Writing style


SBA marketing and promotional materials follow The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, though we do have a few exceptions that are noted in this guide. Internal communication should follow the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.

This section provides the most used forms for AP and GPO styles, and SBA preferences if the style is not addressed by the AP or GPO. The Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Office of the Inspector General establish their own editorial preferences for correspondence. The Office of the Executive Secretary has its own set correspondence style manual.

Common applications

Some frequently used grammar conventions, styles, and forms are listed below. For ease of application, some have been divided into external and internal styles when there are differences. For the style and spelling of words not found in AP or GPO, see Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

This section can be used as a primer and a quick reference, not a replacement to the GPO or AP style books. Most examples here are taken and condensed from these style books.

Plain language commitment

The SBA is committed to simplifying our message by using a standard style without jargon and unidentifiable acronyms. To accomplish that, the Agency endorses two editorial styles. For external communication, we use the Associated Press Stylebook 2017 for all public documents and materials, excluding correspondence from the Administrator and Deputy Administrator. Exceptions can be found in the Writing Form & Style section of this guide. The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual 2016 is used for internal communication.

Contractors who write and edit SBA marketing products must also adhere to Agency standards. Vendor contracts should include the commitment to using plain language found in the June 1, 1998 Presidential Memorandum, which directs all executive departments and agencies to use everyday words, except for necessary technical terms, in governmental writing.


  • Promote the Agency’s core areas of expertise with a voice that is official, direct, affirming, and authentic.
  • The SBA needs to have one voice across its offices and programs, but the tone should change to fit the audience. Pay attention to your audience and the context (local, regional, or national) in which you are presenting the information. What purpose do you have and what medium will work best for that audience, context, and purpose?
  • Find and focus on publicizing people’s stories, this helps the public understand that the Agency is an organization that works with the people, rather than a governmental authority that creates policies and rules which can feel cold and removed. We don’t promote the individual small business, we publicize stories of small businesses that demonstrate how the SBA has helped them succeed.



External/Internal: Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd., and St. only with a numbered address.

1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Capitalize and spell the word out when part of a formal street name without a number.

Pennsylvania Avenue

Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name.

Massachusetts and Pennsylvania avenues

All similar words, such as alley, drive, road, terrace, court, always are spelled out. Spell out and capitalize street names First through Ninth; use figures for 10th and above.

7 Fifth Ave.; 100 21st St.

Lowercase suite, room, and building when standing alone or part of an address.

10 Elm St., suite A

The meeting is in suite A.

Internal: Street, avenue, place, road, square, boulevard, terrace, drive, court, and building, following a name or number, are abbreviated in footnotes, sidenotes, tables, leaderwork, and lists.

Business names

External: For company, companies use Co. or Cos. When a business uses either word at the end of its name.

Ford Motor Co.

Abbreviate corporation as Corp. when a company or governmental agency uses the word at the end of its name.

the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Abbreviate incorporation and limited when used after the name of a corporate entity.

Time Warner Inc.
Schlumberger Ltd.

Do not abbreviate association.

Internal: Company and corporation are not abbreviated in names of Federal Government units. In company and other formal names, if it’s not the full legal name it does not need to be preserved, names including Bro., Bros., Co., Corp., Inc., Ltd., are used. Association and manufacturing are not abbreviated.


External: When a month is used with a date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.

January 2018
Jan. 2
May 8, 2018

Internal: Names of months followed by the day, or day and year, are abbreviated in footnotes, tables, leaderwork, sidenotes, and in bibliographies. Preferred forms: Jan.; Feb.; Mar., Apr; Aug.; Sept.; Oct.; Nov.; Dec. May, June, and July are always spelled out.


External/Internal: Use the abbreviation U.S. in the adjective position.

U.S. Small Business Administration

Spell out United States when used as a noun or when appearing in a sentence containing the name of another country.

foreign policy of the United States
British, French, and United States Governments

Do not abbreviate department in any usage.


External: Spell out the names of the states whether standing alone or with a place name. Use the AP’s state abbreviations with place names only in lists and tabular material, or short-form listings of party affiliation: D-Ala., R-Mont.

