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Abbreviation rules. Lessons for copyeditors  By Jeff South VCU School of Mass Communications. General rules. Save space Make reading easier. Months without dates. Always capitalize and write out: The election is in November. School starts in August. He hopes to graduate in December.

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abbreviation rules

Abbreviation rules

Lessons for copyeditors

By Jeff South

VCU School of Mass Communications

general rules
General rules
  • Save space
  • Make reading easier
months without dates
Months without dates
  • Always capitalize and write out:

The election is in November.

School starts in August.

He hopes to graduate in December.

It will start in January 2000.

The battle ended in October 1866.

If there’s just a month and a year, no comma!

  • Abbreviate months of > 5 letters:
    • Jan. 5, 1997
    • Feb. 28, 1864
    • Aug. 10, 2000
    • Sept. 9, 1999
    • Oct. 14, 1784
    • Nov. 1, 1965
    • Dec. 22, 1696

Don’t use ordinal numbers like:

Feb. 2nd

Aug. 23rd

Dec. 12th

  • Write out months of 5 or fewer letters:
    • March 30, 2000
    • April 5, 1974
    • May 26, 1998
    • June 12, 1863
    • July 31, 1997

Don’t use ordinal numbers like:

March 10th

May 1st

June 23rd

(But July Fourth is OK!)

now you try
Now you try!
  • June 3rd
  • June 3
  • They will visit in Oct.
  • They will visit in October.
  • December 7, 1941
  • Dec. 7, 1941
  • He graduated in May, 1997.
  • He graduated in May 1997.
now you try7
Now you try!
  • Nov. 12th
  • Nov. 12
  • January 1999
  • Correct.
  • Which months are never abbreviated?
  • March, April, May, June, July
copy edit

The tax was scheduled to expire on January 15, 1999, but in August 1998, legislators passed a bill to extend the levy until July 1st, 2005.

The tax was scheduled to expire on Jan. 15, 1999, but in August 1998, legislators passed a bill to extend the levy until July 1, 2005.

days of the week
Days of the week
  • Simple rule:
  • Always write them out!
    • Monday
    • Tuesday
    • Wednesday...
  • Write out states when they stand alone:
    • She is from New Jersey.
    • He was born in Alaska.
    • Killer bees invaded Texas.
  • Abbreviate the state if:
    • It’s preceded by a town or city
    • The state has 6 or more letters
    • Don’t abbreviate: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Utah
    • Check AP Style for state abbreviations

AP doesn’t use the postal code abbreviations!


He is from San Mateo, Calif.

The game will be in Morgan, W.Va.

They met in Austin, Texas.

She lives in Hilo, Hawaii.

omit the state if
Omit the state if...
  • You write for a publication covering that state:
    • A tornado flattened Hopewell today.
    • The new city manager is from Norfolk.
  • It’s a widely known city(See “Datelines” in the AP Stylebook.)
    • The 1998 Olympics were in Atlanta.
    • A hurricane hit Miami last year.
always include the state if
Always include the state if...
  • The town straddles the state line:
    • The meeting was held in Bristol, Va.
  • There could be some confusion:
    • After growing up in Springfield, Ill.,he worked in Springfield, Va.
now you try15
Now you try!
  • They flew to San Francisco, Calif.
  • They flew to San Francisco.
  • She taught in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • She taught in Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Anchorage, Alaska, is a beautiful place.
  • Correct.
now you try16
Now you try!
  • A winter storm hit Ogden, UT.
  • A winter storm hit Ogden, Utah.
  • He is from Fairfax.
  • Correct.
  • The mine collapsed near Allentown, Pa.
  • Correct.
streets and addresses
Streets and addresses
  • If it’s an exact address, abbreviateeverything you can (the direction & “street,” “boulevard” and “avenue”):
    • 901 W. Main St.
    • 2005 Grove Ave.
    • 70 Monument Blvd.
  • If there’s no street address, spell out:
    • He lives on Floyd Street.
    • The building is on Monument Boulevard.
streets and addresses18
Streets and addresses
  • Always write out “road,” “drive,” “circle” and “court.”
    • 1067 Staples Mill Road
    • 10215 Windbluff Drive
now you try19
Now you try!
  • 945 West Franklin Street
  • 945 W. Franklin St.
  • … on First Street in Richmond.
  • Correct.
  • It’s at 10532 West Broad St.
  • It’s at 10532 W. Broad St.
now you try20
Now you try!
  • The city has condemned homes at 98 Cedar Rd., 7853 E. Hill St. and 309 Commerce Avenue.
  • The city has condemned homes at 98 Cedar Road, 7853 E. Hill St. and 309 Commerce Ave.
  • What’s your address?
names and titles
Names and titles
  • On first reference, use a person’s full name
  • On subsequent references, use the last name only (for adults; for kids, use the first name)
  • Generally, no courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms.) unless there’s confusion
  • Use courtesy titles in a direct quote
now you try22
Now you try!
  • Mr. Tom Ferguson will speak.
  • Tom Ferguson will speak.
  • “Mrs. Allen will accompany me,” the candidate said.
  • Correct.
  • The Smiths both ate the shrimp, but only Mr. Smith got sick. “He was up all night,” Mrs. Smith said.
  • Correct.
names and titles23
Names and titles
  • If used directly before a name,abbreviate:
    • Gov. Mark Warner
    • Dr. Terry Oggel
    • Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine
    • Rep. Robert Scott
    • Sen. John Warner

