Content Style Guides
This will be the organization’s style guide. It will help us write clear and consistent content across our chapters and channels. It will be used as a reference for style, usage and terminology by the membership when writing for the Organization at a national and chapter level, undergraduate or alumni.
This is a living document that will benefit from ongoing input and updating. This document help:
- Enforce a consistent voice for all publications
- Provide a shared vocabulary
- Offers substantial and background for answering commonly encountered questions
Writing Goals and Principles
With every piece of content we publish, we aim to:
- Empower. Help people understand Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. by using language that informs them and encourages them to join the organization and participate with it.
- Respect. Treat readers with the respect they deserve. Put yourself in their shoes, and don’t patronize them. Remember that they have other things to do. Be considerate and inclusive. Don’t market at people; communicate with them.
- Educate. Tell readers what they need to know, not just what we want to say. Give them the exact information they need, along with opportunities to learn more. Remember that you’re the expert, and readers don’t have access to everything you know.
- Guide. Think of yourself as a tour guide for our readers. Whether you’re leading them through our marketing website, apps, or educational materials, communicate in a friendly and helpful way.
- Speak truth. Understand Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. place in our audience lives. Avoid dramatic storytelling and grandiose claims. Focus on our real strengths.
In order to achieve those goals, we make sure our content is:
- Clear. Understand the topic you’re writing about. Use simple words and sentences.
- Useful. Before you start writing, ask yourself: What purpose does this serve? Who is going to read it? What do they need to know?
- Friendly. Write like a human. Don’t be afraid to break a few rules if it makes your writing more relatable. All of our content, from splashy homepage copy to system alerts, should be warm and human.
- Appropriate. Write in a way that suits the situation. Just like you do in face-to-face conversations, adapt your tone depending on who you’re writing to and what you’re writing about.
Writing About People
Whether you’re writing for an internal or external audience, it’s important to write for and about other people in a way that’s compassionate, inclusive, and respectful. Being aware of the impact of your language will help make Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. a better organization to be a part of and a better steward of our values in the world. In this section we’ll lay out some guidelines for writing about people with compassion, and share some resources for further learning.
Don’t reference a person’s age unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If it is relevant, include the person’s specific age, offset by commas.
The CEO, 16, just got her driver’s license.
Don’t refer to people using age-related descriptors like “young,” “old,” or “elderly.”
Don’t refer to a person’s disability unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If you need to mention it, use language that emphasizes the person first: ”she has a disability” rather than “she is disabled.”
When writing about a person with disabilities, don’t use the words “suffer,” “victim,” or “handicapped.” “Handicapped parking” is OK.
Gender and sexuality
Don’t call groups of people “guys.” Don’t call women “girls.”
Avoid gendered terms in favor of neutral alternatives, like “server” instead of “waitress” and “business person” instead of “businessman.”
It’s OK to use “they” as a singular pronoun.
Use the following words as modifiers, but never as nouns:
- queer people of color
Don’t use these words in reference to LGBT people or communities:
Don’t use “same-sex” marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you’re writing. (Avoid “gay marriage.”) Otherwise, it’s just “marriage.”
When writing about a person, use their preferred pronouns. If you’re uncertain, just use their name.
Use “deaf” as an adjective to describe a person with significant hearing loss. You can also use “partially deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
Don’t refer to a person’s medical condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing.
If a reference to a person’s medical condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities and emphasize the person first. Don’t call a person with a medical condition a “victim.”
Mental and cognitive conditions
Don’t refer to a person’s mental or cognitive condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. Never assume that someone has a medical, mental, or cognitive condition.
Don’t describe a person as “mentally ill.” If a reference to a person’s mental or cognitive condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities or medical conditions and emphasize the person first.
Use the adjective “blind” to describe a person who is unable to see. Use “low vision” to describe a person with limited vision.
Grammar and Mechanics
Following certain rules of grammar and mechanics helps us keep our writing clear and consistent.
Write for all readers. Some people will read every word you write. Others will read only a few. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headers and subheaders.
Focus your message. Create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or most important content, in sentences, paragraphs, sections, and pages.
Be concise. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary modifiers.
Be specific. Avoid vague language. Cut the fluff.
Be consistent. Stick to the copy patterns and style points in this guide.
We use a few different forms of capitalization. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word.
When writing out an email address or website URL, use all lowercase.
