WisDOT style guide for print products and webpages

Abbreviation | Capitalization | Numbers | Punctuation | Spelling-Word usage | Confused words

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation style guide is for WisDOT employees and contractors who prepare department information for publication. This includes print materials, PowerPoint presentations and websites. In some cases, guidelines for web documents may differ from those of print documents. This resource is designed to give the department's public information products a consistent, uniform look and style. Our goal is to produce and provide clear and concise informational materials, which are easily understood by our customers.

If you have additional questions or need clarification on writing style, the Office of Public Affairs staff is here to help. Contact OPA at (608) 266-3581 or send us an email at opa.exec@dot.wi.gov.

Note the guide is not intended for use with technical materials.



Define them! Write out the words that make up an acronym during its first use, with the acronym included in parenthesis. Example: The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is starting work on the project. Once the acronym is clearly established, use it for any following references within a document. An alternative for additional references is to use a generic noun rather than the acronym. For example, after spelling out American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, "the organization," or "the association," can be used instead of AASHTO.


Writing style: Spell the state when you only give city and state: She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Abbreviate the state to two letters in a full mailing address: 4802 Sheboygan Ave., Madison, WI
Spell the street when not used in an address: He lives on Sunny Street.
Abbreviate Ave. Blvd., St., etc. only if part of a numbered address
Use P.O. Box


Use this acronym (American travel by track) in all references to the National Railroad Passenger Corp. Do not use all caps (AMTRAK).


Always spell out the word in text (rather than using the ampersand symbol "&"), unless the symbol is specifically part of a name (Madison Gas & Electric). An ampersand may be used in tables if space is limited.

college degrees

Use lower case when spelling out degrees; upper case when abbreviating: bachelor of arts, master's degree. Abbreviate only after a full name, set off by commas: Bill Jones, Ph.D., M.A., B.A.

Don’t capitalize college degrees used as general terms of classification; however, capitalize a degree used after a person's name.

company, companies

Abbreviate Co. or Cos. when a firm uses it at the end of its name. Spell out and lowercase company or companies whenever they stand alone.


Abbreviate corporation as Corp. when a company or government agency uses the word at the end of its name. Spell out and lowercase corporation whenever it stands alone.


USDOT, WisDOT, or Wisconsin DOT (not WIDOT or WDOT)

DOT divisions/offices

Spell out on first reference and abbreviate on subsequent references:

DBM Division of Business Management
DBSI Division of Budget and Strategic Initiatives
DMV Division of Motor Vehicles
DSP Division of State Patrol
DTIM Division of Transportation Investment Management
DTSD Division of Transportation System Development
SO Secretary's Office
OGC Office of General Counsel
OPA Office of Public Affairs


See the word usage section


Abbreviate and capitalize as Inc. when used as part of a corporate name. Don’t set off with commas. Example: ABC Company Inc. will benefit from the Transportation Economic Assistance grant.


You may abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. when these months are used with dates: Oct. 31, 2009 Don't abbreviate: March April, May, June, or July, unless you have a chart or table where space is limited (Mar., Apr., May, Jun., Jul.) Always spell out the month when it is only month and year: January 2005 (no comma separating month and year)

radio-TV stations

It's OK to use just the call letters: radio station WIBA-FM, television station WISC. "TV" is acceptable as an adjective or in such cases as cable TV, but generally spell out television when used in text.

state names

Spell out the names of the 50 United States when they stand alone in text. The names of eight states are never abbreviated: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Wisconsin can be abbreviated as Wis. to fit in a table or chart. Be consistent within documents. The two-letter abbreviations (WI) should only be used in mailing addresses, or in charts where the postal abbreviation is used for all states referenced.


Main Street; 609 Main St.; Main and Locust streets


Spell out the name when it stands alone in text. It may be abbreviated as Wis. to fit in a table or chart. “WI” should only be used in mailing addresses.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Spell out Wisconsin Department of Transportation or state Department of Transportation in the first reference. Use WisDOT, Wisconsin DOT or the department in second and subsequent references. In most cases, do not precede WisDOT with "the." (For example, do not write "The WisDOT announced today that..." But it is correct to write, "Additional information is on the WisDOT website.")


WisDOT uses a down style in our writing. If the word isn't at the beginning of a sentence or isn't a proper name, we generally don’t capitalize it. When in doubt, we recommend using lower case.


Capitalize airport only when it’s part of a proper name: General Mitchell International Airport

Assembly and Senate

Capitalize when part of a proper name or when the state name is dropped but the reference is specific:
The Wisconsin Assembly
The state Senate

Board of Directors

Capitalize when part of a proper name: the WisDOT Board of Directors; the board of directors


Capitalize key words including "A" or "The" when they are the first or last word in the title


Capitalize the word bridge when part of a proper name: Lloyd Spriggle Memorial Bridge. Lowercase when describing the location: the bridge over the Mississippi River, or the Prairie du Chien bridge (when used to designate a location).


When used generically, do not capitalize. But when it is part of a name, capitalize: Verona Bypass.


Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname: Kansas City, New York City, Windy City. Lowercase elsewhere: a Wisconsin city; the city government; and all "city of" phrases: the city of Appleton.

