Guidelines for BCPS Written Communications

Guidelines for Written Communications
This document contains a listing of Baltimore County Public Schools’ (BCPS) conventions for
style (blue font) as well as explanations of standard grammar, usage, punctuation, and writing
topics that are important for written communications (black font). All references in this
document to The Gregg Reference Manual or GRM are to the following:
Sabin, William A. (ed.). (2005). The Gregg reference manual: A manual of style,
grammar, usage, and formatting. (10th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
The Gregg Reference Manual has been approved as the system standard for proofreading,
editing, and composing. Schools and offices are encouraged to order texts as needed.
Weekly Bulletin, March 23, 2007
General Formatting Considerations
A. Standard Font and Size. The standard font used for BCPS’ communications is Times
New Roman, 12 point.
B. Copy Notations. When sending correspondence with a copy notation, list the individuals
copied on the correspondence in order of rank—from highest to lowest. The Gregg
Reference Manual indicates that such a listing may be done either alphabetically or by
rank. BCPS’ practice is to list by rank.
C. References and Bibliographies. BCPS uses American Psychological Association (APA)
format for references and bibliographies. The APA format is different from the format
outlined in The Gregg Reference Manual.
A. Academic Degrees. GRM ¶ 353 states, “Do not capitalize academic degrees used as
general terms of classification. However, capitalize a degree used after a person’s name.”
Examples are a bachelor of arts’ degree, a master’s degree in science, or a doctor of
education degree. When the degree follows an individual’s name, however, it is
capitalized as follows: John Jordan, Doctor of Philosophy.
B. Board of Education. GRM ¶ 327 states, “Common terms such as police department,
board of education, and county court need not be capitalized (even when referring to a
specific body), since they are terms of general classification. However, such terms should
be capitalized when the writer intends to refer to the organization in…its official dignity.”
In BCPS, we are using the following format: Board of Education and the board.
C. Course Titles. GRM ¶ 352 states, “Capitalize the names of specific course titles.
However, do not capitalize names of subjects or areas of study except for any proper
nouns or adjectives in such names.”
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 1
Guidelines for Written Communications
For example, English is always capitalized because it is a proper noun. However, other
subject names such as science, social studies, and algebra are not proper nouns and
therefore are not capitalized. If the proper title of a course is referenced, such as Algebra
1, however, it would be capitalized.
D. Federal and State. GRM ¶ 328 states, “Capitalize federal only when it is part of the
official name of a federal agency, a federal act, or some other proper noun.” GRM ¶ 325
states, “Capitalize state only when it follows the name of a state….Do not capitalize state
when it is used in place of the actual state name.”
For example, do not capitalize state when writing the state of Maryland.
E. Geographic Directions. GRM ¶ 338 states, “Capitalize north, south, east, west, and
derivative words when they designate definite regions or are an integral part of a proper
The five geographic areas within BCPS are capitalized; for example, Central, Southeast,
Southwest, Northeast, Northwest.
F. Grades and Academic Years. GRM ¶ 354 states, “In references to academic years, do
not capitalize the words freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. In references to grade
levels, capitalize the word grade when a number follows but not when a number
For example, students in Grade 5 will be in attendance, or students in fifth grade will
In BCPS, when referring to the span of grades from prekindergarten through Grade 12 or
kindergarten through Grade 12, use Grades PreK–12 or Grades K–12.
G. Personal Titles. GRM ¶ 313a states, “In general, do not capitalize titles of honor and
respect when they follow a personal name or are used in place of a personal name.”
For example, a common mistake is the following: “Dr. Joe A. Hairston, Superintendent,
has asked me to respond to your letter.” The appropriate form is Dr. Joe A. Hairston,
Do not capitalize the initial s when referring to the superintendent’s staff.
H. Titles of Documents and Headings. According to GRM ¶ 847, capitalize all words with
four or more letters in titles and headings. Exceptions are articles (a, an, the), short
conjunctions (and, as, but, if, or, nor), and prepositions (at, by, for, in, etc.). Also,
remember to capitalize short parts of verbs, such as be.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 2
Guidelines for Written Communications
I. Words Beginning With Web. GRM ¶ 847 states, “Compound words beginning with
Web are usually two words, and the word Web is capitalized.”
A. Apostrophe. GRM ¶ 627 states, “A noun ending in the sound of s is usually in the
possessive form if it is followed immediately by a noun...possessive forms may express a
number of different relationships, only one of which refers to possession or ownership.