AP state abbreviations:

States A-L States M-N States N-W
Ala. Md. N.D.
Ariz. Mass. Okla.
Ark. Mich. Ore.
Calif. Minn. Pa.
Colo. Miss. R.I.
Conn. Mo. S.C.
Del. Mont. S.D.
Fla. Neb. Tenn.
Ga. Nev. Vt.
Ill. N.H. Va.
Ind. N.J. Wash.
Kan. N.M. W.Va.
Ky. N.Y. Wis.
La. N.C. Wyo.

The names of eight states are never abbreviated: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.

Use the two-letter Postal Service abbreviations only with addresses.

Internal: Except in the formal usage of legal citations and court work, covers and title pages, all States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and freely associated states are abbreviated in Postal Service style following any capitalized geographic term.

Prince George’s County, MD
Mount Rainier National Forest, WA
Stone Mountain, GA
Richmond, VA


External: Abbreviate titles before a full name or initial:

Dr., Gov. Lt. Gov., Rep., the Rev., and Sen.

(For military designations see the military titles entry in the AP Stylebook.)

Internal: In informal usage, a civil, military, or naval title preceding a name is abbreviated, but Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., M., MM., Messrs., Mlle., Mme., and Dr. are abbreviated with or without first name initial (see the GPO Style Manual for specific military titles and abbreviations).

Spell out Senator, Representative, and commandant.

Unless preceded by the, abbreviate Honorable, Reverend, and Monsignor when followed by the name.

Hon. Thomas Jefferson; the Honorable Thomas Jefferson; the Honorable Mr. Jefferson the Honorables John Roberts, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg

External/internal: Do not abbreviate professor or secretary before the name.

Acronyms and initialisms

External: Try to avoid acronyms in material meant for small business owners. When you are using easily recognizable and principle noun in your text (like the SBA). Introduce a principle acronym in the sentence following where the name is written out, for example: The U.S. Small Business Administration was established in 1953. The SBA is the federal agency dedicated to assisting small business owners.

Continue to use the acronym, or “the agency,” on subsequent references. For less recognizable offices and programs, use a specific, shortened identifier. Do not sacrifice comprehension in order to save a few words. For example:

Contact your local U.S. Small Business Administration office or Women’s Business Center. The SBA and the women’s centers are here to help guide you through the process.

Internal: For Agency, office, and program names and titles, you can identify the acronym in parentheses following the first reference.

the Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD)

Veterans Business Development Officer (VBDO)

Then continue with the acronym on subsequent references. To avoid confusion in long documents, and to aid in quick comprehension, use the Agency in reference to the SBA and other specific identifiers for programs and offices (on second and subsequent references). The Agency assisted the veterans business development office and one of its officers.

Do not sacrifice comprehension in order to save a few words.

Frequently used acronyms and shortened names

These acronyms and initialisms should be spelled out on first reference unless noted below. In external communications, use the shortened form of the full name rather than the acronym on subsequent references. In the context of a story, the full name should be easily understood when reading the acronym or shortened name. Lender Match helps connect SBA Lenders to clients. The matching program is an easy and convenient way to link you to banks who are interested in working with you.

First reference Acronym;
Second and subsequent references
Community Development Financial Institutions CDFI
the institution(s)
DUNS number DUNS
Employer Identification Number EIN;
employer ID number
Federal Business Opportunities website FedBizOpps;
Federal Business Tax ID business tax ID
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. FDIC
minority-owned business the business
Memorandum of Agreement MOA
National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders NAGGL
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers PTAC;
the center(s)
System for Award Management SAM;
Small Business Investment Company investment companies
America’s Small Business Development Centers;
Small Business Development Centers
America’s SBDCs;
the center(s)
SCORE the association
Standard Operating Procedure SOP
Statement of Work SOW
U.S. Export Assistance Centers export center(s)
the center(s)
Women’s Business Centers WBC;
the center(s)

SBA program/office/designation names

Refer to SBA programs by their full name on first reference. On subsequent references, use the shortened name. External: try not to use the acronym in order to avoid alphabet soup. When referring to two or more programs in the same text, be sure the distinction is clear:

The 7(a) Loan Program is the SBA’s primary business loan program, while the 504 Certified Development Company Loan Program is used for real estate, construction and equipment upgrades for a business expansion. The 7(a) is the most flexible, helping finance a large variety of business purposes for the largest number of business types.

