This guide is designed to help you get your message across as clearly and as quickly as possible. This is so your users can find what they need, understand what they find and act on that information.

Here are a few tips that can help you accomplish that:

Be concise. Short sentences and paragraphs make your content easier to skim and less intimidating.

Be human. Imagine your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-on-one. (It's OK to use you, we, ours and us.)

Be active (as in use the active voice). If you insert by zombies after the verb -- and the sentence still makes sense -- you’re using the passive voice: Mistakes were made by zombies. The form should be completed by zombies. Try We made mistakes. You must complete the form by Friday.

And to help you save time, here's our cheat sheet:

County is capitalized on second reference when referring to the County of San Mateo. Lowercase as an adjective or when referring to geography. 

Reducing smoking is a County priority. The county has great weather. A county map.
Avoid unnecessary capitalization. When in doubt, lowercase.

Do not capitalize words or phrases for emphasis. County style is to lowercase words unless there is specific guidance otherwise. 

When Including a day of the week, include the date.

The meeting is Monday, Aug. 15. You must complete the form by Friday, May 9.
Note: Do not use nd, rd, st or th with a number. Not Aug. 15th.

Use figures for telephone numbers. Do not use parenthesis around area codes.

The form: 650-363-4000.


Time should be expressed as a figure followed by a.m. or p.m.

It's 5:30 p.m. The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Not 11 a.m. -- 2 p.m.)
Do not add :00 or words such as night, morning, afternoon, o'clock. Use noon or midnight rather than 12 p.m. or 12 a.m. 

Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms that a reader would not quickly recognize.

After the first mention of a department or program, try the agency, the program, the report, the division, the committee, the group or the department, for instance. Avoid alphabet soup.

Use person-first language.

Person-first language avoids using labels or adjectives to define someone: a person with diabetes not a diabetic; a person with cancer not cancer patient; a person experiencing homelessness not a homeless person.

If a subject's race, ethnicity, religion, gender or other identifier is relevant, ask how the person self-identifies.

Here are five things you can do to reach a good decision on how to identify people.

No final comma (often called the Oxford comma) in a simple list.

Note: Include a final comma in a simple series if omitting it could make the meaning unclear.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Choices for breakfast included oatmeal, muffins, and bacon and eggs

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms that a reader would not quickly recognize. This is to limit alphabet soup -- short-hand often leads to confusion rather than clarity.

Always spell out the proper names of organizations, programs, projects, documents and other terms the first time you use them. After the first mention, try the agency, the program,  the repot, the division, the committee, the group or the department, for example.

It may be a bit longer, but the gain in clarity and ease of reading is worth it.


For: Instead of: Use
Human Services Agency HSA the agency
Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation MEHKO

the cook
home chefs
the operator

Commission on the Status of Women CSW the commission
San Mateo Resource Conservation District SMRCD the district
Defense of Marriage Act DOMA the act
West Nile virus WNV the virus
Popular Annual Financial Report PAFR the report
Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center PCRC the center, the organization
Information Services Department ISD the department
San Mateo County Gun Violence Prevention Program SMCGVPP

the program
the initiative

Do not use the acronym SMC unless that is the official title of a program or in a quotation.

If you do use abbreviations or acronyms, spell out the proper name followed either by the shortened form set off by commas or parentheses: The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was passed in 1970 or The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, was passed in 1970. But simply the act is preferable in most uses.

Why we recommend avoiding abbreviations and acronyms:

1) Abbreviations and acronyms were once intended to serve the audience by shortening long phrases. Both, however, have proliferated so much in government writing that they constantly require the reader to look back or  consult an appendix to puzzle out what’s being said.

2) Screen readers often do not recognize abbreviations and acronyms and may read them as if they were typical English words. For instance, the acronym "ITS" (say for Intelligent Transportation System) may be read as "It's."

3) Many acronyms have numerous meanings, which can lead to confusion depending on the context and the reader's background. (STD, for example, may refer to sexually transmitted diseases, short-term disability, standard, standard deviation, save the date, short-term debt, special taxing district, sustainable tourism development, state transportation department or Star Trek: Discovery, among many other examples.)   


We follow Associated Press style:

Spell out alley, center, circle, drive, place, road and terrace and capitalize when used with a number. 9 Morningside Circle; 15 Sunrise Road.

Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell out and capitalize when part of a street name without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue.

Always use figures for an address number: 7 First St.; 24 Skyline Drive.

Always spell out First through Ninth when used as street names; use figures for 10th and above: 7 First St.; 101 21st Ave.; 400 25th Place.

Abbreviate compass points in a numbered address: 222 E. 42nd St.; 562 W. 19th Ave.

Spell out compass points if the address is omitted: East 42nd Street; West 19th Ave. 

Follow addresses with the full name of a city spelled out. A zip code is generally not necessary; an exception is if an address is specifically listed as a mailing address.


The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the Board Chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City.

They live at 41 E. 23rd St., San Mateo.

City Hall is located on Bayshore Boulevard. The address is 101 Bayshore Blvd., Menlo Park.


Use figures for people and animals: She is 2 years old. Fido is a 4-year-old dog. She has a 3-month-old son. The woman is in her 30s (no apostrophe).

Spell out one through nine for inanimate objects and other uses: The committee was formed four years ago. The law is eight years old.

Use ages, not aged: The two boys, ages 9 and 12, went to the park.

Follow these age designations:

newborn birth to 1 month of age
infant 1 month to 2 years
child 2 to 13 years
school-age 5 to 18 years
teenage 13 to 19 years
adolescent  13 to 17 years
adult 18 years and above
childbearing age 15 to 44 years
elderly (determined by the author)

Never say zero age and avoid the awkward ages 0 to 3 (or whatever): The program is for children 3 and under or from birth to 3 years of age.

