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TAC Style Guide

Last updated 11/4/13

TAC has adopted the standards set forth in the Associated Press Stylebook as the guide for the Association’s written communication. Founded in 1848, the Associated Press is the world’s largest news organization with more than a billion people reading or hearing Associated Press news every day.

We decided to adopt Associated Press Stylebook standards since the Associated Press is a trusted news source and most of the public is already familiar with its style.

Because TAC aspires to be the resource for county government officials, our communication should remain uniform throughout the organization so officials can refer to our publications as the authority on proper spelling, punctuation and style. Listed below are common Association applications for Associated Press style issues. Please review and follow them carefully.

Only on rare occasions will we deviate from Associated Press style, and those exceptions are included below. In addition to Associated Press Style, we have established a few TAC-specific style rules, which are also included here.

The Communication Services staff subscribes to the Associated Press Stylebook online. Please contact staff if you have questions about style issues not addressed here.

For ease of use, entries are listed in alphabetical order.  This guide and its accompanying TAC Written Style Cheat Sheet will be updated as needed.

 

academic degrees
Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, etc., but there is no possessive in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. Note when capitalization is used.

Similarly, the correct style would be juris doctor, J.D. degree, and Doctorate in Law; and legum magister degree, L.L.M. degree and Master of Laws.

When used after a name, an academic abbreviation is set off by commas: John Doe, Ph. D., presented at the conference. Do not precede a name with a courtesy title for an academic degree and follow it with the abbreviation for the degree in the same reference. Wrong: Dr. Jane Doe, Ph.D. Right: Dr. Jane Doe, public affairs professor.

acronyms
In general, avoid overuse of acronyms to eliminate confusion. When necessary, acronyms may be used after spelling out the first reference and providing the acronym in parentheses following the first usage. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced new regulations for county drivers. When DPS made the announcement, reporters around the state began questioning the validity of the regulations. (Also, see “state agencies”)

The proper acronym for Texas Association of Counties is TAC, no periods, no spaces. In the first reference, use Texas Association of Counties (no need to include TAC in parentheses in documents intended for county officials or vendors familiar with the organization). All subsequent references may use TAC or the Association.

Exception: Because of the many Association events and programs promoted in the “Clipboard” section of County magazine, TAC may appear in this section on first reference.

active, passive
Use active voice whenever possible. In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb. In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Wrong: The conference was attended by more than 100 county officials. Right: More than 100 county officials attended the conference.

affect, effect
Affect means to influence. The game will affect the standings.

Effect as a verb means to cause. He will effect many changes in the company. Effect as a noun means result. The effect was overwhelming.

affiliate organizations
When writing about TAC’s affiliate organizations, follow the spelling and punctuation used by the particular organization:
County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas
County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas
County Treasurers’ Association of Texas
Justice of the Peace & Constables Association
Sheriffs’ Association of Texas
Texas Association of County Auditors
Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas
Texas District & County Attorneys Association
North and East Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association
South Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association

ampersand, &
Use and instead of an ampersand unless the ampersand is part of an official name or it is necessary to save space in the layout.

and/or
Using this construction can add to the reader’s confusion. Before choosing it, consider whether the sentence could instead be better written with just an and or an or.

apostrophe
Indicates possession or the omission of letters (usually indicating an abbreviation). Unless one of these two rules applies, no apostrophe is necessary. Wrong: The member’s have asked for a new brochure. Right: The member’s meeting is postponed. Wrong: One decade that saw the
onslaught of violence was the 1990’s. Right: One decade that saw the onslaught of violence was the ‘90s.

association
Never abbreviate.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX)
Spell out entire name with spaces in text upon first reference. Use BCBSTX on second and subsequent references.

Board of Directors
When referring to one of the Association’s boards of directors, always capitalize. When referring to only one of the Association’s boards in the same document, all subsequent references may use the Board. The Board of Directors met to discuss the possibility of reorganizing the department. However, after much discussion, the Board decided that restructuring wasn’t necessary. In other instances, lowercase. The local board of directors
voted Tuesday to discontinue the traffic-reduction program.

bulleted lists
Introduce the list with a colon. In general use semicolons to separate each entry, with the next-to-last entry using the word and. Use a period after the last entry. Make sure the first word of each entry is parallel in form, all verbs, all nouns, etc.
Yesterday’s meeting contained several helpful tips:

  • Return emails promptly;
  • Have a co-worker read over the letters you write before you send them;
  • Use lunchtime for rejuvenating during a hard day; and
  • Take detailed notes during meetings.

