Writing goals and principles

Contributions to this website are encouraged and welcomed! Below is some general information on how to write for this website. Please be mindful of word choice. The vocabulary used to talk about disasters and communities influences how people understand them. 

Writing approach 

  • Direct: The most important information goes first. Strive for resources that are one to two pages and allow the reader to dive deeper if they choose.  

  • Respectful: Written with respect for the deep knowledge and experience that the frontline audience brings to this work.

  • Accessible: Since disasters disproportionately impact people with disabilities, use the Disability Justice Style Guide for more information. Relatedly, aim to translate into common languages spoken in California.

  • Tone: Hopeful, welcoming, and honest. 


  • Write at a ninth-grade reading level or below.  

  • Write in a gender-neutral way. They/them are singular pronouns.  

  • Keep sentences to 25 words or fewer.  

  • Use the Oxford comma. 

  • Use bullet points to break up text and make it easier to scan.  

  • Use active and actionable voice whenever possible.  

  • Use people-first language. For example, “people with disabilities.”  

  • Reduce jargon. If not possible, make sure the jargon is clearly explained in the text and/or defined in the Glossary.  

  • Break up complicated themes and topics with pictures and infographics. 

  • When in doubt, use the AP Style Guide.  

Words, phrases, and concepts to watch out for 

  • “Natural disaster.” Disasters are not natural. They are caused by the choices that humans in power make. Consider instead “disaster.” 

  • "I am in the field." Use specific language to describe the community in a way that is respectful and value-centered. Consider instead using “in partnership with.” 

  • “Citizen." Many people who live and work in California are not citizens but are, of course, an important part of this country.  Consider using “resident or community member.” 

  • “Victim.” Use the term “survivor” to talk about anyone who has gone through a disaster. 

  • “Looting,” “crime,” and other anti-social behavior. Research has shown that after disasters, people are kind, supportive, and “crime” rates drop. Read this article by Rebecca Solnit that covers the myth of looting and anti-social behavior. These topics show up primarily to describe communities of color. 

  • "Vulnerable." Frontline communities are not inherently vulnerable. Vulnerability is often created by policy decisions, such as where to put affordable housing.

  • Do not overuse pictures and or descriptions of disaster destruction. Survivors do not need to be re-traumatized.