Use terms such as senior citizen and elderly carefully and sparingly; older adults is generally preferred. Be as specific as possible: The program is for anyone who is age 60 and older.

Avoid the trite twentysomething or fortysomething and similar constructions. Be specific.

Board of Supervisors

Board Chambers Refers to the Board of Supervisors regular meeting room on the first floor of 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063. Capitalize in all uses: The meeting will be held in the Board Chambers.

Board of Supervisors San Mateo County is governed by a five-member Board of Supervisors. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is the proper name on first reference.

The Board (uppercase) is acceptable on second reference and takes a singular verb. Supervisors is also acceptable and takes a plural verb:

The Board votes Wednesday. Supervisors vote Wednesday.

Avoid the acronym BOS unless in internal documents or reports.

Titles Capitalize a formal title used directly before a name. Lowercase a formal title used directly after a name or when a title is used without a name:

Board President Joe Biden. The president issued a statement. 

Kamala Harris, the Board vice president, voted yes. The vice president voted yes.

On second reference, use the last name only: Biden issued a statement. Harris voted yes.

Do not abbreviate president, supervisor or similar titles before or after a name.


Capitalize the first letter of proper nouns, sentences, headings and the principal words of compositions and titles.

Do not capitalize words merely for emphasis -- County style is to lowercase words unless there is specific guidance to capitalize them.  

Follow these guidelines:

San Mateo County

Capitalize San Mateo County and County of San Mateo in all uses. Capitalize County on second reference when referring to local government: Reducing smoking is a County priority. The County faces a budget deficit.

Lowercase county when referring to the geographic entity or as an adjective: The population in the county is growing. A county map. The county economy.

Do not use the acronym SMC unless that is the official title of a program or is used in a quotation.

Lowercase counties when listing more than one. Example: San Mateo and Marin counties.

Lowercase countywide unless used at the beginning of a sentence.


Lowercase in all state of constructions: the state of California, the states of Oregon and Washington

Do not capitalize state when used as an adjective or in lieu of the state's name (the state in question should be clear from your writing):

California's economy is booming. The state will have a budget surplus this year.

It's a state program. The state’s rainfall was below average. This is regulated by local, state and federal agencies. A state map.


Capitalize city if part of a proper name: Daly City, Redwood City

Lowercase in city of constructions and as an adjective. The city of Redwood City has great weather. A city map.

Capitalize city when part of a formal title: City Manager Jane Smith.

Lowercase when not part of a formal title. Example: city Public Works Director Jane Smith.


Capitalize federal only when part of a proper name: The Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Federal Reserve Board.

Lowercase in other uses: We must comply with federal law. The federal government plans to sue the agency. Also: federal courts, federal agents.

San Mateo County Departments and Divisions

Capitalize the proper names of San Mateo County departments, divisions and agencies: the Public Works Department; the Human Services Agency; the County Executive's Office. 

Avoid using acronyms and other short-hand references. Use the department or the agency or the division instead:

The San Mateo County Human Services Agency helps people in need. The agency has offices throughout the county. (Not HSA helps people in need. HSA has offices throughout the county.)

Personal Titles

Confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual's name: President Joe Biden.

Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual's name: The president issued a statement. The mayor sent a letter. The supervisor called for a public hearing.

Lowercase and spell out titles in constructions that set them off from a name by commas: The vice president, Kamala Harris, was elected in 2020. Kamala Harris, the vice president, voted no.

Lowercase titles in informal uses: Mary wants to be the mayor one day. He is going to run for supervisor. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Abbreviate the following titles when used before a full name: Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Mr., Mrs., the Rev., Sen.

Do not abbreviate president, supervisor, council member, assembly member, professor, assistant or associate before a name.

Titles of most local government employees and those of lower-ranking offices in the state and federal government are capitalized when they precede a name and lowercase when they follow or replace a name: Communications Director Pam Smith issued a statement. Pam Smith, the communications director, issued a statement.

Note: Place long titles after a name, not before: Chris Smith, the assistant director of auditing and accounting, wrote the report. Not Assistant Director of Auditing and Accounting Chris Smith wrote the report.

Do not capitalize occupational titles such as engineer, lawyer, director, surgeon, nurse, writer, farmer,  counselor and similar job titles.

Dates and Time

When including a day of the week, include the date: The meeting is Friday, Aug. 15.

When the full date is within a sentence, use a comma after the day and after the year: The application must be received by June 14, 2012, to gain a federal grant.

Do not use st, nd, rd or th in dates even though those versions reflect the way the date sounds when spoken: The meeting will be June 6. Not The meeting will be June 6th.

When only the month and year are used in a sentence, do not use a comma to separate them. Use a comma after the year only if it comes at the end of an introductory or parenthetical phrase: The March 2008 report was issued late. The report, issued in March 2008, was late. In March 2008, the report was late.

Abbreviate the names of the following months when they are followed by a specific date: January (Jan.), February (Feb.), August (Aug.), September (Sept.), October (Oct.), November (Nov.), December (Dec.).

Do not abbreviate March, April, May, June or July.

Follow these examples:

The meeting will be scheduled in August 2025.

The dog was born on Aug. 9, 2019. 

The storms began on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

An n-dash may be used with dates (July 18–21), and should always be used with dates when both days of the week and dates are included.

The play runs Monday through Thursday, July 18–21.


Time should be expressed as a figure followed by a.m. or p.m. (always lowercase): It's 5:30 p.m.

Do not add :00 or words such as night, morning, afternoon or o'clock. Use noon or midnight rather than 12 p.m. or 12 a.m. 

Follow these examples:

The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Sessions begin at noon, 2:30 and 4 p.m.

The workshop runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The meetings are 8 to 11 a.m., Monday through Thursday.

Do not use dashes or a hyphen in place of to, through, and or until with times or days of the week. Not The meeting is 8-11 a.m., Monday-Thursday. Try The meeting is from 8 to 11 a.m., Monday through Thursday.

