Urban Institute Editorial
Style Guide

Use this editorial style guide when drafting or editing Urban Institute publications, particularly research briefs and reports. Guidelines are based on the Chicago Manual of Style and editorial best practices. If you have questions or feedback on style decisions, see the Frequently Asked Questions page or contact Editorial Services and Publications.


This edition of the Urban editorial style guide covers a lot more ground than the slim volume of guidance the Office of Publications printed nearly 15 years ago. A new Urban Names and Terms section references the Urban brand and defines the Urban acronyms that pepper our conversations. The A–Z revisits some earlier style decisions and introduces or expands on others. The Documentation section explains how to cite web-based content, including Urban’s digital features, policy debates, and data visualizations.

One topic this edition doesn’t address is how to refer to the many distinct groups that make up our increasingly diverse population. The Diversity and Inclusion Communications and Research Committee is developing guidance for using language that is respectful and inclusive, avoids perpetuation of stereotypes, acknowledges relevant historical and social contexts, and engages diverse audiences. Urban’s work on diversity goes far beyond word choices and includes development of inclusive, culturally competent research and communication processes. More information on these activities is available on the Urban intranet and in the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkits, which offer suggestions and guidance on respectful and inclusive writing and research design.

Urban Names and Terms

Our name appears in branded text (logos, decorative footers in documents, and so on), as “Urban Institute.” In run-in text (aka, regular paragraphs), you may use either “Urban Institute” or “the Urban Institute” (no need to capitalize “the”), but please use one consistently in each document.

Our accepted nickname/shortened name, “Urban,” may be used after our full name has been used. Our disclaimer language includes an example:
The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of Urban experts.
“UI” is no longer considered acceptable shorthand because it is commonly used for other terms (e.g., unemployment insurance, user interface).

Policy center and group names and nicknames

Names should appear in title caps, roman.

Center on Education Data and Policy (EDP)
Center on International Development and Governance (IDG)
Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population (LHP)
Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP)
Health Policy Center (HPC)
Housing Finance Policy Center (HFPC)
Income and Benefits Policy Center (IBP)
Justice Policy Center (JPC)
Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center (Metro)
Research to Action Lab (LAB)
Statistical Methods Group (SMG)
Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (Tax Policy Center, TPC)

Cross-Center Initiatives

Names should appear in title caps, roman. “Initiative” should appear, lowercased, after the name, unless the name includes “Initiative” or “Program.”

Building America’s Workforce
Community Economic Development Hub
Evidence-Based Policy Capacity
Inequality and Mobility
Kids in Context
Low-Income Working Families (LIWF)
Neighborhoods and Youth Development
Opportunity and Ownership (O+O)
Performance Measurement and Management
Program on Immigrants and Immigration
Program on Retirement Policy (PRP)
Social Determinants of Health
State and Local Finance Initiative (SLFI)
Tax Policy and Charities
Urban–Greater DC

Other major programs

Executive Office Research (EOR)
Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative (EBPC)
How Housing Matters
Pay for Success Initiative (PFSI)
Policies for Action (P4A)
US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty (the Partnership)



Dynamic Simulation of Income Model


Health Insurance Policy Simulation Model


National Survey of America’s Families


Transfer Income Model, version 3


Capitalize in stand-alone text and before a name, lowercase after a name (except proper nouns). Titles for employees working less than full time can have "intermittent" appended to the front and are otherwise the same. When in doubt, check with the employee.

Institute research fellow; intermittent research fellow
communications manager
policy program manager
project manager, senior project manager
senior communications manager, senior government affairs manager
policy analyst, policy assistant, policy associate
research analyst, research assistant, research associate
senior policy associate, senior policy fellow, senior research associate, senior research fellow
Richard B. Fisher chair (currently held by Gene Steuerle)

Titles of center vice presidents and department directors vary in construction based on context. In running text, use director of research programming, vice president for health policy, director of strategic communications, vice president for international development and governance, vice president for labor, human services, and population.
In standalone text (such as next to photos), use Vice President, Metropolitan Housing and Communities, Director, Editorial Services and Publications, Vice President, International Development and Governance, Director, Data Visualization.

Personal names

Sarah Rosen Wartell
John Rogers
Margery Austin Turner
Nani A. Coloretti

Alphabetical Guide to Spelling and Distinctive Treatment of Words

000 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

(See also Chicago Manual of Style, Chapter 7; and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary [10th edition].)

