [one’s] own life,” or “died by suicide.” If suicide is a story’s main focus, link to prevention sites and add this note at the bottom:
If you or someone you care about may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free 24/7 service that offers support, information, and local resources: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Use the term wheelchair user, and avoid wheelchair-bound; wheelchairs enable more than they limit.
For additional guidelines, consider the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s style guide.
• President Biden; former President Trump
• Vice President Harris; former Vice President Mike Pence
• Lowercase titles when not preceding names: The president tweeted. If a spoken quote has “Madam Vice President,” Madam not Madame.
disinformation vs. misinformation
Disinformation is deliberately false or designed to mislead; misinformation is false regardless of intent.
suppression vs. depression of voter turnout
Suppression is the preventing or discouraging of voters from casting a ballot, and making it broadly difficult to participate in the political process. The depression of voter turnout is the reduction of turnout from previously higher levels.
Distinguish between AI and robots: AI is a machine’s ability to simulate intelligent human behavior. Robots can be AI-driven, but robots can also move physically, whereas AI can be purely software that does not move physically, like game engines and GPS.
Bacteria is plural: Bacteria were clogging his lungs. Bacterium is singular: This bacterium is quite deadly.
Link to the published study on first reference.
• The following are all accepted (a non-exhaustive list): climate change, climate science, climate crisis, climate emergency, climate breakdown, climate catastrophe, global warming; depending on context. (Editor’s discretion.)
• Avoid the language of “skeptic/skepticism” about settled scientific facts. Just as it’s unscientific and misleading to say someone is a gravity skeptic, it’s unscientific and misleading to say someone is a climate change skeptic. “Skeptic” implies that someone intelligently doubts something. Instead use terms like denial/denier (facts can be denied) or spell out exactly what you mean. For anyone who is truly skeptical of unsettled claims, spell that out.
• On first reference, use Celsius (and Fahrenheit in parentheses) for global
warming averages and targets. On later references, stick with Fahrenheit. Examples:
“The Earth has already warmed 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century.”
“Governments are not on track to meet a goal of capping temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of the century.”
• The coronavirus, officially SARS-CoV-2, is a virus, not a disease, and the disease it causes is COVID-19 (or COVID shorthand, or the coronavirus disease), deriving from CO(rona) VI(rus) D(isease)-(20)19. It’s not accurate to say “the virus COVID-19” (that’s the disease).
• Viruses and variants should be named in ways that don’t inaccurately fault nationality, race, or geography, consistent with recommendations by the WHO, the CDC, the Asian American Journalists Association, and other groups to reduce scapegoating and improve accuracy. Whenever possible, use the scientific name, but if you need a shorthand, in the absence of standardized alternatives, use “strain first found/identified in [location]” instead of adjectives like “Spanish” flu, “Chinese” virus, and “Brazilian” or “British” variant. There’s a long history of equating nationality and immigration with disease, from the 1832 cholera outbreak blamed on Irish Catholic immigrants to the 1870s quarantining of San Francisco’s Chinatown residents following outbreaks of smallpox presumed to spring from the neighborhood, leading to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. This guideline doesn’t preclude criticizing any country’s, government’s, or institution’s mishandling of contagion when scientific evidence supports criticism, but the nomenclature itself should be nationality-neutral. For more, see Isabela Dias’ “Let’s Stop Naming COVID Variants After Countries.”
• Incubation period is the time between infection and the appearance of signs or symptoms.
• canceled, canceling, cancellation
• health care
• social distancing, social-distancing tips
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes plural Centers and gets spelled out on first use. Ditto the National Institutes of Health: “the NIH” after that, with “the.” Same for the World Health Organization: “the WHO” on subsequent use, with “the.” Each takes a singular verb. The WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.
• “Pan” = all or almost all. “Global pandemic” is not redundant, but also isn’t necessary when just “pandemic” is clear. And “pandemic” describes reach, not severity.
correlation vs. causation
Correlation means two variables are related to each other, and when one changes, the other appears to change, but not necessarily as a result. Causation means one variable’s change causes the other’s change.
Data takes singular verbs: The data is sound.
Refer to researchers as “Dr.” only if they have medical degrees.
genus and species names
Per AP, “capitalize the first, or generic, Latin name for the class of plant or animal and lowercase the species that follows: Homo sapiens, Tyrannosaurus rex. In second references, use the abbreviated form: P. borealis, T. rex.” Don’t italicize if Webster has it; otherwise italicize, like Asparagopsis armata.
