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Writing About COVID-19

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COVID-19 is inescapable for us all in the year 2020 as a pandemic that has resulted in widespread economic, social, and political consequences. As a Walden student committed to research for social change, you may find yourself interested in researching and writing on topics related to the pandemic. Here are some definitions and tips on writing about COVID-19 to provide you some initial guidance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) as an international public health leader named the disease and the virus that causes it in February 2020:

  • The disease is named coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
  • The virus that causes COVID-19 is named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The term “COVID-19” refers to the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. However, it also has wider application. The term is also used to refer to the pandemic resulting from widespread infections of that virus, as well as to the consequences of lockdowns and policies meant to limit the spread of COVID-19. For greater specificity, use “COVID-19” as a modifier for the specific aspect of medical, social, political, or economic consequences being addressed, as follows:

  • Executive orders that prohibited public gatherings caused COVID-19 closures, resulting in the closing of local libraries. People who contract SARS-CoV-2 can have a range of COVID-19 symptoms, from little to no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe respiratory issues.
  • Following APA style guidance, look to a standard collegiate dictionary such as Merriam-Webster for spelling, which uses “COVID-19.” Note that you will see many variations on spelling and capitalization of the term in different publications, especially since the term is so new.

Although COVID-19 is an abbreviation for “coronavirus disease,” because it is listed as a term in the dictionary, it does not need to be introduced via abbreviations in your writing (see Section 6.25 in APA 7).

Other names for COVID-19 circulate fairly widely in political discussions, but many of these terms are explicitly racist and xenophobic and thus should not be used in research writing except as quotations or in discussions of the problematic nature of such terms. These names include terms such as “Wuhan virus” or “China virus” that name the location where the virus was first identified in an attempt to lay blame for the pandemic on a people, country, or government. For more information, consult the guidance issued by the United Nations (UN) on combatting COVID-19 hate speech.

For some examples of how psychology, health care, and public researchers and journalists discuss COVID-19, see the American Psychological Association’s page on APA COVID-19 Information and Resources.

As you consider different aspects of COVID-19 for research, keep in mind that as the pandemic is currently active, there is a lot of ambiguity about terminology along with heated political debate about the meanings of specific terms. Here are some examples of terms in wide circulation today that should you should carefully chose and define in your writing:

  • social distancing
  • quarantine, lockdown, stay at home orders, mask orders
  • personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • face masks, face coverings, cloth masks, respirators, N95 masks, surgical masks

As always, please email or chat with Writing Center staff if you have additional questions about how to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic accurately, clearly, and objectively in your writing.


Paul Lai, Manager, Website and Information Resources

Paul Lai manages the Writing Center's website. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his partner and their two dogs.

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