Use a.m. or p.m. only once if the reference is clear: The meeting is from 8 to 11 a.m. Not The meeting is from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Note Midnight is part of the day that is ending, not the one that is beginning.


The meeting starts at 3 p.m.

The hearing is scheduled from 9 to 11:30 a.m. (note the use of a.m. only once)

The hearing is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (note the use of both a.m. and p.m.)

Noon is a great time for a walk.

Avoid o'clock as well as other needless words: The meeting begins at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. (afternoon is clear from p.m.)


Population San Mateo County's population is 737,644 as of January 2023, according to the California Department of Finance. This ranks San Mateo County 15th among California's 58 counties in terms of population, between San Joaquin County at 14th and Stanislaus County at 16th. Population by jurisdiction is below.

Demographics San Mateo County is a very diverse community, with 35.1 percent of our population being foreign-born, and 43.2 percent speaking a language other than English at home.

Race Population Percentage
Hispanic or Latino 191,386 25.0%
White alone 275,902 36.1%
Black or African American 14,701 1.9%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone 1,021 0.01%
Asian alone 227,783 29.8%
Native Hawaiian and Other Race alone 8,840 1.2%
Some Other Race alone 5,840 0.8%
Population of two or more races 38,969 5.1%

                                      Source Data: 2020 Decennial Census Redistricting Data

Source Data: State of California, Department of Finance, E-1 Population Estimates for Cities, Counties and the State with Annual Percent Change — January 1, 2022 and 2023. Sacramento, California, May 2023.
Jurisdiction Total Population Jan. 1, 2023
Atherton 6,678
Belmont 26,793
Brisbane 4,648
Burlingame 30,136
Colma 1,359
Daly City 101,471
East Palo Alto 28,586
Foster City 32,703
Half Moon Bay 11,226
Hillsborough 10,962
Menlo Park 32,478
Millbrae 22,487
Pacifica 37,082
Portola Valley 4,247
Redwood City 81,495
San Bruno 42,054
San Carlos 29,496
San Mateo 103,318
South San Francisco 64,323
Woodside 5,128
Balance of County/Unincorporated 60,974
Total Population 737,644
Dimensions and Measurements

Use numbers to indicate depth, height, weight, length, width, temperature and clock time: The newborn weighed 7 pounds 5 ounces. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall. The alarm will ring at 5:30 a.m.

For distances, spell out one through nine, use figures for 10 and above: He walked four miles. She ran 12 miles not He walked 4 miles. She ran twelve miles

Dollars and Cents

For dollars, use figures with the $ sign except in casual references. Do not add the word dollar or dollars to precise figures: The budget grew to $1.75 billion. The pen cost $1.25. He makes more than $100,000 a year.

Spell out indefinite amounts of money: a few million dollars; many thousands of dollars; He wishes he had a million dollars.

Do not add extra zeros spell out: It cost $6 not $6.00 or six dollars.

To avoid confusion, place the word million or billion after each figure in a pair or group: The budget shortfall grew from $1 million to $2 million not The budget shortfall grew from $1 to $2 million (literally, from a dollar to $2 million).

Spell out the word cents and lowercase using numerals for amounts less than a dollar. Examples: She had 5 cents. It cost 75 cents.

Do not use the letters m, mm, b or bb as shorthand for million, millions, billion or billions.

Gender, Sex and Sexual Orientation

Only mention a person’s gender, sex or sexual orientation when relevant and that relevance is explicit.

There are occasions when gender, sex or sexual orientation is pertinent, such as in articles or social media posts involving specific topics or events, announcements or biographical information. 

Be careful about using gender, sex or sexual orientation to describe a person as the first to accomplish a specific feat. Firsts are important, but gender, sex or sexual orientation shouldn't be overemphasized. By overplaying gender, sex or sexual orientation, an achievement may seem dependent on that instead of ability.

LGBTQIA+ is the preferred reference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and other sexual and gender minorities.

The Board of Supervisors in November 2023 adopted a resolution changing the name of the San Mateo County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Commission to the San Mateo County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Plus Commission – The LGBTQIA+ Commission.

Avoid the temptation to refer to LGBTQIA+ community. In reality, it is a broad and sometimes loosely bound group of communities comprising people from all races, religions, cultures and walks of life. Referring to LGBTQIA+ people is usually more accurate than defining it as one community.

Note there is no universally accepted umbrella name or term that is all-inclusive. 

Some references, for instance, include two-spirit: LGBTQIA2S+. The term “Two-Spirit” does not simply mean someone who is a Native American or Alaska Native and gay.

Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people.

Use discretion when considering which terms to use in references to people. And when in doubt, ask trusted sources as well as the individuals who are subjects of your writing.

pronouns Do not assume an individual’s pronouns (which are used in place of a person's name). And don’t make assumptions about a person’s gender identity based on their pronouns, or vice versa. 

If you are planning to use pronouns in your writing, the best strategy is to simply ask an individual which pronouns they use. 

They/them/their are acceptable as nonbinary, singular pronouns if the subject uses them. 

They can be used as a gender-neutral pronoun: Each student knows what they must do.

They can also be used as a singular pronoun when it is used to refer to a person whose sex is not known or specified or if you are writing about a hypothetical person: We need a teacher. They should have lots of experience.

neopronouns: Neopronouns are used instead of "he," "she" or "they." “Ze,” “zir,” "xe," and "xem" are examples. If used, explain in the text that the person uses the pronoun.

Avoid references to preferred or chosen pronouns because doing so implies that calling people other than what they want to be called is a viable alternative.  

If a subject’s gender identity is not relevant to a story but the person uses a non-traditional pronoun, confusion may result if it is used without explanation.

