Colorado State Journalism and Media Communication Writing About Digital Communication: Style Guide

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Colorado State Journalism and Media Communication
Writing About Digital Communication: Style Guide
Proper and consistent word usage, spelling and punctuation are keys to credible and effective online writing. Below are key pointers for writing about online and mobile topics drawn from the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Many organizations create their own short supplemental style sheets to assure consistency in the use of industry- or organization-specific nomenclature. Whenever possible, stick with common usage.

  • Capitalize: Bluetooth, WiFi, the World Wide Web. Also proper names of sites, e.g. Facebook, Twitter.

  • Lower case: avatar, blog, browser, emoticon, http:// (when used as part of a web address), internet (noun and adjective), iPad/iPhone/iPod, online, the net (noun or verb), telnet, tweet (noun or verb), widget, the web, website, webmaster (unless an official job title preceding an individual’s name).

One versus two words: cellphone, compact disk, copy editor, crowdsourcing, domain name, Facebook,

home page, hotline, keyword, laptop, LinkedIn, mashup (noun) vs. mash up (verb), metadata, microsite, mobile communications, MySpace, notebook computer, PowerPoint, screensaver, slideshow, smartphone, social networking, source code, video game, videotape, voicemail, web address, web browser, webcam, webcast, web conference, webpage, website, YouTube.
Hyphenation: anti-virus, byline, click-thrus (note spelling), cyberspace, cybercrime, cybersecurity, double-click, e-book, email (noun, verb and adjective), e-reader, e-zine, end user (noun) vs. end-user (adjective), live-blog, metadata, social media, unfollow, unfriend.
Other pointers: Social media is the generic term for various tools people use to connect with others; social networks (or social networking sites, such as Facebook) are a particular type of social medium. Text, texting and texted are acceptable as verbs for sending a text message. Use text messaging to refer to messages sent via short message service (SMS), except when referring to SMS technology itself. Sync is the preferred abbreviation for synchronization (not synch). Write 24/7 (not 24-7).

  • Ask people to log in/log out OR to log on/log off. Be consistent in the nomenclature (on/off versus in/out) used in instructions. These actions are verbs -- and always spelled as two words. When used as adjectives or nouns, these same terms are always one word: logon, login screen, logout time, etc.

Titles of Creative Works

  • Put quotes around the titles of computer games and game apps, e-books, downloaded songs, and streaming TV and video productions. (Follow the same rule that applies for most composition titles.)

  • No quotes or italics are required for software programs, non-game apps, and website titles.


  • Avoid potentially confusing abbreviations. AP style says the following are acceptable only in second references: DVR (spell out digital video recording in first use), HTML (hypertext markup language) IM (instant message), IE (Internet Explorer), IP address (Internet protocol address), ISP (Internet service provider), MMOG (massively multiplayer online game), SEO (search engine optimization), VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), URL (universal record locator). AP says to always spell out disk operating system (DOS).

  • The following abbreviations are acceptable in all references according to AP style: app (short for application) API (application program interface), CD (compact disc), DVD (digital video disc), FTP (file transfer protocol), GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), GPS (global positioning system), HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), JPG or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), MP3, PDF (portable document format), RAM (random access memory), ROM (read-only memory), RSS (real simple syndication), TV (television). Tip: Always make sure the meaning is clear to readers who might not be familiar with these terms.

Web Addresses

  • Whenever possible refer to a site’s web address; avoid needless use of URL or uniform record locator.

  • In regular text, do not precede web addresses with the http:// browser command. Write: or if www not required in the address. (But be sure http:// is included in embedded hyperlinks.)

  • Capitalize email addresses according to the way they are provided by the source. Usually all lower-case is preferred to assure consistency and readability. (Web addresses are not case-sensitive.)

  • Use italics to set off a web address when not underscored to indicate an embedded hyperlink.

  • Do not insert a hyphen to break up long web addresses or email addresses between lines of text. Begin a long address on the next line.

Special Punctuation Issues:

  • Avoid underlines -- except to indicate embedded hyperlinks in electronic documents.

  • Avoid pointed brackets < > to indicate parenthetical ideas. These are reserved for browser tags in HTML documents. Use rounded parenthesis marks ( ) or square brackets [ ], as required.

Use terms applicable to particular sites correctly:

  • Facebook members are friends and like posts. Organizations operate Facebook Pages (not Fan Pages). In text, use lower case when referring to the number of Facebook likes or reactions received. Posts are distributed via Facebook’s News Feed.

  • Twitter users follow and have followers. Tweet is the verb to describe sending a message on Twitter (not to Twitter). On Twitter, #term (hashtag, with no space) identifies the subject of a message and is used to indicate searchable topics. @username (no space) identifies the source of a message and should be included when referencing usernames of Twitter users within a tweet and other social media posts that recognize the # and @ tags. Posts are distributed on a member’s Twitter Feed.

  • LinkedIn contacts connect and are connections. Posts are distributed as Status Updates.

  • Google, Googling, Googled may be informally used for conducting a search on Google. Spell out Google Plus (not Google+) for this social networking site.

  • AP style spells Yahoo without an exclamation point to identify this major search/information venue.

Emoticons – These typographical cartoons (also known as smileys or smiley faces) are fun but annoying:

  • Use them sparingly in casual communications, but only if appropriate for the audience.

  • Avoid emoticons in formal promotional communications for clients, or if there is any chance of misinterpretation (such as international communications),

Text/Instant Message Abbreviations

  • These shortcuts might be used in personal, one-on-one communications. Generally, avoid them when sending bulk messages. (These are often viewed as unprofessional or childish and can be misunderstood.)

  • A few examples that might be appropriate in certain mass text messages or tweets include: 2, 4, C, R, U, Y and thx. Others are less likely to be familiar to recipients and could confuse recipients.

  • Messages typed in all capital letters suggest that a sender is screaming.

  • Removing letters (typically vowels) and punctuation might save space in a message but also can confuse recipients who read in a hurry. Shorten the message other ways.

Writing Style

  • Write in short sentences and paragraphs. Use headlines and subheads effectively because many readers only scan texts. Short bulleted lists can enhance comprehension. Incomplete sentences are acceptable. So are commands! But be sure your copy flows smoothly and your message is coherent and compelling.

  • Embed hyperlinks within texts (or adjacent to content) to connect to reader to related information, email links or websites.

  • Organizations are not persons and require impersonal pronouns: Write: The company wants to improve its online visibility (not their visibility).

  • Avoid trite digital industry jargon or other gibberish that doesn’t communicate clearly or sounds like a hollow advertising claim (puffery). Examples: business solution, cutting-edge, groundbreaking, industry standard, innovative, market leader, next- generation, state-of-the-art, robust, turnkey, unique, and world-class. 9/2016

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