City Council

Capitalize when part of a proper name: the Madison City Council; lowercase in other uses: the council, the Superior and Green Bay city councils

college and high school classes

Do not capitalize: freshman; sophomore; junior; senior. Do capitalize Class of 2014.


Capitalize Congress when referring to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, not just one house. Use figures and capitalize district when naming a specific district: the 2nd Congressional District.


Capitalize only when part of a proper name: Bayfield County; but Bayfield and Dane counties; the county.


Capitalize when it is part of a proper name. Lower case whenever it stands alone. Do not abbreviate in any usage. A phrase such as "the department" is preferable on second reference.

directions and regions

Generally lower case: north, south, etc., when they indicate compass direction; capitalize when they designate region or are part of a proper name. He drove north. Rail would serve southeastern Wisconsin; Midwest; Northern accent; northern France but South Korea.

draft environmental impact statements (DEIS)

Use lowercase for the term, but use capital letters for the acronym. The same would apply to environmental impact statement (EIS) and other long terms that are used repeatedly. (Shorter terms, such as environmental assessment and needs assessment, should always be spelled out.)

dynamic message sign (DMS)

Use lowercase for the term, but use capital letters for the acronym.

elected officials

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin; State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington; State Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason


No hyphen; capitalize only at the beginning of a sentence


Always capitalize; one word

fiscal year

Don't capitalize; use FY 2013-14 in second reference

General Fund

Always capitalize; name of a fund

General Transportation Aids (GTA)

Always capitalize; name of a program

geographical and infrastructure names

Rock River, Great River Road, Fox Lake, Lake Michigan, Bong Bridge, Badger Interchange, Marquette Interchange

When a generic term is used in the plural, following more than one name, it’s lowercase:
Between the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers
At the intersection of Mineral Point and Segoe roads
Eau Claire and Chippewa counties

When a generic term precedes more than one name, it’s usually capitalized:
Lakes Superior and Michigan

governmental units

Capitalize the full proper name of governmental agencies, departments and offices: Alcohol-Drug Review Unit; Bureau of Driver Services; Bureau of Transportation Safety; U.S. Department of Transportation for first reference; U.S. DOT on second reference


Governor Tony Evers; on second reference the preferred formatting is Governor Evers , not “the Governor.”


Capitalize them: Christmas Day, New Year's Eve. The legal holidays in state law are: New Year's, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (or Fourth of July), Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. See titles.

internet and intranet

Capitalize only at the beginning of a sentence.


Always capitalize


Do not capitalize unless included in a proper name: Zoo Interchange


Capitalize when preceded by the name of the state. Lowercase when used generically and for all plural references:
The Wisconsin Legislature
Both houses of the legislature
No legislature has approved the amendment
The Wisconsin and Minnesota legislatures

legislative titles

Use Rep., Reps., Sen. and Sens. as formal titles before one or more names in regular text. Spell out and capitalize these titles before one or more names in a direct quotation. Spell out and lowercase representative and senator when they follow a name, and in other uses. Spell out other legislative titles in all uses. Capitalize formal titles such as assemblyman, assemblywoman, city councilor, delegate, etc., when they are used before a name. Lowercase when they follow a name, and in other uses. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin spoke with state Sen. Van Wanggaard.

Major Highways Program

This is the name of a program and should be capitalized when it is used as such. Do not refer to major highways as "majors," but rather identify specific highway names and numbers.

nationalities and races

Capitalize nationalities, peoples, races, tribes, etc.: Native American, African American, Caucasian, Chinese; lowercase: black, white, tribe and tribal

political parties

Capitalize both the name of the party and the word party if it is customarily used as part of the organization's proper name: the Republican Party, the Democratic Party. Capitalize Communist, Conservative, Democrat, Liberal, Republican, Socialist, etc., when they refer to a specific party or its members. Lowercase these words when they refer to political philosophy.

Regions within WisDOT: Use North Central, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest in formal communications
When appropriate, abbreviate regions as: NC Region, NE Region, NW Region, SE Region, SW Region (all caps for the directional references)
Capitalize region when used as a name-proper noun: Southeast Region or SE Region
When used as an adjective, the reference is the regional office rather than the region office
When listing regions, list in alphabetical order NC, NE, NW, SE, SW
When referring to a regional office: the Southwest Region, La Crosse Office
For the Hill Farms Office, use Central Office, Madison


lower case except in reference to a specific rideshare program


Capitalize names of schools, colleges and universities, but not departments or courses unless proper nouns-adjectives: College of Agriculture, Law School, engineering department, department of English


Do not capitalize seasons: spring, summer, fall, autumn, winter


Capitalize when referring the head of a state or federal department, such as WisDOT: Secretary Craig Thompson; on second reference the preferred formatting is Secretary Thompson, not “the Secretary.”