Formal titles accompany only the full name.Example: Sen. Barbara Boxer, not Sen. Boxer.

names and titles24
Names and titles
  • Don’t abbreviate:
    • Superintendent Albert Williams
    • Commonwealth’s Attorney David Hicks
    • Professor Paula Otto
    • Attorney General Mark Earley
    • President Eugene Trani
    • Chairman Yasser Arafat

Formal titles accompany only the full name. Example: Delegate Viola Baskerville, not Delegate Baskerville.

which titles to abbreviate
Which titles to abbreviate?
  • Professor
  • No.
  • District Attorney
  • No.
  • Governor
  • Yes: Gov.
  • President
  • No.
which titles to abbreviate26
Which titles to abbreviate?
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Yes: Lt. Gov.
  • Senator
  • Yes: Sen.
  • Congressman
  • No, and try not to use it anyway.
  • U.S. Representative
  • Yes: U.S. Rep.
names and titles27
Names and titles
  • the Rev.
    • Always includes “the”
    • the Rev. Billy Graham
names and titles28
Names and titles
  • For state and federal legislators, put political party ID after name
    • Use “R” or “D,” then a hyphen ...
    • Then the state abbreviation (for members of Congress) or the city (for state legislators)
names and titles29
Names and titles
  • Examples of state and federal legislators, on first reference:
    • U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., …
    • U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., …
    • State Sen. John Watkins, R-Chesterfield, ...
    • Delegate Emily Couric, D-Charlottesville, ...

You can also write:

Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts ...

now you try30
Now you try!
  • U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Dem.-Conn., is the vice presidential nominee.
  • U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is the vice presidential nominee.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Richard Cheney, R-Wyoming, is Bush’s running mate.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Richard Cheney, R-Wyo., is Bush’s running mate.
military titles
Military titles
  • See AP Stylebook
  • Many titles are abbreviated
  • Use titles only with full name
military titles32










Spell out

Warrant Officer

Petty Officer




Partly spell out

Staff Sgt.

Lance Cpl.

Rear Adm.