Therefore, it may be helpful in some contexts to explain that a subject uses a non-traditional pronoun.

John Lee, who uses the pronoun they, said they will retire in June. They have worked for the County for 30 years.

Often, simply recasting a sentence without a pronoun improves clarity: John Lee plans to retire in June. Lee has worked for the County for 30 years.

sexual orientation Not sexual preference.

transgender Generally, transgender describes people whose gender identity and/or expression may not match their physical, sexual characteristics or sex assigned at birth. But the word can mean different things to different people. 

Identify people as transgender only when relevant to the subject matter and only if they are widely known or describe themselves as such.

If pertinent and a subject shares a transgender or gender-nonconforming identity on the record, ask which pronouns they use and incorporate them into your report as needed.

General Style Guide

access to services Use caution and judgment in deciding how to describe individuals, groups of people, populations, neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities. One person’s at-risk, vulnerable or disadvantaged neighborhood may include another person’s dream home.

Underprivileged, for instance, is typically used to refer to individuals or families with low incomes or who lack access to services most people take for granted. But the term is inherently subjective without further explanation or context.

 It’s best to avoid the use of subjective terms without an accompanying definition or further context. Use precise descriptions whenever possible.

Instead of these:

  • Disadvantaged
  • Vulnerable
  • The uninsured
  • Underserved/underserved communities
  • Hard-to-reach
  • Under-resourced
  • Poor
  • Underprivileged
  • At-risk/High-risk
  • Marginalized

Try these alternatives:

  • People who do not have health insurance
  • Households with incomes below the federal poverty level
  • People who are at increased risk for (list condition)
  • People who live or work in conditions that put them at increased risk for (list condition)
  • People who are underserved by (list the specific service/resource)
  • People with lower incomes
  • People experiencing poverty
  • People experiencing stress due to (list specific condition or environmental factor)

Phrases such as People with lower socioeconomic status should only be used when that status is defined (for example, when income, education, parental education or occupation are used as a measure).

ad hoc Means for a particular purpose. Avoid such terms as ad hoc committee because many people do not understand the meaning. Explain the purpose in the text: The committee was formed to recommend policy changes. The committee will sponsor events in the park. If you use ad hoc, explain the term.

adviser Not advisor. But advisory.


adopt, approve, enact, pass Amendments, ordinances, resolutions and rules are adopted or approved. Bills are passed. Laws are enacted.

agency Lowercase unless part of a formal title: The Human Services Agency provides help. On second reference, the agency.

aid/aide Aid is assistance. An aide is a person who serves as an assistant.

affordable Avoid affordable housing, affordable rent and similar uses unless you provide a definition of what’s affordable.

ampersand (&) Use only in graphs or tables where space is too tight to allow for the word "and" or when the ampersand is part of an official name.

and/or Avoid this. Try x or y or both. You can eat apples or oranges or both.

animals Refer to animals as it unless the animal has a name or the sex is known. Examples: The dog was alarmed; it barked. Rover was alarmed; he barked. Capitalize the breed of animals that derive from proper nouns: A Boston terrier. A Labrador retriever.

Assembly The California State Assembly consists of 80 members who represent individual districts. Refer to individuals as Assembly Member, not Assemblyman, Assemblywoman or Assemblymember.

biannual/biennial Biannual means twice a year. Biennial means every two years. For clarity, write twice a year or every two years.

Bible Is capitalized without quotation marks or other devices when referring to the Scriptures. Lowercase biblical in all uses. Lowercase bible as a nonreligious term: This style guide is my bible.

bimonthly Means every two months. For clarity, write every two months.

biweekly Means every two weeks. For clarity, write every two weeks.

boy Is applicable up to the 18th birthday. But teenager is more appropriate after the 13th birthday.

Brussels sprouts Uppercase the B in Brussels, lowercase the s in sprouts (except in headlines if all words begin with a capital letter).

CAL FIRE is the preferred reference (two words, all capitals) for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Caltrans is acceptable in all references to the California Department of Transportation.

Caltrain is the name of the rail service between San Francisco and Gilroy.

California is abbreviated Calif. after the names of cities, towns and counties. Use the postal code CA in addresses.

charter The California Constitution recognizes two types of counties: general law and charter counties. Both are legal subdivisions of the state. San Mateo County is a charter county. General law counties adhere to State law as to the number and duties of county elected officials. Charter counties have a limited degree of “home rule” authority that may provide for the election, compensation, terms, removal and salary of the governing board and for the election and appointment of other officials. San Mateo County Charter.

chief Capitalize when part of a formal title. 

child care Two words, no hyphen in all uses unless part of a formal name. 

citizen, resident, national, native A citizen is a person who has acquired the full civil rights of a nation either by birth or naturalization. A resident is an inhabitant of a given location, such as the county or a city. A national is one who resides away from the nation where he or she is a citizen. A native is an individual born in a given location. 

city council Is capitalized when it is used as part of a proper name: The Brisbane City Council meets Tuesdays. The City Council will vote tonight. It is not capitalized in other uses: My daughter wants to run for city council someday.

community is fine as a synonym for neighborhood or town but limit use of this term in reference to groups of people. The term implies uniformity and the idea that all members of a particular “community” think and act alike. This is similar to the concept of avoiding any type of generalization or stereotype.

Whenever possible, describe specific groups and individuals with interest in an activity using relevant names, categories or descriptions of the nature of their influence or involvement. Try residents, neighbors, neighborhoods, people, public, community of focus (in a geographic sense) and similar terms.

congressman, congresswoman Rep. or U.S. Rep. are the preferred reference to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

countywide One word, lowercase.

datelines News releases should start with a dateline. The dateline should contain the entire name of a city or recognized unincorporated area, in lowercase  letters. The dateline should be in bold. Do not use San Mateo County or The County of San Mateo as a dateline. The dateline should reflect the location of the news, if pertinent, rather than the location of the writer.

day care Two words, no hyphen unless part of a formal name. 

department head Is not a formal title and should be lowercase in most uses. 

disability, disabled Are words that describe functional limitations to major life activities such as walking, breathing and learning. Different laws define disability differently.

