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Link to Help with Writing Official Correspondence
Guidance on Preparing Documents for the Secretary Style Guidelines for Official Correspondence Writing Basics Use of Specialized Terms, Abbreviations, and Acronyms On-line Writing Resources
Composition Frequently Misused Words Grammar Punctuation Style

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Except as noted below, do not use abbreviations in official correspondence.

  • You may abbreviate honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr.), academic degrees (like M.D., Ph.D., or R.N.), or religious orders (S.J., for example) appearing with a person's name, whether in the correspondence or on the envelope.

  • When addressing envelopes, you should use the U.S. Postal Service abbreviations. Spell out the names of U.S. states and Canadian provinces in the inside address (except use D.C. instead of spelling out District of Columbia).

  • Spell out United States when used as a noun, but abbreviate it (U.S.) as an adjective.

Acronyms—words formed from the initial letters of the words in a multiword name or term—may be used in correspondence, but you should follow these rules for using them:

  • Spell out the full meaning of an acronym, followed by the acronym in parentheses, at first use—for example, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is not necessary, however, to define NIH acronyms such as NCI, NHLBI, or NIDCD in correspondence within the NIH.

  • To make an acronym plural, add s; to make an acronym possessive, add 's. To make a plural acronym possessive, add s' (note that this rule differs from that prescribed in some style and usage guides):

    EKG (electrocardiogram)

    EKGs (electrocardiograms)

    EKG's (possessive of electrocardiogram)

    EKGs' (possessive of electrocardiograms)


Refer to the Gregg Reference Manual for questions of capitalization not covered in the points below. If a question remains, refer to the GPO Style Manual.

Compound Words

To answer questions concerning compounding not covered in the points below, look up the word in Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary to see if a word in question is listed as a hyphenated word or as a single word with no hyphen. If you are still in doubt, refer to The Gregg Reference Manual, section 8, "Compound Words."

  • Except after two- or three-letter prefixes, use a hyphen to avoid double vowels or triple consonants.



  • Always write cannot, anyone, anywhere, and someone as one word. No one is always two words.
  • Used as a verb, follow up should be two words; as a noun or adjective, use a hyphenated compound: follow-up.
  • Use a hyphen between words that form a unit modifier (adjectival phrase) before a modified word.

    He is a member of the hard-of-hearing community.

    She purchased a state-of-the-art system.

    Do not use the hyphens, however, when the phrase is used as a predicate.

    The visitors were hard of hearing.

    The system is state of the art.

    Also do not hyphenate an adverb-participle combination if the adverb ends in -ly: a well-operating system, but
    a poorly operating laboratory.

  • Do not add a hyphen to a foreign phrase of more than one word when used as a unit modifier.

    ex officio member

    post mortem evaluation

    ante bellum era

  • Do not add a hyphen to a two-word modifier having a letter or numeral as the second element.

    page 2 revisions

    World War II related injuries

  • Do not hyphenate a compound ending in like unless the first element is a proper name or unless a triple consonant will be formed.




  • Write words beginning with non as one word unless the word following non is capitalized or is itself a hyphenated word; in those cases, insert a hyphen.





  • Do not hyphenate a compound made up of two nouns when the resulting compound noun has one primary accent, especially when the second element of the compound has only one syllable or one of the elements loses its original accent.









Contractions are fine for informal use but should normally be avoided in official correspondence. If in doubt about whether to use a contraction, you probably shouldn't use it.


Use the American, not military or European, format of month, day, and year. Spell out the month.

April 3, 2003


April 3rd, 2003

3 April 2003

Apr. 3, 2003


  • In text, do not add st, nd, rd, or th to days.
    The meeting will be held on May 10, not May 10th.
  • Do not include the year in a date if including it is unnecessary. For example, if a letter dated March 1, 2003, mentions a meeting held last December 10, it is obvious that the December 10 referred to was in 2002.

Dividing Names or Dates Between Lines

Do not divide a date between lines. If an entire date will not fit at the end of a line, begin the date on the next line down.

Avoid dividing a person's name (including honorific and degree) between lines. If you must type a name partly on one line and partly on the next, the person's last name must begin the new line.

Forms of Address

The Forms of Address link shows conventional forms of address in general use. These usages may vary under certain circumstances. For example, you may replace The Honorable with a title such as General, Dr., or His Excellency if appropriate.

  • Address all presidential appointees and elected Federal and state officials as The Honorable. As a general rule, also use The Honorable to address mayors, but not other city and county officials.
  • When a woman occupies a position that may be held by either a man or a woman, use the title Madam before such formal terms as President, Vice President, Chairman, Secretary, Ambassador, and Minister. Use the title Senator for a female member of the Senate and Mrs., Miss, or Ms. for a female member of the House of Representatives, Senator-elect, or Representative-elect.
  • Eliminate unnecessary gender-specific terms in correspondence. When the gender of the addressee is unknown, use a non-gender-specific salutation such as Dear Colleague or use the individual's name or initials, if known.

    Dear S. Smith:

    Dear Lee Jones:


Spell out numbers zero through nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 or greater.

We have already spoken to three members of the committee.

The committee comprises 16 members.

If several numbers appear in a sentence and at least one of them is greater than nine, use a numeral for each.

There are 11 men and 5 women on the committee.


There are eight men and nine women on the committee.

Avoid beginning a sentence with a numeral; rearrange the sentence if possible. If you must begin a sentence with a number, spell it out.


Twelve of the 16 members are doctors.

Preferred: Of the 16 members, 12 are doctors

Always use numerals for units of money, time, or measurement.

5 liters

3 mg

5 years


also $3,500, but $6 million

2- or 3-inch sticks

7 percent


Short quotations are set off by quotation marks within the text.

Dr. Smith asked, "What is the next item on the agenda?"

There was a brief delay while the Chairman consulted his notes. "We will consider Dr. Robinson's request to attend the next meeting," the Chairman finally responded.

Quotations of three lines or longer should be indented five spaces (½-inch if not using a 10-characters-per-inch font) from the left margin. Use quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quotation. If the quotation is two or more paragraphs in length, place opening quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and closing quotation marks at the end of only the last paragraph.


Avoid the use of symbols in letters. The dollar sign ($) may be used.

25 percent (not 25%)

145 degrees Celsius (not 145ยบ C)

$3 million

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Last updated: April 17, 2003