First reference Second and subsequent references
SBA 7(a) Loan;
7(a) Loan Program
7(a) loan; 7(a)
8(a) Business Development Program 8(a) program
504 Certified Development Company Loan Program 504 loan program
All Small Mentor-Protege Program All Small program
Boots to Business;
Boots to Business: Reboot
the program; B2B; B2B Reboot
Community Advantage Program Community Advantage;
the program
economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business disadvantaged business;
the business
Emerging Leaders program Emerging Leaders;
the program
Export Working Capital Program the program
HUBZone Program HUBZone
International Trade Loan the loan
Lender Match online tool Lender Match
Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program the reservists’ economic disaster loan
Preferred Lenders Program the program
Procurement Technical Assistance Center;
Procurement Center Representative
procurement center;
procurement representative
SBA disaster assistance;
SBA disaster loan
disaster assistance;
disaster loan
SBAExpress the express loan
SBA Microloan Program;
SBA microlenders
SBA’s QuickApp program QuickApp
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern contracting program the disabled veterans’ contracting program
Small Business Investment Company program the investment company program;
the program
Small Business Innovation Research program the research program
Small Business Technology Transfer program the technology transfer program
small disadvantaged business the disadvantaged business;
the business
State Trade Expansion Program STEP grant;
the program
Subcontracting Network database SubNet;
the subcontracting database;
the database
Surety Bond Guarantee Program surety bond guarantee
Veterans Advantage program the program
veteran-owned business the veteran’s business;
the business
Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program the veterans training program
Veteran Institute for Procurement the institute
Women-Owned Small Business Certification the women’s contracting program;

*This table is not comprehensive and is subject to change. For other program names, see the SBA Small Business Resource Guide.


Definite articles

External/Internal: Use “the” before all references to the SBA, except when SBA is used as an adjective. Similar examples include the White House, the FBI, and the IRS.

The SBA provides…

The SBA’s guaranty fee; but SBA programs help…

an SBA-backed loan

Internal: To achieve greater distinction or adhere to authorized form, the word “the” is capitalized when used as part of an official name or title. When the name or title is used as an adjective, it is lowercase.

The Hague; but the Hague Court

The National Mall; The Mall (Washington, DC only)

This does not apply at any time in reference to publications, vessels, airships, trains, or business names.

the Washington Post

the Hotel Roanoke

Indefinite articles

External/Internal: The indefinite article “a” is used before consonant sounds, including an aspirated h.

a one-year term; a historic

An is used before vowel sounds and the silent h.

an energy crisis; an hour

When an acronym begins with an S or any other letter that has a vowel sound, the indefinite article an is used.

an SBA loan.


Governmental units and places

External: Capitalize the full proper names of governmental agencies, departments, and offices, even when the formal governmental body name is flipped to delete the word “of,” but lowercase further condensations of the name.

the U.S. Department of State, the State Department, the department

the Massachusetts District Office, the district office, the office

the Denver Small Business Development Center, the center

This means shortened names or other substitutes are not capitalized, such as: administration, agency, bank, board, bureau, caree, commission, conference, council, district, federal, fiscal year, government, league, nation, office, state, and tribe.

Capitalize common nouns when used as part of the full name for a proper noun, but lowercase when they stand alone.

Pennsylvania Avenue; the avenue

Lowercase the common noun elements of the names in plural uses.

Pennsylvania and Massachusetts avenues; the Phoenix and Washington, D.C. district offices.

Internal: The full names of organized bodies and their shortened forms are capitalized. Other substitutes, which are often regarded as common nouns, are capitalized in certain instances to indicate distinction.

U.S. Government; Federal Government; the Government

National governmental units

  • U.S. Congress: the Congress; the Senate; the House; Committee of the Whole (similarly all major committee units); the Committee
  • Department of Agriculture (similarly all major committee units): the Department; but legislative, executive, and judicial departments
  • Bureau of the Census: the Census Bureau; the Bureau; but the agency
  • Department of Defense: Military Establishment; Armed Forces; All-Volunteer Forces; but armed services
  • U.S. Small Business Administration: the SBA; the Agency (Administration is not used in reference to the SBA in order to avoid confusion with the President’s Administration)
  • Environmental Protection Agency: the Agency

Common-noun substitutes

Montgomery County Board of Health: the Board of Health, Montgomery County; the board of health; the board

Buffalo Consumers’ League: the consumers’ league; the league

Riggs National Bank: the Riggs Bank; the bank

The plural form of a common noun capitalized as part of a proper name is also capitalized.