Mention a person’s disability only if pertinent. Describe a person as having a condition, not being the condition: 

The artist, who has a disability, spoke at today’s meeting not The disabled artist.

district Is never abbreviated in reference San Mateo County’s five supervisorial districts. Use a figure and capitalize district: He represents District 1. District 3 is the largest district by size.

doctor Use Dr. in first reference as a formal title before the name of a person who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy or doctor of podiatric medicine. For academic doctorates, do not use Dr. before the name. Example: Jane Smith, who holds a doctorate in engineering, said the bridge is safe.

elect Is always lowercase and preceded by a hyphen in this construction: Supervisor- elect Ronald Smith. President-elect Jones.

elected officials In addition to the five supervisors, San Mateo County voters elect the Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder/Chief Elections Officer, Controller, Coroner, District Attorney, Sheriff and Treasurer-Tax Collector.

Election Day is capitalized. But election night is not.

elderly Use with caution. Older adults is generally preferred.

email Short for electronic mail. It is capitalized only at the beginning of a sentence. It is preferable to use the word as a noun, not as a verb: I sent him an email not I emailed him.

facility Avoid using as a substitute for a building or general location unless part of a proper name. Be more specific. Try base, building, jail, evacuation center, hotel, museum, warehouse, restroom. Do not tag facility onto a noun to sound more official. Not the jail facility.

farmers market No apostrophe unless the organization holding a farmers market uses one.

feedback is overused. Try to rephrase with advice, ideas, opinions, reaction, response or another more descriptive word.

first degree/first-degree Hyphenate only when used as a compound modifier: It was murder in the first degree. He was convicted of first-degree murder.

fiscal year Capitalize when referring to a specific fiscal year. Example: Fiscal Year 2013-14. Avoid the abbreviation FY except in tables and charts.

flags Are lowered to half-staff, not half-mast.

flier/flyer Flyer is the preferred term for a handbill and for a person flying in an aircraft: Let's print flyers. Let's use our frequent flyer miles. Use flier in phrase take a flier, meaning to take a big risk.

french fries Lowercase. French refers to the style of cut, not the country.

fundraising/fundraiser One word in all cases.

generation A period of time equivalent to 25 to 30 years. Hyphenate with an ordinal. Example: He is a second-generation San Mateo County resident.

girl Is applicable up to the 18th birthday. But teenager is more appropriate after the 13th birthday.

gray For the color. Not grey.

grow Avoid the temptation to use grow to mean expand (grow the budget). It’s jargon.

health care Two words, even as a modifier. Example: The panel endorsed health care reform.

hot line Two words for a telephone line for use in an emergency or crisis.

impact is an overused word that lacks specificity. Try The budget agreement cuts $25 million from the County’s budget not The budget agreement impacts the County budget by $25 million.

incident is a minor happening or disturbance. The word trivializes serious accidents or events.

input Is overused jargon. Try advice, comments or response.

jail/prison Do not use interchangeably. Counties operate jails. States operate prisons.

junior/senior Use the abbreviation Jr. or Sr. only with the full names of people. Do not precede with a comma. Example: Harry Connick Jr.


kids Use children unless you are talking about goats or if informal use is appropriate.


Kwanzaa A seven-day celebration, based on African festivals, held from December 26 through January 1.

log in/log on/log out Are the verb forms. Examples: I log in to my computer when I get to work. Log on to your computer. I log out when I go home.

login/logon/logoff Are nouns. Examples: What’s your login? The logon fails when you use the wrong password.

midnight Do not put a 12 in front of it. It is part of the day that is ending, not beginning.

months are always capitalized. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when used alone, or with a year alone.

When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas.

Right: Aug. 4, 1992. Wrong: August 4, 1992.

Right: August 1992. Wrong: Aug. 1992.

Examples: He said he left San Mateo on May 5, 2007, to return to his home in San Diego. He said he left San Mateo in May 2007 to return to his home in San Diego.


news conference Use this term rather than press conference.

news release Not press release.

911 is acceptable in all references to the emergency call number. No hyphens in any use.

nonprofit is one word.

OK OK’d OKs Not okay.

partner is a suitable noun for an unmarried companion of the same sex or the opposite one. But it can also be misleading depending on the context. Try companion for clarity if the context could either mean a personal or business relationship. As a verb, partner can be overused to mean teamed up or formed a partnership or working together.

people/persons Use person when you are speaking of a single individual. Example: One person waited in line to get a building permit. Use people in all plural uses. Examples: Thousands of people attended the opening day of the San Mateo County Fair. There were 26 people at the public hearing.

percent Spell out in most cases, with few exceptions: 9 percent; 99 percent; 100 percent.

Precede the decimal with a zero for amounts less than 1 percent: 0.4 percent. 

Use decimal points instead of fractions: The interest rate is 2.75 percent. They received a 3.5 percent pay raise.

The symbol % is acceptable in tables and charts. No space between the number and symbol: 5%.


populace Is not a synonym for population. Populace means the common people.

pore/pour The verb pore means to scrutinize, or examine closely. Example: He pored over the documents. The verb pour means to spill from a container, to cause to flow, to vent feelings. Examples: He poured water on the flowers. It poured with rain. He poured his heart and soul into the project.

press conference News conference is the preferred term. 

press release News release is the preferred term.

principal/principle Principal is a noun and adjective that means highest in rank, authority, character, importance or degree: She is the principal of the high school.