Statistically significant generally means there’s a less than 5 percent chance that the observed effect would have occurred at random.
For more distinctions and definitions, see AP.
Capitalize for the deities of monotheistic religions. Lowercase for the deities of polytheistic religions. Lowercase all other references except when the meaning is specifically religious.
anti-, bigotry, phobia
“Bigotry” is hate and prejudice against a group. Words ending in “phobia,” like “Islamophobia,” are gaining wider use to mean hateful fear of faith, but “Islamophobia” should not be used when what you mean is anti-Muslim bigotry. The distinction matters—people too often call nonbigoted critics of religion “phobics,” which broad-brushes all critics as bigoted against believers. It’s crucial to distinguish between bigotry against people and criticism of beliefs. If you mean fear of Muslims as people, for example, go with “anti-Muslim bigotry,” not unlike the parallel construction of a term like “anti-Semitism.”
Don’t mistake criticism of beliefs as phobia of people. This holds for criticism of any ideas and institutions—in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. Distinguish between “phobia” and “anti-.”
As-salaam alaikum and Wa alaikum as-salaam are Mother Jones’ preferred spelling and hyphenation, closest to Arabic pronunciation. Allow variation if a source prefers.
burqa: the all-body covering worn by some Muslim women.
chador: a large cloak that covers the hair, neck, and shoulders, but
not the face, worn by some Muslim women, mainly in Iran.
hajj (not “the” hajj) is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, the
birthplace of Prophet Muhammad.
hijab: the headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
Muhammad is the preferred spelling for the prophet of Islam.
niqab: the face veil worn by some Muslim women.
Qur’an (not Koran or Quran)
Shariah (not Sharia) means Islamic law, so “Shariah law” is redundant unless you’re referring to a specific provision under a Shariah framework.
Sunni, Shiite: See AP.
Bible, biblical: See AP, and use the Revised Standard Version for
quotes, not the King James Version.
Christian Coalition: On second reference, okay to use coalition
Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals should not be conflated. Both believe that the Bible is inerrant, but evangelizing is the further effort to spread that belief and convert others. Fundamentalists focus on foundational theology of scripture. Christian right is an umbrella term for a politically conservative Christian movement.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Capitalize -Day. “Mormon Church” is also accepted. Church members have moved away from the term “Mormon Church,” but it’s still widely in use.
Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Holy Trinity: See AP.
Pope: Only capitalized as a title before a name.
Jew, Jewish person
When choosing between “Jew” and “Jewish person” as nouns, defer to a person’s preference. Both are accepted. If preference isn’t known, lean toward “Jewish person” if the noun “Jew” could be perceived to have pejorative connotations in context, in light of some historical uses. For example, “Jews are migrating” works fine, and “Jews are diverse” works fine, but “My neighbor is a Jew” could be rewritten as “My neighbor is Jewish.”
Grammatically, the noun “Jew” fits in comparative lists like “Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” all parallel nouns. Keep in mind that many Jews do not hear the noun “Jew” as pejorative and object to the idea that it is. Defer to personal preference.
Hanukkah (not Chanukkah), per Webster
High Holy Days, capitalized
Rosh Hashanah (not Rosh Hashana), closest to Hebrew, departing from AP
Buddhism can refer to a philosophy or religion. Specify which you mean, if not both.
Atheism is the lack of a belief that there’s sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. (“A” means without, and “theism” is belief in the existence of a god.) Atheism is not a belief system; it’s the rejection of belief systems unsupported by evidence or reasoning that meets a certain mark. Distinguish from humanism; a humanist goes a step further and affirms that people are capable of morality, flourishing, and wellbeing without relying on supernatural claims.
Common Legal Distinctions
accused of, arrested for, suspected of, allegedly, reportedly
Each withholds a presumption of legal guilt. “Arrested for murder” can imply guilt. Avoid “arrested for murder” if what we mean is “arrested on murder charges” or “arrested in connection with the murder of.” We can’t call or imply someone is a criminal unless the person has been convicted or has confessed, or it’s framed as an allegation. For minors, avoid assuming that juvenile confessions mean guilt, because minors are more likely to give false confessions than adults.
