Identity Standards, Illinois

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Writing Style Guide

Clear, consistent writing is critical to the success of any communication project at the university. This guide is designed to help communicators prepare body copy for external university communications intended for general audiences. While authors and editors are encouraged to use this guide, its use is not mandatory.

This guide is just one tool available to campus communicators. Specific entries in this guide supersede guidelines presented in other reference works such as The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition and Webster's New World Dictionary. We recommend that those references be consulted regarding issues not addressed here.

Publications using terms related to specific fields of research and directed at audiences with scientific expertise should continue to use the style guidelines provided by the college, school, institute, department, or particular research discipline.

Campus authors and editors creating news releases are encouraged to use the most current edition of the AP Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.

In all cases, we trust that the good judgment and common sense of authors and editors will prevail.

We welcome comments, questions, concerns, and suggestions. Please use this feedback form.

More Information

University Language Resources

A grammar handbook, writing tips, and other resources are provided by the Writers' Workshop, part of the Center for Writing Studies.

Those interested in a guide for grammar, punctuation, and style for journalists should visit The Tongue Untied, created by Kellee Weinhold, a former professor in the Department of Journalism at the College of Media.

Those interested in discussions of language and linguistics in the news should visit Dennis Baron's blog The Web of Language. Baron is a professor in the Department of English at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Other Style Guides Used in Higher Education

Those interested in more information are encouraged to visit these links to identity standards at other Big Ten universities and top U.S. schools. Most include a link to a writing style guide.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

General Rules

Use abbreviations and acronyms only when they are familiar to your readers.

Use the full version in the first reference and follow it with the abbreviated form or acronym in parentheses. Subsequent references should be the abbreviated form or acronym.

Capitalize and hyphenate abbreviations based on the source word. No space should appear after internal periods. Use periods sparingly, such as when the abbreviation could be mistaken for a word if periods are omitted.

Campus Name

In text, the first reference to the campus should be: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Acceptable second references to the campus include Illinois, U of I (for in-state and alumni audiences), and Urbana or the Urbana campus (to distinguish this campus from the Springfield and Chicago campuses). On subsequent references, make sure that the use is consistent.

Do not use UIUC to refer to the campus. View the policy in the Campus Administrative Manual.

Do not capitalize "university" when the word appears by itself as a noun or an adjective. Correct: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a world-class research university. The university is one of the largest recipients of National Science Foundation funding in the United States.

Guidelines and Procedures for Naming Campus Facilities and Programs are available in the Campus Administrative Manual.

I Hotel and Conference Center

This is the correct spelling

Illini Union

The Illini Union may be referred to as "the Union."

University of Illinois Extension

When referring to University of Illinois Extension as a noun in text, do not use the word "the" before the name.

Correct: The event was sponsored by University of Illinois Extension. Incorrect: The event was sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.

When using the name "University of Illinois Extension" as an adjective—to describe the local office, Extension foundation, program, etc.—use of the word "the" is appropriate.

Correct: 1. Stop by the University of Illinois Extension office in Nashville. 2. Proceeds will benefit the University of Illinois Extension Education Foundation in Champaign County.

Big Ten Network

The number is spelled out; this is based on the Big Ten Conference. Correct: Big Ten Conference; incorrect: Big 10 Conference.

Corporation Names

The full form of a company’s name should be used; Inc. or Ltd. may be dropped. Examples: B. Dalton Bookseller; Time Inc.; Land O’ Lakes; Shop-O-Clocks.

Geographical Terms

When they stand alone, spell out the names of states and U.S. territories and possessions.

Spell out the names of states, territories, or possessions when they follow the name of a city or other capitalized geographical term. Example: Chicago, Illinois. When it is necessary to save space, the abbreviations listed below can be used. Do not abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, or Utah:

Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Kan., Ky., La., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.C., N.D., N.H., N.J., N.M., N.Y., Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Tex., Vt., Va., Wash., W. Va., Wis., and Wyo.

Only use post office abbreviations in complete addresses that contain a ZIP code. See the current ZIP Code Directory for official Postal Service abbreviations. Example: Champaign IL 61820.