Don’t capitalize random words in the middle of sentences. Here are some words that we never capitalize in a sentence. For more, see the Word List.
They’re great! They give your writing an informal, friendly tone. In most cases, use them as you see fit. Avoid them if you’re writing content that will be translated for an international audience.
Emoji are a fun way to add humor and visual interest to your writing, but use them infrequently and deliberately.
Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Otherwise, use the numeral. This includes ordinals, too.
- Ten new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.
- I ate 3 donuts at Coffee Hour.
- Meg won 1st place in last year’s Walktober contest.
- We hosted a group of 8th graders who are learning to code.
Numbers over three digits get commas:
Write out big numbers in full. Abbreviate them if there are space restraints, as in a tweet or a chart: 1k, 150k.
Spell out the day of the week and abbreviate the month, unless you’re just referring to the month or the month and the year.
- Saturday, Jan. 24
- Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015
- January 2015
Decimals and fractions
Spell out fractions.
Use decimal points when a number can’t be easily written out as a fraction, like 1.375 or 47.2.
Don’t use the % symbol. Spell out the word “percent.”
Ranges and spans
Use a hyphen (-) to indicate a range or span of numbers.
It takes 20-30 days.
When writing about US currency, use the dollar sign before the amount. Include a decimal and number of cents if more than 0.
When writing about other currencies, follow the same symbol-amount format:
Use periods without spaces between numbers (no parentheses or dashes). Use a country code if your reader is in another country.
Use the degree symbol and the capital F abbreviation for Fahrenheit.
Use numerals and am or pm without a space. Don’t use minutes for on-the-hour time.
Use a hyphen between times to indicate a time period.
Specify time zones when writing about an event or something else people would need to schedule. Since most of Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is on the west coast we default to PT.
Abbreviate time zones within the continental United States as follows:
- Eastern time: ET
- Central time: CT
- Mountain time: MT
- Pacific time: PT
When referring to international time zones, spell them out: Nepal Standard Time, Australian Eastern Time. If a time zone does not have a set name, use its Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) offset.
Abbreviate decades when referring to those within the past 100 years.
- the 00s
- the 90s
When referring to decades more than 100 years ago, be more specific:
- the 1900s
- the 1890s
The apostrophe’s most common use is making a word possessive. If the word already ends in an s and it’s singular, you also add an ‘s. If the word ends in an s and is plural, just add an apostrophe.
- The donut thief ate Sam’s donut.
- The donut thief ate Chris’s donut.
- The donut thief ate the managers’ donuts.
Apostrophes can also be used to denote that you’ve dropped some letters from a word, usually for humor or emphasis. This is fine, but do it sparingly.
Use a colon (rather than an ellipses, em dash, or comma) to offset a list.
Erin ordered three kinds of donuts: glazed, chocolate, and pumpkin.
You can also use a colon to join two related phrases. If a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize the first word.
I was faced with a dilemma: I wanted a donut, but I’d just eaten a bagel.
When writing a list, use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma).
Yes: David admires his parents, Oprah, and Justin Timberlake.
No: David admires his parents, Oprah and Justin Timberlake.
Otherwise, use common sense. If you’re unsure, read the sentence out loud. Where you find yourself taking a breath, use a comma.
Dashes and hyphens
Use a hyphen (-) without spaces on either side to link words into single phrase, or to indicate a span or range.
Use an em dash (—) without spaces on either side to offset an aside.
Use a true em dash, not hyphens (- or –).
Multivariate testing—just one of our new Pro features—can help you grow your business.
Austin thought Brad was the donut thief, but he was wrong—it was Lain.
Ellipses (…) can be used to indicate that you’re trailing off before the end of a thought. Use them sparingly. Don’t use them for emphasis or drama, and don’t use them in titles or headers.
“Where did all those donuts go?” Christy asked. Lain said, “I don’t know…”
Ellipses, in brackets, can also be used to show that you’re omitting words in a quote.
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, […] a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Periods go inside quotation marks. They go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
- Christy said, “I ate a donut.”
- I ate a donut (and I ate a bagel, too).
- I ate a donut and a bagel. (The donut was Sam’s.)
Question marks go inside quotation marks if they’re part of the quote. Like periods, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
Use exclamation points sparingly, and never more than one at a time. They’re like high-fives: A well-timed one is great, but too many can be annoying.
