WSDOT Style Guide and Communications Manual
Find writing, editing and branding guidelines for agency communications.
WSDOT Communications Manual
WSDOT communications is an integral piece of our agency’s work and how we accomplish our mission to provide and support safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation options to improve livable communities and economic vitality for people and businesses.
Several foundational elements drive our ability to communicate clearly and effectively with the people we work with including:
- Everyone is a communicator – every employee is a communicator and contributor to the communities in which they work and live. Internal communications are important to keep employees informed on what we are doing and where we are going as an agency because employees are often asked by friends and family about what they do and who they work for.
- Engage early, often – relationships and how we engage people are important. Our efforts should be inclusive and our work should reflect engagement wherever possible. We cannot manage the system, modes and programs we operate in a silo and successfully meet the needs of those we serve.
- Be accountable, transparent – we can’t avoid bad headlines, but we can manage them. A solid media strategy, a communications plan based on transparency and accountability and being the first, best source of information are keys to managing tough issues and minimizing damage to the public’s perception of our work. It’s better to be a big story for a few days than a constant trickle of stories for a few months.
- Use all the tools – as technology and ways people consume information evolve, communicators use a number of traditional and digital tools to inform and engage the public. As you develop a communications strategy, you should consider all tools – traditional and new – to determine how to best reach your desired audience.
- No surprises, clearly state your intent – our work is not possible without working with others, and the environment in which we work often changes. It’s important to engage partners and stakeholders – internal and external to the agency – and build trust. Make sure your intentions are clear and transparent and keep people informed so there are no surprises. What you say and do matters and impacts the quality of relationships and public perception of the work we do.
- A consistent brand is important – consistency in how we communicate, the tools we use, the messages we deliver and the visual appeal of the products we create is critical to the OneDOT brand. Our brand is how people visually identify our agency and in turn generates an emotional reaction from the residents we serve.
The Communications Manual is an important resource that directs communicators and other agency staff to useful tools and resources that build and maintain the foundational elements of our agency communications program. It will evolve as our work, tools and the environment in which we operate changes and should be considered a living document.
WSDOT Style Guide
The Style Guide is an extension of our Communications Manual. It is a reference and a guide, intended to improve accuracy and further our credibility. It is not a strict set of rules for all writing; it is a guide. The Style Guide was developed collaboratively, will evolve over time and is approved by the agency's Communications Director.
Does the WSDOT Style Guide replace the Associated Press Stylebook?
No. The Style Guide augments the Associate Press Stylebook and the dictionary with terms commonly used by WSDOT communicators, writers and editors. In some cases, entries are unique to WSDOT. For formal correspondence only, refer to the governor's Executive Correspondence Guidelines (PDF 598KB) or The Gregg Reference Manual.
When should we use the WSDOT Style Guide?
Use the Style Guide as a quick-reference guide to prevent errors and inconsistencies in the use of transportation terms, media communications, grammar and punctuation. If you have seen terms written differently, refer to the Style Guide to settle the question.
How do I add entries to the Style Guide or suggest revisions?
The Style Guide is an evolving document. You may contact Webhelp with ideas for entries, comments and suggestions.
WSDOT Style Guide index
The following style standards are intended to help WSDOT writers and editors present information in a clear and consistent manner. These standards apply to a wide variety of documents, ranging from press releases to technical reports. This guide is not comprehensive, rather it includes style standards that are specific to WSDOT or that address the most common writing errors. If you don't find what you need in the WSDOT Style Guide, refer to the Associated Press Stylebook for guidance.
abbreviations and acronyms
In general, avoid the use of abbreviations and acronyms. If you choose to use them, spell out on first reference. When spelling out the first reference, only capitalize proper nouns: HOV (high occupancy vehicle), EIS (environmental impact statement), WSP (Washington State Patrol). Abbreviations and acronyms are acceptable in a headline. See The Associated Press Stylebook for more information. Refer to the Transportation acronym guide for full names of transportation terms.
