IRA Style Guide

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a / an
Both a and an are indefinite articles that modify a singular noun. The sole difference between them has to do with the initial sound of the word that immediately follows the article: a precedes a consonant sound, and an precedes a vowel sound. Basic patterns:
    a banana | a cat | a devoted friend | an apple | an egg | an item on the shelf

1. Special problems occur when the initial letter and the initial sound of the following word do not follow the expected pattern. One example is a consonant that is not pronounced: an hour (cf. a house); an Yves St. Laurent shirt (cf. a yellow shirt)

2. The words history and historic pose a common problem: In American English the h is vocalized as a consonant; thus a history, a historic moment (not an historic moment).

3. Acronyms pose a similar set of questions in deciding between a and an. The first sound one hears in pronouncing the acronym determines which article to use: an FBI probe, an RRQ article (because these acronyms begin with vowel sounds /e/ and /a/); a BBC broadcast, a U.S. citizen (because these acronyms begin with consonant sounds /b/ and /y/).


aboriginal (see indigenous peoples)

absolute adjectives
An absolute adjective is one that cannot logically be intensified or compared. Common examples include pregnant, unique, equal, essential, eternal, and dead.  Only in the most ironic or figurative sense can someone be described as “slightly pregnant” or “extremely dead.” Likewise, one object cannot logically be “more eternal” than another, and the saying “some people are 'more equal' than others” makes sense only as a figure of speech. Unique is another good example: Because this word means “one of a kind,” such phrases as “very unique” make little sense.

acknowledgment (no e after the g)
across the curriculum (no hyphens)

acronyms and initialisms

add-on (adj. or noun. Verb is add on)


address styles
1. Post Office Style. This style should be used on mailing labels, envelopes, and other items for which Post Office Style is requested. All uppercase. Use standard 2-letter abbreviations for states and Canadian provinces; use standard postal service abbreviations for directions, street designations. Use no periods, commas, or other punctuation marks except hyphen between zip and plus 4 codes. Note the following example:

  PO BOX 8139
  NEWARK DE 19714-8139 USA

2. List or Column Style. This style is commonly used in lists, directories, promotional material, and other nonmailable items for which Post Office Style is not required. Initial caps only, with or without abbreviations (abbreviations—except for 2-letter state or provincial designations and the abbreviations USA and PO—are normally followed by a period). Each portion of the address begins a new line, usually flush left. Note the following example:

  International Reading Association
  800 Barksdale Rd.
  PO Box 8139
  Newark, DE 19714-8139, USA

3. Run-in Style. This style is used when an address is incorporated in running text, rather than set apart from it. Similar to List Style, above, except that portions of the address are separated by commas. Note the following example:For more information, please call 302-731-1600, extension 293, or write to the Public Information Office, International Reading Association, 800 Barksdale Road, PO Box 8139, Newark, DE 19714-8139, USA.

4. International Styles

ADHD = attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
ad hoc (no hyphen, no italic or underline)
ad hominem "     "     "
ad infinitum  "     "     "

An adjective is a word or group of words that modifies a noun. In the examples that follow, the noun is underlined and the adjective or adjective phrase is in italics.

single word
hyphenated phrase
prepositional phrase
subordinate clause
multiple modifiers

basic instruction
an instructor
well-chosen comments
teacher of reading
organization that promotes literacy
a middle
school that opened in 1922 in Chicago.

administration / Administration
According to WNWD, this word may be capitalized when used in reference to a presidency; but RH makes no such allowance. Our standard should be lowercase, with the capped form used only where necessary to avoid confusion: “Under Jefferson's administration the powers of the presidency were expanded.” But “During Wilson's presidency, members of Congress denounced Administration efforts to get the United States involved in the 'European war.'”

affect / effect
1. In all contexts except the social sciences (which include the fields of psychology and education), affect is always a verb meaning “to influence.” Effect is usually a noun meaning “a change, or the result of an influence.” Less often, effect can be a verb meaning “to bring about” or “to accomplish.”

    Researchers tested whether a larger type size would affect children's reading rate.
    The increased type size had a significant effect on children's reading rate.
    Changing physical characteristics of the text can effect a significant change in reading rate.