Exclamation points go inside quotation marks. Like periods and question marks, they go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
Never use exclamation points in failure messages or alerts. When in doubt, avoid!
Use quotes to refer to words and letters, titles of short works (like articles and poems), and direct quotations.
Periods and commas go within quotation marks. Question marks within quotes follow logic—if the question mark is part of the quotation, it goes within. If you’re asking a question that ends with a quote, it goes outside the quote.
Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.
Who was it that said, “A fool and his donut are easily parted”?
Brad said, “A wise man once told me, ‘A fool and his donut are easily parted.’”
Go easy on semicolons. They usually support long, complicated sentences that could easily be simplified. Try an em dash (—) instead, or simply start a new sentence.
Don’t use ampersands unless one is part of a company or brand name.
- Ben and Dan
- Ben & Jerry’s
- People, Places, and Things
When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase s to make plural.
When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase:
If your subject’s gender is unknown or irrelevant, use “they,” “them,” and “their” as a singular pronoun. Use “he/him/his” and “she/her/her” pronouns as appropriate. Don’t use “one” as a pronoun.
For more on writing about gender, see Writing about people.
When quoting someone in a blog post or other publication, use the present tense.
“Using MailChimp has helped our business grow,” says Jamie Smith.
Names and titles
The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.
Capitalize the names of teams, departments, and individual job titles.
Don’t refer to someone as a “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “wizard” unless they literally are one.
The first time you mention a school, college, or university in a piece of writing, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.
- Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech
- Georgia State University, GSU
- States, cities, and countries
Spell out all city and state names. Don’t abbreviate city names.
Per AP Style, all cities should be accompanied by their state, with the exception of: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington.
On first mention, write out United States. On subsequent mentions, US is fine. The same rule applies to any other country or federation with a common abbreviation (European Union, EU; United Kingdom, UK).
URLs and websites
Capitalize the names of websites and web publications. Don’t italicize.
Avoid spelling out URLs, but when you need to, leave off the http://www.
Writing about other companies
Honor companies’ own names for themselves and their products. Go by what’s used on their official website.
Refer to a company or product as “it” (not “they”).
Slang and jargon
Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand.
MailChimp’s ops team is constantly scaling our servers to make sure our users have a great experience with our products. One way we do this is with shards, or partitions, that help us better horizontally scale our database infrastructure.
Use italics to indicate the title of a long work (like a book, movie, or album) or to emphasize a word.
- Dunston Checks In
- Brandon really loves Dunston Checks In.
Use italics when citing an example of an in-app element, or referencing button and navigation labels in step-by-step instructions:
- When you’re all done, click Send.
- The familiar A/B testing variables—Subject line, From name, and Send time—have now been joined by Content, and up to 3 combinations of a single variable can now be tested at once.
Don’t use underline formatting, and don’t use any combination of italic, bold, caps, and underline.
Left-align text, never center or right-aligned.
Leave one space between sentences, never two.
Use positive language rather than negative language. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like “can’t,” “don’t,” etc.
Yes: To get a donut, stand in line.
No: You can’t get a donut if you don’t stand in line.
What: Informative articles about members, events, and announcements
Length: 400-800 words
Example: Chapters participate in Academic Decathlon across the state.
See also: Writing blog posts
What: Email campaigns that market the impact our organization makes in local communities
Length: 200-1000 words
Owner: Marketing (external newsletters), various departments (internal newsletters)
Example: Chapters across the state hold Turkey drives for families.
See also: Writing email newsletters
What: Easily digestible content that walks users through a process or problem
Length: 300-1,000 words
Owner: Knowledge Base
Example: Getting started with writing content for newsletters.
See also: Writing technical content
What: Policies that explain how we protect user privacy, how we handle accounts, and what users can and can’t do with our organization online applications.
Length: 1,000-4,000 words
See also: Writing legal content
What: In-depth resources that show new and prospective members what makes our organization unique.
Example: Getting to know Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
What: Quick, informative announcements that we send to our media list and post to our Press Releases page.
Length: 300-500 words
Owner: Public Relations
Example: Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. expands to UC Merced this coming spring.
Writing Blog Posts
We update the main Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. blog a couple of times a month. We generally publish:
- Member highlights undergrad/alumni
- Organization/chapter events
- Education Resources
- Alumni Resources
We publish blog posts that explain the “why” behind the principles of our organization. We want to show people that we’re an organization that upholds its principles and we use our blog to tell the stories behind what makes our organization special.