The occasion is rare when a writer can predict, for instance, that it will absolutely snow at a certain time. Use words such as may to provide flexibility. Similarly, be careful with the use of most and first when describing an event so you don't make an unsubstantiated claim.
WSDOT style is collision or crash, not accident. An accident is defined as anything that happens by chance without an apparent cause, or a mishap, especially one causing injury or death. Highway collisions usually have an underlying cause. As a result, words such as collision and crash are more accurate. Use people first language when describing a collision – “The person driving the car hit the ____.”
This includes any mode of transportation that is non-motorized, including walking, bicycling, roller blading, and wheelchairs.
WSDOT style is to use active voice whenever possible. Active voice demonstrates responsibility and enhances readability.
Follow Associated Press style. Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used as street names: Northeast Fourth Avenue. Use figures for 10th and above: West 10th Street. When a street stands alone, spell it out: West Boren Avenue. When a number is included, abbreviate: 401 W. Boren Ave. Always spell out road, lane, alley, drive and terrace.
Affect, as a verb, means to influence: The project will affect traffic. Avoid using affect as a noun.
Effect, as a verb, means to cause: The director will effect many changes in the organization. Effect, as a noun, means result: The effect was overwhelming.
attachments (to news releases)
Attachments to WSDOT news releases should be used sparingly, and typically only in emergency situations or where a project is so small that it does not have a project page on the WSDOT website. The preferred method to share additional information is to provide a link to a webpage within the news release, rather than include an attachment. Photos may be attached to help convey an emergency situation quickly, provided they are uploaded to Flickr as a next step to ensure they are available to everyone. Flier attachments should not be used; if the information is important, it should be included in the release.
back up, backup
back up (v.) Closing the lane will back up traffic. Back up the car to get out of the driveway.
backup (n. and adj.) Noun: The backup extended for 10 miles. Adjective: We need a backup plan.
WSDOT style is to use “people first” language; the preferred description is “people using bicycles.”
Only capitalize when part of a formal name. Capitalize Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but lowercase on second reference without full name: the bridge.
Use bulleted lists to improve a document's readability. Use a colon to introduce lists. Capitalize the first letter of each item in the list and end each section of the list with a period, unless the items are single words. Also, reference lists intended as a menu of options require no punctuation.
Keep all items parallel by using the same language structure throughout the list. For example:
Make sure you bring:
To prepare for winter travel across mountain passes, consider:
- Checking pass condition reports before you depart.
- Packing a winter emergency kit in your car.
- Telling family or friends about your route and schedule.
- Updating your first aid training.
(n., v.) WSDOT style is one word, following transit industry standard. The AP Stylebook lists it as two words: car pool.
Capital is the city where the seat of government is located. Do not capitalize. It also is used in a financial sense to mean wealth in money, equipment or property.
Capitol refers to the building in which the state legislature meets. It is always capitalized: The meeting is at the Capitol in Olympia.
Capitalize when referring to the trademark name. See also trademark.
Spell out the word and lowercase, using numerals for amounts less than a dollar: 5 cents. Use the $ sign and decimal system for larger amounts; $2.50
Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname. Lowercase elsewhere, including all city of phrases: a Texas city, the city government, the city Board of Education, the city of Seattle.
Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: City Manager Joe Gavinski. Lowercase when not part of the formal title: city Health Commissioner Frank Smith.
compose, comprise, constitute
Compose means to create or put together. Comprise means to contain, to include all or to embrace. Constitute, in the sense of form or make up, may be the best word if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit. See the AP Stylebook for more information.
Lowercase, no hyphen. If referring to a specific county, line remains lowercase: The Pierce County line.
WSDOT style is to use “people first” language; the preferred description is “people using bicycles.”
A plural noun, it normally takes plural verbs and pronouns.