Principle is a basic truth, law, assumption or motivating force: The principles of democracy. The principle of jet propulsion.

process is overused. Some writers turn planning into a planning process or budgeting into a budgeting process. In most cases, the word process is unnecessary.

program is capitalized only when it is officially part of a title: The San Mateo County Green Business Program. The program helps local businesses.

quotations Periods and commas are placed inside the quotation marks: “This is the end,” he said not “This is the end”, he said.

Questions marks and exclamation marks should be placed inside the quotation marks unless you are asking a question of the quotation itself:

“Could you repeat the question?” he asked not “Could you repeat the guestion”? he asked.

Right: Who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can you do for your country”? Wrong: Who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can you do for your country?”

reign/rein Reign is the period that a ruler is on the throne. Example: The queen began her reign in 1837. A rein is a strap used for controlling a horse. It is often used in a figurative sense. Example: He seized the reins of power at the company. The board gave him free rein to run the department.

SamTrans is acceptable in all references to the bus service operated by the San Mateo County Transit District.

sandbag One word. Also sandbagged, sandbagging and sandbagger.

seasons Lowercase spring, summer, winter and fall unless at the beginning of a sentence or as part of a formal name: I like the summer. The Winter Olympics.

semiannual Means twice a year. To avoid confusion, write twice a year in most cases. 

semimonthly Means twice a month. Bimonthly means every other month. To avoid confusion, it is best to avoid using either word. Try The publication will come out twice a month. We publish the newsletter every other month.

semiweekly Means twice a week. Biweekly means every other week. To avoid confusion, it is best to avoid using either word. Try The meetings will be held twice a week. The group meets every other week.

Sierra Nevada Or the Sierra. Not the Sierras.

SMC Avoid this acronym in referencing the County of San Mateo/San Mateo County unless part of the name of an official department, program or service.

SMC ALERT is the proper name of the County's emergency alert notification system.

stakeholder Any person or organization with an interest in or who would be affected by County legislation, policy or programs is a stakeholder. The term, however, may be unfamiliar to many and sounds like jargon. Whenever possible, describe specific groups and individuals with interest in an activity using relevant names, categories or descriptions of the nature of their influence or involvement.

Try people, people impacted by, employees, neighbors, union members, funders, clients, volunteers, those with a stake in the result, allies, advocacy groups, partners, co-workers and similar descriptors.

target Try to avoid targeting people or audiences. It’s like putting a bull’s-eye on someone. Use for weapons or bombs. 

Our program serves residents with low incomes not Our program targets low-income women. The survey is for men ages 45 to 60 not We are targeting men ages 45 to 60.

taxpayer is one word in all uses.

teenager, teenage, teen, teens Not teen-ager.

telephone numbers Use figures. The form: 650-363-4000. Do not use parenthesis around area codes.

Avoid letters or words for telephone numbers. These make more work for readers. Do not use “800 number” as a synonym for toll-free calling: The County’s toll-free number is 877-363-4000.

underway is one word in all uses.

website is lowercase unless at the beginning of a sentence. But as a short form and in terms with separate words: the Web, Web page and Web feed.


San Mateo County has 448.6 square miles of land area (ranked 56 out of 58 California counties by land area) 

bay Capitalize as part of a proper name: San Francisco Bay. On second reference, the bay. Lowercase in constructions such as from the ocean to the bay.

Bay Area The Bay Area refers to nine counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. This follows the definition by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Note: Santa Cruz County is not a part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Broadmoor is an unincorporated neighborhood surrounded by Daly City. 

Central County is capitalized when referring to the region of San Mateo County that includes the cities of Belmont, Foster City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae. Redwood Shores, a neighborhood of Redwood City, is in Central County as are the unincorporated neighborhoods called San Mateo Highlands and Burlingame Hills. Specific agencies or government programs may define the area differently.

coast Lowercase when referring to the physical shoreline or as shorthand for the regions of San Mateo County near the Pacific Ocean: The Half Moon Bay coast, the San Mateo County coast.

Capitalize when referring to regions of the United States near the shoreline: The West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf Coast. Do not capitalize when referring to smaller regions.

Coastside is capitalized when referring to communities along the San Mateo County coast: the cities of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay and the unincorporated communities of Pescadero, La Honda, Sky Londa, San Gregorio, Loma Mar, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Mirama, Montara, El Granada and Moss Beach, among others. Specific agencies or government programs may define the area differently.

countywide One word. Lowercase unless beginning a sentence. 

Devil’s Slide Use with an apostrophe. Devil’s Slide is a promontory on the coast between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

Dumbarton Bridge is the southernmost of the highway bridges that cross San Francisco Bay and was the first bridge to carry vehicular traffic across the bay. Highway 84 crosses the bridge and connects Menlo Park to Fremont. It is 1.6 miles long with a vertical clearance of 85 feet at its highest point above the bay.

Emerald Lake Hills is the formal name of an unincorporated area west of Redwood City and east of Interstate 280. Many residents prefer the shorter Emerald Hills. Use your judgment.

highways Spell out and capitalize highway with a numerical designation: Highway 82 (note El Camino Real is preferred), Highway 1, Highway 84, Highway 92, Highway 101. Note: Highway 101 is not an interstate. Avoid State Route 1 and similar clunky descriptions.

interstate highways Spell out and capitalize interstate on first reference with a numerical designation, then just use a capital I with a hyphen before the number. Examples: Interstate 280, I-280; Interstate 380, I-380.

Mavericks Is the name given to a surf break off the coast of Pillar Point. No apostrophe.

Midcoast is capitalized when referring to communities located between the cities of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. The Midcoast includes the unincorporated communities of Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton-by-the-Sea and Miramar.

North County is capitalized when referring to the region of San Mateo County north of Millbrae. North County consists of the cities of San Bruno, South San Francisco, Daly City, Brisbane and Colma and the unincorporated communities of Broadmoor, unincorporated Colma and Country Club Park. San Francisco International Airport is located in the North County. Specific agencies or government programs may define the area differently.