We don’t have to overuse the word “allegedly,” but make clear that guilt has not been formally found.
assault, harassment, misconduct, wrongdoing
Assault is physical. Harassment may not be physical; it may be verbal, written, or insinuated through gesture, action, or deliberate inaction. Misconduct is the wider category of improper behavior, legal or illegal. If you’re looking for a broader word, “wrongdoing” works, but “wrongdoing” can trivialize serious charges, so “misconduct” is sometimes a closer fit.
In reports on sexual violence, use the same words used by the victim/survivor as long as the words are accurate. For example, definitions of assault and rape vary by jurisdiction, so if you’re using a source’s words that disagree with legal definitions, make that clear.
Don’t confuse categories of crimes like child molestation and acts of pedophilia. Definitions tend to vary by state.
attorney vs. lawyer: See AP.
burglary, robbery, larceny, theft: See AP.
Don’t mistake civil suits for criminal matters. In civil suits, parties can be found “liable” (instead of “guilty”), whereas in criminal suits, parties can be found “guilty.” Criminal courts in the United States do not find people “innocent”; they find people “not guilty.”
Instead of “convicts,” use a workaround like “people convicted of a crime.” Instead of “felons,” use alternatives like “people convicted of felonies” or “people with a felony record.” “She’s a felon” can be recast as “She was convicted of a felony.” If using “felon,” note that the designation survives a prison sentence: After leaving prison, a person is still a “felon” (not an “ex-felon”) but is now an “ex-inmate” or “ex-prisoner.” A “felon” does not become an “ex-felon” unless the conviction is overturned or the person is pardoned. If you want to avoid branding someone a “felon” for life, go with “convicted of a felony” or “with a felony record.”
detainee vs. prisoner
For prolonged detention, like in cases of extended military or CIA detention, drop “detainee” and use straight-to-the-point words like “prisoner,” “de facto prisoner,” “prison-like conditions,” and “incarcerated.” Detainees in Guantanamo, for example, could just be called prisoners.
jail vs. prison
Prisons generally confine people serving sentences for felonies whereas jails confine people serving sentences for misdemeanors or who are awaiting trial or sentencing on charges (or confined for violations like contempt of court).
police shooting, “officer-involved shooting”
Avoid “officer-involved shooting,” a euphemism, promulgated by police departments, that implies an action without an agent. Default to active phrases like “TK shot TK”; if you don’t know who shot whom, say so.
Since 2012, Mother Jones has maintained a first-of-its-kind database documenting mass shootings in the United States, which is continually updated. Our current definition of mass shooting: an indiscriminate shooting rampage in a public place resulting in three or more victims killed (not just wounded) by the perpetrator, and not including the perpetrator. By Mother Jones’ current criteria:
• The shooter took the lives of at least three people (excluding the perpetrator).
• The killings were carried out by a lone shooter (except in the case of the Columbine massacre and the Westside Middle School killings, which each involved two shooters).
• The shootings occurred in a public place.
• Shootings primarily related to gang activity or armed robbery are not included in our database; neither are mass killings that take place in private homes.
militia, armed group
“Militia” describes both state-sanctioned and unsanctioned armed groups, though historically it refers only to the former, a sanctioned force deployable for military duty or to “keep the peace” (heavy quotes). Use it for either but if the distinction helps, go with “armed group” while making clear the group’s demands: “unidentified armed group dressed in tactical gear…” or “armed self-styled vigilantes who set up a checkpoint…”
police report, incident report, arrest report, crime report
“Police report” can mean incident report, arrest report, crime report, or another report. Specify which if it’s relevant.
reporting on sex and minors
“Had sex with” implies consent, but an adult does not have sex “with” a minor; an adult rapes a minor. Call it that. “Child prostitution” is also misleading because it implies consent, but minors can’t consent. Instead, use terms like “child sex trafficking,” “child sexual exploitation,” “child sexual abuse,” or “child rape.” If some jurisdictions use the term “child prostitution,” attribute it.
Defer to a source’s words, but if preference is not known, go with “survivors” unless you’re emphasizing victimization purposefully.
Past tense is “pleaded,” not “pled.”
Roe v. Wade is court case style: italicize, lowercase v. In all other uses, “vs.” (Never spell out “versus.”)
Attribution, Captions, Credits
• Whether you use “told me” or “told Mother Jones” is up to you and depends on the needs of your story. “Told me” is a good default for more casual pieces, but “told Mother Jones” can fit a more traditional tone or on social media and other places where bylines aren’t possible, or for stories with joint bylines.