2. Within the specific context of the social sciences, especially psychology, affect has an additional, technical meaning, as a noun denoting a feeling or emotion.

    Researchers tested whether sustained silent reading of student-chosen texts would influence readers' affect and motivation.

African American (no hyphen, even as an adjective)
AFT = American Federation of Teachers
after-hours (hyphenate this temporary compound as adj. preceding its noun)
after-school program (hyphenate the adjective when it precedes its noun; otherwise, leave open)
afterward (adverb; not afterwards)
afterword (noun, part of a book)

aged / ages
Our sample comprised 100 children ages 5-9. (not aged 5-9)

1. Use numerals to denote ages, even those below 10. Theresa is 8 years old; Bonnie is 18.

2. Adjective constructions are hyphenated before the noun they modify: 7- and 8-year-old students. APA also calls for hyphenating noun constructions: 9-year-olds.

3. Decades printed in numeral form do not use apostrophes: a man in his 90s; a woman in her mid-30s

aide / aid
1. Aide is a noun referring to a person who assists. Thus, a nurse's aide is someone who assists a nurse, and a teacher's aide is a person who assists a teacher.

2. Aid can be any of the following:

  • a verb meaning “to help or give assistance.” Example: Jane Fonda is sometimes accused of aiding the enemy during the Vietnam War.
  • a noun meaning “help or assistance.” Example: Giving aid and comfort to an enemy is sometimes considered an act of treason.
  • a noun meaning “a tool, a help, or an object that provides assistance.” Example: A carefully assembled set of class notes can be a valuable aid in preparing for a final exam.

ALA = American Library Association

all right / alright
These two words are synonymous but not completely interchangeable: Alright has been considered nonstandard, “though it is increasingly seen . . . and could eventually become standard” (NYPL). Editors and writers of Association materials should reserve alright for only the most informal contexts.

all together / altogether
All together means everyone or everything in one place, or all of one mind. Altogether is an adverb meaning “completely.”

already / all ready
1. Already is an adverb meaning “before now,” or “by this time.”
 Example: She has already finished reading David Copperfield.

2. All ready is an adjective phrase meaning “completely prepared.”
 Example: Having studied carefully, Elise is all ready for the test.

ALSC = Association for Library Service to Children (a division of ALA)

although / though
These words are synonymous. They “may be used interchangeably in informal and formal writing, although many editors still prefer the longer form” (NYPL).

although / while
Though while is often used in the sense of “although,” such usage may result in ambiguity. Use while in this sense only if its meaning is unlikely to be mistaken for “at the same time.”

a.m., p.m. (lowercase or small caps, with periods)

America / American
In the the United States these words have been used widely and uncritically as synonyms for the United States and “of the United States.” This usage may be offensive to people of other North, Central, or South American nations who also view themselves as American. Authors and editors should use tact and discretion in employing these terms and consider whether other, less provocative terms would not serve as well.

America Reads
the America Reads Challenge
among (see between)

amount / number
Use number for masses whose components can be counted. Use amount for masses whose components cannot be counted. Similar rules govern the use of many/much, over/more than, and fewer/less.

     a large number of bills and coins  a large amount of money
     a number of different subjects    a large amount of information
     a number of bushels of apples     a certain amount of fruit

ampersand (&)
1. In text matter
other than parenthetical citations, ampersand (&), meaning "and," should not be used except as part of a formal company name (Harper & Row) or periodical title (Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literature). Thus, according to Downes and Miller (2003), that research should never have been published by Harper & Row.

2. In reference lists and parenthetical citations, & is used between joint authors or editors of a book, article, etc., or, in cases of three or more authors or editors, between the last two in the sequence (see reference list, style).

