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Style Guide for NASA History Authors and Editors

The purpose of style guidelines is to achieve consistency in prose style and usage so that readers can become absorbed in the content and avoid being distracted by curiosities in form. Authors and editors likewise will have an easier task when they compose and revise by the same set of rules. Guidelines are guidelines, however, and not laws etched in stone. Rules of usage, to serve their purpose, must of necessity strike a balance between custom, clarity, and principle.

In general, NASA history authors, editors, proofreaders, and printers should follow The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (2010). Exceptions and frequently recurring expressions are noted in this guide.

Please see this guide's companion piece to assist you in preparing and formatting your manuscript.

The guide covers the following topics:

Overall Editorial Style

Compounding and Capitalization

Treatment of Names

Gender-Specific Language

Numbers, Numerals, and Related Items



Figures and Tables

Source Materials


Overall Editorial Style

The manuscript narrative must employ formal, scholarly style as defined by the Chicago Manual of Style, supplemented by this style guide. The latter is provided to authors especially to guide the expression of government and scientific nomenclature. In particular, observe the following:

1) The finished manuscript must exhibit consistency of format, style, and usage throughout.

2) Passages of text making direct and attributed use of more than 50 words derived from another published work must be identified, and the author must obtain copyright permissions or waivers.

3) Use footnotes rather than endnotes, and be sure to use Word’s footnote function; do not manually insert text at the bottom of the page. Footnotes attributing quoted material or paraphrased material in the manuscript to specific sources must follow rules given in this guide and Chicago. Short titles will be used in place of “op. cit.” or “loc. cit.”

4) Avoid contractions unless the tone of the book is unusually informal, as in some memoirs.

5) Write out “Headquarters” instead of “HQ” when referring to NASA (except in cases where space is tight, as in tables or diagrams).

Formatting and editorial aspects of the deliverables will be evaluated along with the substantive, intellectual quality of the manuscript.


Compounding and Capitalization

Except as noted below, compounding and capitalization should follow The Chicago Manual of Style, with the Government Printing Office Style Manual as a backup for issues not covered by Chicago.


The Chicago Manual of Style has an interesting discussion of permanent and temporary compound words; it directs us to dictionaries as arbiters of what is contemporary usage in the anarchistic realm of hyphenated words. We find Fowler’s instruction on the hyphen still valid:

The hyphen is not an ornament; it should never be placed between two words that do not require uniting & can do their work equally well separate; & on the other hand the conversion of a hyphenated word into an un-hyphened single one is desirable as soon as the novelty of the combination has worn off, if there are no obstacles in the way of awkward spelling, obscurity, or the like....

[One proper function of the hyphen is] to convert two or more separate words into a single one acting as one adjective or noun or other part of speech.... [Another is] to announce that a compound expression consisting of a noun qualified adjectivally by the other element means something different from what its elements left separate would or might mean. [Example:] “Thrushes are not black birds,” and “thrushes are not black-birds” or “thrushes are not blackbirds.”

[Yet another use of the hyphen is] to show that two adjectives, each of which could be applied separately to a noun, are not to be so applied. [Example:] “I saw a red hot face,” but “I am holding a red-hot poker.” [A hyphen may also be used] to attach closely to an active or passive participle an adverb or preposition preceding or following it that would not require hyphening to the parent verb. [Example:] “You put up” a job, the result of which may be a “put-up job.”

Space Shuttle missions are hyphenated between the “STS” and the number (e.g., STS-51L, STS-107).


Some guidelines for capitalizing terms:

