The Nature Conservancy’s Digital Style Guide provides an editorial framework for all English-language content types featured on TNC digital properties. Maintaining a level of consistency across our content lends to the professionalism and cohesion readers expect of TNC. While this guide is not meant to discourage editorial creativity, writers should consider brand and audience goals before deviating from established preferences.
Note that in some cases, style suggestions vary across our platforms. In general, our web content leans heavily on the Associated Press Stylebook—our social handles, on the other hand, frequently take more stylistic liberties. For the sake of consistency, American English spelling is preferred on global channels, though regional sites and media releases may rely on authoritative style sources for other audience-appropriate dialects as needed.
Finally, this is a living document subject to frequent changes and additions—the Global Content team will make an effort to notify content managers as updates are made. If you notice an opportunity for an update, please reach via the digital request portal, select the "miscellaneous" form and direct your suggestion to the content team.
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS Follow AP, but also exercise your best judgment. Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms that will bog down your text in alphabet soup. Instead, consider recognizing partners and/or funders in a separate call-out box. Otherwise, follow these general guidelines:
- See section on The Nature Conservancy for usage of “TNC."
- In most cases, use the full name of the entity on first reference (see entry for “Partners”). If using a shortened version or acronym on second reference, place it in parentheses after the full name except where the second reference follows closely and will be clear from context.
- If an organization is better known by its acronym than its full name (e.g., CARE, UNICEF, UNESCO), use the acronym on all references.
acre-foot, acre-feet Equal to the volume of one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot.
Alaska Natives In Alaska, Indigenous groups are collectively known as Alaska Natives (individually Aleuts, Eskimos, etc.). See Indigenous peoples
alien species Avoid. See INVASIVE or NON-NATIVE
American Indian Acceptable in U.S. and preferred over Native American. Per AP Style, always follow the referenced person’s preference. Use Indian alone only in referring to the people and cultures of India. See Indigenous peoples
& (AMPERSAND) Use only if part of a company name. Should never replace and in common text, except for some accepted abbreviations.
Army Corps of Engineers Spell out on first reference; Army Corps on subsequent references. Preferred over U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although that name can be used if necessary (e.g., in non-U.S. landmarks).
Aboriginal Do not use Aboriginal or Aborigine as both can be considered derogatory in country. Use Indigenous peoples for people native to Australia.
below Avoid using in place of “less than” or “fewer than.”
bird-watch, bird-watcher Hyphenated. Birder is an acceptable alternative.
Blackfeet Serves as both singular and plural forms, referring to the Blackfeet Nation, a band of Plains Indians.
board of governors Lowercase in running text. Names of board of governors members should always appear as they do in The Nature Conservancy magazine board of governors list.
BOATS AND SHIPS Italicize names of boats and ships
buffalo An acceptable American colloquialism for the American bison (Bison bison). Scientifically correct term is bison.
buildup Not build-up.
bunch grass Two words as noun and adjective, e.g., bunch grass prairie
cactuses Not cacti
community-scientist Not citizen-scientist (or science)
Capitalization (common questions)
Follow AP style in general (Mississippi River, the river; Philippines Islands, the islands) but note the following exceptions, per Words into Type: the Gulf (Gulf of Mexico), the Falls (Niagara Falls), the Canal (Panama Canal), the Street (Wall Street).
Popular and legendary names of places are capitalized and not enclosed in quotation marks (Chicago), e.g., Eastern Shore (of Chesapeake Bay), Lake District, the Piedmont
Headline Capitalization / Title Case
Capitalize first and last words, proper nouns, important words and all prepositions longer than three letters. Also, the first word after a colon is always uppercase in headlines.
cay Not caye.
Celsius Capitalize. Use of degrees is redundant.
Central America Referring to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Does not include the Caribbean islands.
CEO No periods.
clear-cut, clear-cutting Hyphenated.