Capitalize only when it is part of a proper name: the State of Wisconsin; state legislature, but Wisconsin Legislature

State Patrol

Capitalize State Patrol, Wisconsin State Patrol, but do not capitalize the patrol


Trademark for stun gun. (Acronym for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle) Use the generic form if the brand is uncertain. Don't use verbs like tasered. Exception: When the verb forms appear in direct quotations, use lowercase.

time zone

Capitalize and spell out: Eastern Standard Time, Central Standard Time, Daylight Saving Time

titles (things)

Capitalize key words in books, plays, lectures, pictures, etc., including "A" or "The" if it is the first or last word in the title

titles (persons)

In general, use capitalization in formal titles used directly before an individual's name:
President Joe Biden
Deputy Secretary Paul Hammer
Administrator Rebecca Burkel

In general, do not capitalize a formal title when it appears after a name; however, for very high officials, when you are referring to a specific person, capitalize the title:
Joe Biden, President of the United States; the President
The Secretary of State just entered the room.
Tammy Baldwin, senator from Wisconsin; the senator

It may be appropriate to capitalize all titles on certain documents (agendas, certificates, etc.). Be consistent throughout the document.


town of Grand Chute; village of Waunakee; city of Milwaukee; cities of Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison – list a series of municipalities in alphabetical order, regardless of population difference

Transportation Fund

This is a proper name


Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. See titles.


Always capitalized; “tweet” is lowercase

web, webpage, website

Do not capitalize; no spaces (home page is two words)


Always capitalize the "Y" and "T"; one word


In general, spell out one through nine and use figures for 10 and above; use all figures when you have a series of numbers. Be consistent throughout a document.


Use figures and spell out the measurement. She is 5 feet 9 inches tall. When used as an adjective, hyphenate: the 10-mile bypass.

Use only numbers for dimensions, prices, temperatures, etc.: 4 by 5 feet, 7 degrees, 4-lane, $5, 5 cents, 12 cents, $2.50.

Percent, percentages

Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space, in most cases (updated in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote.
Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.
For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%.

Political divisions

1st District, 10th Ward, 3rd Precinct (political divisions)

Phone numbers

(608) xxx-xxxx or 1-800-xxx-xxxx or (608) xxx-xxxx, ext. 364.

Use the term toll-free before any toll-free number except 800 so readers know it is a toll-free number: "Call toll-free 888-368-9556 anytime to make a road test appointment."


two-lane, four-lane, etc.


Round a number up if it is five or more, and down if it is less than five: $2.6 million, not $2,594,697.40.


Spell out numbers when they start a sentence


Use figures except for noon and midnight. 8:30 a.m., 9 p.m., (not 9:00 p.m.). Avoid redundancies such as: 10 a.m. this morning. Use 10 a.m. today. Put the time after the verb in a sentence. Governor Walker announced today...


Use when the toll-free number is anything but 800 so readers know it is a toll-free number. Example: Call toll-free 888-368-9556 anytime to make a road test appointment.


Early '60s, not 60's; 1980s (Don't use an apostrophe when making figures plural). Avoid starting a sentence with a year. Always include the year on first reference of a date in a document.



Use when creating a contraction: don't (do not), couldn't (could not), it's (it is)
Use to indicate possessive case of nouns: the department's budget; the employee’s job
Use to indicate omission of figures: the '90s; class of '97

When you make a noun or number plural by adding "s," don't use an apostrophe: 1990s

bullet points
Use parallel construction
Capitalize the first letter of the first word in each bullet
Create bullet point lists; it’s easier than writing complete sentences
Avoid using semicolons, commas and conjunctions to separate bullets
Stay consistent; if complete sentences must be used then make each bullet point a complete sentence with proper punctuation


Use a colon to signal to the reader that a series or a list will follow.

Use a colon to separate an explanation, rule or example from a preceding independent clause.
The Zoo Interchange is not just another highway project: it is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of Wisconsin.

Use a colon to introduce a long quotation.
The governor noted: "Transportation touches every Wisconsinite every day. Whether going to work school, or recreational activities, the citizens of this state use our products and services all the time."

Only capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.


Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction (and, or) in a simple series:

  • You can get there by car, bus or train.
  • LED traffic lights now come in red, yellow and green.

However, if one element of the series has a conjunction in it, put a comma before the last element:

  • I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
  • Project funds covered resurfacing pavement, replacing curb and gutter, and adding new guardrail.

When a conjunction (and, but, or) links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction, in most cases.

  • Young people often drive too fast, and sometimes they don’t wear their seat belts.

Use a comma to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the main clause:

  • By retirement age, many people who haven't ridden for years take up the bicycle again.

If the information in a parenthetical phrase relates closely to the sentence, enclose it in commas.

  • The most scenic way to cross the country, if you have the time, is to travel by train.

Use a comma to introduce a complete one-sentence quotation within a paragraph.

  • The officer said, “Stay with your vehicle; a tow truck will be along shortly.”

A comma should follow yes, no, why, well, etc., when one of these words begins a sentence.

  • No, they didn’t close the Sun Prairie exit after the semi-trailer overturned.


Hyphens are primarily used to connect words, whereas dashes are most often used to set words — or phrases — apart. Here are some rules for when to use hyphens:

In compound numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine and when used in larger numbers, such as three hundred forty-six. Ordinal numbers, such as twenty-fifth and sixty-third need hyphens, too.

In compound adjectives in which the last word is capitalized, such as un-American, mid-Atlantic.

To join a word to a past participle to create a single adjective preceding the noun it modifies:

  • We held the program kick-off event last Friday.
  • This is a government-funded program.

But do not hyphenate the same phrase when it follows the noun:

  • When do they plan to kick off the program?
  • The program is government funded.

In a compound adjective that is a fraction:

  • The bill passed with a two-thirds majority.