  • Scientific or technical terms (and, for that matter, all terms) containing a proper name should be capitalized. This holds true whether the name is used in the possessive form or not. Occasionally one does not know whether a term is derived from an individual’s name. Find out.
  • All formal working groups, committees, and task forces having quasi-policy or quasi-administrative authority within NASA and other federal agencies should be capitalized. (E.g., NASA Advisory Council, NASA Task Force for the Study of Effective Shuttle Utilization, and Columbia Accident Investigation Board.)
  • Capitalize the names of planets (e.g., “Earth,” “Mars,” “Jupiter”). Capitalize “Moon” when referring to Earth’s Moon; otherwise, lowercase “moon” (e.g., “The Moon orbits Earth,” “Jupiter’s moons”). Capitalize “Sun” when referring to our Sun but not to other suns. Do not capitalize “solar system” and “universe.” Another note on usage: “Earth,” when used as the name of the planet, is not preceded by “the”; you would not say “the Neptune” or “the Venus.” When “earth” is lowercased, it refers to soil or the ground, not the planet as a whole. Do use “the” in front of “Sun” and “Moon” as applicable. See the list below for capitalization of words containing “sun” and “moon.”
  • In capitalizing titles, follow Chicago, with these exceptions: 1) capitalize prepositions of five or more letters (e.g., “Within,” “Before”) and 2) capitalize “to” when it is part of the infinitive form of a verb (e.g., “To Run”), because in that case it is not acting as a preposition.
  • Apart from NASA-specific terms, follow Chicago’s “down” style for words describing (but not directly naming) entities, such as “administration” (meaning presidential), “federal government,” “state,” “nation,” and so on. Do capitalize “Agency” and “Administration” when they are short for NASA, because that is NASA style.
  • Racial/ethnic/nationality terms: Lowercase “black” and “white” unless there are reasons for doing otherwise in your particular book. Capitalize terms derived from proper nouns, e.g., Asian, Hispanic, African American, American Indian/Native American. See Chicago.
  • For government units, capitalize the full names of existing or proposed organized bodies and their shortened names. Common-noun substitutes are capitalized only in certain instances to indicate preeminence. The chair of a particular congressional committee is capitalized when the title appears with the official name of the committee in question. Examples:
    • S. Congress, 89th Congress, Congress, congressional; Senate, Committee of the Whole, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chairman of the committee; Virginia Assembly; Virginia House of Delegates; the assembly (generic); the house of delegates.
    • Department of Agriculture, the Department, but departmental units, legislative departments; American Embassy, the Embassy, but the consulate, the consulate general.
    • Department of Defense, DOD, the Army; Commander Malone, the Commander (when referring to a specific person); but Grant’s army; the three commanders.
    • French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry; the Luftwaffe; the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Foreign Office.
    • Capitalize the titles of heads of state and assistant heads of an existing or proposed national government unit, past or present: e.g., President George W. Bush, the President, the presidency, presidential; Vice President Richard “Dick” Cheney, the Vice President; Majority Leader, Minority Leader, etc.; for NASA: Administrator Michael Griffin, the Administrator; Deputy Administrator Shana Dale, the Deputy Administrator; Center Director Woodrow Whitlow, Jr., the Center Director; Assistant Administrator Michael O’Brien, the Assistant Administrator.
    • Capitalize titles, not job descriptions, as long as they refer to a specific person (e.g., William Barry, NASA Chief Historian; the Galileo Program Manager, the NEAR Mission Director; but the program managers; astronaut, mission specialist, pilot). Also capitalize Principal Investigator.

Examples of Compounded and/or Capitalized Terms Preferred by NASA History (Plus Some Spelling Preferences)

1-inch (when used as unit modifier)

advisor (History preference over “adviser”)

African American (and other compound ethnicities): no hyphen



Antarctica; the Arctic

Apollo program (see “Project Apollo”)

appendix, appendices



attitude-control system

backup (n., adj.), back up (v.)

Bill of Rights, the

CAPCOM (traditionally written this way)

Cape, the (when short for Cape Canaveral)

catalog, cataloged

checkout (n.), check out (v.), but check-in

clean room

Cold War (exception to Chicago)

Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB)

Command and Service Module (of Apollo)

Command Module (of Apollo)

Constitution, the (U.S.) (no italics or other special treatment)



decision-making, decision-maker

Declaration of Independence, the (no italics or other special treatment)


disk/disc: Depends on usage

disk: Some computer terms, like “floppy disk/diskette,” “hard disk”

disc: Most other uses: “compact disc”; anything in a flat, circular shape

Doppler effect


Explorer 1

external tank

extravehicular activity

flight test (n.), flight testing (n.), flight-test (v.), flight-testing (adj.)

flyby, flybys (n.), fly by (v.)

follow-on (a yucky bit of jargon, to be avoided)


full-time (adj.), full time (n.)

FY 1985, FY85; fiscal year 1985

g’s (plural—units of gravity)

gravity-assist (n., adj.)

ground rules


heat shield

in-depth (adj.), in depth (prep. phrase)

in-flight (adj.), in flight (prep. phrase)

index, indices

Iron Curtain

Lab (when short for JPL)

lifting body (n.), lifting-body (adj.)

liftoff (n.), lift off (v.)