Spell out the names of countries. The abbreviation U.S. is acceptable when used as an adjective. Examples: foreign policy of the United States or U.S. foreign policy.

Headlines

Capitalize the initial letters of each word, with the exception of articles, prepositions, and conjunctions with fewer than four letters.

Names and Titles

Use periods after both first initials if the first name is hyphenated (J.-P. Mathy).

Use periods with no space if the initials are used instead of a first name. Example: E.B. Jones.

Don't use periods or spaces when initials are used to refer to a person. Examples: JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) or FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)

Spell out civil or military titles when the title appears with a surname. Example: Lieutenant Colonel Blake. Abbreviate the title with a full name. Examples: Lt. Col. Henry Blake.

Abbreviate social titles Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr. when the titles appear before a name.

Use the abbreviations Jr., Sr., II, and III as part of a person’s full name. Examples: Everett McKinley Dirksen, Jr. The abbreviations Jr. and Sr. should appear with commas before and after the element.

Example: Everett McKinley Dirksen, Jr., is not a real person.

There is no need to use commas to set off II and III when used as a part of a name. Example: Everett McKinley Dirksen III is not a real person.

Personal Names and Titles

LL.M (Master of Laws degree), not L.L.M.

Time

Use abbreviations for the time of day in body copy, tables, and footnotes. Do not use capital letters. Example: 2 a.m. or 3 p.m. See the time of day entry.

Use A.D. and B.C. only with a specific year. A.D. appears before the date and B.C. appears after the date. In scientific publications and some popular publications, the terms B.C.E. (before common era) and C.E. (common era) are preferred and appear after the date. Examples: 512 B.C.; in A.D. 1438; 500 years before Christ (not 500 years B.C.); Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E.; writing first appeared in Mesopotamia in about 3200 B.C.E.

Titles of Academic Degrees

Academic degrees generally should not be abbreviated. The following abbreviations for common degrees may be used when space is limited, such as a business card: B.A., bachelor of arts; B.S., bachelor of science; M.A., master of arts; M.S., master of science; Ph.D., philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy)

Use lowercase when spelling out degrees. Examples: bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, master’s degree.

Addresses on Campus Mailings

Return address

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (if using only text; if using a campus logo follow these guidelines)
College or administrative unit name
School or administrative sub-unit name
Department or administrative sub-unit name
Street address, campus unit mailing code (do not include unit mailing code for off-campus mailings)
City. State and Zip Code
USA (if an international mailing)

Capitalization

General Rules

Capitalize only proper nouns. Do not capitalize common nouns and various shortened forms of official names.

Do not capitalize a word that follows a colon, unless it begins a series of complete sentences or is a proper noun or adjective. Example: Please bring the following to class:  pens, ink, and drawing paper.

Do not capitalize the word the in body copy unless it is a proper noun. Examples: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, © 1993 by The University of Chicago Press.

Academic Degrees, Departments, Majors, and Programs

Use lowercase as a general rule. Capitalize proper nouns, titles, and acronyms and use lowercase for informal, shortened, or generic terms.

Examples

  • the Center for Advanced Study, the center; the chair of the department
  • Jacob Cohen, chair of the Department of Mathematics; the chair
  • the College of Law, the law college, the college
  • the dean of the college; Natalie Birnbaum, dean of the College of Engineering; Dean Birnbaum; the dean
  • the Department of Biology, the biology department, the department
  • the Office of Admissions and Records, OAR, the admissions office, this office
  • Professor Desdemona Capulet; Desdemona Capulet, professor of English; the professor
  • the School of Music, the music school, the school

Use initial capitals for the names of academic degrees. Example: Bachelor of Arts in Dance.  Use lowercase if the use is generic (bachelor’s degree in dance). Use periods in abbreviations. Examples: B.A., Ph.D.                     

Fax            

Use lowercase. Example: fax, not FAX.

GPA

All capitals, no periods.

Internet

Use an initial capital when referring to the home of the World Wide Web.            

SportWell (the university's sports medicine clinic)

No spaces, capital W.

Terms of study

Capitalize if referring to specific term and year (Fall 1993) but lowercase if generic (fall semester). 

