Office of Marketing and Communications - Writing Style Guide
(Courtesy of Texas A&M University System Communications Office. This is an abridged version of 7/21/2010 guidelines. Additional material added that is specific to Texas A&M-Kingsville is shown in bold face).
Every word you put on a page has a critically important job: to make a positive impact on the reader. It's not enough to write glowing statements about your university or agency. What you write has to be believable. These simple guidelines will help you achieve that goal.
Be straightforward. Directness not only builds trust, but also makes your message easier to understand. Your text should be simple and logically organized. This allows your audience to quickly find the information needed. Put the most important information at the beginning. The first paragraph may be the only thing your audience reads.
Many readers won't read your text word for word, so write for the skimmer. The following rules of thumb will help make this information accessible and clear.
Use bold headlines that have a positive slant and tell the story you are seeking to communicate.
- Write subheads that present the main points.
- Use provocative statements that intrigue the reader.
- Summarize your message with oversized introductions or callouts.
- Enumerate benefits with bulleted, concise statements.
- Reinforce important points with pictures and captions.
Above all, remember that it's more than what you say; it's how you say it that counts.
This style guide uses the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (fourth edition) as primary sources.
In general, do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader would not quickly recognize. Never abbreviate university, department or association.
Abbreviations of degrees, expressions of time and names of countries take periods with no space between the elements.
- M.F.A., a.m., U.S.A.
To prevent awkward line breaks, do not put a space between initials used as a first name.
- B.J. Crain
Most abbreviations are spelled without periods: CFO, CIA. Add an "s" but no apostrophe to plural forms of abbreviations:
- The committee was made up of CEOs and CFOs.
The first mention of organizations, firms, agencies, groups, etc., should be spelled out. In names that do not have commonly known abbreviations, the abbreviation should be in parenthesis after the spelled name. Thereafter, the abbreviation may be used.
- The Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is the engineering research agency of the State of Texas. TEES was established in 1914.
academic degrees (also see doctoral, doctorate)
Readers may not be familiar with academic degrees. It usually is better to use a phrase instead of an abbreviation.
- John Jones, who has a doctorate in psychology, said the study was flawed.
Use an apostrophe: bachelor's degree, master's degree, and so on.
Use abbreviations such as B.A., B.S., M.A., M.S. and Ph.D. (with no spaces between letters).
Capitalize if referring to a specific department or other academic unit by its full proper name. Otherwise, use lower case.
- Mays Business School
- College of Science and Technology
- history department
- Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
- She is a professor in the college.
Lowercase and spell out titles when not used with an individual's name.
- The dean provided a list of students.
- The graduate assistant taught a class.
- The chancellor will speak today at noon.
Capitalize and spell out when a title precedes a name.
- Chancellor Mike McKinney met with President Steven Tallant yesterday.
Very long titles are more readable when placed after a name.
- Terry Dickson, vice president for business and administration, nominated the work-study student for a national award.
Adjunct refers to a temporary faculty appointment; lowercase.
Use the spelling that ends in -er (not advisor) unless the other spelling is part of an official title.
Affect is a verb that means to influence or produce a change. Effect is usually a noun that means the result.
- The power outage affected all departments.
- The director of utilities felt the effects of the power outage when Dean Smith called to complain.
Always use figures.
- The 19-year-old student took graduate-level courses.
- The student, who switched his major 11 times, is 24 years old.
- The dean is in his 50s. (No apostrophe)
alumnus, alumna, alumni, alumnae
Alumnus (alumni in the plural) refers to a man who has graduated from a school. Alumna (alumnae in the plural, but rarely used) refers to a woman who has graduated from a school. Alumni refers to a group of men and women.
- Although she was an alumna of Texas Southern University, she gave $1 million to Texas A&M University-Kingsville
- She joined a dating service for alumni of certain universities.
Use between to describe a direct relationship or comparison of two or more items that are equal in value or importance. Use among when the items are grouped together as a collective.
- Students could choose between six desserts at the university's cafeteria.
- Ice cream was among the desserts chosen.
An event cannot be described as annual until it has been held for at least two successive years; there's no such thing as the "first annual" event. Instead, write that sponsors plan to hold the event annually.
In most cases, the less formal bachelor's degree is preferred.
Biannual and semiannual mean occurring twice per year. Biennial means occurring every two years.
Use bulleted lists for three or more items. Introduce each list with a sentence or phrase. If the item is a simple word or phrase (not a complete sentence), do not punctuate and do not capitalize the first word. If the item is a complete sentence, punctuate the sentence and capitalize the first word. If any item on a list is punctuated, then punctuate every item. Consistency is key with items. Do not use numbers unless the sequence of the items is important, such as directions that must be followed in a specific order. Bullets imply random order.
Capitalize, followed by a hyphen and either FM or AM.
Capitalize official names; do not capitalize unofficial, informal, shortened or generic names. Do not capitalize in phrases such as the center, the institute or the recently renovated museum. Do not capitalize seasons or semesters (Spring Break is an exception).