Lunar Module (of Apollo)

Mercury program (see “Project Mercury”)


Mission Control

mock-up (n.), mock up (v.)






NASA Headquarters, the headquarters (used generically)

nose cone (but nosebleed, nosepiece, nosewheel)

off-site (adj., adv.)

on-board (adj.), on board (prep. phrase)

one-half (adj., n.)


on-orbit (adj., adv.), on orbit (prep. phrase)

on-site (adj., adv.)


overflight, overfly


part-time (adj.), part time (n.)


planetarium (sing.), planetaria (pl.)


policy-making, policy-maker

postlaunch, prelaunch (most pre- and post- forms printed as one word)

Principal Investigator

Project Apollo (if written as “the Apollo program,” the p is lowercased)

Project Gemini (if written as “the Gemini program,” the p is lowercased)

Project Mercury (if written as “the Mercury program,” the p is lowercased)

pro-space (exception to the usual pre-/post- rule because of readability)

real-time (adj.), in real time (n.)



risk management (always open)

rollout (n.), roll out (v.)

Service Module (of Apollo)


single-stage-to-orbit (hyphenated as a unit)

soft-land (v.), soft-landing (adj.), soft landing (adj. + n.)

solid rocket boosters

solid rocket motor

Space Age

Space Shuttle main engine

spacecraft (sing. and plural)



Sputnik, Sputnik II (no number for the first one; Roman numeral for the second)




takeoff (n), take off (v)

under way


Vice President

Wernher von Braun, von Braun (an exception to Chicago; only cap the “von” if it appears at the beginning of a sentence)

wind tunnel

workday (common usage)

work-day, work-hour, work-year (when referring to time worked per person, in the sense of person-hours)



x-ray (adj., v.); x ray (n.)

Treatment of Names


See the section on source materials for using italics with names of books and so on. Do not use italics for names of ships, aircraft, or spacecraft. These should appear in roman text with initial caps.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Friendship 7

USS Hornet

Glamorous Glennis

Gender-Specific Language (e.g., Manned Space Program vs. Human Space Program)

In general, all references to the space program should be non-gender-specific (e.g., human, piloted, unpiloted, robotic, as opposed to manned or unmanned). The exception to the rule is when referring to the Manned Spaceflight Center (also known as the Manned Spacecraft Center), the predecessor of Johnson Space Center in Houston, or to any other historical program name or official title that included “manned” (e.g., Associate Administrator for Manned Spaceflight).

Numbers, Numerals, and Related Items

In general, spell out numbers under 10. For 10 and up, use numerals. Exceptions and more specific guidelines follow.


All full dates should be in a day-month-year format (7 July 1983). The year of an event may be omitted in instances where it is clear to the reader from previous discussion. In addition, observe the following examples of usage:

the 1970s (no apostrophe)

on the 9th (no superscript)

effective 7 July

July 1978 (no comma)

When a span of years is indicated, truncate as follows (note the use of the en dash):



but 1995–2002

Enumerations in Running Text

Use a single closing parenthesis for enumeration in running text: “We have published books on 1) the Deep Space Network, 2) Apollo, and 3) Centaur.” If you are using letters (less common), they would be written in a similar fashion: a), b), c).

Figure and Table References

Use the word “figure” (lowercase and spelled out) in references (e.g., “See figure 1.2”). This holds true for tables as well. See “Figures and Tables” elsewhere in this guide for further information.


Historians of science and technology are rarely the originators of measurements. Both the original unit of measure and its mathematical value can have potential significance for historic interpretation. For example, the use of “rods” or “chains” can serve as important internal evidence for the original date and source of an otherwise unidentifiable document. Historians should not alter an original scientific or engineering notation any more than they should rewrite an original quotation. Thus, the unit of measure actually used by the originating designer, engineer, researcher, etc., should always appear first, in quotation marks if appropriate, then followed by the metric or English equivalent in parentheses. For metric measurements, use the International System of Units.

On those rare occasions when the historian is the originator of a notation of measurement, use metric units of measure followed by the equivalent English units in parentheses.