ANCOVA = Analysis of covariance. Results are expressed in an equation of the following form:
  F(1, 63) = 4.93, p  < .001

and / or
Use and/or only in casual writing. NYPL points out that in some constructions, and/or is ambiguous:

    a, b, and/or c  can mean  a + b + c, or a + (b or c) or (a or b) + c.

the Annual Convention (in IRA contexts, as the title of the event)
an annual convention (in all other contexts, or when modified by our, the Association's, this year's, etc.)
ANOVA = Analysis of variance

Compounds formed with the prefix anti- are normally closed (CMS 6.1):

    anticlimax      antisocial   antihero        antithesis

antisemitic (preferred to anti-Semitic; see Copy Editor, December 1997–January 1998, pp. 1, 7)

apostrophe, general rules (see <i>CMS</i> 7.19–7.23)
apostrophes and contractions
In a contraction, the apostrophe is placed where the letter(s) or numeral(s) have been elided. Example: “I can't understand why this book isn’t required reading for all sixth graders.” Note that in dates, any elided numerals are replaced by a single closed (curly) quote--the class of ’97--not a prime (') or a single open quote (‘).

apostrophes and plurals
1. Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of any noun: 

a dozen piano’s
a dozen pianos
a pound of potato’s
a pound of potatoes
the Smith’s and the Jones’
the Smiths and the Joneses

2. Use apostrophes to form plurals only of letters used as words, where omission of the apostrophe would cause misreading. Examples: “How many A’s did Christine receive last marking period? How many Fs?” “How many I’s are in the word Mississippi?”

apostrophes and possessives
1. The possessive form of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe + s. Examples: a book’s cover; a horse’s mouth; a word’s derivation; Charles’s journal; a year’s study

2. The possessive of plural nouns that end in s is formed by adding an apostrophe after the s. The possessive of plural nouns that do not end in s is formed by adding an apostrophe + s. Examples: the bees’ hive; the words’ meanings; the children’s homework; 2 years’ study.

3. Elaboration of and exceptions to these rules may be found in CMS 6.19-6.30.

apostrophes and primes
In printed matter, do not confuse a prime ' for an apostrophe ’. A prime is commonly used as a symbol of measurement (6' = 6 feet) or as a sign in mathematical text. For all the uses specified above, be sure you're using the “closed single curly-quote,” otherwise known as an apostrophe.

appendixes (not appendices)
a priori (no hyphen, no italic or underline)
apropos (no italic or underline)

The acronym ARA may stand for any of the following: Alabama Reading Association; Arizona Reading Association; Arkansas Reading Association; Austrian Reading Association. Use the acronym only when the context makes clear which organization is meant.

as / like (see like / as)
ASCD = Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
ASL = American Sign Language

as long as / so long as
According to M-WDEU, the subordinating constructions “as long as” and “so long as,” used in the sense of “provided,” are interchangeable and roughly equal in frequency. Thus, “I will wait as long as I can; but so long as you continue to love someone else, I cannot promise to wait forever.”

assist to
The constuction assist someone to (assist + direct object + infinitive) is nonstandard usage and should be avoided. Instead, use assist + direct object + in + gerund.) Thus the sentence “This book will assist teachers to create an open classroom” should be “This book will assist teachers in creating an open classroom.”

an associate
an associate professor
an association
a nonprofit association
the Association (i.e., IRA, in IRA contexts)

assure / ensure / insure
To assure means to make someone confident in the face of doubt. To ensure means to make certain. To insure means to guard against loss or failure. The following are examples of correct usage:

  • The principal assured Michael's parents that help would be available.

  • By “teaching to the test” some teachers try to ensure that a large percentage of students will receive a passing grade. But such teaching cannot insure students against future failure.

as well as
1. When used as a conjunction, this phrase joins coordinate elements (parallel in grammatical structure): She enjoys reading Shakespeare as well as listening to Mozart. She enjoys listening to the Beach Boys as well as to Bach.

2. When used in a comparison, as well as may be followed by a hidden clause. Examples:  “She loves Francis Bacon as well as I (love Francis Bacon).” Compare this to

“She loves Francis Bacon as well as (she loves) me.”

3. A singular subject followed by as well as usually requires a singular verb (NYPL p. 162): “Kathleen Roskos, as well as Barbara Walker and Dana Fox, has written extensively on the beliefs and attitudes of preservice teachers.” (Note the emphasis this construction gives to Roskos. To emphasize the equality of these three researchers, use the simple coordinate: “Kathleen Roskos, Barbara Walker, and Dana Fox have written . . . .”).

at-risk students (cf. students at risk)
audio book
audio cassette
audiotape (noun and verb)


Australia, states and territories

author names

an award
IRA awards and grants

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