COMMON NAMES Common names of species are lowercase unless they contain a proper name that would be capitalized in a normal context, in which case that word should be capitalized in the species name: Kirtland’s warbler, Florida panther, burrowing owl, black-capped vireo, Western tanager.
commonwealth Lowercase (e.g., the commonwealth of Massachusetts). U.S. commonwealth states: Virginia, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania.
company Abbreviate as Co. when part of company’s name.
COMPOSITION TITLES Italicize titles of publications and compositions (books, movies, songs, television programs, lectures, works of art, scientific journals, etc.). Put quotes around titles of short works (poems, stories, articles) and divisions of longer works (chapters, sections). An exception to AP, following Chicago (see 7.126).
congressman, congresswoman Capitalize when used as title before name. Do not indicate party affiliation.
contiguous United States Meaning the 48 states in North America between Canada and Mexico. Also conterminous U.S., or the lower 48. Continental United States comprises the contiguous U.S. plus Alaska.
continental United States Comprises the contiguous U.S. plus Alaska.
convince Convince is used only with that: I convinced him that John was the better candidate. But: I persuaded him to vote.
CREDITS, MAPS, ILLUSTRATIONS AND GRAPHICS Use a slash (/) between creator’s name and agency if applicable. Use a semicolon between credits: Illustration © Teagan White. If creator is a TNC employee: Graphic © Creator’s Name/TNC; example: © Devan King/TNC
CREDITS, PHOTOGRAPHY Use a slash (/) between photographer’s name and photo agency. Use a semicolon between credits: Photographs © Jill Smith/Corbis; Michael Jones/Animals Animals. If photographer is a TNC employee: Photograph © Photographer’s Name/TNC; example: © Devan King/TNC (See doc. “Photo credit style guide.rtf” for detailed credit line information and examples.)
CURRENCY In global communications, specify country, as in The epidemic costs Indonesia U.S.$3 billion a year.
DATE RANGES Separate date ranges with the word to. e.g., August 7 to 10, 2010. Do not use an en dash.
decision-maker, decision-making Hyphenate.
Department of the Interior Use U.S. Department of the Interior.
Dr. Do not use this courtesy title before names.
drawdown No hyphen.
email No hyphen. Use a hyphen with other e- terms: e-book, e-card, e-commerce.
Earth Capitalize name of planet for consistency with mission statement. Lowercase when synonymous with dirt, mud.
eco- Forms compounds with no hyphen (e.g. ecolodge, ecotourism).
ecoregion Capitalize the name of an ecoregion only if it is the full name, e.g., Northern Great Plains Steppe Ecoregion. Used alone, the word ecoregion should be lowercase.
Ecuadorean (adj., n.) Following Webster’s
EMPHASIS Italics can be used (sparingly) to indicate emphasis.
endangered Assumed to mean that the species is federally listed as endangered in the U.S. Otherwise specify location (ex: locally, nationally, globally) or source of listing.
EM DASHES No space on either side of em dash (contra AP style).
EN DASHES Never use en dashes.
Eskimo A term used to refer to a group of native peoples of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska and eastern Siberia. The term Inuit is preferred at times, particularly in reference to Canadian members of this group. See Indigenous peoples for further explanation.
Explorer-in-Residence National Geographic title. Plural is Explorers-in-Residence.
Fahrenheit Capitalize. Use of degrees is redundant. Prioritize Celsius in global communications, including Fahrenheit conversion in parenthesis according to audience.
First Nations First Nations is the preferred collective term for native tribes in Canada. Use as a plural unless naming the specific community: Heiltsuk Nation
floodplain One word in all uses (contra Webster’s)
flyway Capitalize when referring to specific flyway, e.g., Atlantic Flyway
FOREIGN NAMES Should retain diacritical marks unless commonly anglicized. Do not set in quotes (e.g. Guaraqueçaba Environmental Protection Area).