Unless you are quoting material from an original source, use numerals for measurements (e.g., 26 kilometers, 72 liters, 200 pounds). In running text, spell out units such as miles, kilograms, and meters unless the work is very technical and such measurements make up a large percentage of the text. (If this is the case, spell them out once and use abbreviations thereafter.) Using abbreviations in tables is fine. Since “km,” “kg,” and so on do not have periods after them, we also omit periods for “ft,” “mi,” and other English measurements.

Temperature: Use the degree symbol (°F, °C) because it is so common. The number and symbol should be closed up (this is different from GPO’s practice). Examples: 100°F, 13°C, but 300 K (because measurements on the Kelvin scale do not use the degree symbol).

For “mph” and “rpm”: These are abbreviations rather than one-word units of measure, so define them the first time they appear and then use “mph” and “rpm.”

“By” in dimensions: Spell out “by” (instead of using an x) in something like “12 by 15 feet” unless there are many such references appearing together.

Latitude and longitude: This is another case in which it is usually better to use the abbreviated form: 42°13"21' north latitude. Note that the minutes and seconds are represented by straight hatch marks, not curly or “smart” quotation marks and apostrophes.

Clock time: Use numerals for units of hours or smaller. Examples: 4 minutes, 3 hours, two days, seven months, nine years. For actual time of day, use numerals: 9:00 a.m., 4:15 p.m., noon or 12:00 p.m.

Commas in Numerals

In numbers of four or more digits, use commas between groups of three digits (or, in the case of the leftmost group only, one or two digits), counting from the right:




Do not use commas in these cases:

Actual years, e.g., 1995, 2004

Page numbers, e.g., pp. 972–1003 (note that in a range, the en dash is used instead of the hyphen)

Whole Numbers from One Through Nine

Write these out, including ordinals like “fourth” and “seventh.” (But see “Measurements” for exceptions.) Also write out such quantities as “three dozen” and “four score.”

Numbers Starting at 10

Use numerals except in the case large round numbers, when it may be appropriate to write them out, as in “one in ten thousand.”

Consistency Within a Sentence

If you have several numbers relating to the same thing in the same sentence and at least one of them is big enough to be written in numerals, then all of them will be in numerals.

There are 8 students in the philosophy department, 13 in the classics department, and 117 in the romance languages department.

At the Beginning of a Sentence or Title

Write out any number that begins a sentence or title.

One hundred twenty-eight students visited Kennedy Space Center.

With Spacecraft or Mission Designations

Apollo: Arabic numerals (Apollo 11, etc.)

Explorer 1: Arabic

Gemini: Roman (Gemini III, etc.)

Mercury: Arabic (Mercury 3, etc.)

Sputnik: Roman, but only for the second one (Sputnik II; the first Sputnik is unnumbered)


In Narrative Text

Except for a carefully controlled selection of the most common acronyms and abbreviations (such as U.S., NASA, p.m., R&D, USSR, NACA, DOD, U.K.), avoid them. As much as possible, spell out proper names instead of using acronyms, which are a plague of bureaucratic writing and speech. Example: Vehicle Assembly Building, not VAB. KSC may be so written in a book about that Center, but in that book, the names of other NASA facilities should be written out. In the same chapter, after the first full reference to Goddard Space Flight Center, simply “Goddard” will suffice. For those acronyms that you do use, define each one in parentheses at the first use.

Employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)....

(Exceptions: There is no need to define a.m., p.m., and U.S. However, even NASA should be spelled out the first time it is used.) Spell out the names of states in narrative text. (See “Proper Names” below.)

Use periods in “U.S.” and “U.K.” (exception to Chicago).

NACA: Treat it as though saying each letter. Hence, “the NACA,” “an NACA program.”

Proper Names

Take care with the names of companies and organizations. Some use the ampersand as part of the name; some do not. Do not substitute an ampersand for “and” in a proper name.

Do not abbreviate state or province names in the narrative text of a manuscript, with the exception of the “DC” in “Washington, DC,” because “Washington, DC” is widely used and “Washington, District of Columbia” is cumbersome. (See “In Notes” below for abbreviations in notes.)

Cleveland, Ohio

Washington, DC (in both narrative text and notes)

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

Prince George’s County, Maryland

Brampton, Ontario

In Notes

Make maximum use of abbreviations. Notes will be read by specialists who can tolerate tight writing for the sake of maximum information in a minimal amount of space. (Exception: months are still written out, e.g., 3 August 1994.) In notes only, use the two-letter postal abbreviation for states when the state follows the name of a city, county, military base, or the like (and the same for Canadian provinces, when applicable).

