Style Guide

Top 14 Style Requirements

1. Use active voice

  • Use active voice as often as possible. Active voice means the subject of the sentence is “you” or “we.” Consider the following example:
    • Passive: Each winter, kindergarten applications are accepted for the coming school year.
    • Active: We accept kindergarten applications each winter for the coming school year.

2. Use headings

  • Headings help organize information for readers. Headings also help make the information digestible.

3. Make sure your content is at a ninth-grade reading level

  • To check: In Word, go to the “Review” tab, click on “Word Count” and see the Flesch-Kincaid readability score under “Document Stats.” A score of 60 to 70 represents an eighth- to-ninth grade reading level.

4. Use simple words, short sentences, and short paragraphs

  • Sentences that are too long, complex words, dense paragraphs, and passive sentences will raise the reading-level of your content.

5. Use serial commas

  • When three or more items are listed in a series separated by commas (known as serial or Oxford commas), place a comma before the final item, as in number 4 above. 

6. Avoid jargon

  • Don’t leave out necessary technical terms, but make sure your content is as clear as possible.

7. Avoid abstract nouns

  • Abstract nouns (e.g. problem, issue, situation, factor, character, process, etc.) are vague and obscure your content. For example:
  • Abstract: they receive their checks on a monthly basis.
  • Clear: They receive checks monthly.

8. Keep translation in mind

  • Avoid acronyms as often as possible and be careful with idiomatic expressions, like, “Ignite early-childhood learning.” This could translate into “Set pre-school on fire.”

9. Spell out numbers up to nine and never use ordinals

  • One, two, three, four, etc. Never use 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

10. Never use all caps, italics, or underlining

  • It is distracting and some readers may assume underlined text is a hyperlink.

11. Write descriptive links

  • Describe the link’s destination. Never use “click here” or similar generic link names.

12. Write short paragraphs and short sentences

13. Simple verbs Use present tense as often as possible.

14. Prune excess words and modifiers

  • Words like “really,” “very,” “actually,” “totally,” “basically,” “practically” and “absolutely” can almost always be deleted and your meaning will stay the same.

Plain Language

All content written or prepared for the DOE should be family-facing, meaning at or below a ninth-grade reading level, so that it is understandable to everyone. Easy-to-read content also translates more accurately into other languages. Here are ways to improve readability for all NYC Public Schools documents and publications:

  • Choose everyday language (e.g., use instead of utilize; give instead of disseminate).
  • Use short, simple sentences.
    • For example, instead of this: Students who are engaged and challenged to think like historians, raise questions, think critically and consider the perspectives of others, understand the role of citizens in the community and the nation, and have a better chance of becoming informed and responsible members of a democracy.
    • Write this: Social studies courses challenge students to think critically, ask questions, and understand how other people think and feel. These skills help students become informed and responsible members of a democracy.
  • Group related ideas under a heading.
  • Write in an active, not passive, voice. See entry in Top 14 Style Requirements.
  • Avoid acronyms.

For further tips on writing in plain language and for accessibility, please see

General Style and Guidance

Abbreviations and Acronyms

  • Limit your use of abbreviations and acronyms as they can be overwhelming to readers. When you use acronyms, spell out the full term on first reference, followed by the shortened version in parentheses. Then use the acronym for subsequent references. Always capitalize abbreviations or acronyms, and do not put periods between the letters.
    • Correct: UFT
    • Incorrect: U.F.T.
  • If you mention a term only once in a document, do not provide the abbreviation/acronym in parentheses.


  • This word should always be lower-case, unless it is part of a proper title.

Affect vs. Effect

  • Affect is a verb and effect is a noun.
    • Verb: Heavy snow affected school closings.
    • Noun: The effect of heavy snow is school closure.


  • Use bold typeface to set off a title or sub-heading, but avoid using boldface (or italicizing, underlining, changing the color of text, etc.) in the middle of sentences or paragraphs because this decreases readability.

Bulleted Lists

  • If the statement introducing your list is not a complete sentence, use lowercase letters for the first word of each bullet.
  • If it is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word of each bullet.
  • End bullets that are complete sentences with a period.
  • Make sure the structure is parallel (start with either a verb or a noun and be consistent throughout).