000 ^

401(k) [lowercase k]
9/11 [or September 11th]

A ^

academic degrees
acute care [noun, adjective]
administration, Obama administration
after-school [adjective]
amendment, Boren amendment
amid [not amidst]
among [not amongst]
and [not “&,” unless it is part of an organization’s formal name]
but anti-integration, anti-immigration
appendix A
assembly, state assembly
at-risk population(s)

B ^

baby boomers [not Baby Boomers]
benefited, benefiting
Bible/Rust/Sun Belt
H.R. 1863
S. 793
birth weight [noun], birth-weight [adjective]
Black-white gap [not Black/white gap]—see Formatting and Punctuation guidelines
blind spot
breakout [noun, adjective], break out [verb]

C ^

Career Centers
carve-outs, carve-out services
caseload, caseworker
cash flow
Census [when referring to a particular year: the 1990 Census], census [when using the term more generically: census data, census questions]
certificate-of-need [adjective]
check box
checkup [noun], check up [verb]
child care [no hyphen]
cleanup [noun], clean up [verb]
coauthor [noun; avoid using as a verb]
coleader but co-led
coprincipal (investigator)
but co-occur, co-occurrence
colons—see Formatting and Punctuation guidelines
commas—see Formatting and Punctuation guidelines
Commonwealth of Virginia (of Massachusetts)
comprehensive-plan HMOs
Congress, congressional
coronavirus disease
The official name is coronavirus disease 2019, which can be abbreviated as COVID-19. Using the novel coronavirus is also acceptable, but we recommend using the specific term. correlate with [not to]
cost-containment [adjective]
but crosscutting
cutoff [noun, modifier], cut off [verb]

D ^

data [plural]
The data are updated annually.
database, dataset
data sharing [noun], data-sharing [adjective]
day care [noun, modifier]
but de-escalate
decisionmaker, decisionmaking [noun, modifier]
down payment
driver's license
drop-off [noun], drop off [verb]
dropout [noun], drop out [verb]
dual-generation strategies
dual-eligible people

E ^

e.g., [use in parentheses and tables; use “for example” in text.] Do not italicize.
et al. [use in parentheses, tables, and citations; use “and others” or “and colleagues” in text] Do not italicize.
etc. [use in parentheses and tables; use “and so on” in text.] Do not italicize.

F ^

fact sheet
families who... [not that...]
fax [lowercase]
federal [lowercase in all uses except as part of a formal name: He works for the Federal Housing Administration. This is a federal matter.]
federal poverty guidelines/level/thresholds
Urban style recommends using federal poverty level (FPL) when writing about poverty generally and to a broad audience. Federal poverty guidelines and federal poverty thresholds are better suited to more technical writing, where such precision is important. Avoid using such phrases as “50 percent of poverty”; use “50 percent of the federal poverty level,” “50 percent of FPL,” or “50 percent of the poverty level.”
figure 1
first-time [adjective]
firsthand[adjective, adverb]
focused, focusing
Food Stamp program, food stamps [Food Stamps as a program]
fourth-lowest [modifier]
free and reduced-price meals/breakfast/lunch
frontline [adjective], front line [noun]
full-time [adjective], full time [adverb]: She is a full-time worker; she works full time.
fundraiser, fundraising

G ^

general-fund expenditures [hyphenated to avoid ambiguity]
Generation X/Y, Gen Xer
geo-code, geo-coding
Gini coefficient
giveaway [noun], give away [verb]
Governor Christie, the governor
grade point average
grassroots [adjective]
Great Recession

H ^

handout [noun], hand out [verb]
hard-line [adjective]
health care [noun, adjective]
high-risk [adjective]
high-rise [noun, adjective]
a historical study [not an historical study], a hotel
home- and community-based waivers, services
home health [no hyphen]
homeowner, homeownership
homeowners policy [no apostrophe]
home page
House [US House of Representatives], state house
See Formatting and Punctuation

I ^

i.e., [use in parentheses and tables; use “that is” in text.] Do not italicize.
use a space between two initials: T. S. Eliot
in-migrant, in-migration
inner city [noun], inner-city [adjective]
the problems of the inner city, inner-city problems
insurance seekers
internet [lowercase]

J ^


K ^


L ^

large-group [adjective]
last-resort [adjective]
laws: Pub. L. No. 104-193
name or number? A law may be referred to in at least three ways: by its number, by its section in the US code, or by its formal or informal name. Use whichever one you think your audience is more familiar with, and be consistent.
Pub L. No. 89-73, or 79 Stat. 218 (1965) or Older Americans Act of 1965.

layoff [noun], lay off [verb]
legislature, state legislature
lifelong, lifestyle
limited English proficient
lists—see Formatting and Punctuation guidelines
long term [noun], long-term [adjective]
low-birth-weight [adjective]
low-income [adjective]
low–down payment [adjective; low modifies the compound noun down payment]
but very low–income, extremely low–income
lower-income [adjective], lower income [noun]
lump-sum [adjective]