- The Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering, but the engineering school
- Texas Task Force 1, but the task force
- Capitalize names of celebrations, such as Founders Day. Do not capitalize seasons, semesters or academic periods. (The exception is Spring Break.)
- Dr. Ballard will teach the Philosophy and History of Adult Education class next semester. He will teach advanced geology.
- She enrolled in fall 2005 but decided to postpone graduate school after she won the lottery.
Capital refers to the city; capitol refers to the building where the seat of government is housed. Capitalize when referring to the building. Capitol building is redundant.
- The Capitol is in Austin, which is the capital city of Texas.
Lowercase when used with a number.
- 20th century
When referring to an alumnus in text, include the last two digits of his or her class year after the name with an apostrophe. When referring to an alumnus with multiple degrees, list the degrees in the order in which they were received. When referring to a couple who are both alumni of the same university, include the last two digits of the class year with an apostrophe after each person's name.
- The Wayne H. King Department of Chemical and Natural Gas Engineering is the namesake of Wayne H. King '59.
- Distinguished Alumni for 2008 were Herbie Maurer '64 and Jean Claire Turcotte '58, '86.
- Marvin '70 and Marlene Finkelstein Smith '70
Do not use a comma before the and or other conjunctions in a series. Elsewhere, use commas only when the potential for confusion exists without them, such as complex sentences, or before the concluding conjunction of a series if one of the elements in the series contains a conjunction.
- She served on the committee to review scholarships, grants and financial aid.
- Texas A&M-Kingsville seeks students who have the skills to excel in a competitive academic environment, who bring a fresh perspective to their area of study, and who show a passion for ideas seen only in leaders.
- The lecture began with a discourse on the professor's breakfast, which consisted of orange juice, a decaf latte, and ham and eggs.
Capitalize the names of committees.
- The Academic Affairs Committee will meet tomorrow.
Comprised and comprises must always refer to a larger unit made up of smaller units. Do not use is comprised of.
- The faculty senate comprises members from each department. (Also see compose/comprise.)
Compose means to make up or constitute. Comprise means to include or contain.
- Nine players compose a baseball team. A baseball team comprises one pitcher, one catcher, one shortstop and so on.
Continuous(ly) means without interruption; continual(ly) means occurring again and again.
- The sound of the lawnmower droned outside her office continuously for two hours, continually interrupting her lecture.
When referring to month and year, add a comma after the year unless it ends the sentence. However, do not add a comma following the month unless a date is used. Similarly, when referring to both a city and state, add a comma after the state.
- Your memo of July 28, 2005, summarized the issue perfectly.
- She graduated in May 2002.
- After three years, she started to consider Stephenville, Texas, home.
- Independence Day took place on Sunday, July 4, 2010, with rousing fireworks shows throughout the area.
Dr. may be used on first reference. Do not use Dr. on subsequent references, but rather, use the individual's last name. Also, do not use Dr. before the names of people who hold only honorary degrees.
Use doctoral as an adjective and doctorate as a noun.
- She received her doctoral degree last Saturday.
- She received her doctorate in English.
Lowercase, one word.
Put a space on both sides of the dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph.
- Integrity — a Texas A&M-Kingsville core value — is central to the character of the university.
Honorary title bestowed on select retired faculty members. Use emeritus when referring to men, and emerita for women. Emeritae is the plural feminine form; emeriti is plural for a group of men, or a group of men and women.
Ensure means to guarantee or assure. Insure means to provide or obtain insurance, to underwrite.
- We took precautions to ensure our safety.
- She insured her car before driving it off the dealer's lot.
When used as a collective noun, faculty is singular.
- The faculty at Texas A&M University-Kingsville is known for preparing students for graduate school.
Frequently asked questions. Spell it out in copy. If abbreviated in a headline, use all caps, with no apostrophe to make it plural.
- The student referred to the website's frequently asked questions page for guidance.
Fax is short for facsimile; do not capitalize.
Do not capitalize when spelled out. When abbreviated, capitalize and put a space between FY and the year.
- She planned to give all of her lottery winnings to the university in fiscal year 2006.
- The university's FY 2007 budget will reflect her generous donation.
One word in all cases.
- The item was funded through general revenue appropriations.
grade point average/GPA
GPA is an acceptable abbreviation in all references.
half staff/half mast
Flags are lowered to half staff, not half mast.
Two words, no hyphen, in all cases.
Do not hyphenate adverbial phrases ending in –ly. Do hyphenate compounds used as adjectives before a noun. Do not hyphenate "pre" unless an e follows.
- The department chose a radically different approach.
- A far-reaching decision, a much-needed vacation, a thought-provoking article, a university-related program.
- She pre-empted the professor's lecture on prehistoric mammals with her question.
This phrase is preferred over foreign students.
Refer to bills as House Bill 1 or Senate Bill 1, or as H.B. 1 or S.B. 1 (periods but no space between the letters, then a space between the letters and the number).
Do not capitalize this adjective unless it begins a sentence.
- That is a legislative matter, not a judicial one.
legislative special item
Do not capitalize.
- Texas AgriLife Research requested a new special item for research support.