Cleveland, OH

Arlington National Cemetery, VA

Prince George’s County, MD

Brampton, ON

Units of Measure

See section on “Measurements.” Units of measure require no periods after their abbreviations.


Lowercase “a.m.” and “p.m.” (See “Clock Time” under “Measurements” above.)

Use Chicago’s abbreviations for time zones (examples below).

Greenwich mean time (GMT)

central daylight time (CDT)

eastern standard time (EST)



Serial commas: Use a comma after each item in a series, except the last.

red, white, and blue

Parenthetical expressions require a pair of commas.

Frank Anderson, Jr., wrote.... (but Paul Richard Johnson III wrote)

Troy, New York, is....

Republicans, Democrats, McCarthyites, etc., voted....

The White House, which is on Pennsylvania Avenue, has....

Note that restrictive clauses do not use such commas:

The white house that is on the corner of Maple and Main Streets....

Quotation Marks

With quotation marks, semicolons and colons go outside; commas and periods go inside.


Insert a colon to separate a book’s title from its subtitle. In long and complex titles, you may need to add more punctuation.


When using a dash, whether en or em, do not put spaces around it. If you are unable to use the em dash character, you may use two hyphens in its place.

he agreed--we thought

In a range or span, use an en dash.

Fiscal years 1963–72

pages 13–17


Do not use an apostrophe in most plurals, such as these:

the 1960s

several EVAs

However, to form the plural of abbreviations with periods and single letters standing alone, add ’s:


x’s and y’s


The possessive of a name ending in s is 's: Ames’s, Lewis’s. Exception: Use only an apostrophe for names ending in a plural: Bureau of Standards’, United States’.


Avoid excessive use of the solidus (the slash).

Figures and Tables

Include tables in the manuscript. Number them by chapter (e.g., table 1.1 or 1-1 for the first table in chapter 1) and include a heading/title for each one.

For figures, use a similar numbering system and place the figure number and caption at the approximate point in the text where you wish the figure to appear. (Usually there is also some reference to the figure in the body text.) Additionally, be sure to include the image number if one exists (most images held by NASA have numbers) or, if not, the source of the image (e.g., the owner of the image, if an individual, or the repository where it is stored).

Source Materials

Format for monograph listings in the NASA History Series section at the back of the book: “Monographs in Aerospace History, No. 3.” (Do not include quotation marks.)


All chapters for books in the NASA History Series should contain numbered footnotes. The notes must be numbered consecutively through each chapter. There is no provision for asterisked explanatory footnotes that fall outside the numbering system. The same numbering system should be used whether the notes are source or explanatory in nature. For information on using footnotes, please see

For types of sources not covered below, always follow the Chicago Manual of Style. The manual gives many examples for printed sources.

No matter what kind of source you are citing, follow the basic format of author, title, publisher, and date, as far as possible. If a government report has no named author but is the product of an identifiable office or agency, then the office or agency is the author. When there is no title, describe the item. Be careful citing page numbers of reports that use a hybrid pagination (e.g., 4-1 for the first page of chapter 4).

Be as brief as possible while giving enough information so that the source can be located. Make maximum use of abbreviations. Give the most detailed location possible of unpublished items. This requirement may be at least partially met by a well-planned bibliographic essay; if you provide one, the notes can be simplified.

Deciding whether a title has been “published” and should be set in italics is sometimes difficult. Size and format are not the criteria. To be published, the item must have been available to the public. There will usually be a publisher’s imprint.

Following the first citation of a particular reference, use the author’s last name and a short version of the title for later references. Avoid “op. cit.” You may not use “ibid.” if the previous note contains more than one source. In those instances, use the short form. Too many ibid.’s indicate scholarly overkill, otherwise known as the “dissertation syndrome.” Consider clustering the source notes, generally at the end of each paragraph, to reduce their number. This device is not satisfactory, however, when two or more direct quotations are used in the same paragraph; each quotation must be cited individually when they are from different sources or different pages in the same source. There usually should be at least one note for each paragraph.