M ^

managed care [noun], managed-care [adjective]
markup [noun], mark up [verb]
Marketplace [when referring to the state and federal markets created by the Affordable Care Act]
media [plural]
The news media are reporting it.
Medicaid wraparound
Metro lines and stations
Red line train
Foggy Bottom station
minority-occupied [adjective]
multibillion, multimillion
(but multi-tiered)

N ^

N [the entire dataset]
n [subset of the dataset]
noncompliant, noncompliance
nonrespondent, nonresponse
nonviolence, nonviolent
number-one priority [not #1 priority; also try first priority]
nursing care [no hyphen]
nursing home [no hyphen]

O ^

on-site [adjective], on site [adverb]
The program offers on-site technical support; the program offers technical support on site.
out-migrate, out-migration

P ^

p value
part-time [adjective], part time [adverb]
She is a part-time worker; she works part time
pass-through [adjective]
payer [not payor]
pay for success [lowercase, no hyphens when used as an adjective]
Pell grant
percent versus percentage—see Numbers
per capita [adjective]
phase in [verb]. Avoid using as a noun, but hyphenate when you do: phase-in
phaseout [noun] phase out [verb]
policymaker, policymaking [noun, adjective]
prekindergarten [pre-K in tables]
but pre-judicial [as in before an official hearing]
primary care
private-sector [adjective]
probability-level notes
Promise Neighborhoods program
pro rata [adjective]

Q ^

quasi- [adjective forms]
quasi- [noun forms]
quasi corporation

R ^

randomized controlled trials [not randomized control trials]
rate-setting [adjective]
but re-create [create again], re-sent [sent again]
risk-adjustment [adjective]
road map
rollout [noun], roll out [verb]

S ^

safety net [noun, adjective], social service safety net
School-to-Work program
Section 1115 (or 1915) waiver, an 1115 waiver
Senate [US Senate], state senate
setback [noun], set back [verb]
slowdown [noun], slow down [verb]
small-employer [adjective]
small-group [adjective]
Social Security [Administration, benefits, number]
stand-alone [adjective], stand alone [verb]
start-up [noun], start up [verb]
state-administered, state-funded [adjective]
state insurance commissioner
state-only program

T ^

table 1
tax-exempt [adjective]
third-party [adjective]
time frame
toll-free [adjective]
toward [not towards]
trade-off [noun], trade off [verb]
traveled, traveling

U ^

underreported, underresourced
under way [adverb]
The program is under way.
up-front [adjective], up front [adverb]
up-front costs; costs paid up front
US [adjective and noun],
US jobs; jobs in the US

V ^

versus (vs.)

W ^

wait-list [verb], waiting list [noun]
War on Poverty, War on Drugs
Ward 8, Wards 7 and 8, ward-specific data
web page
welfare leavers, welfare stayers
work-first [adjective]
workforce, workplace
workers compensation [no apostrophe]
World Wide Web
wraparound [adjective]

X ^

Xerox [brand name; preferred term is photocopy]

Y ^


Z ^

zip code

Frequently Used Acronyms and Abbreviations

Use an acronym only if the term it stands for appears five or more times in the publication. Define acronyms in the executive summary and in the main body of the text. Once an acronym has been defined, it can be used interchangeably with its definition to avoid excessive repetition or awkward constructions (e.g., an acronym as the first word in a sentence or a paragraph).


Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act


American Community Survey


adjusted gross income


American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009


American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012


Bureau of Labor Statistics


Congressional Budget Office


Child Care and Development Block Grant


Child Care and Development Fund


Community Development Block Grant


community development corporation


community development financial institution


Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


Children’s Health Insurance Program (called SCHIP, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, from 1997 to 2009)


Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services


cost-of-living adjustment


consumer price index


Current Population Survey


Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement


Community Reinvestment Act


Emergency Assistance


earned income tax credit


Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (better known as Freddie Mac)


Federal National Mortgage Association (better known as Fannie Mae)


federal poverty level


General Assistance


US Department of Health and Human Services


Home Mortgage Disclosure Act


Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program


Local Initiatives Support Corporation


modified adjusted gross income


metropolitan statistical area


National Institutes of Health


National Institute of Justice


Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance


Office of Personnel Management


pay for success


Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996


public housing agency (agencies)


post-traumatic stress disorder


Survey of Income and Program Participation


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program)


Social Services Block Grant


Supplemental Security Income


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC)


Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017


unemployment insurance


Workforce Investment Act (replaced by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2013)


Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

Formatting and Punctuation


Colons are used only after a phrase that functions as a complete sentence, not merely to indicate the presence of a list (e.g., Several vulnerable groups will be affected: infants, single mothers, and those with incomes below 200 percent of FPL). [Incorrect: The survey covers: Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.]