When writing for the blog, follow the points outlined in the Channels & Audience sections. Here are some general pointers:
Be casual, but smart
Provide knowledge while engaging casually with readers using conversational language.
If you are writing about an event a chapter put together, include the location of the event, who the chapter collaborated with, any sponsors involved.
Get to the point
Get to the important stuff right away, and don’t bury the kicker. Blog posts should be scannable and easy to digest. Break up your paragraphs into short chunks of three or four sentences, and use subheads. Our users are busy, and we should always keep that in mind.
Use tags and keywords
In WordPress, add keywords that apply to your article. Look through existing posts for common tags. If you’re not sure if a word should be a tag, it probably shouldn’t.
Include images in your blog posts when it makes sense. If you’re writing a story covering an event, include pictures showing the location, the people involved. When posting to WordPress, remove image links, or link the image to the relevant URL. Make sure to use alt text.
Writing Email Newsletters
Our email newsletters help inform both members and non-members about our organization. The following are the most common types of content we send by email:
- Regular monthly newsletters
- Event invitations
- Internal newsletters
Email newsletters will follow the points outlined in the Channels & Audience and Grammar and Mechanics sections. The following are items to consider.
Things to keep in mind before clicking send:
This will be the organization or chapter name. It identifies the sender in the recipient’s inbox.
Keep your subject line descriptive. There is no perfect length, however, some email clients display only the first words. Subject lines should be in the title case. (Note that this is different from a headline, which you may want to include in the campaign itself.)
The top line of your campaign appears beside each subject line in the inbox. Provide the info readers need when they’re deciding if they should open.
Keep your content concise. Write with a clear purpose, and connect each paragraph to your main idea. Add images when they’re helpful.
Call to action
Make the next step clear. Whether you are asking people to donate funds, read something, share something, or respond to something, offer a clear direction to close your message so readers know what to do next.
All campaigns follow CAN-SPAM rules. Include an unsubscribe link, mailing address, and permissions reminder in the footer of each newsletter.
Consider your perspective
When sending an email newsletter from Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc., use the third person “we”. When sending a newsletter as an individual, use the first person.
Use a hierarchy
Most readers will be scanning your emails or viewing them on a small screen. Place the most important information first.
Include a call to action
Make the reader’s next step obvious, and close each campaign with a call to action. Link to a blog post, event registration, purchase page, or signup page. You can include a button or a text link in the closing paragraph.
Avoid unnecessary links
More than 50 percent of emails are read on a mobile device. Limit links to the most important resources to focus your call to action and prevent errant taps on smaller screens.
Segment your audience
It’s exciting to send to all your users at once, but it’s doubtful that every subscriber is interested in every topic. Segment your list to find a particular audience that’s likely to react.
Once you have selected an audience, adjust the language to fit their needs. For example, users who developed custom integrations are more likely to understand and appreciate direct, technical terms.
Test your campaigns
Use the preview mode to begin, and run an Inbox Inspection to see your newsletter in different email clients. Read your campaign out loud to yourself, then send a test email to a team member for a second look.
Writing for Social Media
We use social media to build relationships with Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. members and share all the awesome stuff our members do at their schools and achieve in their careers. However, we must also be careful and deliberate in what we post to our social channels so to not damage our brand.
Write short, but smart
Some social media platforms have a character limit; others don’t. But for the most part, we keep our social media copy short.
Twitter: 125 characters or less (this leaves room for a manual retweet and comments)
Facebook: No limit, but aim for one to two short sentences.
Instagram: No limit, but try to keep it to one sentence or a short phrase. Feel free to throw in an emoji or two.
To write short, simplify your ideas or reduce the amount of information you’re sharing—but not by altering the spelling or punctuation of the words themselves. It’s fine to use the shorter version of some words, like “info” for “information.” But do not use numbers and letters in place of words, like “4” instead of “for” or “u” instead of “you.”
We employ hashtags rarely and deliberately. We may use them to promote an event or connect with users at a conference. Do not use current event or trending hashtags to promote Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Do not use social media to comment on trending topics or current events that are unrelated to Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Be aware of what’s going on in the news when you’re publishing social content for Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity. During major breaking news events, we turn off all promoted and scheduled social posts.
Copyright and Trademarks
Copyright protection applies to any original works that are fixed in a tangible medium. This includes works like drawings, recordings of a song, short stories, or paintings, but not something like a garden, since it will grow and change by nature. Copyright does not cover facts, ideas, names, or characters.
