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NCI Digital Media Guidelines

  • Updated: 08/09/2012

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Word Style List

This list of commonly used words and phrases shows preferred usage and is intended to serve as adjunct information to the following authoritative style manuals selected by NCI portal managers for use on NCI's main website.


American Association for Cancer Research

academic degrees

  • Use periods; omit spaces between letters (e.g., M.D. and Dr.P.H.).
  • In text, when giving a person's name and degree(s), use a comma before and after any degree (e.g., "Jane Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H., gave the keynote address.") Do not precede a name with a courtesy title for an academic degree (e.g., Dr.) and follow the name with the abbreviation for the degree (e.g., Ph.D.) in the same reference.

adverbs ending in "-ly" 
Do not use a hyphen to follow an adverb ending in "-ly" (e.g., "strongly worded statement" is correct).

affect, effect

  • affect: Use to mean "to bring about a change in" (e.g., "Smoking affects the health of....").
  • effect: Use to mean "a result or influence" (e.g., "the desired effect," "the effect of chemotherapy...").

a.m. (time)
Lowercase and use periods (e.g., 9:30 a.m.). Use ":00" for hours (e.g., 9:00 a.m., not 9 a.m.).

ampersand (&)
Ampersands should usually not be used in page titles, headers, or text. It is generally desirable to spell out "and" in the name of a link to a page whose title uses an ampersand.

Most combinations with the prefix "anti" do not use a hyphen. 
For example,

  • antiandrogen
  • antiangiogenesis
  • antibiotic
  • anticancer
  • anticarcinogenic
  • antiemetic
  • antiestrogen
  • antihormone
  • antimetastatic
  • antineoplastic
  • antioncogene
  • antioxidant
  • antiproliferative
  • antiretroviral
  • antismoking
  • antitoxin
  • antitumor antitumorigenesis
  • antiviral

...but a hyphen is needed with "anti" before a capitalized word or an abbreviation (e.g., anti-HIV) or in combinations with a double "i" (e.g., anti-inflammatory, anti-interleukin).

American Society of Clinical Oncology

assure, ensure, insure

  • assure: to convince, reassure
  • ensure: to make certain, guarantee
  • insure: to cover with insurance

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B-cell (adj.; e.g., B-cell lymphoma), B cell (noun) (e.g., "B cells are....")


The following style also applies to vertical lists that do not use bullets.

  • introducing a bulleted list (punctuation)
    Use, for example,
    • The effects are
    • The effects are as follows:
    • The effects follow.
  • punctuation after bulleted items 
    • Use periods after all items in a list if one or more items are complete sentences.
    • Use no punctuation after items in a list if items consist of one or only a few words, e.g.,
    • The most common were
      • lung cancer
      • colorectal cancer
      • germ cell tumors
      • carcinoma of unknown primary
    • If the introduction to a list and the items that follow constitute a sentence, use a period after the last item if commas are used after the other items, e.g.,
      This will lead to a future in which we can
      • prevent cancer before it starts,
      • identify cancers that do develop at the earliest stage,
      • eliminate cancers through innovative treatment interventions.

However, in this type of example, the commas and the period are not essential. Note: Semicolons can often be reduced to commas.

  • capitalization
    If one or more items in a list are complete sentences, begin all items with a capital letter. Omit capitals otherwise (except, of course, for proper names and acronyms).

Burkitt lymphoma

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The website that was branded "" was replaced in 2004 at the launch of the site branded "National Cancer Institute." Do not refer to the English version of the site as "" The correct reference is, for example, "the National Cancer Institute website" or "the NCI website." The preferred url is or not or en español
Official name for the Spanish site.

cancer-related (adj.)

capitalization in titles and headers
If a title or header uses initial caps, be sure to cap all nouns (except those not normally capped, e.g., "p53"), all pronouns (e.g., "It," "Who") and all verbs (including shorter verbs like "Is" and "Do"), even in a subtitle. Do not capitalize the helping verb "to." Do not cap articles (e.g., "a," "an," "the" - except as the first word or immediately after a colon) or conjunctions (e.g., "and," "but," "or"). Capitalize "No," "Not," "In Vitro," "In Vivo," and "That."

capitalization of nouns 
See nouns and capitalization in titles and headers entries.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Lowercase as a stand-alone noun (e.g., "The center was established...." but "The Center for Information Technology was established....").

checkup (noun), check up (verb)

click here (or just here)
Do not use these words for links in text. See "Hyperlinks Within Text."