FOREIGN TERMS Foreign terms that have not been incorporated into American English should be set in quotes on first use and should always retain their diacritical marks (e.g. “campesinos,” but jalapeño). Local (common) species names, however, should not be set in quotes. If a term appears in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, it should not be set in quotes. Spelling and diacritical marks should follow Webster’s. See TRANSLATION OF FOREIGN TERMS.
forestland One word
Forest Service The official title of this organization is the USDA Forest Service. Forest Service is acceptable, and preferred over U.S. Forest Service, although that name can be used if necessary (e.g. in non-U.S. landmarks). The Forest Service is an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Fort Do not abbreviate for cities or military installations.
freshwater (adj.), fresh water (n.) Related, saltwater (adj.) and salt water (n.).
game Capitalize title, no italics or quotes, when referencing a board game, computer game, app, etc.
GEOGRAPHIC NAMES, CAPITALIZING Follow AP style in general (Mississippi River, the river; Philippines Islands, the islands) but note the following exceptions, per Words into Type: the Gulf (Gulf of Mexico), the Falls (Niagara Falls), the Canal (Panama Canal), the Street (Wall Street).
Global Positioning System Use GPS on all references.
grassbank, grassbanking A term trademarked by the Animus Foundation
grass-roots (adj.) Hyphenated.
groundtruthing One word
groundwater One word
Gulf of California Preferred term for this body of water. OK to add in parenthetical or other note: Sea of Cortez
Gulf of Mexico OK to use Gulf (capitalized) on subsequent reference. This is an exception to general rule in AP. Applies also to the Canal (Panama Canal) and the Street (Wall Street) and the Falls (Niagara Falls), according to Words into Type.
HASHTAG, hashtag May keep all words lowercase or capitalize for clarity when using multiple words. Specify relevant social network if unclear in context.
Hawaii Do not use diacritics per AP Style. Use Native Hawaiians for Indigenous communities there.
Homo sapiens Italicize as with any other species.
HONORIFICS AND TITLES
- Academic titles Avoid titles unless requested by the individual. If requested, use “Dr.” on first reference, citing the specific area of expertise if relevant. For subsequent references, use only the individual’s surname.
- Other honorifics and courtesy titles (e.g. Ms., Mr., Miss, professor) Avoid unless requested by the individual.
hot spot Two words, no hyphen.
humpback whale Not hump-backed.
Hyphens, em dashes and en dashes
Not all dashes are equal
- Hyphen (use as joiners between words)
– En dash (don’t use them)
— Em dash (use to signal an abrupt change in a sentence)
If the sheer number of hyphens in a phrase, or confusion about how to use them, can daunt either the writer or the reader, try rephrasing. It’s a guide about how to use hyphens wisely, not it’s a how-to-use-hyphens-wisely guide.
Use a hyphen whenever ambiguity would result if it were omitted.
e.g. He recovered his health. He re-covered the leaky roof.
Use a hyphen if it’s needed to make the meaning clear and avoid unintended meanings.
e.g. small-business owner, better-qualified candidate, little-known warbler
Other two-word terms, particularly those used as nouns, have evolved to be commonly recognized as, in effect, one word. No hyphen is needed.
e.g. climate change report, public land management, real estate transaction
Note: we do not leave spaces on either side of an em dash, contrary to AP’s style.
Use to denote an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause: Through her long reign, the queen and her family have adapted—usually skillfully—to the changing taste of the time. But avoid overuse of dashes when commas would suffice.
When a phrase that otherwise would be set off by commas contains a series of words that must be separated by commas, use dashes to set off the full phrase: He listed the qualities— intelligence, humor, conservatism, independence—that he liked in an executive.
imperiled One “l.”
Indigenous peoples Per AP Style, always follow the referenced person’s preference. When referring to people, Indigenous should be capitalized out of respect for their humanity, and to differentiate them from plants or animals. As a collective noun, Indigenous peoples can be used (as opposed to people) to reflect a diversity of individual Indigenous cultures.
- Alaska: Indigenous groups are collectively known as Alaska Natives (individually Aleuts, Eskimos).