The semicolons can be omitted or replaced by commas for lists with little text in emails and ad copy.

capitalization
Lowercase formal titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name bycommas. Gene Terry, executive director, spoke briefly at the event. Woodrow Gossom, Wichita County judge, attended the conference.

Capitalize titles when they appear before a person’s name. Executive Director Karen Ann Norris spoke briefly at the event. Did you receive the memo from Wichita County Judge Woodrow Gossom?

Avoid unnecessary capitalization. Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles. The first position he held in government was county clerk. (See specific title entries for guidance on legislative title usage.) Don’t capitalize subjects that were studied for a degree. He received a master’s degree in finance.
 

Exception: TAC staff titles should be capitalized in all instances in correspondence and other materials targeted to members.
When referring to multiple counties, rivers, cities, etc., don’t capitalize the plural.  He traveled to Brazos, Nueces, Jim Wells and Zavala counties.

Capitalize chapters and sections when citing code: Chapter 347, Section 432.1. Capitalize the official names of funds: the Water Development Fund.

Capitalize organizations’ department names.

Capitalize TAC’s Risk Management pool coverages: Crime Coverage, Auto Liability Coverage, etc.;but lowercase coverages when listing more than one, Crime and Auto Liability coverages.

capital, capitol
The word capital refers to the city where a seat of government is located. It is also used in financial sense to describe money, equipment or property. The word capitol refers to the building in which legislative bodies meet.

Check-in, checkout
Note the correct spelling of each. Check-in is 3 p.m. Checkout is at 11 a.m.

clichés
Avoid using them in writing.

click here
Avoid. Instead, use hyperlinked text to explain where the link will take users. Wrong: For more information, click here.
Right: For more information, visit the Cancer Society’s website.

colon
Capitalize the first word following a colon only if it is a proper noun or the beginning of a complete sentence. When discussing the theme for the conference, consider this: Does the theme relate to the topics proposed by conference speakers? To prepare for the conference please bring the necessary items: forms, applications, markers and labels.

comma
Don’t add a comma before the conjunction in a simple series. The flag is red, white and blue. Do use a comma before the conjunction when the series is complicated.  Consider whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude. I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Don’t use a comma before Jr. or Sr.: John Smith Jr.

Use a comma before LLC, Inc., etc., in a company name if the company spells it that way: Dewey, Cheatem and Howw, LLP

commissioner
Do not abbreviate. Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name.

commissioners court
No apostrophe needed.

comptroller, controller
Comptroller generally is the accurate word for government financial officers. Controller generally is the proper word for financial officers of businesses.

computer terms
While many spellings exist of particular words referring to computers and technology, use the spellings listed here for consistency: email, website, Internet, intranet, online, listserv, Web, World Wide Web, Web log (or blog), webpage, webcam, webcast, webmaster.

conscious, conscience
Conscious means awake. Despite a head injury, the patient remained conscious. Conscience is the sense of obligation to be good. Chris wouldn’t cheat because his conscience wouldn’t let him.

County magazine
Not County Magazine. Italicize County, but not magazine.

coverage
Capitalize TAC’s Risk Management pool coverages: Crime Coverage, Auto Liability Coverage, etc.;but lower case coverages when listing more than one, Crime and Auto Liability coverages.

dash
There are two types of dashes, the en dash and the em dash. Use an en dash (with no spaces around it) when the meaning is through, usually with dates. We’re holding the conference April 12–14. Use an em dash (with a space on either side) in all other instances, usually to denote an abrupt change in thought. Yesterday, the street was soaked from the rain —  12 inches fell in 30 minutes. Both dashes can be found in MS Word under “insert,” “symbol,” “special characters.”
When using an en dash in a date range on signs, add a space on either side of the dash.

dates
Always use Arabic figures without st, nd, rd or th. The meeting was held March 2. Do you plan to attend the Oct. 24 meeting? See months entry for guidance on when to abbreviate. Don’t identify the year when referring to dates that occur in the current year. Our Annual Conference is Aug. 15. The theme for the Aug. 2, 2007, conference was interesting. If, however, the context is unclear, list the year to avoid confusion. The May 15, 2007, meeting was instrumental in planning the July 8, 2008, committee meeting.