  • Do not capitalize a word or term unless it is a) a proper noun or b) starts a sentence.
    • Correct: School starts on September 5, 2018.
    • Incorrect: The first day of School is September 5, 2018.
  • Headings should be in title case
    • each word initial cap
    • exceptions for prepositions, articles, etc.
  • Headings that are questions are sentence case (normal sentence capitalization).
    • A mixed-case style in which the first word of the sentence is capitalized, as well as proper nouns and other words as required by a more specific rule. This is generally equivalent to the baseline universal standard of formal English orthography.
  • Job Titles
    • See job titles. Be aware that many terms such as job titles may not be capitalized unless referring to a title followed by a name.
  • School Names 
    • Do not capitalize terms like high school or middle school unless they factor into a school’s proper name.
    • Whenever you abbreviate the terms Public School, Intermediate School, Junior High School, or Middle School as part of school names, capitalize them and include periods along with the school’s name, if it has one (e.g., P.S. 123 Mahalia Jackson, J.H.S. 123 James M. Kieran).
    • Eliminate the first zero in a school’s name (e.g., write P.S. 031 Bayside as P.S. 31 Bayside).
    • In formal documents, spell out High School (e.g., Brooklyn Technical High School).
    • In informal documents, you may abbreviate it as HS, without periods between the letters.
    • Whenever possible, add the school’s location to avoid confusion (e.g., P.S. 8 Luis Belliard in Manhattan). 
  • Other words that are always capitalized: Individualized Education Program, NYC School Survey, and School Quality Snapshot.


    • COVID-19 in title case is correct; do NOT refer to the coronavirus as Covid-19 or Covid.


    • Dates should include a month, day, and year (January 1, 2018) unless the year is implicit.
    • Do not use ordinal suffixes (st, nd, rd, or th) after the day.
    • When using a complete date in a sentence, place a comma after both the day and year (e.g., The new millennium began on January 1, 2001, not January 1, 2000).
    • When writing the day of the week along with the calendar date, place a comma after the day of the week (e.g., Winter Recess begins on Monday, December 24, 2018.
    • For a range of dates, use either an en dash (September 19–21) or the word to (September 19 to October 21).
    • School Year
      • Express school year as 2023–24. In addition, always put the year before the term school year (e.g., during the 2017–2018 school year… not during school year 2017–2018…).


      • Write the word email without a hyphen (not e-mail).
      • Capitalize only when it begins a sentence.
      • When including email addresses in a formal document, always capitalize proper nouns in referring to names of titles, offices, or programs (e.g.,
      • When providing a specific individual’s email address within an email or on the website, hyperlink to that person’s email address.

      Every Day vs. Everyday

      • Everyday describes an activity that is ordinary, routine, or commonplace. Every day describes an activity or event that occurs daily or each day of the week.


      • Use the term families whenever possible, instead of parent/guardian, to be as inclusive as possible of our students’ widely varying family structures.


      • Do not capitalize the word federal unless it is the name of something. For example, The Federal Reserve.

                Job Titles

                • Do not capitalize job titles, such as principal, teacher, or parent coordinator unless used directly before a specific principal’s (or other individual’s) name. The following are correct: “Teachers work with Principal Smith to develop new curricula;” and “Jane Smith, principal at P.S. 123, works with teachers to develop new curricula.” One exception to this rule: always capitalize “the Chancellor.”


                • Capitalize all languages (e.g., Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu).


                • Start with the dollar symbol ($) and use numerals—even for figures lower than 10.
                  • There is $3 million worth of funding.
                • Round dollar amounts to the nearest whole number unless there is a reason the exact figure is necessary:
                  • $12 million
                • Referencing millions? Keep it to two digits to the right of decimal.
                  • $12.5 million
                  • $12.25 million