But fractions treated as nouns are not hyphenated:

  • Two thirds of the applications have been reviewed.

In compounds made up of two or more words used as an adjective before a noun:

  • He made a last-minute decision.

But do not use a hyphen when one of the words is an adverb ending in “-ly:”

  • We viewed an amazingly good PowerPoint.

With ages, when they are adjective phrases involving a unit of measurement:

  • My 10-year-old car broke down.

But do not use a hyphen when the phrase comes after the noun:

  • My car is 10 years old.

justified text alignment

WisDOT uses a left justified format for print and web documents. All text is aligned to the left margin, with the right side looking jagged depending on the length of various words.


No hyphen unless a capitalized word follows: mid-April, mid-Atlantic, midterm, midsemester. Use a hyphen when mid- precedes a figure: mid-30s.


The rules in prefixes apply but in general, use no hyphen: multimodal, multilateral, multimillion, multicolored. However, multi-lane is the exception for the use of a hyphen.

right of way; rights of way; right of ways

Do not hyphenate

quotation marks

Use quotes at the beginning of each paragraph of a continuous quote of several paragraphs, but at the end of the last paragraph only.

You may quote a word being introduced for the first time, but not in subsequent references.

Don’t quote names of newspapers or periodicals: the Wisconsin State Journal.

Don’t quote names of aircraft, automobiles, trains, vessels, etc.

Use single quotes for quotations within quotations and in headlines. "I know the public will 'rage' at the design."

The period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks.


Italic type is generally used for the following: certain scientific names, court cases, named vehicles, books, feature-length films and documentaries, paintings (and other works of visual art), periodicals (journals and magazines).


Use a semicolon between independent clauses to indicate separation stronger than a comma, but less than a period.

  • The Marquette Interchange project was on time and under budget; it is our showcase project.

Use a semicolon to separate clauses joined by such transitional words as hence, moreover, however, also, therefore, and consequently. Follow these words with a comma.

  • The rains were extraordinary; however, the road did not wash away.

Use a semicolon to separate lengthy statements following a colon, and when commas are used within these clauses or phrases.

  • Division and office meetings with the executive assistant took place on specific days: DMV, DTIM and DTSD on Mondays; DSP and DBM on Tuesdays; and OPA, OPFI and OGC on Wednesdays.

Use a semicolon to precede "for example," "namely," "for instance," "i.e.," and others when they introduce a list of examples that you don’t feel belong in parentheses. Follow these words with a comma.

  • Many factors are considered before a highway is built; for instance, available funding, environmental assessment and community needs.

spacing after period

Use just one space between sentences. This applies to print and web-based documents.


When quoting shorter statutory material, just put it in quotation marks and identify the statute in the following sentence:

The law requires the Department of Transportation to, "maintain its principal office at Madison and district offices at such other cities, villages and towns as the necessities of the work demand." Section 84.30, Wis. Stats.

When quoting longer statutory material, a colon should follow introductory material with the quoted materials set in an indented block of text, without quotation marks:

Example: The law generally requires the Department to keep bidder information confidential, except as provided in s. 84.01 (32)(b), Wis. Stats.: 84.01 (32)(b) This subsection does not prohibit the department from disclosing information to any of the following persons:

  1. The person to whom the information relates.
  2. Any person who has the written consent of the person to whom the information relates to receive such information.
  3. Any person to whom 49 CFR 26, as that section existed on October 1, 1999, requires or specifically authorizes the department to disclose such information.
    The Department's duty to advise local authorities is clear:
    The department shall advise towns, villages, cities and counties with regard to the construction and maintenance of any highway or bridge, when requested. On the request of any town, village, city or county board, or county highway committee, any supervision or engineering work necessary in connection with highway improvements by any town, village, city or county may be performed by the department and charged at cost to such town, village, city or county. Section 84.01(5), Wis. Stats.

If you are simply citing to statutory authority, without quoting any material: Billboards cannot be erected adjacent to state trunk highways without a permit. Section 84.30, Wis. Stats.


When writing for the web, only hyperlinked words should be underlined. Books, magazines, periodicals and newspapers should be italicized, not underlined, in print documents.

web addresses

The official web address for WisDOT is: wisconsindot.gov.

Unless it’s a key point of the message, don’t include full web addresses in web copy; use hyperlinked words when possible: The 2014 awards total more than $5 million. For Wisconsin travel information, visit www.511wi.gov.

Spelling-Word Usage

a, an

Use a before consonant sounds: a historic event, a one-year term (sounds like it begins with a "w".) Use an before vowel sounds: an energy crisis, an honorable man (silent h).


When a motor vehicle makes contact with something with force, such as another vehicle or a tree, it is a crash, not an accident.


Use the word. Avoid use of the ampersand symbol.

adopt, approve, enact, pass

Amendments, ordinances, resolutions and rules are adopted or approved. Bills are passed. Laws are enacted.

adviser or advisor

Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.

afterward or afterwards

Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.

all time, all-time

An all-time high, but the greatest administrator of all time.

alright / all right

Alright is not a word; it's a common misspelling of all right, which means all correct. Some people prefer yes, acceptable, or satisfactory instead of all right.

alot / a lot / allot

Alot is not a word; it is a common misspelling of a lot. A lot is colloquial and vague; choose a more precise word, when possible. Allot (verb) means to assign a share, to allocate.