When writing a press release, start the body of the release with the name of the city where the story takes place, not where the person reporting it is sitting, written out in all capital letters followed by a dash: SEATTLE –. If more accurate to describe the dateline as a county, do so: KING COUNTY –. If the location where the story takes place is little known or outside city limits, drop the dateline and describe the location in the lede.
Always follow the format of time, date, place: 2 p.m., Nov. 28, 2007. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.
Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th: Oct. 9, not Oct. 9th.
When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas: November 2004.
When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas: Please join us Jan. 24, 2007, at our open house.
Avoid using between when listing events of known duration. Instead, use to: The open house will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Listing the year generally is unnecessary if an event occurs during the same year as publication. The present year is assumed.
daylight saving time
It's saving, not savings; not capitalized and no hyphen
Only capitilize the first letter, if it is the first word in a sentence. Do not use the term, design-builder, but instead use design-build contractor. If using the term, design-build in a news release, you should include a brief definition of the term. For example, "Design-build is a type of contract that combines project design and construction into a single contract." Use the term only if it is important to the news story.
Use figures and spell out inches, feet, yards, etc., to indicate depth, height, length and width. Hyphenate adjectival forms before nouns. See the AP Stylebook for examples.
Lowercase when referring to compass direction: east, western, northwest, southbound, etc. Capitalize when referring to a region: The storm hit the Northwest hard.
Always use figures: Crews will pave 4 miles of Interstate 5.
diverging diamond interchange
Do not abbreviate on second reference as DDI, but instead simply refer to it as "the new interchange" or by the interchange's location - Marvin Road Interchange, for example.
WSDOT style is to use “people first” language; the preferred description is “people driving.”
In WSDOT releases, spell out "unmanned aircraft system," followed by, "commonly known as a drone, …". On second reference, use the term “drone.”
easy to use, easy-to-use
Hyphenate as an adjective phrase preceding a noun: This easy-to-use map will show you the way. Otherwise, do not hyphenate: This map is easy to use.
See affect, effect
Elected officials are listed by title, first and last name. Example: Sen. John Doe, Rep. Jane Smith. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion. WSDOT style is to not list district or party affiliation after the official's name.
One word, do not hyphenate.
Preferred over Listserv to avoid jargon.
Use ensure to mean guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy.
Use insure for references to insurance: The policy insures his life.
environmental justice populations
WSDOT style is minority and/or low-income populations.
Lowercase when used as an adjective to distinguish something from state, county, city or town: federal funding, federal court, federal government. Use a capital letter for government bodies that use the word as part of their formal name: Federal Highway Administration.
While it is accurate to use this word to mean comments in the form of opinions about and reactions to something, consider avoiding this word because another common definition, feedback in a loudspeaker, evokes a strong negative response. Consider alternates such as comments and questions.
Flier refers to a circular. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses: The Western Flyer.
A bus stop located on an off-ramp of the freeway. Freeway station (or stop) is preferred. To avoid reader confusion, do not use flyer stop.
front-end loader, back-end loader (n.)
One word in all cases.
Lowercase when referring to the 2005 gas tax or the gas tax. Capitalize the formal names 2015 Connecting Washington Transportation Package, 2005 Transportation Tax Package, or 2003 Nickel Funding Package.
Good To Go!
Washington state's electronic toll collection system. All three words are capitalized and always italicized.
Good To Go! payment accounts:
Good To Go! toll payment account types are treated as formal names, with the first letter of each word in upper case: Pay By Mail, Pay By Plate, Pay As You Go and Pre-Paid
Use sentence case. Capitalize only the first word and proper nouns. Headlines must include a place name (Seattle, Bellingham, north of Arlington) and, if appropriate, a highway name. Always include an active verb in headlines. Use numerals for all figures and single quotes for quotation marks.
Use headings and subheadings frequently to help enhance readability and make your documents easier to scan. Avoid generic headings (introduction, background, findings, conclusion, etc.). Instead, use headings that more meaningfully indicate the content contained in the section below. Readers should be able to scan the headings and obtain the main information the writer intends to convey in the document.