  • Use a comma for clarity after the second-to-last item in a series (e.g., The poster is red, white, and blue). Use a semicolon if semicolons are used to separate the items.
  • Do not use a comma when the subject of two clauses is the same (and the subject is not repeated in the second clause), e.g., "We are visiting NIH and plan to see the lab."
  • Commas always go inside quotation marks. See quotation marks entry.
  • See also academic degrees and dates entries.

cost-effective, cost-effectiveness

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
OK to use "Dana-Farber" in subsequent references.

The word "data" is used in the plural sense when it refers to more than one piece of information, e.g., "The data show a decrease in cancer incidence."



Spell out the name of a month in text unless part of a date with a numbered day. 

  • The event took place in December.
  • January 1972 was a cold month.
  • Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month.
  • Feb. 14, 2003, was the target date

Use a comma after the year in a complete date if the sentence continues (e.g., "The July 26, 2003, issue of...."). See also decades entry.

Examples: 1950s, 1960s; '50s, '60s

See academic degrees entry.

director, Director

  • NCI Director Harold Varmus
  • Dr. Harold Varmus, director of NCI
  • The director said in his keynote address....

early-stage (adj.), early stage (noun) (e.g., "Cancer in an early stage of....")

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Eastern Standard Time, Eastern Daylight Time, Eastern time zone, Eastern time

See affect, effect entry.

Use periods and a comma; from the Latin exempli gratia, meaning "for example."


end-of-life care, end-of-life issues

end-stage (adj.)

See assure, ensure, insure entry.

et al.
Always use a period; do not use this term when referring to just one other; from the Latin et alii, meaning "and others."

evidence-based (adj.), evidence based (noun), (e.g., "The program is evidence based.")

Ewing sarcoma

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fact sheet



Lowercase in text unless part of a proper noun or starting a sentence or header.

fiscal year 
Use upper/lower case when followed by year; e.g. "Fiscal Year 2011"; but not "in next fiscal year."

5-year survival rate

But spell out the number to begin a sentence, title, or header.

The suffix "fold" should be joined without a hyphen to a spelled-out number, e.g.,

  • twofold
  • threefold

but use a hyphen with numerals, e.g.,

  • 100-fold
  • 1000-fold

follow-up (adj. and noun), follow up (verb)

forward, not forwards (e.g., "moving forward"; but a book has a foreword)

fund-raising (adj.), fund raising (noun) (e.g., "...successful fund raising.")

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Gail model

Use italics, lower case, e.g. bcr-abl gene (see note for proteins).

genus and species
Use initial caps for the genus; lowercase the species

In text, do not capitalize when followed by a number or letter (e.g., grade 3, grade G2, grade GX) except at the start of a title or header.

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health care (adj. and noun)

HER-2 for Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2


  • high-dose (adj.)
  • high-energy (adj.)
  • high-grade (adj.)
  • high-risk (adj.)
  • high-tech (adj.)

(but, e.g., "People at high risk for...," "Patients were given a high dose of...," and "High fat intake has been linked to....")

Hodgkin lymphoma

home care (noun)

home page

HHS (use rather than DHHS)

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Always use periods and a comma; from the Latin id est, meaning "that is."