Include the year as part of the date for materials promoting educational events (including mailers, programs, ads) unless the year is part of the name of the event. Do not use the year when listing the date on signage for the event.

Health Care Reform
Capitalize this short-hand reference to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

impact
Minimize use of this word as a verb and choose an alternate, such as affect. TAC will analyze the bill’s affect on county government.

in order to
Use to instead. Wrong: Please lock your door in order to ensure safety. Right: Please lock your door to ensure safety.

infer, imply
People sometimes confuse infer with imply, but the distinction is a useful one. When we say that a speaker or sentence implies something, we mean that information is conveyed or suggested without being stated outright.
When the judge said that she would not rule out a tax increase, she implied (not inferred) that some taxes might be raised.
Inference, on the other hand, is the activity performed by a reader or interpreter in drawing conclusions that are not explicit in what is said. When the judge said that she would not rule out a tax increase, we inferred that she had been consulting with some new financial advisers, since her old advisers were in favor of tax reductions.

its, it’s
Its is the possessive pronoun of it. The Board had its meeting Monday. It’s is the abbreviation of it is. The Monday meeting was cancelled, but it’s rescheduled for Tuesday.

lead, led
Lead is the present tense of the verb meaning to show the way. Please lead the Friday meeting. Led is the past tense.
John Paul led the Friday meeting.

Legislature
When referring to a particular legislative body, such as the Texas Legislature, capitalize. The Legislature enacted 14 new bills this session. But don’t capitalize when referring generically to lawmaking bodies across the country. Regardless of what the citizens have requested, legislatures passed similar bills in more than 35 states.

link
Acceptable in all uses when referring to a hyperlink.

In print, links never should be underlined and should appear in the same color as surrounding text. Online, when linking to a page not located within www.county.org, format the link to open in a new window using the appropriate HTML tag: <a href=“http://www.othersite.  org” target=“_blank“>other site</a>.


login, logon, logoff

Use login, logon and logoff as adjectives and nouns. What’s my login number? Please remember the logoff information. Use log in, log on and log off as verbs. I need to log off my computer.

memoranda, memorandum
Memorandum is singular. Use memoranda when referring to more than one memorandum.

money
Use the dollar sign without the word dollar. George paid $10 for his sandwich. Use exact figures for up to $1 million, and round to the nearest hundredth for figures larger. The hotel sold for $8.72 million. Use of the decimal point and following zeros is unnecessary. Conference registration is $100.

months
Capitalize months in all uses. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only the following Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Hint: Months with fewer than five letters never get abbreviated. Oct. 1 is when the last quarter begins. July 4 is a holiday.

Spell out when using alone or with a year alone. January 1967 was cold. When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. Do you remember the top song from March 1983? When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas. April 15, 1998, was a stressful day for many people.

numbers
Spell out whole numbers below 10; use figures for 10 and above. The course is approved for six continuing education units. The break lasts 10 minutes. When beginning a sentence with a number, always spell out. Ten people showed up at the last minute.

Always use numbers for the following exceptions to the above rule: ages, dimensions, percentages, times, street numbers and days of the month. His 8-year-old brother was 4 feet 2 inches tall, only 3 percent of the national average. At 6:30 p.m. March 1, we’re going to dinner at 9 South Congress Ave.

on-site, onsite
Use on-site as an adjective and onsite as a noun. Never use on site. All on-site testing will take place Monday. Tests were conducted onsite.

over
A preposition meaning on top of. The plane flew over Atlanta Friday evening. Use more than to describe something that is higher in number. More than 300 county officials attended the County Management Institute.

passive, active
Use active voice whenever possible. In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb. In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Wrong: The conference was attended by more than 100 county officials. Right: More than 100 county officials attended the conference.

phone numbers
In keeping with the format used in IMIS, use parentheses to set off the area code. Indicate the extension using a lowercase x. It’s not necessary to include the 1 preceding an 800 number. Feel free to contact me at (512) 478-8753 x3999, or toll free at (800) 456-5974.