North Fair Oaks is an unincorporated area bounded by the cities of Redwood City to the north, west and southwest, Atherton to the east, and Menlo Park to the northeast. Approximately 15,000 people live in North Fair Oaks.

the Peninsula is a way to refer to the area generally from the San Francisco border south to Mountain View. Note the Peninsula is not synonymous with San Mateo County. Some definitions include San Francisco south to Sunnyvale. It's best to use the Peninsula in general terms: The Peninsula has great weather. There's a lot of diversity on the Peninsula.

Peninsula Watershed is the preferred name for the 23,000 acres owned by the City and County of San Francisco under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. There are four reservoirs: San Andreas Reservoir, Pilarcitos Reservoir, Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir and Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. Highway 92 crosses the watershed between Upper and Lower Crystal Springs reservoirs. Note that Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir is north of Highway 92 and Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir is south of Highway 92. The watershed (lowercase) is preferred on second reference.

Princeton-by-the-Sea is an unincorporated community in San Mateo County. Do not refer to the area simply as Princeton.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) San Francisco International Airport is located in unincorporated San Mateo County east of San Bruno and Millbrae. The single word airport or the abbreviation SFO is acceptable on second reference; do not use SFIA. The airport is owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco.

SFO publishes monthly air traffic statistics

San Mateo Bridge is preferred over San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. Highway 92 crosses the bridge and links San Mateo and Alameda counties. The high-rise section is 1.9 miles long and the low-rise trestle is 5.9 miles long. Vertical clearance at the height of the 750-foot-wide shipping channel is 135 feet.

San Mateo Highlands is an unincorporated neighborhood west of the city of San Mateo. The San Mateo Highlands Community Association represents residents. The Highlands Recreation District is a public agency governed by an elected board of directors. Do not use the Highlands as a generic term for all unincorporated areas in that region. Baywood Park is next to the Highlands but is separate.

South County is capitalized when referring to the region of San Mateo County south of San Carlos.  South County consists of the cities of Redwood City (except Redwood Shores, which is in Central County), Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside. It also includes the unincorporated communities of Emerald Lake Hills, Palomar Park, Ladera, Los Trancos Woods, West Menlo Park, Weekend Acres, Lindenwood and Skyline. Specific agencies or government programs may define the area differently.

West Bay Is generally best avoided when referring to San Francisco or the Peninsula. Few locals use the term.


Whole numbers zero through nine should be spelled out. Numbers 10 and above should be in figures: He found eight pennies. She bought 18 apples. There are seven new employees.

But always use figures for the ages of people and animals: Jose is 5 years old. The dog is 3.

In a series, treat all numbers the same: The shopping list includes 4 boxes of rice, 8 oranges and 17 cans of beans.

Spell out a number that appears at the beginning of a sentence: Twenty-five people attended the meeting. 

percent Spell out in most cases, with few exceptions: 9 percent; 99 percent; 100 percent.

Precede the decimal with a zero for amounts less than 1 percent: 0.4 percent. 

Use decimal points instead of fractions: The interest rate is 2.75 percent. They received a 3.5 percent pay raise.

The symbol % is acceptable in tables and charts. No space between the number and symbol: 5%.

Fractions of less than one should be spelled out using hyphens between the words: one-third, four-fifths, two-thirds. Use numerals wherever the fraction appears with a full number in ages and pairs of dimensions. Examples: She is 3 ½ years old.

The wall is 5 ½ feet high.

Race and Ethnicity

Only mention a person’s race or ethnicity when relevant and that relevance is explicit. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent, such as in articles or social media posts involving specific topics or events, announcements or biographical information. 

Be careful about using race or ethnicity to describe a person as the first to accomplish a specific feat. Firsts are important, but race and ethnicity shouldn't be overemphasized. By overplaying race or ethnicity, an achievement may seem dependent on that instead of ability.

In situations when race or ethnicity is relevant, ask the source/client/subject their preferred term or description. 

In situations when asking the source/subject/client is not possible, discuss with others of diverse backgrounds about what precise language is most appropriate, accurate and fair. 

Refer to the Equity Resource Hub for further information on certain terms and historical context.

Note: The American Community Service (U.S. Census), California Department of Public Health, California Department of Finance and others may use different terms to describe demographic groups, and County reports drawing on those sources should use the terms from those sources.

African American No hyphen for this and other dual-heritage terms. Acceptable for an American Black person of African descent.

The terms African American and Black are not interchangeable. Not all Black people are African Americans.

Let a subject’s preference determine which term to use. Ask.

Be as specific as possible in honoring preferences, as in Haitian American, Jamaican American or for a non-U.S. citizen living in the United States Jamaican living in the United States.

In a reference in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use Black because it is an accurate description of race.

Black Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies.

African American is also acceptable for an American Black person of African descent. The terms are not interchangeable (see African American).

Let a subject’s preference determine which term to use. Ask.

In a reference in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use Black because it is an accurate description of race.

The lowercase black is a color, not a person.

American Indian/Native American Either term is generally acceptable and can be used interchangeably, although individuals may have a preference. Ask.

 Identify people by their preferred tribal affiliation when reporting on individuals or individual tribes. 

The term Native can be used as an adjective to describe styles:  Native fashion, Native music, Native art. Exercise caution when using the word, though, as it is primarily used as slang.

Arab American No hyphen for this and other dual-heritage terms. Acceptable for an American of Arab descent.

 If relevant, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference whenever possible: Lebanese American, Egyptian American.

Although most Arabs worldwide are Muslim, many Arab Americans are not.

Don’t assume that everyone from a predominantly Arab country identifies as Arab. Ask.

Note: Arab Americans are classified as white by the U.S. government on federal forms and in the census. Many Arab Americans reject that classification, saying it does not reflect their life experiences or the way they are regarded in American society.