Don't use as a transitive verb (e.g., "To impact the conversation..."); replace with "affect" or "influence."

in-depth discussion


Lowercase as a stand-alone noun: for example, when referring to one of the NIH institutes
("The institute was established....").

in situ, in vivo, in vitro  (use italics)

See assure, ensure, insure entry.


intranet (lowercase "i")



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late-stage (adj.), late stage (noun) (e.g., "Cancers in late stages are....")




long-term (adj.), long term (noun) (e.g., "...over the long term.")

low-dose (adj.), low dose (noun) (e.g., "....received a low dose.")

See adverbs ending in "-ly" entry. 

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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
OK to use "Memorial Sloan-Kettering" in subsequent references.


Do not use a hyphen with the prefix "mid" unless a numeral or capitalized word follows, e.g.,

  • midbrain
  • midlife
  • midpoint
  • midsize
  • midterm
  • Midwest


  • mid-1970s
  • mid-30s (i.e., age)
  • mid-Atlantic states
  • mid-July

See dates entry.

In general, do not use a hyphen with the prefix "multi," e.g.,

  • multicellular
  • multicenter
  • multicultural
  • multidisciplinary
  • multidrug
  • multiethnic
  • multilingual
  • multimedia
  • multimodality
  • multinational
  • multiracial
  • multiregional
  • multivariate
  • multivitamin

but multi-investigator

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Generally omit "the" when "NCI" is used as a stand-alone term, e.g., "NCI has developed...." except when the title is spelled out, as in "The National Cancer Institute." Also prefer attributive rather than possessive; e.g. "the NCI website" rather than "NCI's website"

NCI-supported (but don't use when implied)

In general, do not use a hyphen with the prefix "non" unless a numeral, abbreviation, or capitalized word follows, e.g.,

  • noncancerous
  • nonclinical
  • noncommercial
  • nonessential
  • nongenetic
  • noninfectious
  • noninvasive
  • nonmalignant
  • nonmelanoma
  • nonprofit
  • nonsmoker
  • nonsmoking
  • nonspecific
  • nonsteroidal
  • nontechnical
  • nontoxic
  • nontraditional


  • non-508
  • non-HIV
  • non-Hispanic
  • non-Hodgkin
  • non-small cell

non-Hodgkin lymphoma

In text, lowercase most stand-alone nouns (i.e., those not part of a proper noun, e.g., "the institute"). These are often used as a second reference to a proper noun, e.g., "The National Cancer Institute leads the war on cancer. The institute was established...." Examples of stand-alone nouns:

  • branch
  • cancer center
  • center
  • chair, chairman
  • chief
  • clinical cancer center
  • committee
  • company
  • comprehensive cancer center
  • consortium
  • cooperative group
  • corporation
  • department
  • director
  • division
  • federal government
  • government
  • group
  • initiative
  • institute, institution
  • laboratory
  • meeting
  • nation
  • NCI-designated cancer center
  • network
  • office
  • organization
  • pilot
  • president
  • program
  • project
  • senator
  • study
  • subcommittee
  • symposium
  • team
  • trial
  • unit

…but capitalize "Congress" or "U.S. Congress" when referring to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives together. See also capitalization in titles, heads, and links entry.

Spell out numbers zero through nine; use numerals for numbers 10 or greater.


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Office of Communications and Education, not Office of Communication...



outpatient (adj. and noun)



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Pap test

Punctuation marks go inside these when they apply to the parenthetical matter only and outside when they apply to the whole sentence. Examples:

  • The goal will be achieved by using "best practices" (an NBN concept).
  • (The goal will be achieved by using an NBN concept.)


PDQ®  Use the registered symbol at first instance but omit in subsequent references.
Spell out (Physician Data Query) when describing NCI's PDQ comprehensive cancer database.
peer-reviewed (adj.), peer review (noun), peer reviewer (noun)

Spell out except in tables.