University

Do not capitalize "university" when the word appears by itself as a noun or an adjective. Correct: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a world-class research university. The university is one of the largest recipients of National Science Foundation funding in the United States.

Vice Chancellor or vice chancellor

Use initial capitals if using complete title and name. Example: Stephen Smith, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Human Resources. Use lowercase if the title is used generically (Smith is a vice chancellor at the U of I).

Vice President or vice president 

See Vice Chancellor entry above.

website

One word, lowercase w. (Changed from former entry, Web site, on June 3, 2010).

Western culture

Capital W.

Personal names and titles

Capitalize titles only when they appear before a name. Examples: President Maria Valdez, Governor James Smith.

Lowercase a descriptive title when it precedes a name. Examples: art history professor, orchestra director.

Do not capitalize titles when used alone in place of a name. Examples:  the president and regents of the university, the governor of Illinois.

Groups of people

Capitalize names of racial, linguistic, tribal, religious and national groupings of people.  Do not use Negro or Oriental. Examples: African American, Caucasian, Latino and Latina, Native American, Asian, Protestant.

Groups based on color or size are not capitalized. Examples: black, white.

Geographical and related terms

Capitalize geographical terms accepted as proper names. If a geographical term applies to more than one entity or is not regarded as a proper name, it is not capitalized. Regions are capitalized but compass directions are not.

Examples: the Flatirons, the Front Range, the South, southern, southwestern (direction), the Southwest (U.S.), the West, western Europe, the West Coast, the Middle East, the Midwest (U.S.), west, western, westerner.

Organizations

Capitalize full names of governmental bodies and offices, but do not capitalize derived adjectives or incomplete names. Examples: U.S. Congress, congressional delegation, state supreme court, federal government, the senate. Divisions of the U.S. Congress are exceptions: the House, the Senate.

Names of political and economic organizations and members of political parties should be capitalized. Examples: Communist Party, Democrat, Green Party, Independent, Republican Party.

Unless they are derived from proper nouns, do not capitalize words for political and economic philosophies. Examples: democracy, capitalist, communism, Marxist.        

Awards, historical and cultural terms

Capitalize names of awards and prizes. Examples: Pulitzer Prize winner, Outstanding Achievement Award, Fulbright Fellowship.

Time periods

Numerical designations of a time period are not capitalized unless they are part of a proper noun. Example: the fifties.

Do not use an apostrophe to refer to multiple years in a decade. An apostrophe may be substituted for the 20th century. Example: the '50s.

Calendar and time designations

Days of the week, months of the year, and religious and secular holidays are capitalized. Examples: Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, Labor Day.

Names of seasons or academic terms, or descriptive names for days (unless it is with the year) are not capitalized. Examples: spring, fall semester, summer session, election day, Fall 2003.

Religious names and terms

Names of religious bodies and their members are capitalized. Capitalize terms such as church and temple when part of an official name but not when the terms are used descriptively. Examples: Buddhist, Orthodox, Judaism, Roman Catholic Church (faith), A Roman Catholic church (building).

Letters

Letters that stand for musical keys should be capitalized. Omit the words major and minor, and capitalize letters for major keys and lowercase letters for minor keys in repeated references.  Examples: middle C, the key of G.

Military terms

Capitalize full titles of military forces. Incomplete names or derived adjectives are not capitalized. Examples: United States Marine Corps, the marines, marine recruiter, Reserve Officers Training Corps, the reserves.

Capitalize full titles of wars, battles, and military awards. Examples: World War II, Second World War, Battle of the Bulge.

Trademarks

All registered trademarks are capitalized. In most cases, generic terms can be substituted. Examples: Xerox/photocopy, Ping-Pong/table tennis, Kleenex/tissue.

Hyphens and Compound Words

Definitions and General Rules

Compounds, or a combination of words regarded as a unit, take three forms: spelled as separate words (open compound); joined by a hyphen(s) (hyphenated compound); and spelled as one word (solid compound).

Campus Style for Hyphens and Compound Words

Examples: campuswide, combined degree program, course work, credit-no credit (Do not use virgule [/]), grade point average, home page, summer session, vice chancellor, vice president. In the case of "advanced level," hyphenate when it is used as an adjective (advanced-level courses).