Copyright protection begins when the work is first created and it doesn’t require any formal filings. However, to enforce a copyright in the US, you need to register the work with the US Copyright Office. (For further clarity, check out their FAQ page, which is full of gems like “How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?”)
Copyright notice on the work is not required but it is recommended, since it cuts off a defense of innocent infringement.
Creative Commons licenses
Instead of the standard “all rights reserved,” some creators choose to make their work available for public use with different levels of attribution required. That’s what we’ve done with this style guide. Find a breakdown of licenses on the Creative Commons website.
Please check with Gamma Zeta Alpha legal team before making something you created here available under a Creative Commons license. We love to share our work, but we use these licenses sparingly, because we have to protect our intellectual property and trade secrets.
A trademark, often called a mark, can be a word, name, sign, design, or a combination of those. It’s used to identify the provider of a particular product or service. They’re usually words and images, but in some cases, they can even be a color.
To be protectable, a trademark needs a distinctive element. There’s a “spectrum of distinctiveness” that spans from inherently protectable marks to ones that require additional proof to ones that may never be protected.
Fanciful marks, which are made up words like Kodak or Xerox, are the most easily registered and protected.
Arbitrary marks, which are words which are used out of context like Apple or Sprite, are also easy to protect.
Suggestive marks, which suggest at some element of the goods or services like Greyhound, follow.
Descriptive marks, where the word’s dictionary meaning aligns with the goods or services offered, like Mr. Plumber or Lektronic, are not protectable unless they develop a secondary meaning. That means a consumer would immediately associate the mark with only that good or service. This can be hard to prove, so it’s best to avoid descriptive marks when possible.
Generic terms, or the common name for a product or service, are not protectable.
A trademark is only valid for as long as it indicates the source of that good or service, so we have to be very careful about how our marks are used. We send out cease and desist letters sometimes, because even the friendliest companies have to protect their trademarks. If a trademark is properly protected, it can last forever and may be a company’s most valuable asset.
User of Trademarks
- Service mark (SM), Registered mark (®): Only needed once per document.
- Copyright (©): Must be one space between the symbol and the copyright year
(e.g., © 2016 Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Acronyms, initialisms and some abbreviations
Style and usage
- An acronym can be a word made up of initials or syllables from a combination of other words. NALFO is an acronym because it’s pronounced as a word for National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations.
- An initialism is an abbreviation consisting of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase (IRS for Internal Revenue Service, or GZA for Gamma Zeta Alpha) and it’s pronounced letter by letter rather than as a solid word.
- Gamma Zeta Alphas’ style is to define acronyms or initialisms at first mention in parentheses but without quotation marks.
- Using acronyms in external pieces is sometimes appropriate, especially when a term may be said many times in one paragraph, e.g., Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. vs. GZA on subsequent references.
- “Gammas” would be preferred on second reference if it is intended to highlight the membership. If the reference is about the fraternity as a whole, then GZA is the preferred initialism.
- Acronyms and initialisms are capitalized. Others might be considered generic descriptions or have more broad meanings when spelled out and do not need to be capitalized, i.e., for your information (FYI)
- Do not use periods. (OK to use with U.S. and U.K.)
Some examples for reference:
AFA — Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors
Auth. — Authority
Dept. — Department
Dev. — Development
Dist. — District
Econ. — Economic
Fac. — Facility
Facs. — Facilities
Fin. — Finance
Fncg. — Financing
FPO — for position only. Design notation over an image or chart indicating a placeholder and that a new image or photo update will come later.
GZA — Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
IRS — Internal Revenue Service
JPEG — When referencing a digital image stored as a compressed file, use “JPEG.” “JPG” will be used only in a file name extension. Capitalize.
NALFO — National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations
PDF — portable document format. Lowercase when spelled out. Capitalize acronym.
PIN — personal identification number. Lowercase when spelled out.
Rev. — Revenue
UI — user interface
UMA — unified management account
USA — Do not include periods.
- Run Spell Check
- Make sure all links point to the right place
- Make sure images are captioned and tagged
- Check for capitalization consistency in titles and headers
- Make sure titles and headers describe the content
- If not on the website, add copyright and trademark information
- Cut unnecessary words and sentences
- Have two other people review
- Read it out loud