Commas are used between clauses separated by conjunctions unless the clauses are short or closely related.
Use commas around parenthetical elements or nonrestrictive clauses.
Serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma): Three or more items in a list should be separated by commas:
decisionmakers, policymakers, and the general public.

Dashes, Slashes, and Hyphens

En dashes (–) are used mainly to connect number ranges: 1997–2001. En dashes should not be used if “from” precedes the first number (from 2:00–4:00); use “to” instead (from 2:00 to 4:00).

En dashes are also used when a prefix applies to both parts of a compound adjective (post–welfare reform eligibility rules) or when one part of a compound adjective is itself an open compound or proper noun (Donald Trump–style rhetoric).

Em dashes (—) are used to indicate sudden breaks in thought: I sent the draft to the funder last Friday—or was it Thursday?
Em dashes are also used to set off an explanation or expansion, in place of parentheses: Four states—Alabama, Alaska, New Mexico, and West Virginia—had December unemployment rates above 6.0 percent.

Em dashes can also be used, sparingly, to indicate emphasis: The $384 billion to support asset development in 2013 primarily benefited higher-income families—exacerbating wealth inequality and racial wealth disparities. This usage is more appropriate for blog posts and website content than for research products.

Hyphens are used to connect prefixes and suffixes to root words (anti-intellectual; system-wide) as well as to link words that form a unit modifier (low-income families). Generally, Urban follows Chicago 7.89, which prescribes a spare hyphenation style: if no suitable example can be found in 7.89 or in Merriam-Webster’s, hyphens should be added only if doing so will prevent a misreading or otherwise significantly aid comprehension (i.e., prefer closed forms, such as nonviolent, microsimulation, and coauthor). Use two hyphens when forming a unit modifier using an ordinal, superlative, and noun or adjective: The second-lowest-cost plan. The third-most-segregated region.

Following Chicago 6.105–113, a slash (/) most commonly signifies alternatives. In certain contexts, it is a convenient (if somewhat informal) shorthand for or.
he/she; his/her; and/or


Use a space between two initials: T. S. Eliot


Run short lists into text. If list items are simple, no lettering or numbering is necessary. If list items are complex, or if you plan to refer to items by their place in the list, use numbers:
(1), (2), (3), [not (a), (b), (c)].
If the list is long, set as excerpt.

The punctuation and capitalization of lists depends on whether the list items are complete sentences and whether the list is introduced by a complete sentence.

Example 1: the list is introduced by a complete sentence, and each list item is a complete sentence.

These and other findings informed a set of principles that guided task force deliberations:

  • Sentencing decisions and correctional interventions should be individualized.
  • Correctional policy should improve public safety.
  • Incarceration, with its attendant costs to both those in prison and taxpayers, should be employed judiciously.
  • Data and research should guide practice.
  • Reforms should both address prison growth and improve public safety outcomes.

In this example, the list items start with a capital letter and end with a period. The introductory sentence ends with a colon, but it could also end with a period.

Example 2: the list is introduced by an incomplete sentence, and each list item is a complete sentence.

Between 1985 and 2014,

  • convictions in US courts nearly doubled from 40,924 to 76,835, and
  • the probability of receiving a term of incarceration at sentencing increased dramatically from 50 to 90 percent.

In this example, the list items are finishing the sentence that starts with “Between 1985 and 2014,” and are capitalized and punctuated accordingly. If the list items have internal punctuation—for example, if the first bullet were “convictions nearly doubled from 40,924 to 76,835, an increase of X percent”—then every list item except the last would end with a semicolon instead of a comma.

Example 3: the list is introduced by a complete sentence, and each list item is an incomplete sentence. Here, list items are lowercased and have no punctuation at the end.

Your application must include the following documents:

  • a full résumé
  • three letters of recommendation
  • all your diplomas, from high school to graduate school

Names and Terms

Common Nouns

Capitalize common nouns such as party, river, street, and west when they are an integral part of the full name for a place or thing, even in plural uses.
Democratic Party; Mississippi River; West Texas
Democratic and Republican Parties; Fairfax and Loudoun Counties; Main and State Streets

Regions and Places

Terms that denote regions of the world or of a particular country are often capitalized, as are a few of the adjectives and nouns derived from such terms.
the Eastern Seaboard, East Coast; east, eastern, eastward (directions)
the Great Plains
the Midwest, midwestern, a midwesterner
the North, northern, a northerner

Cases and Court Decisions

Set case names, including the “v.,” roman in notes (short forms in subsequent citations are italicized). Case names mentioned in running text are italicized.
The Supreme Court announced its decision in the King v. Burwell case in June 2015.
Less than a day after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court issues its decision in Bush v. Gore.

  1. King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. __ (2015).
  2. Bush v. Gore 531 U.S. 98 (2000).
  3. McClutchen v. US Department of Health and Human Services, 30 F.3d 183 (1994).
  4. Bush, 531 U.S. at 99.
  5. McClutchen, 30 F. 3d at 183–84.