Telephone numbers

Place the area code in parentheses: (217) 333-1000. If the area code appears in parenthetical text, use hyphens: 217-333-1000.

Prefixes and suffixes

Don’t hyphenate words with a prefix. Example: Preprofessional.

Use a hyphen with prefixes that are not words.  Example: post-master’s degree.

Miscellaneous

Email, email

Capitalize at the beginning of a sentence. Example: Email is one method of modern communication. Updated 03242011.

Italics and quotation marks

General rules

URLs in running text

When there is a need for emphasis, set off URLS in running text by using italics or boldface. Drop the "http://" element for websites with a URL that includes "www" for brevity's sake. If the URL has no "www," such as http://illinois.edu, the "http://" element should be dropped: illinois.edu.

Do not drop the "https://" element used to indicate a secure site.

Do not break a line on a hyphen or insert a hyphen; it can be misleading. Try to break the URL before or after the discrete units of the URL. If the URL is at the end of a sentence, it is acceptable to add a period.

Commas and periods

Place commas and periods inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons should be placed outside the quotation marks.

All other punctuation: If the punctuation is part of the quotation, put it inside the quotation marks.  If it’s not, put it outside.

Use one space after periods.

Quotation marks

Quotation marks should be used:

  • to indicate the exact words spoken or published by a person
  • the first time a reference is made to a nickname
  • the first time an ironic or sarcastic phrase is used.

Numbers

General rules

Spell out the numbers one through nine and use numerals for 10 and up.

Exceptions

Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence.

Use numerals in percentages (4 percent, not four percent).

If more than one number is used in a sentence, spell them out unless all are 10 and over.

Ranges: use numerals and an en-dash: 1–10, not one through ten.

Addresses and phone numbers

Spell out words in an address unless space is in short supply.  If so, use the following abbreviations:  Ave., Blvd., Bldg., Ct., Dr., La./Ln., Pkwy., Pl., Rd., Sq., St., Terr.

The directions N.W., S.W., and S.E are abbreviated in an address. North, South, East, and West are not abbreviated.

As part of a name, spell out the word street, or avenue. Example: Green Street Coffee House.

Dates

The U.S. preference for styling dates is: month, day, and year without the ordinal letters. Example: January 1, 2006 and not January 1st, 2006.

The year may be abbreviated in informal contexts. Example: class of ’49.

Time of day

To indicate specific times, use numerals with a.m. and p.m.

Delete the zeroes if the time of day is on the hour. Example: 5 p.m. not 5:00 p.m.

Use noon and midnight and do not use 12:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.

Spell out the time of day in text unless referring to a precise time. Example: She’s home from class by four.

Money

Delete cents when you have a round dollar amount. Example: $20 instead of $20.00.

Figures should be used for monetary amounts.

Use the word "cents" for amounts less than a dollar and the dollar sign for amounts of more than a dollar.

If the monetary amount is more than a million dollars, use the dollar sign and spell out million, billion, etc.

Decimals and percentages

Figures should be used for percentages unless they start a sentence.

Percent should be spelled out in text. Example: She received a score of 82 percent on her exam.

Zeros can be used before decimal points, but not after, unless they are needed to show exact measurement. Grade point average, however, should always include two decimal places. 3.00 GPA (not 3.0 GPA)

Punctuation

Commas

Commas should be used before a conjunction joining two independent clauses in a compound sentence. Example: She wanted to go swimming, but her mom told her to wait.

Use commas to separate two or more adjectives that modify a single noun. Example: She bought a pink, fuzzy sweater.

Commas should be placed inside quotation marks but outside of brackets and parentheses.

In a series of three or more phrases or words, separate all parts of the series with commas. Example: Jessica, Caitlin, and Stephanie went to the store. 

Semicolons

Semicolons should be used in lists whose items include commas. Semicolons should separate closely related clauses.

Colons

Use colons to introduce a series or a list. Text following a colon only should be capitalized if it is a complete sentence.

Periods

Use periods to end: 

  • a declarative sentence;
  • a quoted passage that also ends a sentence;
  • a list of vertical items if some or all of the list items are complete sentences;
  • a vertical list that is punctuated with commas at the end of each item.