Do not refer to an event as annual until it has been held in at least two successive years. Don't use first annual, but sponsors plan to hold the fair annually. Never capitalize annual meeting.

anybody, any body, anyone, any one

Use anybody or anyone for an indefinite reference: Anybody could do that. Use any body or any one when you single out one element of a group: Any one of them could speak up.


Because bimonthly can mean every two months or twice a month, and biweekly can mean every two weeks or twice a week, these are confusing word. Semi- only means twice, so avoid confusion by writing semimonthly or semiweekly; or write twice a week or month.

bus, buses

bus, buses, bused, busing. It is acceptable to double the "s" in these words, but be consistent within a document.

cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation

car pool, carpool

Both spellings are acceptable, but be consistent within each document.

carryover (noun and adjective); carry over (verb)

cement, not concrete

The powder mixed with water and sand or gravel to make concrete. Use concrete (not cement) pavement, blocks, driveways, etc.


The first century (under 10), the 21st century (numerals 10 and over). Century is not capitalized.

clean up (verb); cleanup (noun and adjective)

control, controlled, controlling

courtesy titles

Refer to both men and women by first and last name: Susan Smith or Robert Smith. Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs. only in direct quotations or in other special situations: 1) When it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in married couples or brothers and sisters, use the first and last name; 2) When a woman specifically requests it; for example, where a woman prefers to be known as Mrs. Susan Smith or Ms. Susan Smith.

departmentwide, divisionwide

different from

Not different than


A person with disabilities works for DMV. Not "a disabled, or handicapped person" or "she is disabled, handicapped, etc." Avoid “hearing impaired” – preference is deaf or hard of hearing. Do not call attention to disabilities unless it is clearly pertinent to a story.

driver license

Not driver’s license


Dual-language highway signs offered to Tribal Nations across Wisconsin.



high-speed rail

Interstate highways: interstate means between states. Capitalize Interstate when referring to a specific highway. Interstate highways in Wisconsin: I-39, I-41, I-43, I-90, I-94, I-535, I-794, and I-894. Or write "the Interstate," or "the Interstate System."

U.S. highways: US highways in Wisconsin include: US 2, US 8, US 10, US 12, US 14, US 18, US 45, US 51, US 53, US 61, US 63, US 141 and US 151.

State and county highways. State highways are designated as "WIS," as in WIS 29. County highways are designated as (for example) "County H" in all public information materials. Do not refer to a specific state highway as STH or state trunk highway. Do not refer to a specific county highway as CTH or county trunk highway. However, in technical documents, STH and CTH are acceptable.

Municipalities (Commonly misspelled)

Arbor Vitae
Butte des Morts
De Pere
De Soto
Eau Claire (city and county)
Fond du Lac (city and county)
Johnson Creek
Juneau County
Juneau (city)
Kewaunee (city and county)
Lac du Flambeau
Lac La Belle
La Crosse (city and county)
Land O’ Lakes
La Pointe
La Valle
Manitowoc (city and county)
Menomonee County
Menomonee Falls
North Fond du Lac
Outagamie County
Prairie du Chien
Prairie du Sac
Shawano (city and county)
Soldiers Grove
Trempealeau (village and county)
Waukesha (city and county)


In general, use last names only on second reference; except in information communications such as the WisDOT Bulletin, when a first name reference is appropriate.

news release

news release, not press release

OK, OK’d, or okay

public information meeting (PIM)


One word in all cases for computer connection term


It generally refers to spatial relationships: The plane flew over the city. More than is preferred with numerals: There are more than 30 commercial ports in Wisconsin.


Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space, in most cases (updated in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote.
Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.
For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%.

ribbon cutting



seat belt

Seat belt is the preferred term


Means twice a month

side street


soon or recently

Avoid using these words on the web as the timing is too vague

travel, traveling, traveler, traveled


Part of WisDOT’s logo; a figure of three curved lines or branches radiating from a common center

website / webpage


Use who and whom for references to human beings and animals with a name. Use that for inanimate objects and animals without a name.

Who is the word when someone is the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase (Examples: The woman who rented the room left the window open. Who is there?) Use who whenever he, she, they, I, or we could be substituted in the who clause.

Whom is the word when someone is the object of a verb or preposition. (Examples: The woman to whom the room was rented left the window open. Whom do you wish to see?) Use whom whenever him, her, them, me, or us could be substituted as the object of the verb or as the object.


Words that are often confused

Accept: to receive something; to bear up under (bad news)
Except: with the exclusion of; but

Adverse: opposed; bad
Averse: feeling unwilling; experiencing distaste

Affect: (verb, usually) to produce an effect upon; to influence
Effect: (noun, usually) intent; result; appearance; influence; a distinctive impression

Aggravate: to annoy, provoke, irritate; to make worse or more troublesome
Exacerbate: to increase the severity of

Aisle: a narrow passageway
Isle: an island

All: ready prepared (to go)
Already: something has happened previously

Allude: to make an indirect reference to
Elude: to evade or escape from; to escape the understanding or grasp of

Altar: a place or structure upon which sacrifices or offerings may be made, or where religious ceremonies may be enacted
Alter: to change or make different; to modify

Ambiguous: susceptible to multiple interpretations; doubtful or unclear
Ambivalent: torn between two opposing feelings or views; uncertainty or indecision as to what course to follow