NOTE: An apostrophe alone or an apostrophe plus s is the sign of the possessive. (See ¶¶
630–640.)” GRM ¶ 627a provides the following examples:
my boss’s approval (meaning the approval of my boss)
Belknap’s farm (meaning the farm possessed or owned by Belknap)
A two weeks’ vacation (meaning a vacation for or lasting two weeks)
According to the guideline in GRM ¶ 627, be sure to include the apostrophe after
Baltimore County Public Schools and the abbreviation BCPS when a noun follows; for
example, Baltimore County Public Schools’ Web site or BCPS’ curriculum guides.
B. Commas
Compound Sentences and Compound Predicates. GRM ¶ 126 states, “When a
compound sentence consists of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating
conjunction (and, but, or, or nor), place a separating comma before the conjunction.”
The secretary noticed a small discrepancy in the figures, and she decided to
review the spreadsheet. (This is a compound sentence with two complete
thoughts, so a comma is inserted before the conjunction and).
The secretary noticed a small discrepancy in the figures and decided to review
the spreadsheet. (The phrase after and is not a complete thought and cannot
stand on its own; therefore, no comma is inserted before and).
GRM ¶ 127 states, “Do not confuse a compound sentence (first example above) with
a simple sentence containing a compound predicate (second example above). If a
comma seems necessary before the second verb of a compound predicate, consider
rewriting the second part of the sentence as a separate sentence.
Dates. GRM ¶ 154 states, “Use two commas to set off the year when it follows the
month and day.” GRM ¶ 155 states, “Omit the commas when the month and year
only are given.”
On July 9, 2014, I plan to retire.
The March 14, 2010, workshop has been canceled.
We will have a new program beginning in January 2011.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 3
Guidelines for Written Communications
I.e. or e.g. Use a comma after i.e. or e.g. According to GRM, it is preferable to use
for example rather than the abbreviation e.g. For punctuation before these terms, see
GRM ¶¶ 181–183.
Introductory Clauses and Phrases. Use a comma after an introductory clause (a
clause is a grammatical form that has a subject and predicate). There are various rules
for use of a comma after an introductory phrase (a grammatical form that does not
contain both a subject and a predicate). See GRM ¶¶ 135–136 for rules on different
types of introductory phrases.
After you have finished reading the book, please leave it in my mailbox
(comma after introductory clause).
Nonessential Parts of a Sentence. According to GRM ¶ 132, use a comma to set off
words, phrases, or clauses that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Consider the difference in meaning in the following statements:
All teachers who have received training will implement the program. (“Who
have received training” is essential to the meaning, limiting the definition
only to those teachers who have received training.)
All teachers, who have received training, will implement the program. (In
this sentence, “all teachers” will implement the program, and “who have
received training” is additional information.)
Series. GRM ¶ 162 states, “When three or more items are listed in a series and the
last item is preceded by and, or, or nor, place a comma before the conjunction as well
as between the other items.”
C. Punctuation With Quotation Marks. Always place a period or comma inside quotation
marks. Always place a colon or semicolon outside quotation marks. The placement of a
question mark or exclamation mark depends on the meaning of the sentence. See GRM
¶¶ 247–249.
D. Titles of Written Works
Italics. Italicize the titles of complete books, magazines, newspapers, brochures,
pamphlets, films, software, poems, plays, movies, as well as names of artwork,
sculptures, aircraft, tests, kits, maps, and games. Italicize Language!, Student
Handbook, Report on Results, Blueprint for Progress as well as the official names of
BCPS’ curriculum guides.
Quotation Marks. Place quotation marks around titles that are only part of a
complete published work (for example, chapters). Use quotation marks around titles
of lectures, conference themes, presentations, and events.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 4
Guidelines for Written Communications
Bulleted Lists
See GRM ¶¶ 106–107 for examples and explanations of bulleted list formatting. A sample
bulleted list follows:
Conventions of bulleted lists are:
Capitalize the first word of each item.
Use periods after independent clauses or long phrases.
Use periods after short phrases necessary to the grammatical completeness of the
introductory element.
Do not use periods after short phrases in a list with a grammatically complete
introductory element.
Avoid the use of semicolons and conjunctions between items.
Subject-Verb Agreement
GRM ¶ 1001 states, “A verb must agree with its subject in number and person.” Be careful when
a plural noun comes between a singular subject and its verb. For example:
The purpose of the games is to assist in the development of phonemic awareness.
A. General Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement. GRM ¶ 1049 states, “A pronoun must agree
with its antecedent (the word for which the pronoun stands) in number, gender, and
person.” For example:
Each player takes his/her turn choosing a card from the deck is grammatically
correct (see note below on gender-specific references).