In addition to references, use notes for additional substantive matter that for some reason you do not want in the text; but do so with the understanding that the reader may skip them. Nothing essential to your argument should be in a note. What can profitably go into notes? Names that would otherwise clutter the text, definitions that only a minority of your readers may need, and related matters that are worth telling but would distort the paragraph. Some authors use the device systematically for short biographies of moderately important persons. Major figures will be introduced with biographical details in the text; individuals whose role was minor generally will not appear in the body of our texts—maybe just named in a note or an appendix.

For a guide on when to use notes in NASA History publications, please see on the Web.

Formatting examples for specific types of citations appear below. When citing something from the Historical Reference Collection, include the folder number.

For a NASA book:

Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft (Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration <can be abbreviated as “NASA” if acronym has previously been defined> SP-4205, 1979), pp. 361–364.

Congressional documents:

Homeland Security Act of 2002: Hearings on H.R. 5005, Day 3, Before the Select Comm. on Homeland Security, 107th Cong., p. 203 (2002) (statement of David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States).

Citations of dissertations and theses:

In accordance with Chicago, titles of theses and dissertations should go in quotation marks. If you are citing a chapter within the thesis or dissertation, use the page span if you have it or put the chapter name in single quotation marks.

Jennifer L. Troxell, “The Globalization of Outer Space” (bachelor’s thesis <or “Ph.D. diss.,” etc., as the case may be>, Michigan State University, 2002), pp. 16–18, 40.

Letter without subject:

Arcille R. Smith to James E. Webb, 2 October 1962, folder <number>, NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Program Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. <Note: After the first reference like this, you may simply state the folder number and “NASA Historical Reference Collection.”>

Letter or memo with subject:

  1. Bernadotte Shumpter to Webb, “Automated Distribution System,” 4 June 1965, “Departments & Agencies, NASA, 1965” folder, box 84, President’s Office files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, MA.

Memo “to distribution”:

George M. Low to multiple addressees, “The Management Issuance System,” 13 March 1967, “NHMI” folder, box 8, accession 68 A 394, record group 255, Washington National Records Center [henceforth: name of folder, followed by 68 A 394 (8), RG 255, WNRC].

Memo for record:

Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., “Use of Center Directives,” memo for record, 8 November 1968, Johnson Space Center History Office, Houston, TX.

Communication other than letter or memo:

Christopher C. Kraft to George M. Low, 24 December 1972, copy in project files, History of HQ-JSC relations, folder <number>, NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

No title:

Peter R. Grimes, viewgraphs and briefing notes used at General Management Review, NASA Headquarters, 13 April 1976, “Organization and Management” file, NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.


George M. Low, interview by Edward P. Brynn <or by author, if applicable>, tape recording <if applicable>, Troy, NY, 10 September 1977 <location where the transcript/recording is kept, if applicable>.

If a consolidated list of interviews is included in the bibliographical essay, as should be done when many are used, the note can be simplified further after the first citation:

Low interview.

If more than one interview with Low, then:

Low interview, 10 September 1977.

Do not cite (or use as evidence) telephone interviews unless confirmed by exchange of letters or some other written form.


Italicize URLs in all instances, whether in running text or in notes. Also indicate the “accessed date” and print out a hard copy of the Web page for archival purposes.

Author’s Name, “Title of Article,” Journal Name 1 <where 1 is the volume of the journal>, no. 4 (summer 2000): 13–20 <pages when appropriate>, (accessed 27 August 2001). <If applicable, you might add “A hard copy is available at ______.”>

Dennis R. Jenkins, Hypersonics Before the Shuttle: A Concise History of the X-15 Research Airplane (Washington, DC: NASA SP-2000-4518, 2000), (accessed 28 October 2004).

Page numbers in notes:

Use “p.” and “pp.” for book citations (including short-form citations); do not use them for periodicals.

Do not truncate page numbers in ranges. Write out “pp. 153–157” instead of “pp. 153–7.”

If you are citing an entire chapter or article, include its entire page range. If the citation is for a particular quotation, include only the page(s) on which the quotation appears.

Periodicals in notes:

Use the following style for all periodicals:

Author’s name, “Title of Article,” Journal Name 1, no. 4 (summer 2000): 13–20. <Where 1 represents a volume number, 4 is the number within the volume, and 13–20 are the page numbers.>


The bibliography should do two things: 1) describe what materials you used in arriving at your conclusions and 2) guide other researchers who may want to use those same materials. A mere listing of sources only repeats the notes in a different form. Some books published in the NASA History Series contain a bibliographic essay.