Amiable: good-natured; cordial; sociable; congenial (usually refers to people)
Amicable: characterized by or showing friendliness (usually refers to relationships or agreements)

Among: use when reference is to more than two
Between: use when reference is made to only two

Amoral: not moral or immoral; not caring about right and wrong
Immoral: contrary to established moral principles

Amount: bulk, the sum total referring to the number
Number: refers to something counted
Quantity: refers to something measured

Antagonist: adversary; one who opposes and actively competes with another
Protagonist: the leading character in a play, novel, movie, etc.; a leading or principal figure

Appraise: to estimate the value of something
Apprise: to give notice to; to inform

Artisanal: food and other things made in small batches by hand (ARR-tizz-uh-nul)
Artesian: describes water that spurts out of the ground under natural pressure (arr-TEE-zhun)

Assure: declare, promise
Ensure: make certain
Insure: protect by insurance

Aural: has to do with things you hear
Oral: has to do with things you say, or relating to your mouth

A while: a short time (n.)
Awhile: for a time (adv.)

Beside: at the side of; next to; apart from (beside the point)
Besides: in addition to; furthermore; moreover;

Biannual: twice a year; synonymous with semiannual
Biennial: every two years

Blatant: disagreeably loud or boisterous; clamorous; conspicuous; obvious
Flagrant: glaringly bad; notorious; outrageous

Boarders: residents in a house or school paying for their room and board (food); also, people who go snowboarding
Borders: having to do with boundaries or edges

Bring: to convey toward (the speaker)
Take: to carry from (the speaker)

Cache: from a French word meaning “to hide”, pronounced like cash
Cachet: a quality attributed to something with authority or prestige (ca-SHAY)

Can: to be able to; to be capable of
May: to be permitted to

Canon: a secular law, rule or code of laws; an authoritative list; a musical form
Cannon: a big weapon for firing projectiles; section of a horse’s leg

Capital: the seat of government; money invested in a business
Capitol: the building (and only the building) in which a state or federal legislative body meets

Carrot: an orange, crunchy vegetable
Carat: unit of weight for precious stones
Karat: unit of measure for the fineness of gold
Caret: a proofreader’s mark showing where something needs to be inserted

Censor: person who examines literature or other material and may remove or suppress what is judged morally or otherwise objectionable
Censure: an expression of blame or disapproval; an official rebuke; severely criticize

Chafe: to make sore by rubbing; to irritate or annoy, or become annoyed
Chaff: to tease good-naturedly; finely cut straw or hay used as fodder

Chord: a combination of notes played simultaneously; harmony; emotional feeling
Cord: a string or small rope, or electrical wire; raised rib on the surface of cloth

Cite: to refer to; to quote by way of authority; to summon to appear in court
Sight: a view
Site: a place

Climactic: pertaining to or constituting a climax
Climatic: having to do with the climate

Coarse: rough, crude
Course: a class or seminar; a route or passage; a series or sequence; procedure or process, etc.

Collaborate: to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort
Corroborate: to attest the truth or accuracy of; support or confirm by new evidence

Columbia: name if U.S. cities, universities, a sportswear company, etc.
Colombia: name of South American nation

Compel: to force, drive or constrain
Impel: to urge to action through moral pressure; to drive forward; propel

Compliment: to praise (v.); a piece of praise (n.)
Complement: a worthy addition (n.)

Comprise: to consist of; to be composed of. The whole comprises the parts.
Compose: to form in combination; to make up; to constitute; to create. The parts compose the whole.

Connote: to suggest or imply; to convey to the mind what is not explicit. (Indicates our association with a thing.)
Denote: to reveal or indicate; to signify; to refer to specifically. (Indicates the thing a word names.)

Continual: repeated again and again
Continuous: uninterrupted

Conscious: capable of thought, will or perception; deliberate
Consciousness: a critical awareness of one’s own identity and situation
Conscience: conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct

Corps: a group of people working together to achieve a specific task
Corpse: a dead body, usually human

Council: an assembly or group
Counsel: advice; legal adviser

Country: the physical territory of a nation or state; geographical characteristics of a place
Nation: large group of people who share customs, origins, history and often language; political and social characteristics of a place

Cue: a long stick, as for billiards; a reminder or a prompt to do or say something
Queue: a waiting line of people or vehicles; a long braid of hair worn hanging down the back; a sequence of stored computer data or files awaiting processing

Currant: small, sour fruit, used chiefly for jelly, or dried like raisins
Current: now, in the present; flows, especially of liquids, gases and electricity

Defective: having a defect; faulty
Deficient: lacking an essential quality or element; insufficient

Definite: unambiguous
Definitive: authoritative

Dependant: a person who depends on another (mostly used in British English)
Dependent: contingent upon something or someone else; one who relies on another for support

Desert: dry, barren, often sandy region (emphasis on first syllable)
Desert: to forsake or leave; abandon (emphasis on second syllable)
Dessert: something sweet, served at the end of a meal (emphasis on second syllable, as above)

Discomfort: uneasiness; to make uncomfortable; hardship
Discomfit: disconcert; defeat; thwart

Disassemble: to take something apart; opposite of assemble
Dissemble: to conceal ones real motives, nature or feelings under a pretense

Disburse: to pay out; distribute
Disperse: to break up and scatter; vanish, dissipate

Discreet: cautious
Discrete: separate

Disinterested: neutral, unbiased
Uninterested: bored, not interested

Drier: one that dries; (adj.) comparative of dry (more dry)
Dryer: an appliance that removes moisture

Dual: an adjective describing the two-ness of something (dual-purpose)
Duel: a prearranged, formal combat between two persons, to settle a dispute

earth: the land surface of the world, as distinguished from the oceans and air.
Earth: the third planet from the sun.