B. Indefinite Pronouns. GRM ¶ 1009 states, “The words each, every, either, neither, one,
another, and much are always singular” Compound indefinite pronouns such as
everybody, everyone, somebody, someone, nobody, no one, are also singular. These
singular indefinite pronouns require a singular verb.
Each of the teachers has a clear-cut set of responsibilities.
C. Reflexive Pronouns. Do not use a reflexive pronoun (for example, myself, herself,
yourself) unless the noun or pronoun to which the pronoun refers is expressed in the same
Incorrect: Send the e-mail to the coordinator and myself.
Correct: Send the e-mail to the coordinator and me.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 5
Guidelines for Written Communications
D. Pronoun Referring to a Person. According to GRM ¶ 1062a, use who to refer to a
person (not that).
E. Who or Whom. See GRM ¶ 1061c for an explanation of the correct use of who or whom.
To determine which form of the pronoun is correct, use who whenever he, she, they, I, or
we could be substituted. Use whom whenever him, her, them, me, or us could be
substituted. For example:
Who did they say was chosen? (They did say she was chosen.)
Whom did you see today? (You did see her today.)
A. Date Number Format. Do not use st, th, or nd after dates. For example, use June 22
rather than June 22nd.
B. Commas With Dates. Section GRM ¶ 154 states, “Use two commas to set off the year
when it follows the month and day.”
On July 9, 2014, I plan to retire.
The March 14, 2009, meeting was canceled.
Clock Time
GRM ¶ 440c states, “For time ‘on the hour,’ zeros are not needed to denote minutes unless
you want to give special emphasis to the precise hour.” Use the format a.m. or p.m. rather
than AM or PM. If both times are either a.m. or p.m., use the term only once. For example:
Our office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (not 5:00 p.m.)
The meeting will take place from 8:45–10:30 a.m. (Note the use of an en dash,
rather than a hyphen, to connect numbers.)
When designating an amount of money, use the following format: $130, not $130.00.
A. Prefixes or Suffixes. In general do not use a hyphen in a word with a prefix or suffix (see
GRM ¶ 833). For example:
Prekindergarten not pre-kindergarten
Systemwide not system-wide
Inservice not in-service
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Ongoing not on-going
Districtwide not district-wide
Paraeducator not para-educator
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 6
Guidelines for Written Communications
B. Compound Adjectives. Hyphenate the elements of a compound adjective that occurs
before a noun—for example, diploma-bound students or research-based data. However,
when these expressions occur elsewhere in the sentence, drop the hyphen if the individual
words occur in a normal order and in a normal form—for example, up-to-date
information, but information is up to date.
C. Compound Nouns. Check a dictionary to clarify if a word is hyphenated, written as one
word, or written as two separate words. The following words should be hyphenated:
follow-up, start-up.
D. Hyphens and Dashes. GRM ¶¶ 201–215 explains the use of dashes. In general, a hyphen
is used in a compound word. An en dash (twice the size of a hyphen; one-half the width
of an em dash) is used to connect numbers or times. An em dash (the same width as a
capital M) is used to indicate a break in thought in a sentence, an afterthought, or
additional information. Be sure not to use a hyphen when a dash is called for. For
The research-based study was reviewed in the journal. (hyphen)
The workshop will take place from 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (en dash)
Five curriculum writer workshops will be offered—these are required of all
curriculum writers. (em dash)
Use the following shortcuts to create en and em dashes:
Computer Terms
A. Words Beginning With Web. GRM ¶ 847f states, “Compound words beginning with
Web are usually two words:
Web site
Web page
Web surfer
Web index
Web server
Web browser
Web directory
Web based
B. Internet and Intranet. Internet refers to the global system of linked computer networks.
Intranet refers to the BCPS’ private network. Both words are capitalized.
C. E-Mail. GRM ¶ 847g states, “Compound words beginning with the prefix e (such as email) are usually hyphenated.”
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 7
Guidelines for Written Communications
A. General Rule. According to GRM ¶ 401–402, the general rule is to spell out numbers ten
and below. Write numbers 11 and above as figures. However, when numbers above and
below ten appear in the same context, use the same style for all numbers.
B. Numbers at Beginning of Sentences. Always use words for numbers at the beginning of
a sentence (including percentages). See GRM ¶ 401d.
C. Ordinal Numbers. According to GRM ¶ 424, the general rule is to spell out all ordinal
numbers that can be expressed in one or two words, such as eighth grade or Ninety-ninth
Congress. Note the following exception: Use 21st (figures) when referring to 21st century.