Begin the essay with a discussion of the primary sources available for use, followed by an evaluation of secondary sources. These should be discussed in descending order from most to least important. Divide the essay into categories that suit the materials or your manuscript. You might, for example, have subdivisions on retired records, archival material, manuscript collections, government documents, and secondary works. Or you might have a section on sources applicable to your entire subject, followed by sections on the sources for each chapter.

An alphabetical list of persons interviewed, if the number is large, will permit the use of brief citations in the source notes. Include complete name, location of interview, and date. Likewise, some forethought in describing collections of unpublished materials in the bibliography will often simplify your citation of items from those collections.

Do not feel obliged to discuss a source in the bibliography just because you have cited it in your notes. Limit yourself to important sources, and discuss them fully with proper analysis.

You will be the first researcher to look at many of the NASA records. Help those who follow you by sharing your experiences. Comment on finding aids, accuracy of the inventories, consistency of filing systems and cross-referencing, completeness of files, presence of marginal notes, and buck slips on formal documents. Were there any surprises, such as accident reports under personnel records, or empty file folders? Comment on the usefulness of the documents themselves. Are they routine papers or policy papers? Can one trace the decision-making process, or do you see only the published results? Aside from the subject matter, do the documents reveal anything through style? In every case, cite the document and its location so that other researchers can easily find it.

Give the size and condition of each major collection, e.g., “500 cubic feet, some records badly aged and nearly illegible.” If you examined less than the entire collection, what sampling system did you use? Are any of the documents classified? If so, how does the custodian handle access and declassification? Discuss any sources that you did not examine but that you believe might further illuminate your story. It might be well to explain briefly why you did not look at them (time is the usual excuse).

Remember to document clearly where you found your archival sources. Many archives have a preference in how authors document their archival source material. Be sure to inquire when researching at different archives how they wish to have their material cited. The NASA Headquarters History Division uses the following format:

Author name, title of document, folder name, file number, NASA <Center name if applicable> Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Division <if at Headquarters>, Location <Washington, DC, etc.>.


Each NASA history publication must have an index. Those preparing indices should follow the principles and procedures in the Chicago Manual of Style, though in an age of electronic word processing, the mechanics of index preparation may vary.

A final word to authors...

...about academic freedom: NASA supports a history program in part because it has been mandated by the Congress of the United States to disseminate the knowledge acquired through its aeronautics and space research and exploration. It recognizes that the first casualty of self-serving history is truth and that history that rings false is of no use to anyone—except, perhaps, to pundits. Scholars supported by the NASA History Division can expect to research and write without constraint, depending on the availability of research sources. In turn, NASA expects its scholars to work with integrity in their handling of evidence. Interpretation should rest on the best available evidence, and speculations should be acknowledged as such. Should legitimate differences of opinion or interpretation arise, they should be acknowledged in a footnote or in the text itself.

...about writing: The English language is one of the glories of Western civilization. It provides ample resources for elegant prose, whether of the simplest or most sophisticated kind. Good writers are readers of other good writers. When difficulties are encountered in writing, the problem usually is with the thinking.

Avoid jargon that, to the astute reader, betrays a muddled and insecure writer. What is jargon? Many -ize words: prioritize, utilize, definitize; also many -ments words, e.g., advancements. If you are tempted to use a word because you think it will give an authoritative ring to your writing, or because you think it will put you among an in-group of specialist readers, don’t. Writers of history are writing not only for today, but also for tomorrow. They should avoid trendy language that will date their work among future readers.

...and to editors

The best editors are remembered not for having obliterated an author’s style and replaced it with their own, but for having helped a writer to find his or her own special voice. Among well-developed writers, ideas are inseparable from vocabulary, structure, tone, and rhythm in language. If a writer’s choice of words is, in your view, not the most effective; if a writer’s style is cumbersome, unclear, windy, or abrupt, or displays other debilitating characteristics, indicate as much, tactfully, in the margin alongside particular instances. Marginal queries and suggestions are more likely to have a constructive effect than overt criticisms.

In most cases, you will be using the Track Changes feature of Word to show your edits and the Comments function to make your queries. When marking hard copy, mark cleanly and legibly, using conventional proofreader’s notations.

For information on when to use footnotes, please see .  

August 2012 version
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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