Effective: having an intended or expected effect; producing the desired impression or response
Effectual: producing or sufficient to produce a desired effect; fully adequate

Effective: having an intended or expected effect
Efficient: acting or producing effectively, with a minimum of waste, expense or unnecessary effort; exhibiting a high ratio of output to input

Elicit: to bring out; evoke; to call forth
Illicit: not sanctioned by custom or law; unlawful

Eligible: qualified, as for a position or office; desirable and worthy of choice
Illegible: not legible or decipherable (as in handwriting)

Emigrant: one who leaves one country or region to settle in another
Immigrant: one who enters and settles in a country or region to which one is not native

Eminent: outstanding, high, lofty
Imminent: threatening to happen soon

Empathy: identification with and understanding of another’s feelings or situation
Sympathy: feeling or expression of pity or sorrow for distress of another

Energize: to give energy to
Enervate: to cause to lose vitality or energy

Envelop: to enclose or encase completely, with or as if with a covering
Envelope: something that envelops; a flat, folded paper container, as for a letter

Envious: combines resentment and desire; feeling of discontent and resentment toward another’s possessions or qualities, and strong desire to have them for oneself
Jealous: apprehensive of the loss of another’s affection; resentful or bitter in rivalry

Epigram: short, witty, proverbial poem, maxim or saying
Epigraph: inscription (often in Latin) on a statue, coin, etc.
Epitaph: words written in memory of one who has died, usually on their tombstone

Farther: used with physical distance
Further: used with abstract distance or depth

Fictional: an imaginative creation or pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented
Fictitious: imaginary; adopted or assumed in order to deceive; not genuinely believed or felt; sham

Flack: a press agent or publicist; to act as a press agent
Flak: excessive or abusive criticism; anti-aircraft artillery or bursting shells fired from anti-aircraft artillery

Flair: a natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style
Flare: to burst into intense, sudden flame; device that produces bright light for signaling; to expand or open outward in shape

Flaunt: to ostentatiously show something off, deliberately to call attention to it
Flout: to deliberately break or disregard a rule or law

Flounder: to proceed clumsily and in confusion; a flat fish
Founder: to sink below the water (ship); to become disabled or go lame (horse); to collapse or break down; to cave in

Forbear: to abstain or desist from doing something
Forebear: ancestor

Forceful: powerful and vigorous
Forcible: accomplished by force

Forgo: to do without
Forego: to go before; to precede

Fortuitous: happening by chance
Fortunate: lucky; having good fortune

Gambit: a strategic maneuver
Gamut: a full range or extent

Gild: to cover something in gold or gold-like material
Guild: a special interest group or association

Good: (adjective) describes nouns or pronouns; can be linked with look, sound, taste (She is a good driver.) (Good describes “driver;” a noun.)
Well: (adverb) describes verbs (She drives well.) (Well describes “drives;” a verb.)(adjective) healthy (I am well.)

Gray: American spelling of an achromatic color that is between black and white
Grey: British spelling of the same thing

Hangar: a structure, especially for storing or repairing aircraft
Hanger: a contrivance to which something hangs (coat hanger)

Hebrew: the Semitic language of the ancient Hebrews; the language of the Israelis
Yiddish: a High German language with many words borrowed from Hebrew and Slavic that is spoken chiefly as a vernacular in eastern European Jewish communities and by emigrants from these communities

Historic: an event whose significance will be remembered by future generations
Historical: based on or concerned with events in history

Hoard: (n) a hidden fund or supply stored for future use; cache. (v) to accumulate a hoard
Horde: a large group or swarm; any nomadic tribe or group

Imply: the speaker implies
Infer: the listener infers

Incredible: unbelievable, hard to believe
Incredulous: unbelieving or skeptical

Infamous: having an exceedingly bad reputation; having committed an evil or criminal act that is publicly known (close to “notorious”)
Notorious: known widely and usually (but not always) unfavorably

Insulate: to prevent passage of heat, electricity or sound into or out of; to cause to be in a detached or isolated position
Insolate: to expose to the sun’s rays

Jack: in electronics, a socket that accepts a plug at one end and attaches to electric circuitry at the other.
Plug: in electronics, a fitting used to connect an appliance to a power supply

Legible: capable of being read or deciphered (words on a page)
Readable: capable of being read easily; pleasurable or interesting to read

Less: generally used with qualities or quantities that cannot be individually counted
Fewer: generally used with objects that can be counted one by one

Lesson: a noun, something you learn or teach
Lessen: a verb, to cause to decrease or make less

Lie: to recline (past tense: lay; past participle: have lain)
Lay: to put or place something (past tense: laid; past participle: have laid)

Lightening: making something lighter; illuminating or brightening
Lightning: accompanied by thunder during storms

Loath: adjective meaning “unwilling.” Rhymes with “both.”
Loathe: verb meaning “to hate intensely.” Ends in soft “th” like “breathe.”