Exclamation points

Use sparingly, to indicate emphatic or emotional statements.

Apostrophe

Use apostrophes to show omitted letters, such as in contractions.

When referring to class year, use an apostrophe. class of '89.

Use an apostrophe followed by an s when indicating the possessive for names, even when the person’s name ends in s. Example: The Stevens’s dog, Illinois's football team.

An apostrophe and s should be added when forming the possessive of a singular common noun. The possessive of a plural common noun is formed by the addition of an apostrophe only. Example: the dog’s tail, the puppies’ tails.

Parentheses

Use for explanatory information that doesn’t relate to the rest of the sentence.

Brackets

Use brackets to enclose editorial comments, corrections, explanations, phonetic spellings, and the phrases To be continued and Continued from.

Spelling

General rules

Adviser/advisor

Adviser is preferred, although advisor is acceptable.

Online

Spell closed. Example: an online form.

“Pre” words

Spelled closed (prelaw, preprofessional) except pre-Columbian or other such compound words in which the second half is a proper noun.

“Re” words

Spell closed (reentry, reenroll).

Plurals

Plurals of proper nouns are formed by adding s. If the name ends in s, add es.

The plurals of numbers, multiple letters used as words, and words used as words are formed by adding s alone.

Apostrophes should not be used to form the plural of a proper noun unless it is to indicate possession.

Possessives

To form the possessive of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s. Example: the dog’s bone.

Email addresses in running text

When there is a need for emphasis, set off by using italics or boldface; do not use angle brackets (<>).

Do not break a line on a hyphen or insert a hyphen; it can be misleading.  Generally, try to break before a punctuation mark, moving the “@” or “.” to the next line: publicaffairs
@illinois.edu.

If the email address is at the end of a sentence, it is acceptable to add a period.

Common words

The following style should be used for these words: 

  • bandwidth
  • CD-ROM
  • cellphone
  • dialog box
  • domain
  • email
  • home page
  • Internet
  • intranet
  • online
  • smartphone
  • wait list
  • Web
  • Web page
  • Web feed
  • webcam
  • webcast
  • webmaster
  • website
  • World Wide Web

Correct Usage

Campus terms

alumna/alumnae/alumni/alumnus

Alumnus is the singular form for a man who has attended a school. The plural is alumni.

Alumna is the singular for a woman who has attended a school. The plural is alumnae.

Use alumni as the plural when referring to both men and women who have attended a school.

Emeritus/emerita

Use emeritus when referring to male professors. Use emerita when referring to female professors. Note that this term should not be substituted for "retired." Emeritus/emerita is a special status that must be officially approved by the university.

Other common terms

  • chair
  • class year and degree identification
  • class year/standing
  • degrees with distinction
  • endowed professorships
  • faculty vs. staff
  • fellow, fellowship
  • first-year student vs. freshman*
  • NetID
  • Quad vs. quadrangle
  • Residence hall

*first-year student is preferred because it is possible to still have official status as a freshman while attending classes for a third semester. This is because a student may have dropped or failed a class or did not enroll in enough hours to reach the official number needed to be a sophomore.

Listserv

A trademark for a software program for setting up and maintaining discussion groups through email.

Science vs. sciences (in departmental and school names)

Pay close attention to the correct usages. Example: Courses are offered in Computer Science and Animal Sciences. Note the correct use in a school name: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, not Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences.

Nonsexist language

Take reasonable steps to avoid unnecessary gender-specific language.

Avoid using a generic masculine pronoun when the antecedent includes both men and women.

Use substitutions for words with masculine markers when possible and logical. Example: firefighter instead of fireman.

Females over the age of 18 should be referred to as women and males over the age of 18 should be referred to as men.

Parallel terms should be used for men and women. Examples: ladies and gentlemen, wife and husband.

Women and men should not be referred to by their roles as wife and husband, mother and father, brother and sister, or son and daughter unless it aids in the comprehension of the content.

Take reasonable steps to avoid unnecessary use of the words "feminine" or "woman" as modifiers. Examples: woman doctor, feminine logic.