Military titles
now you try33
Now you try!
  • the Reverend Jerry Falwell
  • the Rev. Jerry Falwell
  • Adm. Elizabeth Cross
  • Correct.
  • Prof. Ted Smith
  • Professor Ted Smith
  • former Senator Robert Dole, R-Kansas, ...
  • former Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., ...
periods in abbreviations
Periods in abbreviations
  • Use periods if the abbreviationspells an unrelated word:
    • c.o.d. - not cod (like the fish)
    • U.S. - not US (like “Give US liberty!)
    • U.N. - not UN (like UN-American)
speaking of u s and u n
Speaking of U.S. and U.N.
  • Write out United States and United Nations when they are nouns
  • Abbreviate them when they are adjectives
    • In the United States ...
    • … the U.S. Army
    • … the U.N. peacekeepers
    • at the United Nations today ...
pop quiz
Pop quiz!
  • A (US / U.S. / United States) embargo
  • A U.S. embargo
  • A (UN / U.N. / United Nations) treaty
  • A U.N. treaty
  • Andrew Young served as (US / U.S. / United States) ambassador to the (UN / U.N. / United Nations).
  • Andrew Young served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
  • … in the (US / U.S. / United States).
  • … in the United States.
periods in abbreviations37
Periods in abbreviations
  • Otherwise, no periods
    • North Atlantic Treaty Organization > NATO
    • American Medical Association > AMA
    • Virginia Commonwealth University > VCU
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation > FBI
periods or not
Periods or not?
  • The Virginia Education Association is known as the V.E.A.
  • No periods: VEA
  • The speed limit is 65 mph.
  • Correct as is. No periods: mph
  • The students used 35 mm cameras.
  • Correct as is. No periods (and no hyphen either – just a space).
  • Class started at 8 am.
  • Need periods: at 8 a.m.
a m and p m
a.m. and p.m.
  • Why does a.m. take periods?
  • Because it does, so does p.m.
    • 6 a.m.
    • 7:45 p.m.
academic degrees
Academic degrees
  • Lowercase when written out
  • Uppercase and use periods when abbreviated
    • master’s degree or M.A.
    • medical degree or M.D.
    • bachelor of arts or B.A.
    • doctor of philosophy, doctoral degree, doctorate or Ph.D.
copy edit41

The United Nations resolution, passed at 3 A.M., called on the U.S. to intervene in Kosovo.

The U.N. resolution, passed at 3 a.m., called on the United States to intervene in Kosovo.

copy edit42

Phil Oswald, Ph.D., published an article on UN treaties that were opposed by the U.S.

Phil Oswald, Ph.D., published an article on U.N. treaties that were opposed by the United States.

  • Spell out first reference:
    • Public Relations Society of America
  • Abbreviate subsequent references:
    • PRSA
  • Some organizations can be abbreviated on first reference:
  • When an abbreviation is unfamiliar, use a shortened name of the organization
    • Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce > the bureau
    • Office of Instructional Technology > the office
now you try45
Now you try!
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • CIA (or the agency)
  • National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws
  • NORML (or the organization, the group)
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • DEA (or the agency)
  • School of Mass Communications
  • the school
  • Always write out cents (not ¢) and percent (not %)
  • Always use numerals with cents and percent
    • 5 cents, 50 cents, 92 cents, 1 cent
    • 1 percent, 20 percent, 100 percent
  • Use $ if it accompanies a number:
    • $3 … $10.99 … $2 billion
  • Round sums, like clock hours, carry no zeros or punctuation:
    • Average gasoline prices rose from $1 to $1.65.
  • Spell out casual uses of money:
    • The homeless man asked for a dollar.
    • I gave him my two cents.
now you try48
Now you try!
  • The Washington Post costs $0.50.
  • The Washington Post costs 50 cents.
  • We paid several dollars for the book.
  • Correct.
  • That doesn’t make cents.
  • That doesn’t make sense.
  • The plane cost 1 million dollars.
  • The plane cost $1 million.
  • Use “&” only when it’s part of a group’s name:
    • Dow Jones & Co.
    • Florida A&M
  • Abbreviate time zones:
    • Eastern Standard Time > EST
  • No periods in call letters
    • WCVE, WRVA
  • Always spell out Fort and Mount
    • Mount Vernon, Fort Pickett, Fort Worth, Mount Trashmore
  • Abbreviate “Saint” when it is part of a proper noun (river, city, school, a holy person’s name)
    • St. Paul, Va.; St. Lawrence River; St. Catherine’s School
  • Never abbreviate Christmas
  • Abbreviate Co. (company), Corp. (corporation), Ltd. (limited) and Inc. (incorporated) when they appear at the end of a company’s name:
    • Reynolds Inc.
    • Philip Morris Co.
    • Circuit City Corp.
now you try53
Now you try!
  • Merry Xmas
  • Merry Christmas
  • Fort Lee
  • Correct: Fort Lee.
  • Mount Saint Helens
  • Mount St. Helens
now you try54
Now you try!
  • Weyerhaeuser Company
  • Weyerhaeuser Co.
  • Westvaco Corporation
  • Westvaco Corp.
  • W.R.I.C.
  • WRIC