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The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of Management & Finance

Trusted partner, creating smart solutions for the City and our community.

main: 503-823-5288

Revenue: 503-823-5157

1120 SW 5th Ave, Room 901, Portland, OR 97204

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OMF Style Guide

OMF Style Guide

Requests for additions and suggestions for clarification are appreciated! Please email Jen Clodius.

Table of Contents

Introduction 

General Style

Writing for Powerpoint

Subject and Voice 

Capitalization

Numbers and Symbols

Punctuation

Common Words and Phrases

Document Add-Ons

Lists

Portland.gov

When in Doubt 

Acronyms

Introduction

OMF’s communications should accomplish two things: Provide a basis for coordination of all OMF communications and provide guidance for OMF’s objectives and messages for all divisions. We want our message to be clear, concise, correct, timely and transparent.

Using this style guide will help us create consistency across OMF communications. Please feel free to contact the OMF Communications if you have questions, suggestions, or additions.

General Style

Use a sans serif font (Arial, Calibri, Open Sans) unless directed otherwise (City Attorney may require Times New Roman, for instance.) Gimmick fonts should never be used. This includes Comic Sans.

As a general rule, 11- or 12-pt. font should be used. Titles and subtitles may be slightly larger.

Accenting text: If you want to accent a word, sentence or even a paragraph you can bold, underline or italicize. Only choose one, you should never use more than one.

One space between sentences or after a colon. 

Writing for Powerpoint

Use the OMF slide template in \\omf\omfCommon$\OMF Letterhead.

If writing slides for City Council presentations, font should be a minimum of 18 pt. They will allow some exceptions for charts and call-outs, but be prepared to explain.

Subject and Voice 

“Active voice” uses action verbs; action will help keep your reader interested. Use “we will grant” and not “it will be granted”. Use “Council decided”, not “It was decided.” Use “we made a mistake”, not “mistakes were made”.

Refer to City in first person plural (we/us); the community in second person singular (you). 

Avoid use of “citizens;” try “community members” or “residents and businesses”. 

Focus on personhood or “person first” language. For example, “people living with a disability” rather than "disabled person". Similarly, “individuals experiencing homelessness”, not “a homeless person”. People are people, not their condition.

Avoid gendered language. See Resolution 37175, adopted by City Council on December 17, 2015.  

Capitalization

Bureaus in title case on first reference (Water Bureau), with abbreviation in parens if used (PWB). Use the abbreviation or “the bureau” in subsequent references on the page. 

Use ampersands in the spelled version if that is the bureau’s preference (Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R)). 

Named professionals get title case on first reference (Mayor Jones) and when it is clear that a single person is being referenced (the Mayor (there is only one)), otherwise lowercase (the commissioners (there are four)). 

Certified titles follow the name and comma as initials (Jane Jones, M.S.W.) unless convention dictates otherwise (PhD).  

Portland is the “City of Portland,” “the City,” or “Citywide”.

Capitalize the C in “Multnomah County”.  

Seasons are referred to in lower case (summer, winter) unless it is part of a title or used poetically.

Numbers and Symbols

Abbreviate all street directionals without periods (e.g., SW); spell out if it appears in the street name (South Street). Spell the direction (Southeast) if there is no house number.

House numbers use numerics only (i.e., 725 not Seven Two Five). Ordinals (“st,” “nd,” “th”) in lower case, not superscript. 

Spell out numbers less than 10 and always to start a sentence; otherwise use numeric form. 

Dates feature a comma before the year if they note the day (June 10, 1904; June 1904). Do not use ordinals (March 3, not March 3rd). Hyphenate date ranges, no space (May 12-14). 

Times are expressed with a colon between hour, minutes, and seconds, and am and pm are both lower case without periods. Noon and midnight do not require a preceding “12.” Hyphenate time ranges, no space, and place the am or pm only after the later time.  