Do not break a heading across pages, and publish at least one paragraph of text with each heading before breaking to another page. You may need to leave extra space at the bottom of a page to keep a heading with some of the text that follows. See the orphans and widows entries.
State Route 1, US 1 or Interstate 1 is preferred when referring to highways. Don't capitalize state route or interstate on second reference without a specified highway number: the interstate remains open. Don't capitalize route on second reference to a US route without specified highway number.
We use WSDOT style for highway names: Spell out "State Route 1" and "Interstate 2" on first reference, then abbreviate with "SR 1" or "I-2" on second reference, even if new highway route names are introduced in the sentence.
Abbreviations are okay in a headline.
HOV, high occupancy vehicle
Do not capitalize high occupancy vehicle unless it is used as a proper noun: I-5 – Everett, State Route 526 to US 2 High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes Project or High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes Compliance Rate Report. Consider using phrases that more clearly evoke high occupancy travel: buses, trains, carpools and vanpools.
Use only as a noun. In this headline example, instead of "WSDOT will host open house" try "Possible solutions displayed at open house" or "WSDOT invites you to an open house."
HOT, high occupancy toll
Do not capitalize high occupancy toll unless it is used as a proper noun: SR 167 High Occupancy Toll Lanes Project or High Occupancy Toll Lanes Environmental Impact Statement.
One word. A telephone line for use in an emergency or a crisis. Also: tip line.
hyperlink lists (in news releases)
Words used to hyperlink to a URL in the body of the release should be the same words used in the bulleted hyperlink list at the bottom of the news release, which provides the actual URL address. Hyperlink lists should be ordered in the same way that they appear in the body of the release. This makes it clear for readers which item goes with each link.
imbedded images (in news releases)
WSDOT news releases are for word content only, and images or graphics should not be imbedded within the release. If additional information is needed to illustrate detours or explain complex concepts, those should be included on a project page, blog or other web-related site and linked to from within the release. Maps should not be imbedded in news releases, but are acceptable in GovDelivery messages. As a reminder, any charts or graphs prepared for the web should be reviewed by the Graphics Office to ensure they meet WSDOT standards and branding.
This is a strong word defined as striking of one body against another, a forceful consequence, a strong effect, and the violent interaction of individuals or groups entering into combat. This word should only be used in cases when this strong definition is intended. Otherwise, use affect or effect.
See the ensure, insure entry.
internet , intranet
Always lowercase. See titles.
kickoff (n.), kick off (v.)
Capitalize in all references to both houses of Washington state government, even when the state name is dropped: Washington Legislature. Both houses of the Legislature adjourned today.
Also capitalize in such constructions as: the 100th Legislature, the state Legislature.
Lowercase legislature when used generically: No legislature has approved the amendment.
Use legislature in lowercase for all plural references: The Arkansas and Colorado legislatures are considering the amendment.
See the AP Stylebook for more details.
login (n.), log in (v.)
Treat as a singular noun
Milepost is one word, not two.
Spell out in the names of communities and mountains: Mount Vernon, Mount Rainier, except Mt. Baker Ski Area.
one word, no hyphen
Capitalize articles if they are part of the publication's name. Insert a city name in parentheses for Washington newspapers if the originating city is not apparent, or if there are several newspapers by the same name. If you are writing about national publications, or you want to identify where the paper is based, include city and state in parentheses after the newspaper's name: The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington). Check newspaper mastheads and websites for clarification. Web addresses are not always an indication.
The Seattle Times
The Herald (Everett)
The Bellingham Herald
Skagit Valley Herald
The News Tribune
USA Today ("Today" is not all capitalized, according to AP style.)
nonprofit (n., adj.)