Capital letters and abbreviations ending with capital letters are pluralized by adding s alone
(MSAs). Lowercase letters and abbreviations are pluralized by adding 's (p’s and q’s).
Numbers are pluralized by adding s alone (1900s).
Word Choice
The following conventions are used within BCPS:
21st century
Although the general rule in GRM for ordinal numbers is to spell out the
number, use 21st (figures) when referring to 21st century.
Use Alt-MSA, not ALT-MSA.
Baltimore County
Public Schools
Baltimore County Public Schools is singular.
Use BCPS, not the BCPS.
Baltimore County
Public Schools’ /
When Baltimore County Public Schools or BCPS is used before a noun
(as in Baltimore County Public Schools’ Web site or BCPS’ curriculum
guides), insert an apostrophe as shown.
Use children only when referring to those in primary grades (Grades
Use data are not data is (data is a plural word).
Do not capitalize language or learners in English language learners.
ESOL refers to the service/program. ELL refers to students. LEP refers to
the group.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 8
Guidelines for Written Communications
FARMS refers to free and reduced-price meal services.
Gifted and talented
Use gifted and talented. If you have used gifted and talented followed by
the abbreviation GT in parentheses, you may use GT subsequently within
the same document. Do not use Gifted/Talented or G/T (omit the slash).
Capitalize grade or grades before the grade number.
Use Grades 3 to 10 not grade 3 to 10.
In general, use Grades PreK–12 or Grades K–12 not PK–12 or K–12.
High School
Use high school not senior high school.
Hyphenated words
Hyphenate these words: e-mail, well-being, role-play, real-life, selfcontrol, self-esteem, in-depth.
Both Internet and Intranet are capitalized.
The word is interoffice not inneroffice.
Log on/Log off
Logon and logoff are one word when used as nouns.
However, the verbs log on and log off are two words.
Use mathematics not math.
When referring to NCLB, use No Child Left Behind Act.
One-word spellings
Write the following as one word: countywide, systemwide, schoolwide,
schoolwork, prekindergarten, inservice, lifelong, yearlong, workplace.
Preferred spellings are online, offline.
Use percentage of students not percent of students.
Increases or decreases are percentage point increases or decreases, not
Use PreK–12 not Pre-K–12.
Proficient or
Special education
Use proficient or advanced not proficient/advanced.
Title I
Use Title I not Title One.
Each other/one
Use each other when referring to two persons; use one another when
referring to three or more persons.
Write out Maryland State Department of Education.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Use students receiving special education services not special education
students. Spell out special education; do not use special ed.
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 9
Guidelines for Written Communications
School year
Format school year as 2009–-2010 not 2010 or 09–10.
Students or pupils
Use student or students, not pupil or pupils.
Writing Tips
A. Active Voice. Use active voice as much as possible. In active voice, the subject is the
doer of the action. For example, “the staff reviewed the report” is preferable to “the
report was reviewed by the staff.”
B. Clarity and Conciseness. Be clear about the purpose of a communication and the
audience who will receive it. Organize communications so that the message is clearly
conveyed and stated in a concise manner.
C. E-Mail Etiquette. Refer to BCPS’ E-Mail Etiquette, located on the Intranet at, for special
considerations regarding formatting and content of e-mails within BCPS.
D. Gender-Specific Writing. Avoid the use of gender-specific references. Write in the
plural or rewrite the sentence. For example, the sentence The committee chairman and I
asked everyone on the committee to bring his section of the report could be rewritten as
The committee chairperson and I asked all committee members to bring their sections of
the report.
E. Parallel Structure. Express ideas in parallel form. Adjectives should be paralleled with
adjectives, nouns with nouns, phrases with phrases, etc. Be especially careful to use
parallel structure in bulleted lists. For example:
Parallel Structure (correct)
Modes of Conflict Resolution
Share a task.
Flip a coin.
Wait until later—cool down.
Work cooperatively.
Nonparallel Structure (incorrect)
Modes of Conflict Resolution
We can both do it.
Flip a coin.
Later—when we both cool down.
Working cooperatively.
F. Person. Use consistent person throughout. Avoid the use of you (second person) except
in informal writing.
G. Telegraphic Writing. Do not eliminate words such as the, that, and other words needed
for clarity and readability.
H. Tense. Use a consistent tense throughout. For example, avoid switching from present to
past tense.
I. Tone. Ensure that all communications convey a positive, professional tone.
Department of Professional Development
Professional Development and Training/jm
Guidelines for Written Communications_20101027
I\Adm and Mgt\Written Comm Standards
Page 10