• Whether an interview takes place by email, phone, or in person, only say so in the attribution if it’s relevant.
• Whether you use “says” or “said” is up to you, but be consistent within a story. Use present tense for a book’s author: Barack Obama writes in his book TK. But use past tense for reporting that has already appeared: She reported in the New York Times. He told the Washington Post.
Book excerpts are not italicized. Don’t edit for style, punctuation, or grammar; just fix typos and formatting, which don’t have to be bracketed. Include an editor’s note:
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from [Book Title], reprinted with permission. Copyright [Publishing Company]
captions and credits
Use final punctuation only if a caption is a complete sentence or preceded by another sentence.
directionals: Use parentheses for (left), (right), (top), and (bottom) unless the caption begins with a direction; then omit parentheses. Top: Visitors to Alcatraz listen to inmates’ recordings.
photos from services: Photographer/Agency Name
(Drop “Press,” “Images,” etc., from names like Getty Images; just say Getty. If a service credits a username, drop the username; just credit the service.)
Wikimedia Commons image: Original source/Wikimedia Commons
(Add a link to the photographer’s page in the “Credit URL” field. Make sure to use the photographer/source, not the Wikipedia uploader.)
Noun Project icon: Designer Name/Noun Project
(Add a link to the designer’s page in the “Credit URL” field.)
YouTube screenshot: Uploader/YouTube
(Add a link to the video in the “Credit URL” field.)
screenshot of another publication’s video: Screenshot/Publication name
(Add a link to the video in the “Credit URL” field.)
screenshot of a TV show or movie: Screenshot: Network (or movie distribution company, ie: Universal Pictures)
screenshot somebody else took: Screenshot: Publication that took screenshot/Original Source
(Add a link to the page where the screenshot appears in the “Credit URL” field.)
promotional image: Courtesy Company Name
image provided by a source or source’s family: Courtesy Source Name
(You can hyperlink the source’s name to their website/social media profile when applicable.)
multiple images: Use examples above; separate with semicolon.
photo or illustration that appeared in the magazine or is commissioned for the website: Photo: Photographer name
Illustration: Illustrator name
illustrations and art from Mother Jones staff
Chart by Mother Jones
Illustration by Mother Jones
Photoillustration by Mother Jones
When a pseudonym is used, explain it as early in the story as it makes sense to do so, in running text, rather than an asterisk/footnote.
Syndicated articles cross-posted to our site should follow Mother Jones style if allowed by the syndication source. If not allowed, edit only for typos, broken links, and formatting. Include a top note like: This story was originally published by Grist and is shared here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Slurs should be handled situationally: You can spell them out if it’s crucial to the story (e.g., part of a quote that must be included; used in a first-person narrative; or central to a critique of the slur itself), unless you have reason not to in context. This guideline is deliberately loose, giving discretion to the editor and writer on a case-by-case basis. When in doubt, email email@example.com. If you do conceal a slur, use one hyphen per each letter omitted (e.g., c‐‐t, n‐‐‐‐r, f‐‐‐‐t).
The phrase “n-word” takes lowercase “n” unless starting a sentence. It refers to the “er” word and not “nigga,” which has different connotations and intentions (depending on the speaker). Specify the latter if that’s the reference.
Slurs in headlines: Do not use slurs in headlines (with or without hyphens replacing letters). If a slur is important in a headline, use terms like “a racial slur” and name the slur in body copy. (Among other reasons not to, headline slurs can set off filters.)
In videos, there’s no need to bleep audio if the slur is newsworthy. For consistency, don’t censor the subtitle either.
A bad break happens when a word that runs over one line and onto another is split incorrectly. Avoid bad breaks, with these pointers:
• Two-letter breaks are okay.
• Do not break proper nouns unless necessary for fit.
• Bad breaks that cause spacing issues (in short paragraphs or short line lengths) are up to designer discretion.
• Allow no more than two consecutive hyphenated line endings.
• Breaks that form two discrete words are unacceptable in most cases, as in read-just.
• If a URL breaks at the end of a line, don’t hyphenate the break.
For example, this is okay: Reach her at better
campaigns.org/money. Whenever possible, break the URL at the punctuation and carry punctuation to the next line: bettercampaigns
.org/money. Also okay: Reach her at bettercampaigns.org
Capitalize the “By”: By Mary Harris Jones (font, italicization, etc., are at the discretion of the art department).