Names of Federal Departments and Agencies

Use the full name, including the US, on first use:
US Department of Agriculture/Commerce/Justice
Preferred shorthand are the acronyms, which can be introduced in parentheses at the end of the full name:
US Department of Agriculture (USDA), US Department of Transportation (DOT)
Avoid inside-the-Beltway shorthands like “State,” “Commerce,” and “Labor,” which could be read as concepts rather than names. Exceptions to this rule are “Treasury,” which can’t be shortened to DOT, and “Homeland Security,” which is more easily recognizable as a shortened name.

Formal Titles

Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name, but not after:
President Sarah Rosen Wartell; Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute, is a public policy executive and housing markets expert
Senator Mike Lee; Senator Lee; Mike Lee, the senior senator from Utah

Capitalize formal titles when not run into text, such as when they appear next to a photo on an author page.

A photo of Urban Institute president Sarah Rosen Wartell with her name and title, written as 'President, Urban Institute.' 'President' is capitalized.


Numerals versus Words

Chicago has more than 50 rules on this topic, and it’s difficult to know which rule takes precedence when. Urban editors follow these general rules.

  • Spell out zero through nine in nontechnical contexts; use numerals for all other numbers up to 1 million.
  • Use numbers for ages, percentages, and ratios (even zero through nine).
  • Spell out larger numbers when they are used in the approximate sense: About a hundred soldiers were killed. Use numerals for precise large numbers: The sample included 30,412 men and 30,412 women.
  • Spell out any number when it is the first word in a sentence: Twenty-three people refused to answer.
  • Treat similar numbers similarly. Numbers in the same category should be treated alike within the same context: 5 boys and 16 girls in three states. “Within the same context” usually means in the same paragraph.

The rest of this section lists examples for particular kinds of numbers.


children ages 2 to/through 6, 9 to/through 15 (not aged 2 to/through 6), between the ages of 9 and 15
Use en dashes when providing age ranges in tables
24 years old, 11 months old, a 34-year-old woman, a 5-year-old
older than 65, younger than 50 (not over 65, under 50)
Try to avoid such constructions as “age 0–5”; use “from birth to age 5” instead.
More general terms (“in his thirties”) are allowed, but consider context (e.g., blog post or web feature versus scholarly report).


1990s (use an “s” without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries), the sixties
October 6, 1993; October 1993; April 17 (not April 17th)
FY 1995, FY 1997–99, FY 1999–2001
20th century
shorthand for important events: 9/11


Simple fractions are spelled out and hyphenated (see Fractions below). Large or complex fractions are expressed as decimal fractions.

Always place a zero before the decimal to improve readability. This is particularly important if numbers greater than 1.00 appear in the same context.
The federal interest rate increased from 0.88 to 1.12 percent.

This is also true of scientific values, even when quantities can only logically equal 1.00 or less, such as in probabilities and correlation coefficients.
A mean of 0.83
A ratio of 0.85
p < 0.05
R = 0.10

A zero is customarily omitted in special circumstances where it would be illogical, such as firearm calibers.
The suspect is armed with a .38 pistol.


Hyphenate as both adjective and noun:
a two-thirds majority; two-thirds of those present

“One-quarter” is generally preferred to “one-fourth,” but treat similar fractions similarly:
One-fourth of students and one-fifth of teachers in County X are male.


Spell out one through nine, but treat low and high numbers similarly:
grades one through five; grades 9–12; grades 1–12
The same rule applies to ordinals:
first grade; 10th grade; from 8th to 12th grade; a ninth-grader

Large Numbers

2,000 (use comma)
5 million (not 5,000,000)
5 billion (not 5,000,000,000)

Monetary Amounts

$10 [not 10 dollars]
$5 million [not 5 million dollars]
Currency with dates and countries: $(2012)45,000; US$45,000; US$(2012)45,000

Percent and Percentage

“Percent” is one word.
As an adverb (meaning “of one hundred”), percent cannot be the subject of a sentence. Percentage is a noun. (To avoid repetition, try “share” or “rate” instead.)
9 percent (spell out “percent,” even in parentheses; use numeral before the word “percent”)
15 to 20 percent (in text) [not 15 percent to 20 percent]
Within a table, % can stand for either percent or percentage.


Within text, it is not always necessary to repeat “million” for ranges, but consider the context. For something like, “the program will cost $5 to $8 million,” repeating the “million” is probably not necessary if the program could not possibly cost just $5. However, if the text has been jumping in ranges, from hundreds to thousands to millions, then it is probably best to repeat the “million.”