Percent
Always spell out and use with a number. More than 5 percentof applicants missed the deadline. However, the % sign may be used in tables. When tabulating percentages, ensure that the numbers total 100 percent.

Pool, pools
In general, when referring to one of TAC’s pools use upper case, Pool. When referring to more than one use lowercase, pools.

The correct spelling and initialisms for each is:
Health and Employee Benefits PoolTAC HEBP, HEBP or the Pool upon second and subsequent references.
Risk Management PoolTAC RMP, RMP or the Pool upon second and subsequent references.
Unemployment Compensation Group Account FundTAC UCGAF or TAC Unemployment Fund, or the Fund upon second and subsequent references.

president
Capitalize president only as a formal title before one or more names. President Clinton spoke to a crowd of supporters. Presidents Carter and Reagan visited the meeting. Lowercase in all other uses. The president visited my office today. He is running for president. Lincoln was president during the Civil War.

Public Officials Liability
No apostrophe needed.

quotation marks
Periods and commas go inside the closing quotation mark. Mary said, “I need a vacation.” Question marks and exclamation points go inside only if they’re part of the quote. Mary shouted, “I need a vacation!” Did Mary say, “I need a vacation”?

Use quotation marks when instructing readers about what to say when registering for a conference:  Ask for the “Texas Association of Counties” room block when booking your room at the conference hotel.

Rainy Day Fund
Capitalize this term as the short-hand reference for the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund. Use Rainy Day Fund upon first reference and when possible; reference the official name of the fund later in the text.

representative
Use Rep. and Reps. as formal titles before one or more names in regular text. Spell out and lowercase in other cases. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and state Rep. Dawnna Dukes met to discuss the proposed legislation.

self-insurance
Always self-insurance, never self insurance.

senator
Use Sen. and Sens. as formal titles before one or more names in regular text. Spell out and lowercase in other cases. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and state Sen. Mike Moncrief appeared before the panel Friday.
Documents solely referencing members of the Texas Legislature need not add state to Rep. or Sen.

spacing
Only one space is needed after a period or colon instead of two.

state
Lowercase in all state of constructions: the state of Texas, the states of Texas and Louisiana. Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. John Doe, the state Transportation Department, state funds. Apply the same principle to phrases such as the city of Austin, county of Duval, etc.

state agencies
Spell out full name for first reference, with abbreviation following in parentheses. Grant applications may be obtained from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Unless a state agency is commonly known without the T — DPS, GLO or CPS, for example — use the initial T as part of the acronym, such as TDCJ, TYC or TJPC. Exception: the Department of Transportation in Texas is commonly referred to as TxDOT.

T-shirt
Not t-shirt.

technology terms
While many spellings exist of particular words referring to computers and technology, use the spellings listed here for consistency: email, website, Internet, intranet, online, listserv, Web, World Wide Web, Web log (or blog), webpage, webcam, webcast, webmaster.

Texas
In materials about TAC events —  including conference mailers, programs and ads — Texas can be dropped from the location. 2013 Legislative Conference, Aug. 28-30, Austin. Abbreviate when included as part of an address, 1210 San Antonio, Austin TX.

TCLEOSE now TCOLE
The 83rd Legislature changed the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).

than, then
Than is used in comparison statements, in statements of preference and to suggest quantities beyond a specified amount. The association is larger than its competitor. We would rather meet in the morning than in the afternoon. The meeting lasted longer than usual. Then is a time other than now. First we must plan, and then we can deliver.

their, there, they’re
Their is a possessive pronoun. Their books were waiting at the front door. There is an adverb indicating direction. We went there for dinner. They’re is a contraction for they are. They’re arriving late.

time of day
Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a.m. and p.m., lowercased without spaces. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 3:30 p.m. Eliminate the :00 for times that
occur on the hour: 1 p.m. Avoid redundancies such as 10 a.m. this morning. Do not put 12 in front of noon or midnight. When stating a range of time that spans a.m. and p.m. identify each time accordingly: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Separate times with an en dash with no spaces on either side. (See the dash entry for more information.)

titles
Italicize the titles of newspapers and magazines. The Austin American-Statesman is published daily. Did you read the last issue of Newsweek?