The endbox looks like this ◼. Separate the endbox with an option-space (slightly more than one space; slightly less than two) between the final punctuation and the box.
Add (continued on page xx) at the end of the page before the jump, and (continued from page xx) at the beginning of the first line of the page following the jump.
Lowercase the word “page” in all references (e.g., on the Contributors page). En dash for page ranges: pages 32–34.
When possible, avoid pages ending with a period or hyphen. Decide on a case-by-case basis.
• The signoff should have a space between the final punctuation and the em dash. Use bold and italics. —Mary Harris Jones
• For sidebars by the same author who wrote the feature use initials with periods: —M.J.
• For additional research or reporting: —Mary Harris Jones, with additional research by the Daniels King, Moattar, Friedman, Spinelli, and Schulman
• Fit signoffs into text lines; if one must be on its own line, justify it to the left.
Use small caps for acronyms and abbreviations and all-capped words that are three letters or more in the print magazine, including radio station call signs. Exceptions:
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A widow happens when the last line in a paragraph is noticeably shorter than the text column, leaving a large white space after the text. Widows are okay only if they are longer than one-third of the text column. If they’re shorter, point them out to art or editorial.
Web deks always end with punctuation, even if they’re not complete sentences.
• Web headlines should not exceed 100 characters or three lines. One or two lines is ideal.
• Use sentence case for social headlines and deks. Only add a period when it’s a full sentence.
quotation marks, apostrophes
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Terms to know
Bug and lower third:
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• “B-roll” means secondary footage.
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• Use numerals for 3 and above. (Soft rule—break this rule if it looks awful in rare cases. But always numerals for ages and measurements.)
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• (laughs), (coughs), (cheering) is our style for videos.
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Example of embedding a podcast in web stories (italicized lead, with a colon):
“at @” is one too many. Just @handle.
Capitalize each word’s first letter: #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter.
Wherever italics are not possible for titles, like on Facebook and Twitter, use double quotes instead: Pixar’s “Bao.”
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Our daily newsletter is the Mother Jones Daily. For all email subject lines, use sentence case (not Title Case), and no period at the end unless it’s the second of two sentences.
For fundraising emails specifically:
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• Pre-header: [Appears in inbox preview] Needs a period at end so it doesn’t run into opening line of content in preview mode.
• FirstName/Mother Jones Reader, (with comma)
• P.S. (no colon)
Link the words, not the final punctuation: Like this. Not like this. Exception: Call-to-action fundraisers can link everything for emphasis, including punctuation: Let’s pull together and take action!
Corrections, Updates, Clarifications
• All errors of fact must be corrected, and a correction note added to the post in italics. Example: Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated TK. In fact, TK. Correction notes should avoid restating the error unless restating the error is helpful for clarity or transparency.
• All corrections should be flagged for our managing editor, our copy editor, our research editor, or your point editor. A correction’s tone should match the story’s tone: serious or funny, but not defensive or dismissive.
• For most typos and inconsequential misspellings, just fix and move on, but if a name is misspelled throughout a story, a correction note is needed: Correction: TK’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.
• If a correction is so massive that it changes the nature or scope of the story, let social editors know. They should tweet a correction or share it on social media if the correction calls for it.
• If a headline is changed for substantive reasons, add a note to the story as well: Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been updated [TK reason if needed].
We have several formatting options for updates:
Add an update at the top of the post:
Update, 12:30 p.m. ET: President Joe Biden announced…
(Use the time zone you’re in or the one most relevant to the story.)
If the story is still developing (e.g., active shooter), add this note at the bottom:
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow us on Twitter.
Same Day, Not Critical
Add the update at the bottom:
Update, 12:30 p.m. ET: President Joe Biden announced…
Add the update at the top, with date but no time:
Update, April 15: President Barack Obama announced…
(Only include the year if the update is in a different year from the original post.)
If the update is not critical, add it at the bottom.
Live Election Results
Add the first update at the bottom of the original post, and successive updates above it:
7:25 p.m. ET: Candidate TK has likely won…
7:05 p.m. ET: Results were barely in Tuesday night, but…
7:02 p.m. ET: As polls closed on the East Coast, the networks immediately predicted…
If updates roll onto the next day, mention the new date once:
10:30 a.m. ET: TK made a speech…
March 2, 9:15 a.m. ET: TK made a speech…
7:05 p.m. ET: Results were barely in Tuesday night…
6:50 p.m. ET: As polls closed on the East Coast…
If so many updates are needed that it’s cluttered, write it through. Add a note at bottom: This story has been updated.