When defining data ranges (bins) for figures and tables, refer first to Jon Schwabish’s Urban Wire post. How you structure your bins and display your data profoundly affects how your visualizations are interpreted, and any discussion of how to label those bins should be informed by the issues he raises.

If you are working with discrete variables (such as SAT scores, numbers of people, and so forth), simply use en dashes to define each range. Because values can’t fall between the ranges defined, the values don’t need to overlap, and all possible values fall clearly into a bin.

If you are working with continuous variables (such as average SAT scores, average ages, or percentages), provide inequalities for your top and bottom bins unless they must be bounded to avoid confusion. Other bins take en dashes, and each bin should begin with the value the previous bin ended with. The bins will appear to overlap, but the inequality allows readers to infer into which bin a value falls. Here, for example, 10.0% falls into bin 2, 20.0% falls into bin 3, and so on:
< 10%
≥ 90%

If your top and bottom bins must be bounded, use en dashes for all data ranges, and again begin each bin with the value that the previous bin ended with. Include a note with your figure or table to clarify to readers how you have structured your bins. The note should read “Where data ranges appear to overlap, each range includes its lower bound and excludes its upper bound.” (Switch “includes” and “excludes” depending on how you have structured your bins.)

When displaying ranges in figures and tables, there is no need to repeat the symbols:
$6–8 million


A 3:1 ratio

A student-teacher ratio of 20:1



Permissible Changes to Quotations

Minor punctuation and capitalization changes are generally allowed to make a quotation fit into the syntax of the surrounding text. These changes include capitalizing (or lowercasing) the first letter of the quote and changing double quotation marks to single (or vice versa).

An ellipsis may be used at the beginning or end of a quotation to indicate that the person being quoted hesitates before speaking or does not complete his or her thought. It should not be used merely to indicate that other words precede and follow the quotation in its original context.

Block Quotations/Excerpts

Set off text excerpts of a hundred words or more or quotations of any length from interviews. Block quotations are not enclosed in quotation marks.

If italics have been added, specify; [Jones 1996, emphasis added].

If paragraphs occur within a continuous block, the first paragraph should have no indent, but subsequent paragraphs should be marked by indents rather than extra leading.

Use brackets to indicate missing or illegible words or to clarify an ambiguity. In the latter case, use the bracketed text instead of, not in addition to, the ambiguous word(s): [the nurse] said; not she [the nurse] said.


The Urban Institute uses parenthetical author-date citations and a corresponding reference list in research publications. Each entry in the reference list is mentioned in the text, and all works cited in the text should appear in the reference list. Works not cited in the text may appear in a list of additional readings, but they should not be included in the formal reference list.

Notes versus Reference Lists: Which Sources Go Where?

Notes: blog posts, legal citations, magazine articles (print or online), newspaper articles (print or online), personal communications (e.g., e-mails, interviews), press releases, web pages and other website content, and other informally published work (i.e., work without an easily identifiable author, publication date, city of publication, or publisher).

Reference lists: books, chapters in books, dissertations/theses, journal articles, papers or presentations from meetings, PDFs posted on websites, research briefs and papers, testimonies, and working papers.

Note: In the interest of shorter reference lists, URLs for PDFs posted on websites may be embedded inside the publication title in reference list rather than provided in full at the end of the citation.

Author-Date Citations and Reference Lists

The primary reference guide for Urban Institute publications is the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition (2017), figure 15.1, with some variations.

Author-Date Citations in the Text

  • References are cited in the text by the author-date style, with no comma between author and date: (Buckley and Mayo 1987).
  • If available, page numbers or other locators should be included in the parenthetical citation, not the reference list entry: (Hou and Smith 2006, 28; Johnson and Gosselin 2018, figure 1).
  • For references with four or more authors, use the name of the first author and then et al. However, if two references would shorten to the same form by using et al. (e.g., Haring, Bricker, White, and Jackson 1980 and Haring, Liberty, White, and Bricker 1980 would both become Haring et al. 1980), use as many authors’ names as necessary to make citation clear, followed by et al. (e.g., the above would be, respectively, Haring, Bricker, et al. 1980 and Haring, Liberty, et al. 1980). The reference list should provide all authors’ names.
  • All references cited in the text should agree with the information in the reference list. Check to make sure there are no spelling, date, or pagination inconsistencies.
  • Government agencies, organizations, or corporations as authors: For the sake of shorter parenthetical citations, an abbreviation may be used as the author in place of the full organization name (e.g., NFHA 2012). In such cases, the reference entry is alphabetized under that abbreviation, not the spelled-out name: NFHA (National Fair Housing Alliance). 2012.
  • If there is no author, use the first few words of the entry as it appears in the reference list; usually this logical unit is a title (e.g., “Development of the Housing Sector in Hungary” 1990; or Economic Times 1990).
  • When more than one reference is cited in the text parenthetically, arrange the citations in the order corresponding to that in the reference list (i.e., alphabetically by surname, chronologically within references by one author, earliest work first).
  • For citations in which the same senior author appears in various works as a solo author and a coauthor, the single-author cites come first chronologically, earliest work first, followed by multiple-author cites. The two- and three-author cites should be arranged alphabetically following the first author in each cite, with each cite separated by a semicolon (e.g., Liberty 1987, 1990; Liberty and Haring 1989; Liberty, Haring, and White 1990; Liberty, White, and Bricker 1988).
  • For works by the same author or authors published in the same year, use a, b, c, and so on, immediately after the year in the author-date citation to distinguish the references (e.g., Struyk and Ravicz 1992a).