In text, do not capitalize the word "phase" when referring to a study (e.g., phase I, phase II), except at the start of a title or header. Use a capital Roman numeral.

plurals with numerals and acronyms

  • numerals: add "s" (e.g., 1980s, '80s [decade], people in their 20s)
  • acronyms: add "s" (e.g., HMOs, IRBs, SNPs)

p.m. (time)
Lowercase and use periods (e.g., 9:30 p.m.). Use ":00" for hours (e.g., 9:00 p.m., not 9 p.m.).


population-based study



preclinical studies (not preclinical trials)





prostate-specific antigen use PSA on subsequent mention

Use normal font, upper-lower case, e.g. Bcr-Abl protein (see genes entry)

public-private partnership, not public/private partnership


punctuation after a hyperlink
In text, if a punctuation mark falls after a link (e.g., See article.), do not underline the punctuation as part of the link.

punctuation with parentheses
See parentheses entry.

punctuation with quotation marks
See quotation marks entry.

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quality-of-life (adj.), quality of life (noun) " far as quality of life is concerned....")

quotation marks
In English (but not Spanish), periods and commas always go inside these, e.g.,

  • The goal will be achieved by using "best practices," an NBN concept.
  • He said, "The goal will be achieved by using an NBN concept."

Other punctuation marks go inside when they apply to the quoted matter only and outside when they apply to the whole sentence, e.g.,

  • She added, "How can we achieve this?"
  • Can the goal be achieved by using "best practices"?

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Follow the SEER designations for race and ethnicity

  • White
  • Black
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • American Indian/Alaska Native
  • Hispanic

R01 (not RO1 - that is, use a zero, not a letter O)
Other grant designations can be found at

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secondhand (adj.)

At first use, as in SEER's own documents, refer to the program as the "Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program" (note comma after "Epidemiology"); use "SEER" in subsequent references.

Almost always hyphenate this prefix, e.g.,

  • self-confidence
  • self-esteem
  • self-examination
  • self-help
  • self-image
  • self-report
  • self-study
  • self-treatment

short-term (adj.), short term (noun) (e.g., "....over the short term.")

side effect

In text, do not capitalize the word "stage" when followed by a number or letter (e.g., stage IV, stage 2, stage C), except at the start of a title or header.


state-of-the-art (adj.), state of the art (noun) (e.g., "The technique was state of the art.")


Use a colon to separate a title from its subtitle (e.g., "Advanced Cancer: Living Each Day"); use initial caps with both the title and subtitle.

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T-cell (adj.; e.g., T-cell lymphoma), T cell (noun) (e.g., "T cells are....")

that and which

  • "that" is used to introduce an essential clause; if the meaning of the sentence depends on the clause, use "that" (e.g., "All cancer rates that are strongly influenced by lifestyle are falling."). Essential clauses are not set off by commas.
  • "which" is used to introduce a nonessential clause (e.g., "Lung cancer, which is strongly linked to smoking, also occurs in nonsmokers."). Nonessential clauses are set off by commas.
  • an exception: use "which" (with no comma) for the second essential clause in the same sentence (e.g., "Enclosed is a photo of the laboratory that Ed started and which Mary now runs.").

toll-free (adj.), toll free (noun) (e.g., "The call is toll free.")

toward, not towards

tumor suppressor gene

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under way
Two words in virtually all uses (e.g., "The study is under way.").

up-to-date (adj.) up to date (noun) (e.g., "The information is up to date.")

Use for "United States." Example:

  • U.S. cancer rates are dropping.
  • Cancer rates in the U.S. are dropping.


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Spell with an initial cap when the word is used alone, e.g., "It enables users to search the Web" or "The number of Web visitors is rising."



Single term for website used on,, and


See that and which entry.

who and whom

  • who is always used as the subject of a sentence or clause. Example: Who is at the door?
  • whom is always used as an object of a verb or preposition. Example: Whom did you see at the door?

If you are unsure, use the "he/him" method to decide which word is correct:

  • he = who
  • him = whom

Wilms tumor


worldwide (but "World Wide Web")

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ZIP Code
"ZIP Code" is a registered trademark of the United States Postal Service.

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