If you’re adding context that doesn’t change the meaning, add Clarification: It’s worth noting that some TK were larger in scale.
All videos with substantial factual errors should be deleted from all platforms, and a correction note added to the description on YouTube/Facebook: Correction: An earlier version of this video misstated TK. If you’re keeping up the flawed video because the error is minor, just add a correction in the description: Correction: At minute 3:55, TK fact instead. (Our correction policy for deleting videos is stricter than for online articles because incorrect videos cannot be fixed after publication without deletion, whereas web articles can be fixed after publication.)
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
AI for artificial intelligence, no periods
A.D. is preferred for clarity, despite its specific religious roots (short for anno domini, “in the year of the Lord”). It’s generally not needed except to clarify when a date isn’t B.C. When using it, put it after the year or time period: 15 A.D. Note that this is the opposite of the AP’s rule for using A.D. Stick to this house guideline.
adviser not advisor
advocate As a noun, advocate can be followed by “for,” as in: He’s an advocate for sustainable building. It can also stand as a verb without the “for”: He advocates sustainable building. But it never takes “for” as a verb: He advocates for sustainable building is wrong.
agrichemical not agrochemical
Aita al Shaab
al-Sadr (with full name), Sadr (when only last name is used); al-Shadri, Shadri. Follow this style for all names constructed Name al-Othername, unless there’s a different established spelling.
“Amtrak Joe” Biden, President Biden
Arco okay on first reference for Atlantic Richfield Co.
Associated Press Spell out on first reference (no italics), and abbreviate as the AP (including “the”) on later references.
asylum seeker no hyphen
author okay to stet as verb
back seat (noun), backseat (adj.), as in backseat driver
Beltway as in inside-the-Beltway critics
Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program
Beverly Hills, 90210 with comma
Big Lie capped, no quotes
Black Hawk helicopter
border crosser no hyphen
Boy Scouts acceptable on second reference as the Scouts. As an adjective, drop the “s”: Boy Scout camp. When the word “scout” stands alone, lowercase: scout leaders, a scout camp. Also lowercase “scouts” (plural) when referring to a group of boys, as opposed to the organization. Example: The scouts sang campfire songs. The Scouts have continued to discriminate.
brand new never hyphenate
BS for bullshit
child care never hyphenate
chile (not chili) for the pepper; chili for the stew
city council lowercase when it stands alone; capitalize when it takes a city name
clearcut, clearcutting (referring to trees); but hyphenate clear-cut when meaning is “unambiguous”: clear-cut case; the case isn’t clear-cut.
Co., Corp. abbreviate per AP
commander in chief
“Contract With America” shorthand Contract is okay after first reference.
copy edit (verb), copy editor, copy-edit process, copy-edited version
cueing not cuing
data (takes singular verbs): data is
Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL pipeline
day one, day two lowercase, contra AP
decision-making, decision maker
deep state lowercase, but Deep State if used facetiously
Democrat, Democratic cap in reference to Democratic Party, but not when
used generically (a democratic society)
Democratic National Convention, Democratic convention
Democratic Republic of Congo: no “The” to start it; “Congo” on second
Department of Defense, Defense Department both accepted. DOD (in
small caps in print) on second reference, not DoD.
diehard in all cases
direct-mail hyphenate as a compound: direct-mail campaign
doughnut not donut (unless you want to; the doughnut patrol is busy)
do’s and don’ts
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
drop out (verb), dropout (adj., noun)
du-rag not do-rag or dorag or durag
Earned Income Tax Credit
earth lowercase when referring to soil; capitalize for the planet
editor-in-chief cap Editor-in-Chief on Mother Jones masthead or when preceding a name.
e.g., with periods and always followed by comma
Erbil not Irbil; a northern Iraqi/Kurdish city
etc., followed by a comma when occurring in the middle of a sentence:
Several chickens, cows, horses, etc., were spotted on the road.
excessive force (shorthand), use of excessive force (in full)
fact-check verb, noun, adjective
firm Ignore AP’s distinction between a company and a firm. Use of “firm”
okay in all instances.
flyer advertising circular; flier: one who flies
Forbes 400, Fortune 500
fossil fuel never hyphenate
frontline adjective, front lines noun
G7 not G-7
Generation X, Gen X, Gen Xer, Silent Generation
Geneva Conventions but Article 3 of the Geneva Convention
GEO Group no “the” before it
goddamn, goddamnit, goddamned
grades A+, B-, C+, etc.