Reference Lists

Reference lists should be arranged according to the following guidelines:

  1. Alphabetize by surname of first author.
  2. For works by the same author, follow these criteria:
    1. Date of publication, with earlier work placed first
    2. Surname of second author (or third, if second authors are the same, etc.).
  3. Use three em dashes followed by a period (———.) in place of author(s) in reference list to indicate successive cites by the same author(s). Do not use the rule if only some authors are repeated or if new authors are added to the repeated ones.
  4. Provide first and last names for all authors and editors.

Reference Styles for Urban Products

Blog Posts (cite in notes, not reference list)

  1. Erica Greenberg, “The political future of public preschool,” Urban Wire (blog), Urban Institute, October 27, 2015, http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/political-future-public-preschool.

Policy Debates (cite in notes, not reference list)

The entire debate:

  1. Teresa Derrick-Mills, Karon Rosa, Vanessa Freytag, Ricardo Estrada, Linda Chappel, and Tonya Williams, “Bridging the Gap between Child Care and Workforce Development,” Urban Institute, February 8–10, 2016, http://www.urban.org/debates/bridging-gap-between-child-care-and-workforce-development.

One post in the debate:

  1. Karon Rosa to “Bridging the Gap between Child Care and Workforce Development,” Urban Institute, February 8, 2016, 4:57 p.m., http://www.urban.org/debates/bridging-gap-between-child-care-and-workforce-development.

Research Briefs and Informal or Working Papers

Rueben, Kim, Sarah Gault, and Sandy Baum. 2016. “Strengthening Federal Student Aid: A Closer Look at Pell Formulas with Two Inputs.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Research Reports

Koulish, Jeremy. 2015. From Camps to Campaign Funds: The History, Anatomy, and Activities of 501(c)(4) Organizations. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Website Data Visualizations, Features, and Interactives (cite in notes, not reference list)

  1. Julia Gelatt, Devlin Hanson, and Heather Koball, “How Immigrants Are Reshaping Residential Segregation,” Urban Institute, July 2015, http://datatools.urban.org/features/ncdb/immigrants-reshaping-residential-segregation/index.html.

Reference Styles for non-Urban Products


A standard reference entry for a book should contain the following information:

Author, First, Second Author, and Third Author. Year of Publication. Book Title Italicized. City of Publication, STATE (two-letter) or COUNTRY (three-letter) abbreviation: Publisher.

If the city of publication is a major US city (e.g., Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City) or a major international city or capital (London, Paris, Tokyo, etc., as well as Sydney and Geneva), the state or country abbreviation may be omitted. This is also true if the publisher’s name contains the state (Albany: State University of New York Press).
Additional information (editor or editors, page numbers, edition, etc.) should be supplied as needed. See examples below.

Single author: Burman, Leonard E. 1999. The Labyrinth of Capital Gains Tax Policy: A Guide for the Perplexed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Multiple authors: Burman, Leonard E., and Joel Slemrod. 2012. Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press.

Editor(s) in place of author: Peters, H. Elizabeth, and Clair Kamp Dush, eds. 2009. Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chapter in an edited book: Boris, Elizabeth T., and C. Eugene Steuerle. 2006. “Scope and Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector.” In The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, 2nd ed., edited by Walter W. Powell and Richard Steinberg, 66–88. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Urban Institute Press book: Cordes, Joseph J., and C. Eugene Steuerle. 2008. Nonprofits and Business. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

One volume in multivolume work: Fryer, Roland G., Jr. 2011. “Racial Inequality in the 21st Century: The Declining Significance of Discrimination.” In Handbook of Labor Economics, vol. 4, edited by Orley Ashenfelter and David Card, 855–972. New York: North Holland.

Numbered edition: Halpern, Diane F. 2012. Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities. 4th ed. New York: Psychology Press.

Reports, Papers, and Briefs

Report: Finn, Peter. 2001. Citizen Review of Police: Approaches and Implementation. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Report (with abbreviated in-text citation): CBO (Congressional Budget Office). 2013. Rising Demand for Long-Term Services and Supports for Elderly People. Washington, DC: CBO.