Spell out numbers under 10. Use figures when referring to a person's age or dimensions. See distances. Spell out a numeral at the start of a sentence, except for years, or rephrase the sentence. Shorten long figures by using million or billion: $5 million, $5 billion. Use decimals when appropriate and round up: $5.4 million. Numbers less than one million should be written out numerically: $530,000, $4,000, $200. For internal WSDOT phone numbers posted to the intranet, write out the entire number and bold the extension, which is the last four digits: 360-705-7817.
WSDOT style is always to hyphenate.
One word. Never hyphenated.
One word. Never hyphenated.
orphans (in design)
Orphans are acceptable, although widows should be avoided. These guidelines are primarily for people concerned with page layout. Orphan lines are single lines that appear at the bottom of a page, and orphan words are single words that are on a line by themselves at the end of a paragraph. They are called orphans because they have a future but no past. See also widows.
Over and more than are both acceptable in all uses to indicate a greater numerical value: Over $5 million was raised. More than $5 million was raised.
park and ride
Lowercase unless part of a formal name: North Seattle Park and Ride. Do not use the ampersand in place of "and".
Avoid use of this term. Use of "partner" as a noun is preferred. Also, partnering as a verb implies equality where often the contributions or responsibilities aren't equal. Suggested substitute: working with.
WSDOT style is to use "people first" language; the preferred description is "people walking" or "people using assistive devices." The legal meaning of pedestrian is inclusive of people using wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
Spell out the word percent and always use figures: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions). For amounts less than 1 percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The rate of accidents increased 0.8 percent. Repeat percent with every figure: WSDOT expects traffic in the area to increase 20 percent to 50 percent in the next 10 years.
No parentheses around area codes, hyphenate. WSDOT style is to always use area codes: 206-440-4704. The format for toll-free numbers: 800-111-1000. If extension numbers are needed, use a comma to separate the main number from the extension: 212-621-1500, ext. 2.
Use language that is clear, simple and concise. Follow the general guidelines for state agencies provided by the Governor’s Office.
Only capitalize when part of a formal name. Capitalize I-405 Totem Lake Freeway Station Project, but lowercase on second reference without full name: the project.
Take care when claiming that a project is going to do something. A project can't close lanes of a highway during construction, but crews or engineers can. A project can, however, enhance safety or alleviate congestion.
Maintain subject-pronoun agreement. Avoid referring to an inanimate subject as they.
Incorrect: Microsoft unveils their new product this week.
Correct: Microsoft unveils its new product this week.
Another option is to insert a responsible human "doer": Microsoft executives unveil their new product this week.
Problems maintaining gender neutrality with pronouns usually can be resolved by rewriting the sentence. Do not resort to nontraditional gimmicks such as s/he or he/she. Proposed alternatives, such as s/he, interrupt the flow of the sentence and appear to make a political point in the middle of whatever else the writer is trying to say.
One method of writing around the problem is to rewrite the sentence in a plural form.
Instead of: A staff member can access the data by logging in to his or her account.
Rewrite as plural: Staff members can access the data by logging in to their accounts.
Quotes give our agency a voice to tell readers why our news is important and puts a human face on what some consider a large bureaucracy.
When using a quote, consider these tips:
- Don't use a quote to repeat a fact - a good quote provides new information, compelling imagery and a human perspective or opinion.
- Avoid using quotes for factual data - numbers and statistics should be written as fact or paraphrased.
- Write quotes as a conversation - contractions can make a sentence more personable and believable.
- Use quotes to explain complex topics with analogies or metaphors.
- Be brief - a quote is a way to drive a key message home or segue into another aspect of the work taking place.
Both are one word.
Always hyphenate. Two words refers to buttocks.
right of way, rights of way
Lowercase spring, summer, fall, winter and derivatives such as springtime unless part of a formal name.
One word, no hyphen.
Use sparingly. Consider using a more descriptive term. Try perceivable or noticeable. If the significance is something you can describe, try the description instead. Rather than saying there is a significant dip in the highway, consider saying cars disappear from view as they travel through a dip in the highway. Without explanation, significant gives the unsubstantiated opinion of the writer.