Gulf War, first Gulf War
gun control never hyphenate
health care never hyphenate; day care, skin care
high school open as an adjective (unless confusing; then hyphenate)
Highway See Interstate.
hip-hop noun, adj.
hot button (noun); hyphenate when used as a compound modifier: hot-button issues.
human rights never hyphenate
ice cream noun, adj., never hyphenated
iced coffee not ice coffee
ID’d, OD’d, ODing
i.e., with periods and always followed by comma
Ihor Kolomoisky rather than Igor
Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)
Interstate I-95 or Interstate 95 either can be used on first reference
Intifada to refer to Palestinian uprising; intifada in general
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of (not “in”) Iraq and Syria
Jell-O trademark, jello generic
jihadist not jihadi
JLo for Jennifer Lopez
Johnson & Johnson on first reference; J&J optional on later reference
Juul, Juul Labs
kaffeeklatsch, kaffeeklatsches, kaffeeklatschers
Keystone XL pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline lowercase pipeline
left, left wing (noun), left-wing (adj.), left-winger
like button no quotes around the first word
live blog (noun), live-blog (verb)
livestream in all cases
long shot (noun), long-shot (adj.)
mac ’n’ cheese
Mafia, mafioso, mafiosi, mafiya (Russian mafia), the Mob use lowercase
mafia when it doesn’t refer to the Italian or American crime organizations.
Marshall Project, the not italicized
MC for emcee
means-testing verb, noun
media when referring to news media; “media” takes a singular verb if
preceded by “the.” Example: The media is obsessed with Donald Trump. If not preceded by “the” and if referring to multiple news organizations, use a plural verb. Example: We uncover stories that big, corporate-driven media ignore.
Medicare for All
mic or microphone
M.O. as in modus operandi
Mohammed bin Salman
Mother Jones, MotherJones.com, motherjones.com/this-story-is-great
Muhammad for the prophet of Islam
New York magazine
New York Times Magazine, the
okay do not abbreviate—unless you really want to. But don’t.
onscreen, offscreen, onstage, offstage
over generally refers to spatial relationships. Use “more than” with numerals, but “over” is fine if it sounds better in context or space is tight.
Paris agreement, Paris climate agreement, Paris climate accord
per capita always follows a noun, so never hyphenate
Pill lowercase if used with a modifier: birth control pill; cap if alone: the Pill
Postal Service, the post office, as in: Postal Service agents arrest Steve Bannon
ProPublica not italicized
protester not protestor
Qur’an not Quran or Koran
Reddit, subreddit, /r/The_Donald
real estate never hyphenate, even when it modifies a noun
Red cap when it refers to communism
Red Scare refers to public fear of communism in the mid-1900s
Redskins Refer to the NFL team in DC as “Washington,” “Washington’s NFL team,” or “the Washington [Redacted].”
Republican National Convention, Republican convention
resume not résumé
right, right wing (noun), right-wing (adj.), right-winger
rock ’n’ roll
Sears Holding Corp. 2005 merger of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Shah before or after name
Shariah not Sharia
Shiite not Shia
shit ton no hyphen
soft money open as a compound
Soho (London), SoHo (NYC)
Soleimani, Gen. Qassem
spartan not Spartan, unless referring to something from Sparta
squad lowercase as informal name for the group consisting of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar
stop and frisk no hyphens as standalone noun; stop-and-frisk policy as a compound modifier preceding the noun
teenage, teenager use the adjective “teenage” instead of “teenaged”
telephone numbers take hyphens, no parentheses: 415-665-6637
Times of London
the Today show not The Today Show
toward not towards
Treasurys not Treasuries
unfriend not de-friend
United Kingdom noun, UK adj.
United Nations noun, UN adj.
United States noun, US adj., but US is also okay as a noun when it avoids repetition or saves space in sidebars, stat boxes, etc.; the same goes for UK and UN
US Central Command
war on terror
Washington, DC, with commas and no periods
WMD not WMDs
words use quotes (e.g., the word “color” has two syllables)
YouTube capital T
zip code not ZIP code
Style and copy questions: email@example.com