Report (with a report number): Bracmort, Kelsi. 2013. Wildfire Management: Federal Funding and Related Statistics. Report R43077. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

Working paper: Murray, Sheila, and Kim Rueben. 2007. “School Finance over Time: How Changing Structures Affect Support for K–12 Education.” Policy Working Paper WP07SM1. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Brief: Bloom, Howard, Larry Orr, George Cave, Stephen H. Bell, and Fred Doolittle. 1993. “The National JTPA Study: Title IIA Impacts on Earnings and Employment at 18 Months.” Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates.

Brief (with abbreviated in-text citation): GAO (US Government Accountability Office). 2014. “State and Local Governments’ Fiscal Outlook.” Washington, DC: GAO.

Journal Articles

Tuladhar, Sugandha D., W. David Montgomery, and Noah Kaufman. 2015. “Environmental Policy for Fiscal Reform: Can a Carbon Tax Play a Role?“ National Tax Journal 68 (1): 179–94.

Wernman, Aaron, and Steven M. Teutsch. 2015. “Health in All Policies for Big Cities.” Journal of Public Health Management Practice 21 (Suppl 1): S56–S65.

Cook, Philip J., Jens Ludwig, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Anthony A. Braga. 2007. “Underground Gun Markets.” Economic Journal 117:558–88.

Unpublished Material

Paper presented at a meeting: Koulish, Jeremy, and Margaret A. Post. 2014. “Advocacy Trends in 501(c)(4) Organizations: A Study of Social Welfare Organizations and Their Advocacy Activities.” Paper presented at ARNOVA annual conference, Denver, CO, November 20–22.

PowerPoint presentation: Cohen, Marc A. 2014. “The Current State of the Long-Term Care Insurance Market.” Presentation given at the 14th Annual Intercompany Long-Term Care Insurance Conference, Orlando, FL, March 16–19.

Testimony with title: Burman, Leonard E. 2014. “Policies to Support the Middle Class.” Statement before the US Senate Committee on Finance, Washington, DC, March 13.

Testimony without title: Lawrence, Daniel. 2015. Statement before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, DC, May 7.

Personal communications/interviews: Cite in text (or in an existing Notes section). Citation should give the full name of the letter writer or person interviewed (unless it appears in the text), the description of the communication, and as exact a date as possible (e.g., Frank D. Bean, letter to the author, February 15, 1988. or Bean, Frank D. Interview by author. London, 4 February 1989).

Legal Matter

Laws, statutes, bills, resolutions, and regulations should be cited in notes. Bills or joint resolutions that have been signed into law—“public laws,” or statutes—are first published separately, as slip laws, and then collected in the annual bound volumes of the United States Statutes at Large (abbreviated in legal style as Stat.), where they are referred to as session laws. Later they are incorporated into the United States Code (USC).

The Federal Register is a legal newspaper published every business day by the National Archives and Records Administration. It contains federal agency regulations; proposed rules and notices; and executive orders, proclamations, and other presidential documents. The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government. It is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation. Each volume of the CFR is updated once each calendar year and is issued quarterly.

  1. Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 (2002).
  2. Homeland Security Act of 2002, 6 USC § 101 (2002).
  3. Proclamation No. 8214, 73 Fed. Reg. 1439 (Jan. 8, 2008).
  4. Exec. Order No. 11, 609, 3 CFR 586 (1971–75).

Website Content

Website content, including blog entries, should be cited in notes. Include an author and date of publication or last revision if available. If no such date is available, include an access date. Never simply provide a URL.

  1. “Loan Programs,” Alaska Department of Commerce, accessed February 18, 2016, https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded/FIN/LoanPrograms.
  2. Timothy Howard, “Risk Sharing, or Not,” Howard on Mortgage Finance (blog), March 9, 2016, https://howardonmortgagefinance.com/2016/03/09-risk-sharing-or-not/.

Online Resources

Chicago Manual of Style
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
The Chicago Manual of Style Q&A: information on some of the finer points of the Chicago Manual’s treatment of style and grammar
Grammar Girl podcast


This style guide was written and edited by Fiona Blackshaw, Elizabeth Forney, David Hinson, Michael Marazzi, and Daniel Matos. It was formatted by Michael Marazzi, based on a Bootstrap design customized by Ben Chartoff and Tim Meko.

We are grateful for the insights of our researcher style group, which included Gina Adams, Pam Blumenthal, Stan Dorn, Lionel Foster, Signe-Mary McKernan, Colleen Owens, Kate Villarreal, Roberton Williams, and Mary Winkler.

Have a question or looking for more help? Contact Michael Marazzi or Fiona Blackshaw.

Photo from Shutterstock