Capitalize in all references to a particular legislative body, such as the Texas Legislature or the Legislature. Do not capitalize when it is used as a generic term.
- The law-making body in a democracy is called a legislature.
Matriculate means to enroll, not to graduate. Use this term sparingly in external communications since many readers outside academia may not be familiar with the term.
Do not hyphenate.
The correct designations are Nobel Prize in physics (as well as in physiology or medicine). But, it's the Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. A person who has received this prize is a Nobel laureate.
Noon, not 12:00 noon. Do not capitalize unless it is the first word in the sentence. Use midnight instead of 12 a.m.
In most cases, use numerals for numbers 10 and above, but spell out numbers one through nine when they appear in a sentence by themselves. Use numerals with percents, ages and credit hours.
- He has finished four of the five chapters in his dissertation.
- Alumni giving was up 5 percent over last year.
- The 19-year-old student needed just 3 credit hours to graduate with a bachelor's degree.
One word. Spell out in a sentence, but write as % in a table or graph.
- Enrollment climbed by 8 percent.
For plural nouns not ending in s, add an s. For plural nouns that end in s, and for proper names that end in s, add an apostrophe. The possessives hers, its, theirs, yours and oneself have no apostrophe.
- Alumni's contributions
- Universities' mission statements, football teams' rivalry, Texas' public schools, Regent Jones' suggestion
Italicize the full title of published works, such as books.
- Her favorite book is Little Women.
For shorter works (including newspaper articles, poems, etc.) and all other compositions, enclose the title in quotation marks.
In general, follow the rules found in Webster's Third New International Dictionary or any standard grammar book, such as The Elements of Style (fourth edition) , and be consistent.
Punctuation marks go inside quotation marks. (This is not the case with British English.) Use only one space between punctuation ending a sentence and the beginning of the next sentence.
- The last thing she said to the department head that December was "happy holidays."
Use double quotation marks for direct quotations and for titles other than whole published works. Use single quotation marks to indicate a quote within a quote. Quotation marks go outside periods and commas.
- "Education is important for many reasons," he said. "It teaches you where to put quotation marks."
- Bob told his class, "A man once said to me, 'Education is the key to your success.'"
Offices' names ending in "services" take a plural verb.
- Computing Services assist students with online communications needs.
See legislative special item.
technical terms, preferred usages:
Log in, log on, log off
Two words if used as a verb; one word if used as a noun or adjective.
- Please log on to our website.
- Enter your logon password now.
Be consistent with usage throughout a document, however you choose to write the number.
- (979) 555-0000
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Use the full name of Texas A&M University-Kingsville upon first reference. For additional references, use either of these accepted abbreviations:
- Texas A&M-Kingsville
- Correct: Welcome to Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Here at A&M-Kingsville, we offer more than 100 degrees, from undergraduate to doctoral.
Do NOT use:
- Texas A&M University at Kingsville
- Texas A&M, Kingsville
Also, do NOT add spaces before or after the hyphen.
Associated Press style is preferred.
- 8 p.m., 9:30 a.m.,
- Formal announcements will sometimes use "o'clock"
- 8 a.m., not 8:00 a.m.
Capitalize a person's title when it precedes the name. Do not capitalize when it follows a name or stands by itself.
- President Steven H. Tallant
- Governor John Doe Jr. attended the game with his father, John Doe Sr.
- Mike McKinney, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, gave the author of this style guide a 20 percent raise.
- The president of the faculty senate was late, but the chairman of the Board of Regents was on time.
For the first mention of any trademarked brand, use the trade name followed by ® or ™. After the first mention, use the trade name without the ® or ™.
Spell out as a noun; abbreviate (with no space between the letters) as an adjective.
- The United States is a popular destination for Chinese students.
- The official U.S. policy has not changed.
Put a comma after Washington. Also, add a comma after D.C. when it doesn't end a sentence.
- After attending the conference in Washington, D.C., they drove to Baltimore.
Do not capitalize when using this abbreviation for the World Wide Web. Website is one word, with no hyphen. This is the style preferred by Wired News. It's a break with AP style.
- Netscape is a web browser.
- She was responsible for designing the TEES website.
Which is correct for nonrestrictive phrases (phrases that add information but can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence) and is set off with commas. That is correct with restrictive phrases (those that are essential to the meaning of the sentence).
- The program that was accredited last year has become very popular.
- The program, which gives college credit for work experience, has become very popular.
Do not hyphenate systemwide when referring to the A&M System. Similarly, do not hyphenate statewide or nationwide. Hyphenate if the word preceding -wide is capitalized.
- His achievements once were known only systemwide; today they are known Texas-wide.
Lowercase and hyphenate.
In most cases, use the full four digits. Occasionally, the use of only the last two digits is preferred. Do not use an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries (e.g., 1980s, the 1900s).
- Enrollment for fall 2005 rose sharply.
- He graduated in the 1980s.
- The Legislature is working on appropriations for the 2005-2006 biennium.
- We have plenty of travel money for FY 2006.
- The banner read, "The Class of '72 welcomes you to Kingsville."