State and Treasury Departments

British, French, and United States Governments

The official designations of countries, national domains, and their principal administrative divisions are capitalized only if used as part of proper names, as proper names, or as proper adjectives.

United States: the Republic; the Nation; the Union; the Government; also Federal; Federal Government

New York State: the State, a State (definite political subdivision); but state (referring to a federal government, the body politic); foreign states; church and state

A common noun or adjective forming a proper name is capitalized; the common noun used alone as a substitute for the name of a place or thing is not capitalized.

Massachusetts Avenue; the avenue

Cook County; the county

city of Washington; the city

A common noun used alone as a well-known short form of a specific proper name is capitalized.

the Capitol building in Washington, DC; but State capitol building

the District (of Columbia)


External: Lowercase professor before a name, but capitalize Professor Emeritus before a name.

Internal: Capitalize professor before a name. Generally, if you are referring to a single person who holds that title, capitalize it. Lowercase it if the title could refer to one of many people.

I spoke to the Agency’s Director of Marketing yesterday.

I attended the meeting with one of the lender relations specialists.

She is a lender relations specialist.

External/Internal: Civil, religious, military, and professional titles preceding a name are capitalized.

President Washington

Lieutenant Fowler

Chairwoman Williams

Lender Relations Specialist Joan Smith attended the meeting.

A title following the name of a person, or used alone as a substitute, in most cases, is not capitalized

Joseph Williams, SBDC director

Joan Smith, consultant

The SBDC director attended the meeting.

Title of a head or assistant head of state:

George Washington, President of the United States: the President; the Executive; the Commander in Chief; similarly the Vice President

Title of a head or assistant head of a National governmental unit:

Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State; the Secretary

William D. Mitchell, the Administrator; similarly the Deputy Administrator

International alphabet: special characters

External: Accent marks are not required on these words: attache, detente, resume, and the anglicized words listed below.

Internal: These foreign words carry the accent marks as an essential part of their spelling: attaché, détente, résumé.

In Microsoft Word, select Insert in the top menu and choose Symbol for special characters. External/Internal: Accent marks are not used with anglicized words, such as: apropos, cafe, cliche, communique, critique, debacle, debut, elite, facade, laissez faire, metier, piece de resistance, premiere, protege (masculine or feminine), tete-a-tete, vis-a-vis.

Italic, periods and quotation marks

External: Do not italicize book titles.

Internal: Use italic for all book titles: The Associated Press Stylebook, Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Italic is often used to set apart or give greater prominence to words or phrases. An excessive amount of italic defeats the purpose and should be limited. Italic is not used for mere emphasis, foreign words, or the titles of publications.

External/Internal: The period and the comma always go within quotation marks. The dash, semicolon, question mark, and exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

Why call it a “gentleman’s agreement”?

Who asked, “Why?”

Only make one space between sentences, after the period. Do not end a sentence with a space; it should be ended with a punctuation mark or a word. Check for extra spaces, or other copy gremlins, by clicking the “show/hide paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols” button in your MS Word Home toolbar.

Quotation marks are used to enclose titles of addresses, albums, articles, awards, books, captions, editorials, essays, headings, headlines, hearing, motion pictures and plays, operas, papers, short poems, reports, songs, studies, subheadings, subjects, and themes. All principle words are capitalized.

He received the “Man of the Year” award.

The report “Atomic Energy: What It Means to the Nation”; but annual report of the Director of the Government Publishing Office.


External/Internal: In general, spell out one through nine and use figures for 10 or more with the exception of the first words of the sentence.

Two hundred people attended the event.

The event attracted 200 people.

a 900-square-foot building

Use figures whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to age.

6 years old; a 6-year-old girl


External: Keep the standard guidelines, such as: They had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters. 9-by-12 rug; 9-inch snowfall. Use numeral and word combination when expressing million, billion, or trillion.

1 million people; $12 million

Internal: When two or more numbers appear in a sentence and one of them is 10 or larger, figures are used for each number: Each of 15 major commodities (9 metal and 6 nonmetal) was in supply. Also 8-by 12-inch page; 8 by 12

Use numerals when writing percentages.