                • Spell out whole numbers one through nine. However, if a number is the first word in a sentence, spell it out.
                • For numbers 10 or higher, use numerals.
                • Use numerals for all numbers that include a fraction or a decimal, even if that number is less than ten (e.g., 6.5, 6 ½, 32.75). Be consistent: avoid using a fraction and a decimal in the same sentence. 
                • Fractions that stand alone and are not attached to numbers (they are smaller than one) should be spelled out and hyphenated (e.g., More than three-fifths of the class of 2009 graduated on time.).
                • When dealing with large, cumbersome numbers, start with a numeral and write out the rest of the number (e.g., The school system spent more than $5 billion on textbooks. City schools educate 1.1 million students.). 
                • If a number is more than 1,000, there should be a comma separating the thousands, except in the case of years (e.g., 2018).
                • When using decimals, be consistent about the number of decimal places you provide. For example, if a figure went from 18.8 percent to 12 percent, the 12 percent should also include one decimal place and be written as 12.0 percent. For guidance on percentages, see the Percent entry.
                • Whenever you are referring to exact numbers or amounts, use more than and less than instead of over and fewer, respectively. 
                • Dollar figures should use the dollar sign ($12 million is correct, 12 million dollars is not). When using a dollar sign, numerals can be used for figures that are less than ten ($3 million worth of funding.). Round dollar figures to the nearest whole number unless there is a reason the exact figure is necessary. Figures in the millions should have no more than two numbers to the right of the decimal (e.g., $3.25 million).
                • For percentages, use a numeral and write out the word percent (e.g., The City’s graduation rate is 72.6 percent.). Only use a % symbol in tables or graphs.
                • For telephone numbers use the following format: XXX-XXX-XXXX. 
                • Use digits with standard measures: 5 gallons, 10 minutes, 2 pixels.


                • All of the DOE’s written communications must reflect our commitment to diversity and inclusion. To ensure that all written materials align with our Guidelines to Support Transgender and Gender Expansive Students, address all students and adults by the pronoun that represents their preferred gender identity.
                • If you do not know their gender identity, ask them to share their pronouns with you. If they decline, or if you are referring to an unnamed person, always use they/theirs (e.g., The student shared their thoughts on the importance of civic engagement.).
                • It is also acceptable to use ‘they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun for people who do not identify with a binary gender type. These individuals may also go by ze/hir pronouns.

                Race and Ethnicity

                • Use the term “Black” with an upper-case “B” when referring to an African-American person.
                • Use the term Latino or Latina—Do not use Hispanic since it is a linguistic term, while Latino is a geographic term.


                • Capitalize seasons only when referencing a specific academic term (Fall 2018). Do not use the passive voice when referring to seasons (e.g., the fall of 2018).

                Spacing Between Sentences

                • Use one space (not two) between sentences.


                • Staff is a singular noun and should be followed by singular verbs (e.g., The school’s staff stays in the classroom.). If you want to use a plural verb, use staff members (e.g., Staff members teach in the classroom.).


                • Print:
                  • Abbreviate the morning and afternoon/evening hours as “a.m.” and “p.m.” with one space between the digit and the abbreviation. Ex.: 8 a.m.
                • Website:
                  • Abbreviate the morning and afternoon/evening hours as “AM” and “PM” with no space between the digit and the abbreviation. Ex.: 8AM.
                • For both print and website:
                  • When indicating a time range, separate two times by an en dash.
                  • If the two times are both in the morning or afternoon, only write “a.m.” or “p.m.” after the second time: 8–9 a.m., 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (for print); 8–9AM, 8AM–12:30PM (for website).
                  • Unless you are working on a formal document, you do not have to include minutes when referring to a time that falls exactly on the hour. i.e. 9 a.m. NOT 9:00 a.m.

                Places, Locations, and Organizations


                • Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used in street names or avenues; otherwise, use the number for street numbers higher than 10.
                • Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd., St., etc.
                • Never use ordinals after street numbers (1st, 2nd, 5th).
                • Stack the address on three lines as you would an envelope. Use shift-enter instead of hard returns between lines.
                • Only use the five-number form of a zip code.
                • Include the neighborhood or the borough, but not both.


                • Capitalize boroughs and arrange them alphabetically in a list:
                  • Bronx
                  • Brooklyn
                  • Manhattan
                  • Queens
                  • Staten Island


                • Not “city wide” nor “city-wide” and always lowercase outside of proper nouns.

                District, department, division, and program names

                • Do not capitalize the word “district” unless it is being used to refer to a specific district (e.g., District 20), or at the beginning of a sentence.
                • Capitalize the names of all Department of Education (DOE) divisions, departments, and programs.
                • If it is the second reference, you may abbreviate or use an acronym for division, department, or program names.
                • Only use an ampersand in place of the word “and” (e.g., Division of Teaching & Learning) when writing the division name in correspondence or in an email signature. Otherwise, write out the “&” as “and."