- Australia: Use Indigenous peoples for people native to Australia. Do not use Aboriginal or Aborigine as nouns as both can be considered derogatory in the country. Use “aboriginal” only as an adjective (The aboriginal communities of New South Wales…)
- Canada: First Nations is the preferred collective term for native tribes in Canada. Use as a plural unless naming the specific community (Heiltsuk Nation).
- Hawaii: Use Native Hawaiians for Indigenous communities there.
- United States, contiguous: American Indian is acceptable in the U.S. and preferred over Native American. Use Indian alone only in referring to the people and cultures of India.
INITIATIVES AND PROGRAMS:
- Global Climate Change Initiative
- Global Fire Initiative
- Global Marine Initiative
- Invasive Species Initiative
- Sustainable Waters Program
- The Campaign for Conservation
- Conservation by Design (Do not use CBD. No quotes necessary. Use italics: Conservation by Design)
invasive (adj.) spreading beyond its native range (Webster’s New World Dictionary)
IUCN The International Union for Conservation of Nature
Last Great Places Capitalize because trademarked
Legislature Capitalize when referring to specific state.
like OK in place of such as
live-trap (v.) Hyphenate
lower 48 United States Is allowed, contrary to our previous practice.
Maasai Use two a’s when referring to Maasai Mara and to the Maasai giraffe. Check with local staff on other uses (varies according to country and usage).
Maya (adj.) Preferred over Mayan, which should be used only to refer to the Mayan family of languages.
measurements Use standard measurements except in special cases such as scientific articles, where metric measurements may be substituted. Pay attention to discrepancies between the U.S. ton (the “short ton,” measuring 2,000 lbs), the British ton (the “long ton,” measuring 2,240 pounds) and the tonne (the “metric ton,” measuring 2204 pounds).
Meso-America, Meso-American, Meso-American Reef, Meso-American Reef Project (aka MAR) Contra Webster’s
million, billion In the usual form: 5 million, 10 billion. In adjectival form, hyphenate throughout: 300-million-acre parcel, 5-million-gallon tanker. In the case of dollar, sterling sums: $500 million, ₤5 billion.
MISSION STATEMENT The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The mission statement should appear on all Conservancy publications.
MONTHS Do not abbreviate (an exception to AP).
Myanmar Preferred name. May include in parenthesis “previously known as Burma.” Refer to citizens as the Myanmar people or the people of Myanmar, per AP style.
NGO Do not use this acronym.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Full name on first reference. Afterwards, NOAA is acceptable. NOAA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce.
National Park Service Full name on first reference, afterwards you may use NPS or Park Service. The National Park Service is a bureau under the U.S. Department of the Interior.
natural-history (adj.) Hyphenate. No hyphen when used as a noun.
nature.org No www or https:// should be used in text.
The Nature Conservancy: How TNC Talks About TNC
On first reference: The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
Subsequent references: TNC
As an adjective: Drop “The” (e.g. “Nature Conservancy scientists”)
- Avoid "the Conservancy." It can be problematic because in many geographies where we work, there are other organizations known as conservancies.
- Use language that conveys that TNC is one organization. Avoid using references that give the sense that our state chapters and country officers are separate entities. Instead of “TNC’s New Jersey chapter,” for example, say “TNC’s work in New Jersey.” Instead of “TNC Mexico,” use “TNC in Mexico.”
- In Canada, TNC is called “Nature United.” “The Nature Conservancy of Canada” is a separate organization and is not related to The Nature Conservancy.
See also: mission statement, nature.org, Nature Conservancy magazine issues, Nature United, Shared Conservation Agenda
NATURE CONSERVANCY MAGAZINE ISSUES The magazine name is Nature Conservancy (sometimes referred to as Nature Conservancy magazine), not Nature Conservancy Magazine. If referring to it with “magazine” do not italicize magazine. When referring to our past issues that were named by season, the season is capitalized. e.g. Spring 2011, but the spring issue. For numbered issues, refer as follows: 2011, issue 2. For bimonthly issues, February/March 2016 or December 2016/ January 2017.