Asian American No hyphen for this and other dual-heritage terms. Acceptable for an American of Asian descent.

If relevant, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference whenever possible: Asian American, Chinese American, Japanese American, etc.). Example: Born in Vietnam, Nguyen came to California as a child. She is Vietnamese American.

You may use the umbrella term South Asian to refer to Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese are known as East Asians.

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI)/Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA)/Asian American and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (AANHPI)

The acronyms are widely used by some people and interest groups but are not as well known to the public at large. Spell out the full terms on first use.

Avoid identifying individuals or groups of individuals by acronyms, such as Congratulations to our AAPIs! or The outreach encourages AAPIs to vote or similar constructions.

Try “The survey had wide participation from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders” instead of “AAPIs responded to the survey.”

Filipino/Filipina/Filipinx The people of the Philippines are collectively called Filipinos. Filipina is acceptable as the feminine form.

Use Filipino American (no hyphen for this and other dual-heritage terms) for those who share its heritage and culture.

Fil-Am (with a hyphen) is widely used in the names of businesses and organizations and is acceptable in that context. Avoid, however, referring to individuals or groups of individuals as Fil-Am (the Fil-Am community, for instance) or its variants.

Filipinx has been proposed as a gender-neutral term, but there is debate about its usage. The term is controversial in some quarters due to its origin in Spanish (not an Indigenous language). Its use may be considered on an audience-specific basis.

Be mindful that some prefer to identify themselves as Filipino, while others call themselves Filipina or Filipinx or choose to be identified specifically as a citizen of the Philippines.

If relevant, ask people how they identify.

Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx These are often used as umbrella terms to describe people who are either from a Spanish-speaking country or whose ancestors were.

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, Hispanic refers to individuals of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry.

Latino is accurate to refer to anyone of Latin American origin or ancestry.

While it may be accurate to describe a person with either term Hispanic or Latino, it does not make the terms interchangeable, because they mean two separate things.

Note that Latino applies to men, boys and mixed-gender groups; Latina applies to women and girls.

Latinx (pronounced “La-teen-ex”) is a gender-neutral term sometimes used in lieu of Latino or Latina for people of Latin American heritage. Its use may be considered on an audience-specific basis. 

Be mindful that some prefer to identify themselves as Hispanic, while others call themselves Latino or Latinx or choose to be identified specifically by their country of origin.

If relevant, ask people how they identify.

Immigrant/Immigrants/Migrant/Migrants Individuals who move to a different country with the intention of settling there are immigrants.

Individuals who are on the move, either within one country or across borders, are migrants. Note migrant is an umbrella term not defined by U.S. or international law. 

Migrant (or migrants) may be used for those whose reason for leaving their home country is economic or is not clear, or for people who may also be refugees or asylum-seekers.

Indigenous When referring to people, capitalize to avoid confusion between indigenous plants and animals and Indigenous human beings.

Avoid referring to Indigenous people as possessions of countries, states or counties. Instead of California’s Indigenous people try the Indigenous people of California.

Minority The term refers to a group or groups of individuals differing especially in race, religion or ethnicity from the majority of a population.

The term is acceptable as an adjective in broad references to multiple races other than white in the United States: We will hire more members of minority groups. 

Avoid when referencing an individual or a small group of individuals: Not There are three minorities on the council.

Be specific whenever possible by referring to, for instance, Black Americans, Chinese Americans or recent immigrants from Central America:  

The poll found that Black and Latino Americans are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s financial impact, not minorities are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s financial impact.

Women do not constitute a minority, although they may be linked with minorities in various civil-rights contexts. Avoid The program is designed to encourage the representation of minorities if it also encourages the representation of women. Try The program is designed to encourage the representation of women and people of color.

Strive to be as precise as possible.

Pacific Islander Used to describe the Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands, including but not limited to Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Guam, among others. Should be used for people who are ethnically Pacific Islander, not for those who happen to live in Pacific islands.

Note: Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is a specific category in the 2020 U.S. Census.

People of Color (POC)/Communities of Color/Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)/Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) 

People of color is acceptable in broad references to multiple races other than white: We will hire more people of color.

Do not use “person of color” for an individual.

Avoid using the shorthand POC, BIPOC and similar designations unless as the name of an organization or in a direct quotation.

This is to avoid identifying individuals or groups of individuals by acronyms. For example, try “To increase diversity, we aim to hire more Black, Indigenous and people of color” instead of “To increase diversity, we aim to hire more BIPOCS.”

white Lowercase white in racial, ethnic and cultural senses except at the beginning of sentences or quotations. 

About this Style Guide

The County of San Mateo is a dynamic organization that plays a vital role in our community. 

Each year we create thousands of reports, brochures, news releases, fliers, booklets, posters, invitations and newsletters that appear in print and online. These are produced by employees with diverse backgrounds and experience spread across dozens of divisions and departments.

Yet, for our audience, each product comes from one source: the County of San Mateo.

We owe it to our audience to present information clearly and consistently. Style matters.

This manual is not meant to be the rule book that answers every question. No single source can claim do that. 

What it does is weave together elements from a number of style guides, grammar books and dictionaries along with the experience from our own staff. 

Style is not so much about right or wrong, but a preference for presenting information. This includes: spelling, word usage, punctuation, capitalization, taste and other considerations.

The guidelines shown here should preserve a writer’s voice, ensuring clarity and consistency in meaning, without too many rules that thwart creativity.


The Associated Press Style Book

NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists Stylebook

National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide

The Diversity Style Guide

National Association of Hispanic Journalists Cultural Competence Handbook

Native American Journalists Association

This is a partial list

Ideas on ways to improve it? Want to add a word or phrase or provide a few edits? Send an email to Marshall Wilson in the County Executive's Office at

Thanks for your time.