                New York City

                • Never abbreviate New York City to NYC in formal documents on first reference unless it is in a direct quote or proper name (e.g., NYC & Company). If you want to shorten New York City on second reference, you can write New York, NYC, or the City.
                • Do not capitalize the word citywide.
                • When using the City, do not capitalize the “C” for any other city other than New York.

                New York City Department of Education

                • Spell out the New York City Department of Education on first reference in a formal document. NYC Department of Education is acceptable in an informal document.
                • On second reference it can be the Department, or DOE, not DoE nor NYCDOE.
                • When writing speeches or talking points for the Chancellor, refer to the DOE as New York City Public Schools on first reference. NYC Public Schools or DOE is acceptable on subsequent references.

                New York State Education Department

                • When referring to the New York State Education Department, spell out and capitalize each word upon first reference. Upon second reference, you may abbreviate it as NY State Education Department.


                • Capitalize an organization/department/law, etc., when referencing the full name. For example, the Supreme Court, Every Student Succeeds Act, Department of Health and Human Services, United Federation of Teachers, New York City Council, etc.
                • Only capitalize the word “administration” (the synonym for cabinet) when referring to a specific administration separately from the individual leading it (e.g., Mayor Jones applauded students for making progress; under his Administration, test scores have gone up. Under Mayor Smith’s administration, though, students did not make progress.).

                Parents Association (PA)/Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

                • Write the terms Parents Association and Parent Teacher Association in title case. You may abbreviate them as PA and PTA on second reference.


                • Capitalize places, boroughs, regions, countries, and continents (e.g., Colorado, the Dominican Republic, Queens, the Europe, and West Coast).
                • Use lower case for directions—east, west, north, and south, except when they are part of a name (e.g., the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, the South, and Eastern Europe).


                • Capitalize the word state when it refers to New York State (e.g., The State must send us billions of dollars in additional education aid.). Do not capitalize the word state when it refers to other states.

                School levels, subjects, and other related terms

                Charter Schools

                • When differentiating school types, refer to them as charter schools and district schools. But as charter schools are public schools—it is redundant to say “all public schools and charter schools."


                • The correct plural of curriculum is curricula, not curriculums.

                Educators and Education Staff

                • Use the term educator when referring to all school staff members. Use the term school leaders in place of administrators, which has an authoritative, supervisory connotation. School leaders generally encompasses principals and assistant principals.

                Grade Levels

                • Write out the number of a grade level, even when referring to grades ten through twelve. Never use the ordinal numeric suffixes nd, rd, st, or th after the grade level. When referring to a range of grades it is acceptable to use “kindergarten through third graders” or “grades K–3.” “Tenth-grade students,” with a hyphen, is correct because the words “tenth” and “grade” become a single term that modifies another word (i.e., students). 
                • If you are creating a chart or diagram that includes many numbers and statistics, you can use numerals when referring to grade levels for simplicity’s sake but be consistent about your formatting. 
                • Pre-K/3-K:
                  • The term pre-kindergarten contains a hyphen. Do not capitalize the term unless used in a title or at the start of a sentence (e.g., Pre-K enrollment starts today). You may abbreviate it as pre-k on second reference. 3-K refers to the DOE’s free, full-day, high-quality early childhood education for three-year-olds. Only use numerals when referring to the program’s proper name.
                  • The K is capital, even in running text (pre-K). There is always a hyphen between “pre” and “K.” In “3K for All,” there is no hyphen between 3 and K .
                • Do not capitalize the word kindergarten unless it is part of a proper noun or abbreviated when mentioning grade levels (e.g., grades K–8).
                • Middle school and high school are not capitalized unless they are part of a school’s name.

                High School

                • See grade levels


                • See grade levels

                Middle School

                • See grade levels

                Multilingual Learner (ML)

                • Multilingual learner refers to a student who is learning English as their non-native language. When referring to this as a program, capitalize the first letter of each word; after the first mention, you can abbreviate it as ML.
                • Similarly, English Language Learner, Dual Language, Transitional Bilingual Education, and English as a New Language programs are correct as written in this sentence.

                School Subjects

                • Only capitalize subjects (e.g., math, science, social studies) if they are proper nouns (e.g., the New York State Earth Science Regents) or if they are languages (e.g., English or Spanish). For example: Sarah’s favorite subject was science and she looked forward to taking the New York State Earth Science Regents.

                Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM)

                • The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields of study are sometimes abbreviated as STEM. Always spell out the term in lower case upon first reference; you can abbreviate it as STEM on second reference.

                Social-Emotional Learning

                • Use a hyphen between “social” and “emotional” when using this term.

                Special Education

                • Do not capitalize the term special education unless you are using it in a title. Do not abbreviate this term as SPED. See additional guidance in students with disabilities.

                Students with Disabilities

                • Do not capitalize the term students with disabilities unless you are using it in the title of a document. After the first mention in an informal document (spelled out completely), you may abbreviate it as SWD. Sometimes, we refer to students with disabilities as students with IEPs; do not refer to them as special needs students or special education students.

                Internet, Web & Website


                • It is no longer necessary to capitalize the word “internet” unless you are using it in a title or as a proper noun (e.g., Internet Explorer). The word intranet refers to a smaller group network. Only capitalize intranet when using it in a title or as a proper noun.


                • The word web should be lowercased unless it is in a title or at the beginning of a sentence.


                • Website is one word. Do not capitalize it unless you are using it at the start of a sentence.
                • Remove any extraneous jargon from the beginning and end of a hyperlink (e.g., “http://,” “www,” “/default” and “.htm” are usually unnecessary). City policy stipulates that we only include the website in formal documents.
                • In smaller, informal documents, you may use the DOE website,
                • Contact the web team to discuss search/keyword strategies for your web pages.

                Grammar and Punctuation

                Ampersand (&)

                • Never use ampersand unless it is in a proper name. Its meaning does not carry across translations.


                • Add a comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more (like the one before “and” in “apples, oranges, and pears”), per Chicago Manual of StyleCMOS refers to it as a “serial comma.”


                • Use a colon to connect clauses, introduce a series, or introduce a quote. Following a colon, include one space and start the next word with a lowercase letter. A capital letter follows a colon only if the next word is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence or quote.


                • There are three types of dashes—the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash. Do not use a space before or after any of them.
                  • hyphen: (-) combines words (e.g., well-being, decision-making) into a single adjective modifier that precedes the word being modified. Words ending in ly are not hyphenated (e.g., highly effective). Do not capitalize the second word in a hyphenated phrase unless it is part of a title.
                    • Noun: opt-out form
                    • Verb: Joe chose to opt out.
                  • An en dash: (–) usually means through (e.g., Read pages 4–6, The event takes place May 1–June 1, 2018 or time spans such as from 3PM – 5PM). 
                    • On a PC, the shortcut in Word for an en dash is “control+minus” (not the hyphen key, but the button on the far right numpad.
                    • On a Mac, the shortcut in Word for an en dash is “option+minus.”
                  • An em dash: (—) Use an em dash to set off a clause and to substitute for a comma or for parentheses to emphasize a clause, per Chicago Manual of Style (e.g., The new law would hurt New Yorkers—and all Americans—so we must fight back.).
                    • On a PC, the shortcut in Word for an em dash is “ctrl+alt+minus” (not the hyphen key, but the button on the far right numpad.
                    • On a Mac, the shortcut in Word for an em dash is “shift+option+minus.”

                Follow these Instructions on how to make each of the above.

                Exclamation Points

                • Do not use exclamation points in formal documents. Use them judiciously in informal documents.

                Quotation Marks

                • Use double quotation marks for everything except quotations within quotations, per Chicago Manual of Style. The comma or period goes inside. For example: "like this." 


                • Use the relative pronouns who and which in place of that in documents; a comma usually comes in front of who and which, because these pronouns prescribe a narrowly defined or specific criteria in referencing a noun. Always use the relative pronoun who when referencing a person. Use which or that in referencing an inanimate object. Commas are not used with the word that. For example, the following sentences are both correct: 
                  • The café, which sells the bests coffee in town, has recently closed.
                  • The teacher, who was highly effective, was a recipient of a prestigious grant. Double check spacing
                • Who is the subject of a sentence (performs the action); whom is the object of a sentence (receives the action). An easy way to remember this is to answer the question in your sentence. If the answer can be him, which also ends in an m, you should use whom (e.g., Sam, who hates calculating fractions, failed his math test. Whom did you interrogate?)
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