Use quotation marks for the titles of movies, plays, books, operas, songs, TV programs, speeches, works of art, conference themes and session titles. “Lost” is my favorite television
show. The County Management Institute’s theme is “Moving Forward on the Road to Success.”

toward
Not towards.

under
A preposition meaning beneath. The brochures are under the desk. Use less or fewer to describe something that is lower in number. Use fewer for individual items and less for bulk or quantity. Fewer than 14 members of the board attended the meeting. The fund has less paperwork than last year.

United States
Spell out when used as a noun. There are 50 states in the United States. Use U.S. (no spaces) only as an adjective. The U.S. Senate met yesterday.

veterans
No apostrophe is needed in terms such as veterans affairs, veterans services, etc.

vice president
No hyphen. Capitalize and lowercase following the same rules that apply to president.

website, webpage
One word. Capitalize Internet.
Use www.county.org in text, county.org in advertising. Do not include http:// in front of web addresses.

workers’ compensation
Not worker’s compensation.

worksite wellness
Not work site wellness

years
Don’t identify the year when referring to dates that occur in the current year. Our Annual Conference is Aug. 15. The theme for the Aug. 2, 2007, conference was interesting. If, however, the context is unclear, list the year to avoid confusion. The May 15, 2007, meeting was instrumental in planning the July 8, 2008, committee meeting.

 

Written Style for TAC Education Event Programs

The Associated Press Stylebook is the adopted TAC standard for all written communication except for judicial speaker bios.

Judicial education speaker bios:

  • Communications staff will review bios for incorrect use of grammar and provide suggestions  to judicial education staff;
  • Judicial education staff to review and edit bios for all other areas including suggested grammar changes.
  • When the speaker is a judge, retain “Judge” in front of his/her name upon first and all subsequent references.

Hon. is the TAC standard not Honorable.

In Agenda Portion
How to address county elected officials (non‐judges) in the agenda portion of a program when listed as a speaker:

  • The template should be Hon. (First Name Last Name), (County and Title).

Example:         Hon.  John Doe, Brazos County Sheriff

How to address state or federal elected officials (non‐judges) in the agenda portion of a program when listed as a speaker:

  • The template should be Hon. (First Name Last Name), (Title Capitalized without reference to the district).

Examples:       Hon. James Smith, State Senator
Hon. James Smith, U.S. Senator

How to address sitting judges and judges who have new titles in the agenda portion of a program:

  • The template for judges and former judges is a little different. If they are a sitting judge it is straight forward: Hon. (First Name Last Name), (County and Title);

Example:         Hon. John Doe, Cameron County Judge

  • If the judge is retired/former and holds a new position the template should be Hon. (First Name Last Name), (Current Title).

Example:         Hon. John Doe, TAC Executive Director

How to address all others in the agenda portion of a program:

  • If someone is listed as a speaker in a program and they are not elected simply add a Mr. or Ms. before their name; and
  • The template is Mr./Ms. (First Name Last Name), (County Title).

Example: Mr. John Doe, Gaines County Auditor

In Bio Portion – Non Judicial Education Programs
How to address ALL elected officials in the biography portion of a program:

  • In the biography portion we do not list the titles in the beginning. All bio’s start with just the proper name capitalized. And we do not capitalize titles unless they directly precede the proper name.

Examples: John Doe is sheriff of Smith County.  John Doe is sheriff of Smith County. Sheriff Doe has worked in Smith County for 20 years.

How to address all people on continued references in the biography portion of a program:

  • All bios will refer to the person’s last name after the first mention.

Example: John Smith has worked in Galveston County for 20 years. Smith started working in the county as a sheriff.

Registrant List/Board List
How to address ALL elected officials in the registrant and board member portion of a program:

  • All elected officials are listed as Hon. (First Name Last Name with County and Title Underneath).

Example:         Hon. John Doe
                        Taylor County Judge

How to address all others in the registrant and board member portion of a program:

  • If someone is listed as a registrant or a board member and they are not elected simply add a Mr. or Ms. before their name; and
  • The template is Mr./Ms. (First Name Last Name with County and Title Underneath).

Example:         Mr. John Doe
                        Gaines County Auditor