Nature United Spell out. Often written “Nature United and its global affiliate The Nature Conservancy.” Note that “Nature United” is the formal name of The Nature Conservancy’s Canada program. “The Nature Conservancy of Canada” is a separate organization and is not related to The Nature Conservancy.
nearshore One word. See also offshore.
nonconfrontational One word (see AP).
non-native Hyphenate double consonant. For definition, see INVASIVE.
NUMBERS (spelling out vs. numerals) In general, spell out whole numbers below 10, and use numerals for 10 and above. Note an exception in guidance on percentages. Headlines can allow numerals below 10 and at the start of a sentence/clause.
- measurements Use standard measurements except in special cases such as scientific articles, where metric measurements may be substituted. Pay attention to discrepancies between the U.S. ton (the “short ton,” measuring 2,000 lbs), the British ton (the “long ton,” measuring 2,240 pounds) and the tonne (the “metric ton,” measuring 2204 pounds).
- dimensions Use numerals to indicate depth, height, length and width, hyphenating adjectival forms. Examples: 5-foot-6-inch player; 5 inches of snow; 6 feet long; 7-footer
- million, billion In the usual form: 5 million, 10 billion. In adjectival form, hyphenate throughout: 300-million-acre parcel, 5-million-gallon tanker. In the case of dollar, sterling sums: $500 million, ₤5 billion.
- percentages Pair the symbol (%) with the numeral. Avoid starting a sentence with a percentage—but write out the words if you must.
- spelling out vs numerals In general, spell out whole numbers below 10, and use numerals for 10 and above. Note an exception in guidance on percentages.
- fractions Decimals are numerals: 2.5 inches
- ages Always use numerals: 5 years old.
- telephone numbers Contrary to AP, use only dashes, no parentheses: 703-841-5300. Using dashes allows numbers to be clickable on nature.org. For international numbers, the number of numerals may vary, e.g., 62-21-544-631
offshore One word.
ORGANISM NAMES Common name is acceptable everywhere (see COMMON NAMES for details). Latin name (Genus species) can be given at author’s discretion. Genus may stand alone. Species name should be preceded by the first initial of the genus and a period (Tyrannosaurus or T. rex). Genus, subgenus, species, subspecies and variety names are all in italics (Ursus arctos horribilis or Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis). The genus name is always capitalized, while the species, subspecies and variety names never capitalized, even when used alone (except at the beginning of a sentence). Breed names are not italicized, and are only capitalized when derived from a personal name or a place name. If the species name is not known, use sp. in roman (Canis sp., Canis spp. for plural) Plurals for genera or species are exactly the same as the singular. Kingdom, phylum, class, order and family are capitalized and in roman. Note that common names always suffice for North American birds, as there is an official, one-to-one connection between bird common names and the Latin names (per Barry Rice).
over Use this term for spatial relationships only. Otherwise replace with more than (contra revised AP style)
over- Generally no hyphen with a prefix (overharvest, overfish)
Parks in Peril Three words, no hyphen, lower case “I” at the front of “in.”
PERIODS Single space after a period.
pinyon Not piñon (despite fact that this is the preferred spelling in the West)
PLACE NAMES Popular and legendary names of places are capitalized and not enclosed in quotation marks (Chicago), e.g. Eastern Shore (of Chesapeake Bay), Lake District, the Piedmont
private lands (n. & adj.) No hyphen. e.g., private lands conservation
PRONUNCIATION Indicated within parenthesis, in roman. Use small caps to show stress. May be preceded with the word pronounced in roman inside the parenthesis: Maurice River (MOR-ris); Xia (pronounced shah).
protect Use with specificity, identifying what threat the area is protected against. This word is a flashpoint, particularly in the western United States. Preserve and conserve are more specific. Related, avoid pristine except in exceptional cases (for example, the moon). Pristine typically overstates the untouched quality of a landscape and raises questions.
PULLQUOTE Must come from the associated story, but does not need to be word-for-word. Use quotation marks only if the pullquote is a direct quote from a person and attribute the quote when possible. No quotation marks if the words were pulled from the writer's text.
rainforest Now one word.
ranges Use to to separate date ranges (August 3 to 10) and most other numerical ranges: 3- to 6-foot-tall sunflowers.