Mantel: shelf over a fireplace
Mantle: something that covers, envelops or conceals; a cloak

Mfr.: abbreviation for "manufacturer"
Mfg.: abbreviation for “manufacturing”

Myth: a sacred story from the past, that expresses a culture’s moral values in human terms, or explains the origin of the universe and of life
Legend: a story from the past about a subject (people, places or events) that is believed to have been historical; associated with a time and place

Naval: of or pertaining to ships or shipping, or a navy
Navel: the mark on the abdomen of mammals where the umbilical cord was attached

Naturist: a nudist
Naturalist: one versed in natural history, especially in zoology or botany

Palate: the roof of the mouth; sense of taste
Palette: a board on which an artist mixes colors; range of colors or qualities inherent in an art form

Parameter: a scientific term, adapted to general usage. Means a constant, a given or a precondition; or a limit or boundary (not physical)
Perimeter: the outer barrier of a closed, curved figure or area; the length of this; circumference

Passed: the past tense form of the verb “to pass,” which means to move forward or through
Past: (n.) what has already happened (don't live in the past); (adj.) gone by, ended (this past week was busy); (prep.) beyond (it is past the deadline)
Pedal: n. a lever worked by the foot (on a piano, sewing machine, bicycle, etc.)
v. to operate a pedal, or to ride a bike
Peddle: v. to travel about selling wares; to sell; to give out or disseminate
Petal: n. on a flower, a separate, often brightly colored segment of a corolla

Perfunctory: done or acting routinely, with little interest or care
Peremptory: putting an end to all debate or action; dictatorial; imperative

Personal: private; done to or for, or directed toward a particular person
Personnel: collective noun referring to people employed by or active in an organization

Perspective: a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events
Prospective: looking toward the future; expected

Perspicacious: having or showing insight; having a ready understanding of things
Perspicuous: easily understood; lucid; expressing things clearly

Populace: noun, meaning the population, the common people, the masses
Populous: adjective, meaning containing many people, thickly settled, numerous
Precede: go ahead of; be before
Proceed: continue with an action

Principal: leader or top person (noun); foremost or highest ranking (adjective)
Principle: fundamental truth; a rule or tenet or precept or policy (noun)

Prescribe: to set down as a rule or direction; to order or advise, as a medicine or treatment.
Proscribe: to deprive of the protection of the law; to outlaw, banish, exile; to denounce or forbid the practice or use of.

Prodigy: a person with exceptional talents or powers
Progeny: children or descendants; offspring
Protégé: a person whose training or career is promoted by an influential person

Prophecy: a prediction; inspired utterance of a prophet ("y" is pronounced "e")
Prophesy: to predict; to reveal by divine inspiration ("y" is pronounced "i")

Purposely: by design, intentionally; not by accident
Purposefully: with a specific goal in mind

Raise: to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Rise: to get up, to become elevated

Raise: to make higher, to build, or to nurture and cause to grow
Raze: to tear down or demolish; level to the ground; to scrape or shave off

Recipe: set of directions and ingredients for cooking something; formula for or means to a desired end
Receipt: the act of receiving something; to mark a bill as having been paid

Remuneration: compensation, payment; act of payment or compensation
Renumeration: NOT a word

Sarcastic: expressing a sharply mocking or contemptuously ironic remark intended to wound another
Sardonic: scornfully mocking and derisive

Septic: of, pertaining to, or having pathogenic organisms or their toxins in the blood or tissues
Skeptic: one who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions or disagrees with generally accepted conclusions

Shear: to remove by cutting or clipping; to use a cutting tool such as shears
Sheer: to swerve from a course; thin, fine and transparent

Stanch: to restrain a flow
Staunch: firm in attitude, opinion or loyalty (both words pronounced the same)

Stationary: unmoving (adj.)
Stationery: nice writing paper (n.)

Than: a conjunction, used to compare things
Then: an adverb, used with descriptions of time

That: restricts the reader's thought, directing attention to a specific bit of information to complete a message's meaning. (Example: "We have several cars. The car that is in the garage is my son's.”)
Which: is non-restrictive and introduces subsidiary rather than essential information to the meaning of the sentence; always preceded by a comma. (Example: We have one car. "The car, which is in the garage, is my son's.")

Tortuous: winding or crooked; or tricky to handle
Torturous: causing torture; or painful in a cruel way

Translucent: transmitting light, but causing sufficient diffusion to prevent perception of distinct images
Transparent: capable of transmitting light so that objects or images can be seen clearly

Turbid: having sediment or foreign particles stirred up or suspended; in turmoil
Turgid: swollen or distended; excessively ornate in style or language

Unsociable: not congenial; not disposed to seek the company of others
Antisocial: opposed or hostile to the established social order; engaging in behavior that violates accepted mores

Venal: open to bribery; corruptible; influenced by bribery
Venial: pardonable (referring to a fault or sin); trifling, not serious (referring to misconduct)

Who's: contraction of who is
Whose: belonging to someone (possessive adj.)

Yea: old-fashioned way to say yes; aye; an affirmative statement or vote (rhymes with "nay")
Yeah: informal way to say yes