Separate with a comma for four to six-digit numbers (1,000; 10,000; 100,000) but spell out words for larger numbers (million, billion). Spell out multipliers (hundreds not 100s) and indefinites (thirty-some). 

Punctuation

Apostrophes are for possession (cat’s paw), not plurals (rare jewels). When a group jointly possesses something, only the last subject gets an apostrophe-s (Julie, Earl, and Mary’s apartment). 

Oxford comma (also known as a "serial comma"): YES! (protein, fruit, and vegetables). This avoids the classic “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Periods and commas go inside quotations, but outside parentheses if they end the sentence. 

Semicolons go within a list of items with an internal comma. Semicolons can also be used to separate related sentence clauses where each clause could be a complete sentence itself. (Sally will be out the rest of this week; we need to distribute her work among us.)

Colons may precede a list, an explanation, quote, or formal statement. 

Use exclamation points sparingly. 

Common Words and Phrases 

Biennial, biannual, semiannual: use “twice a year” or “every two years” as appropriate 

Biodiesel, biofuel, biogas, biohazard (no hyphen) 

Carbon emissions, not greenhouse gas emissions

Citywide and community wide (no hyphen), but bureau-wide (yes hyphen) 

Climate change preparation, not climate adaptation

CO2 , not CO or CO2

Database (one word), but data set (two words) 

Eco-conscious, eco-friendly (yes hyphen), but ecoroof (no hyphen) 

Email (no hyphen) 

Fact sheet (two words) 

Human-made (instead of man-made, and yes hyphen) or manufactured 

Infill (no hyphen), but land use (two words) 

Life cycle (two words) 

Mixed-use development, mixed-use zones

Multifamily, multimodal (no hyphen) 

Nonprofit (no hyphen) 

Online, onsite, offsite: one word as adjective (onsite placement), but two as preposition (going off site) 

Percent and percentile should be spelled out but may use ‘%’ or ‘%tile’ in tables and figures 

Setback (as noun or adjective), set back (as verb)

Stormwater (one word) 

Time frame, time line (two words)  

Triannual, triennial: use “three times a year” or “every three years” as appropriate 

Turnaround (one word) 

Upstream (one word) 

Watershed and waterborne (no hyphen) 

Waste stream (two words) 

Website (no hyphen); web page (two words) 

Work flow (two words) 

Yearlong (no hyphen), but year-round (yes hyphen)

ZIP code(s): (the word ZIP is an acronym (Zone Improvement Plan)) 

Note: When in doubt, check a dictionary.  

Document Add-Ons

URLs: Use lower case, with a period if it finishes a sentence. Break lines only before a slash or period. (https://www.portland.gov)

Graphs: Keep them simple, label the axes and outlier points. Keep vertical axis consistent across graphs if possible.

Tables: Leave no cells blank; use an em dash to fill. Write notes in lower case letters. Write titles in title case above table.

Figures: Caption below the figure, left justified.

Lists

Lists, general: follow the natural order (alphabet, chronology). 

Lists, run-in: keep short and separated by commas; longer lists should be marked with numbers (1) or letters (b). 

Lists, vertical (bullet/ordered): If the list of items completes a sentence started by introductory text, make items lower case. If any item makes a sentence, capitalize and use punctuation on ALL items (otherwise do neither). Two columns for longer lists. If the items make a sequence (e.g., steps), use numbers instead of bullets.  

Portland.gov

This is a “slash” →  /

This is a “backslash” → \  (Website URLs do not contain backslashes.)

Upload your documents to Portland.gov before linking or embedding them in your pages, rather than linking from external sites (including portlandoregon.gov). 

Use “call to action” buttons sparingly, for those items where the user is doing something with an expected service result rather than looking up information or viewing media. 

Buttons used for email contact should be labeled with the email address. (When possible, set up and use non-personal inboxes for receiving user email traffic). 

Always fill in the alt-text area when uploading media; this is how screen readers “see” media for the sightless. 

In all cases, when in doubt consult the Chicago Manual of Style.