Rapid Ecological Assessment Capitalize. But write around it if possible.
red-cockaded woodpecker Hyphenated.
Ribereños Translates roughly to “river people” (of the Amazon), so not Ribere os people.
rivers Lowercase “upper,” “lower” and “middle” when used with the name of river, e.g., upper Mississippi. Capitalize when it is part of the formal name of the river.
riverbank One word.
round up Two words.
runoff No hyphen, per Webster’s.
said/says For attributing quotes, use says.
salt marsh Two words, per Webster’s
saltwater (adj.), salt water (n.) Per Webster’s.
sandstone One word, no hyphen.
savanna Not savannah.
save Use with caution. This word is a flashpoint, particularly in the western United States.
SCIENTIFIC NAMES Not Latin names
sea grass Per Webster’s.
Seychelles Seychelles when referring to the country. Or, the Republic of Seychelles. Use the Seychelles when using the country’s name as a modifier. Example: Visit Seychelles, but the Seychelles economy
shortgrass As in shortgrass prairie.
-sized Preferred spelling of combining form. Ex: The fisher is a cat-sized weasel (Not cat-size)
southwestern willow flycatcher No hyphens, all lowercase.
Spanish names On second reference, use only the father’s family name (e.g., Jose Lopez Portillo, Lopez). See AP.
spawning aggregation site No hyphen
SPECIES NAMES THAT INCLUDE DIRECTIONALS E.g., western prairie fringed orchid. Do not capitalize.
STATE CHAPTERS Use “chapter” not “program”. See The Nature Conservancy.
STATE NAMES Spell out the names of states. Don’t abbreviate (contra AP style).
stormwater One word in all uses, per AP
stream bank two words
superstore Banned term. Do not use in Nature Conservancy.
suite Use the word suite instead of the # symbol.
tallgrass As in tallgrass prairie
target Avoid this conservation biologist jargon (e.g., target species)
TELEPHONE NUMBERS Contrary to AP, use only dashes, no parentheses: 703-841-5300. Using dashes allows numbers to be clickable on nature.org. For international numbers, the number of numerals may vary, e.g., 62-21-544-631
threatened Federally listed as threatened. See endangered. Same style apply: Use with specificity.
TNC Use in second reference. See The Nature Conservancy.
toll-free Hyphenate. (A reversal of previous style, following popular usage.)
TRANSLATION OF FOREIGN TERMS Set in parentheses following foreign term. E.g., We set off in a “panga” (small boat). See FOREIGN TERMS.
underway One word in all uses per AP style and Webster’s.
UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. OK to use acronym on first reference.
URL URLs (including vanity URLs used to send readers to online content) may keep all words lowercase or capitalize for clarity when using multiple words. Case-by-case basis. Simplify URLs as much as possible (eliminating www and html): nature.org/colorado
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Use U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on first reference. On second reference, FWS is acceptable. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a bureau under the U.S. Department of the Interior.
U.S. Geological Survey Spell out on first reference. A bureau under the U.S. Department of the Interior. USGS on second reference.
viewshed One word
wastewater One word, no hyphen.
water fund Two words
website All one word, lowercase, per AP
web Lowercase per AP style. Also, website (one word, lowercase per AP style change)
WEBSITE ADDRESS nature.org should appear on all Conservancy publications.
waterfowl One word.
Wild and Scenic River Designation made by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System
wildlands Use with caution as term might be confused with Wildlands Project (associated with Earth First and Dave Foreman)
World Heritage Committee, World Heritage List, World Heritage site UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has inscribed on the World Heritage List 1,052 World Heritage sites (as of February 28, 2017; committee meets every June). It’s OK to refer to the list, the committee or a site without mentioning UNESCO.
World Wildlife Fund Not WWF (despite what the website says)
zip code Lowercase, contra AP Style (which requires ZIP code). Use nine-digit zip code when available for mailing addresses.