AWOL Style Guide

AWOL follows AP guidelines for all grammatical and style decisions aside from those defined in this guide. 


AWOL reporters should focus on “person-centric” journalism and should use good judgement in determining when to ask individuals questions about their identity. How people define themselves will play an integral role in how they will be referred to in any AWOL story. 



– Refer to the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol as substance use or addiction.

– Avoid terms such as “addict” or derogatory terms such as “junkie” or “druggie” unless quoting a source directly. Instead, refer to that individual as “X, who uses X” when pertinent to the context of the article.

– Avoid phrases such as “struggles with addiction.” Use neutral phrases or direct quotes instead. 


– When possible, use specific language to discuss homelessness

– Use “People experiencing houselessness” rather than “the homeless.” 

– “People without housing” is OK.  


– If speaking about the community as a whole, use identity first language (disabled people, autistic people, etc). For individuals, always ask what term they prefer.


– Refer to someone who has been sexually assaulted as “survivor.” 

– For legal purposes, when a story has legal implications or has not been decided within the legal system, use “alleged” when necessary. Use sparingly. 

– When referring to an individual who has spoken about their experiences but whose story cannot be verified, use alleged survivor if absolutely necessary, but avoid when possible. Favor person-centric language that highlights the subject of the story. 

– When writing about sexual assault, include a specific content warning. For example: Warning: graphic description of sexual assault, or description of sexual assault.

– Avoid “claims” and “alleges”, just use “said.”

– Avoid “accuser.” 


– When an integral source to a story does not respond to comment, refer to the chart guide below. 

– For breaking stories, use “did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

– One request: “Did not respond to a request for comment.”

– Two requests “Did not respond to requests for comment.”

– 3+ requests “Did not respond to repeated requests for comment.”

– If someone says “no comment”, say “X said ‘no comment.’”

– If someone refuses to comment, say “X declined to comment.” 

– If someone does not respond to 1-2 requests for comment, then add a note on the story saying: This story will be updated. 

– If someone does not respond directly to requests for comment, but does provide a public statement, use the correct qualifier depending on the number of requests you made, then add a section indicating what they stated in their public comment/press release. 

IE: Sylvia Burwell did not respond to repeated requests for comment but did make a public statement addressing X on Wednesday. 


– In order to request a correction, email the AWOL EICs at [email protected]

– If there is a serious reporting error or critical change to the piece, put a note detailing correction at the top of the piece.

– If a smaller correction is put in, relating to a date, quote or something else minor, put a note at the bottom. 

– “This article was edited to _______ on xx/yy/zz at a:bc A/PM.”

– Once a correction is filed, EICs have 24 hours to review the correction and respond.

– When a story is marked “This story will be updated” there will be a 1 month period in which a story will maintain the marker. In that time, if a response is received, it will be included in the story and the story will be rebroadcast on socials. 


– Identify race when it is pertinent to the story. Race or ethnicity is pertinent to the story if the inclusion or exclusion of a person or a group’s race or ethnicity changes the point of the story. Writers are encouraged to have conversations with editors if they need more guidance. 

– Follow AP style capitalization of race. 

– Use “Latinx” when referring to people of Latin descent unless otherwise defined by the interviewee. 

– Refer to people with indigenous heritage by their specific tribe if known. If unknown, use Indigenous or “Indigenous to the area that is now known as X” if possible.

– Use the term BIPOC over POC. On first reference, explain the full term: Black, indigenous, and people of color. From second reference on, use BIPOC. Be specific about which race or races are affected when possible.

– In situations that are explicitly racist, use “racist” and not “racially charged” or similar phrases. In situations where the role of race is more ambiguous, include all the facts and let sources be the ones to qualify the situation as “racist” or not.

– Use DREAMers following the capitalization of the DREAM Act.


– Use the first letter of the word, hyphen, and then “word” for slurs (i.e. “n-word”) and then explain what group the slur targets. Print swear words as is.


– Reserve “Dr.” for medical doctors only. Include a source’s education level if it is pertinent to the story or establishing their credibility.


– Ask sources their pronouns at the beginning of any interview. Use pronouns without an explanation unless pronouns are not as widely known. In such instances, explain in the story what those terms mean.

– Avoid using the term “community.” 

– Use the term LGBTQ unless quoting or referencing titles. 

– If someone is gay and it is relevant to the story, say “X, who is X.” 

– If the person is on record with saying they are gay, they are most likely out, but make sure to clarify with the person. 

– “Openly gay” should not be an umbrella term


– It’s “source said,” not “said source” in a direct quote unless a title or qualifier is extremely long and is putting too much distance between “said” and the end of the quote.

Correct: “With half the country’s jobs at risk, we can expect a massive spike in the number of people falling behind on their bills and becoming at risk for debt collection suits,” Levinson-Waldman said.

Correct: “With half the country’s jobs at risk, we can expect a massive spike in the number of people falling behind on their bills and becoming at risk for debt collection suits,” said Ariel Levinson-Waldman, founding president and director-counsel of Tzedek D.C.

Incorrect: “With half the country’s jobs at risk, we can expect a massive spike in the number of people falling behind on their bills and becoming at risk for debt collection suits,” said Levinson-Waldman.

Incorrect: “With half the country’s jobs at risk, we can expect a massive spike in the number of people falling behind on their bills and becoming at risk for debt collection suits,” Ariel Levinson-Waldman, founding president and director-counsel of Tzedek D.C., said.

– Do not use datelines in our stories. 

– Per AP Style, use “Washington” on first reference, and “Washington” or “the District” for all subsequent references.

– When referring to the different Wards, there is no need to spell out the numbers. (i.e. Ward 8 is acceptable).

– Do not use the oxford comma.

– Follow AP Style rules for commas. Note the following entry on use with conjunctions:

When a conjunction such as and, but or for links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction in most cases: She was glad she had looked, for a man was approaching the house.

As a rule of thumb, use a comma if the subject of each clause is expressly stated: We are visiting Washington, and we also plan a side trip to Williamsburg. We visited Washington, and our senator greeted us personally. But no comma when the subject of the two clauses is the same and is not repeated in the second: We are visiting Washington and plan to see the White House.”

– Use “impact” as a noun or a verb, following common usage.


– Spell out all names/terms on first reference when referring to American University specific acronyms

– Do not use parentheses to provide the full acronym. 

– On second reference, these acronyms are appropriate. 

– AU


– SIS