12 percent; 0.5 percent, or one-half of 1 percent; 3.65 bonds

Use the % symbol for tables and presentation slides only.

Mixed fractions are always expressed in figures. Fractions standing alone, however, or if followed by “of a” or “of an” are generally spelled out.

three-fourths of an inch; one-half inch

Fractions are used in a unit modifier.

½-inch pipe

Use the numeral and word combination when expressing million, billion, or trillion

1 million people; $12 million; but $2,700,000 rather than $2.7 million


Bulleted and numbered lists

To list key steps or required elements, use a numbered list. Use bullets for points or examples. Introduce most lists with a colon.

In a bulleted list, or a list in the sentence, capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence. Note how any bullet item forming a complete sentence should end in a period.

Program eligibility:

  • The business owner must identify a lender prior to applying.
  • An SBA “determination of affiliation” must not exist between the two parties.
  • Visit sba.gov to complete and submit your application electronically.

Lists that feature words or phrases:

Entering the overseas marketplace offers many benefits for small businesses, including: additional markets; increased growth and profits; and tax advantages.

Proceeds from 504 loans must be used for fixed-assets projects, such as:

  • purchasing land and improvements
  • constructing, modernizing, renovating or converting existing facilities
  • purchasing machinery and equipment

Capitalization should be determined by context:

Lists of words or phrases are usually lowercased.

Lists of independent clauses are usually capitalized.

Whatever choice is made concerning capitalization, it should be applied to all list items and consistent within the document.

An example of a numbered list:

Needed for the application:

  1. A resume
  2. Cover letter
  3. Statement of purpose


External: A commas is not necessary to separate elements in a simple series if the meaning is clear.

The flag is red, white and blue.

Insert the commas in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction, or if it would leave to confusion if the comma is omitted.

I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases.

The main points to consider is whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.

To set off nonessential words, phrases, or clauses.

Mr. Jones, attorney for the plaintiff, signed the petition.

The restriction is laid down in title IX, chapter 8, section 15.

his wife, Clara, and his daughter Joan (he has several daughters)

his wife, Clara, and his daughter, Joan (he only has one daughter)

Most times before the conjunction in a sentence containing two or more clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences.

We visited Washington, and our senator greeted us personally.

But no comma when the subject of the two clauses is the same.

We are visiting Washington and plan to see the White House.

Commas always go inside quotation marks.

He said “four,” not “five.”

“Freedom is an inherent right,” he insisted.

Internal: Use the comma in a series before the conjunctions and, or, or nor.

The flag was red, white, and blue.

The material is sold by the bolt, by the yard, or in remnants.


External/Internal: Use a hyphen to form a single idea from two or more words only to avoid ambiguity. A hyphen is optional in most cases, so the fewer hyphens the better. Use a hyphen only when omitting it would cause confusion. In many cases, the GPO style should supersede AP. If not listed here, use the first entry in Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Use a hyphen with two or more words that express a single concept.

a full-time job; well-known lawyer

But do not use a hyphen if the first element of a two-word modifier is an adverb ending in ly.

wholly owned subsidiary; eagerly awaited moment

not too distant future; most often heard phrase


  • a 4-percent increase, but 4 percent increase (note the absence of an article. The word of is understood here)
  • a 1,000-square-foot building
  • agreed-upon standards
  • atomic energy power
  • below-normal spending level
  • civil rights case
  • cost-of-living increase
  • high-tech equipment
  • real estate tax
  • income tax reform
  • lump-sum payment
  • long-term loan
  • long-term-payment loan
  • multiple-purpose uses
  • nationwide effort
  • nonprofit
  • on-the-job training
  • part-time personnel
  • set-asides
  • small businessman/woman; small business owner
  • startup (n. and adj.)
  • state-of-the-art technology
  • well-known
  • well-being
  • working-capital loans

Do not hyphenate the same combinations when they occur after the noun.

The SBA offers loans for working capital.

But keep the hyphen in most cases when the combination occurs after a form of the verb to be.

The Deputy Administrator is best qualified to make that decision.

Hyphens generally should not be used with prefixes except where awkward combinations occur.

non-negotiable, re-enter, re-creation (create again), re-sign (sign again); nonprofit, prequalification

Last updated May 2, 2024