EPA Communications Stylebook: Introduction

Last revised 2009

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This stylebook is intended to help you, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff, to prepare and review Agency communications. Our main focus is to guide the style, format and presentation of EPA's content and communications.

The EPA Stylebook provides guidance for most media, including print documents, audiovisual, broadcast, presentation and exhibit work. It does not directly address news media, such as news releases. Consult separate guides about correspondence and Web design.

We also provide several templates and samples, reference documents, copyright requirements and information on training courses, as well as information about publishing software, the general form of a publication, required forms and processes. This stylebook outlines basic standards and some detailed guidance to help you create high-quality communications, notably including standards for the creation and use of logos.

The 2009 edition represents the first major update of EPA style and formatting in many years. This edition is a basic set of standards and guidelines, which periodically will be updated to keep pace with changes in conventions and technology.

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In early 2008, EPA's Deputy Administrator directed that an Agency-wide workgroup be formed to:

  1. examine Agency procedure and policy to develop a consistent approach to creating and producing communications;
  2. determine if the need for EPA to speak with one clear, consistent voice could be enhanced in visual and written public communications across the board and through the diverse range of EPA activities and diverse range of audiences with whom we communicate; and
  3. suggest and implement recommendations based upon that examination and determination.

Coordinated by EPA's Office of Public Affairs, the committee included representatives from nearly every major program and region across the Agency. Our recommendations can be summarized as an effort to achieve the three workgroup goals through the creation of this stylebook. This book provides a uniform set of standards, so you do not need to revisit basic considerations with every new project. With basic considerations a given, you can direct your attention to more creative and focused aspects of your work.

We did our best to follow our own rules. This stylebook is written in plain language. Much of the stylebook's contents relate to EPA and Government Printing Office (GPO) policy and must be followed as rules. Other contents of the stylebook are simply suggestions for you, fellow Agency communicators, to follow to create stronger communication materials.

Adhering to this stylebook's criteria for basic design and writing will help you:

  • move more readily to decisions about substantive content, audience and media targeting and effective/creative presentation;
  • reduce the need for more costly outside services by increasing in-house efficiency;
  • standardize formats and sizes of products;
  • economize on graphics and printing costs; and
  • reduce waste and redundancy through common, centralized procedures.

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Inclusions and Exceptions

The standards, practices and guidelines in the stylebook are directly applicable to the design and writing of:

  • Audiovisual, video and motion picture presentations
  • Handbooks and manuals
  • Brochures, leaflets, pamphlets and posters
  • Promotional products
  • Displays and exhibits
  • Reports (see below for exceptions)
  • Fact sheets, fliers, handbills and announcements

and to the design of:

  • Conference proceedings
  • Non-English material (see below: Translation Protocol)
  • Criteria documents
  • Technical research publications (see exceptions below)
  • Data-set and fact book publications

These guidelines do not apply to the design or writing of:

  • Articles for publication in media not controlled by EPA (including, but not limited to):
    • bylined or feature articles by EPA employees
    • letters to the editor by EPA employees
    • peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Contracts, purchase orders, solicitation of bids
  • Correspondence (postal and e-mail)
  • Congressional testimony
  • EPA Web site (materials created explicitly for the EPA Web site)
  • Guidance documents (i.e., official guidance for regulatory compliance)
  • Internal policy statements and directives
  • Legal and regulatory materials (including, but not limited to):
    • Briefs
    • Legal opinions
    • Notices of rule making
    • Federal Register notices
    • Notices of public hearings
  • Regulations
  • News releases and accompanying materials
  • Peer-reviewed documents
  • Reports of the following types:
    • Investigatory or Inspector General
    • Congressional
    • Science Advisory Boards
    • Administrative or fiscal reports

Even in the formats noted above as exclusions, writers and designers certainly may use this stylebook as a guide wherever practicable. Although much in the area of EPA news releases and Web materials is directly related to the standards in this stylebook, the quantity and kind of specific exceptions require those formats to practice under a separate set of criteria.

For public information materials that are translated into languages other than English, or that are created, as original, in other than English, you should consult the EPA Translation Protocol.

In designing such materials, the design guidelines of this stylebook generally should be followed, but we all should be aware that cross-cultural communication can sometimes affect the visual treatment of a subject, as well as the written/verbal approach.

As this edition of the Stylebook is being prepared, plans are being made for a future edition that will include design standards for official uniforms and apparel.

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Creating Communications in Larger Context

Use this stylebook as an integral part of the EPA Communications Product Review system. The Product Review system is the communication management process that requires each program and regional office to ensure Agency communications serve the public interest and the immediate interests of intended audiences, as well as to ensure messages are coordinated fully across the Agency to convey EPA operations and policy with the highest degree of consistency and accuracy. View a full explanation of the Product Review system.

The Product Review system helps us remember another important principle that is vital to producing good communications: strategic planning of communications. Because good communication involves strong elements of creativity and art, it is tempting to imagine that products spring forth in moments of creative and artistic inspiration. That's rarely reality. In fact, good communication is usually a product of research, audience targeting, media and format selection appropriate to the audience, careful strategic construct of the key message and the specific formulation of that message through words and graphics.

Each phase of the development process applies to every product. EPA materials should be structured as multi-faceted, integrated campaigns that are constructed from those same elements of research, audience targeting, media and format selection, and message crafting from concept through production. Whether it is a booklet, video, exhibit or other format, the product will reflect the process. The following pages about communicating from concept through production will help you create high-quality, effective products.

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