If referring to a machine specifically manufactured by Tucker, use trademark name Sno-Cat.
Avoid using this term. Use snow or snowstorm.
Do not capitalize unless part of a formal name: the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Do not capitalize state in Washington state.
Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. William Smith, the state Transportation Department, state funds.
Spell out all state names in the body of the release. State name abbreviations are acceptable in the dateline. Follow AP style for state abbreviations, do not use postal code abbreviations: Wash. not WA, Ore. not OR.
Snowstorm, rainstorm, windstorm are all one word. Never a "snow event."
that vs. which
Use that and which to refer to inanimate objects and to animals without a name. Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas: I remember the day that we met. Use which for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas: The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place. (Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use which; otherwise, use that. A which clause is surrounded by commas; no commas are used with that clauses.)
Avoid referring to any item as a thing. There's always a better description.
Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. Avoid redundancies such as 10 a.m. this morning, instead: 10 a.m. today.
Job titles are capitalized if they are formal, rather than occupational, and immediately precede the name: President Donald Trump, Sheriff Bill Elfo. Engineer, attorney, farmer, spokesman – all occupations. If there's any doubt, flip the sentence around so the name comes first and the title is offset by commas: Katie Skipper, a WSDOT spokeswoman, offered tips for traveling on icy roads.
See entry for Good To Go!
In general, use a generic equivalent unless the trademark name is an essential part of the story. When a trademark is used, capitalize it.
WSDOT preference is to use two typefaces at the most. WSDOT uses Helvetica and Times New Roman in print, Verdana on the web and Arial in email. Arial is an acceptable substitute for Helvetica in print. Choose a scale of font sizes and leading that work together. Leading is the space between lines. Good combinations are: font size 6, leading 8; font 10, leading 12; font 20, leading 24; font 48, leading 54.
In WSDOT releases, spell out "unmanned aircraft system," followed by, "commonly known as a drone, …". On second reference, use the term “drone.”
Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a term that was widely used by the military until 2005. The term adopted by the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration is UAS.
One word in all uses.
vanpool (n., v.)
WSDOT style is one word, following transit industry standard.
Always lowercase state unless it's an official title or department name: Washington State Department of Transportation, but state Department of Transportation and citizens of Washington state.
web (n.) Lowercase in all instances
webfeed, webpage, website
One word. It is not capitalized. When writing a web address, omit http://, but do use www: www.wsdot.wa.gov. Do not include a period unless listed at the end of a sentence. When directing online readers to a website, link directly to the correct page. If writing for print, ensure the web address is clear by writing all letters as lowercase: www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/i5. In the case of a very long web address, first direct the reader to a home page or portal page and provide directions to links that lead to the desired page.
who or that
If referring to an action by a person, use who. If referring to a thing, use that: Children responded to clowns who wore bright colors.
Refer to AP Stylebook. Whom receives an action. Tip: If you can change the sentence so there is an action to her, him or them, you usually will use whom. "She gave the ticket to the man with whom she was riding" could be changed to "She gave the ticket to him." But "The woman who was speeding got a ticket" would be changed to "She got a ticket."
widows (in page design)
Widows should be avoided, although orphans are acceptable. These guidelines are primarily for people concerned with page layout. Widow lines are single lines that appear at the top of a page. They are called widows because they have a past but no future. You may need to insert a line break or edit or add text to prevent a widow line. See also orphans.
Refer to AP Stylebook or Webster's, but we will give you a few examples here. One word: workbench, workout, workplace, workstation, workweek. Two words: work zone, work sheet, work force. Hyphenated: work-release, work-study, work-up.
Spell out on first reference. See abbreviations and acronyms.
On the web, our style assumes that readers visiting our site know they are on the WSDOT site, so spelling out WSDOT is unnecessary.