Writing Style Guide

Campus communicators should use this guide to prepare print and digital external university communications intended for general audiences. It is based on “The Associated Press Stylebook” and “Webster’s New World College Dictionary.” Follow University of Illinois System guidelines when writing for the system.

Things to know about the style guide

  • This is the universitywide writing style that is used by Public Affairs, the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of the Provost in communications.
  • The most important thing about writing styles is to be consistent within documents and across materials.
  • Due to the ever-changing nature of The Associated Press Stylebook, our style guide is constantly evolving. If you see inconsistencies or have questions, please email news@illinois.edu.

Guide

ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
Use only when they are familiar to general audiences. Use the full version first and follow with the shorter form. Example: College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. College of ACES. Avoid this construct: Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and use the acronym as the second reference. Discovery Partners Institute is coming to Chicago. DPI will be working on cutting-edge technologies.

ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS, MAJORS AND PROGRAMS
Use lowercase as a general rule. Capitalize proper nouns and acronyms and use lowercase for informal, shortened or generic terms. Lowercase departments, but use initial capitals for the names of centers, colleges, divisions, institutes, laboratories, offices and schools.

ACADEMIC DEGREES
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., M.S., Ph.D., but MBA (no periods).

ACADEMIC TITLES
Do not make a distinction between assistant professor, associate professor and professor. Refer to each as a professor of dance or professor emeritus of dance. Do not write “a professor in the department of dance.”
Exception: Death notices and some awards distinguish between levels of professors.

ADDRESSES
Campus buildings need street addresses.

ADVISER
Not advisor.

AFRICAN AMERICAN
No hyphen.

ALUMNA, ALUMNAE
Female singular and plural, respectively.

ALUMNUS, ALUMNI
Male singular and plural, respectively. Use alumni for groups consisting of males and females.

AMPERSAND
Do not use unless it is part of a formal name. (However, use Facilities and Services, even though the department uses Facilities & Services. OK to use F&S on a second reference.)

ASIAN AMERICAN
No hyphen.

AUTHOR
Do not use as a verb: Papers are “co-written” but not “co-authored.” Also, it is the author “of” the study, not the author “on” the study.

BIG TEN NETWORK
Big Ten Network

BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Lower case unless part of a formal name. The board of trustees, but the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

CAMPUS NAME
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.

The word “Illinois” is a singular proper name ending in an s. As such, only an apostrophe at the end is needed to indicate possession. Example: Illinois’ athletic teams.

Other campus names: University of California, Berkeley (no comma after city in university names).

CAMPUSWIDE, CITYWIDE, NATIONWIDE, UNIVERSITYWIDE
No hyphen.

CALENDAR AND TIME DESIGNATIONS
Names of seasons or academic terms or descriptive names for days are not capitalized. Examples: spring, fall semester, summer session, election day, fall 2019 (not fall “of” 2019).

COMPOSITION TITLES
For project names, etc. Initial capitalization of all words except words that are fewer than four letters.

COURSE WORK
Two words, not hyphenated.

DATA
The word typically takes singular verbs and pronouns when writing for general audiences and in data journalism contexts: The data is sound. In scientific and academic writing, plural verbs and pronouns are preferred.
Use databank and database, but data processing (n. and adj.) and data center.

DR.
Do not use Dr. unless the person is a medical doctor or veterinarian. Do not use to indicate a Ph.D.

EMERITUS/EMERITA
Use emeritus when referring to male professors who achieved this status (not given automatically upon retirement). Use emerita when referring to female professors. Do not use in place of “retired.” This is special status not given to every faculty member who retires. “John Doe, a professor emeritus of art history, is …” Double-check status when external sources (including news media) refer to a faculty member as “retired.”

FUNDRAISING
One word, no hyphen, all uses.

ELLIPSES
Always have a space before and after …
If words that precede an ellipsis constitute a grammatically complete sentence, either in original or condensation, place a period at the end of last word before the ellipsis. Follow with a regular space and an ellipsis.

EN DASH
Use the en dash instead of the em dash (which is longer). Put a space before and after.

FACULTY MEMBERS
Use faculty members instead of faculty alone.

FIRST-YEAR STUDENT VS. FRESHMAN
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.

GRADE, GRADER
No hyphen in most cases: a fourth grade student, first grader, she is in the fifth grade. (A change in 2019.) Do hyphenate if needed to avoid confusion, such when combined with another ordinal number: He was the sixth fourth-grade student to win the prize; she is the 10th third-grader to join.

HE SAID, SHE SAID
Use the name before said, unless need to put their title in. For example: “This is fun,” Smith said. (Not: said Smith.) Could say: “This is fun,” said John Smith, a professor of English.

HEALTH CARE
Two words, no hyphen.

HYPHENS
Overused, the fewer the better. Use to avoid ambiguity, in compound modifiers, two-thought compounds, compound proper nouns, to avoid duplicated vowels, suspensive hyphenation (10- to 20-year sentence).

I HOTEL AND CONFERENCE CENTER
I Hotel and Conference Center

ILLINI UNION
The Illini Union may be referred to as “the Union.”

LATIN NAMES FOR ORGANISMS
Use italics: e.g. first reference Escherichia coli, second reference E. coli.

LEVIS CENTER
Drop the “faculty” in the middle.

MEN AND WOMEN VS. MALE AND FEMALE
Use men and/or women when it is a noun, use male or female as an adjective.

MORE THAN, OVER
Both are acceptable to use to indicate a greater numerical value.

NETID
NetID.

PUNCTUATION
Single space after periods and colons.

Commas and periods go inside quotes. Colons and semicolons should be placed outside the quotation marks.

Do not use serial commas unless needed for clarity.

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

Headlines: use single quotation marks, not double, and make apostrophes and quotation marks “dumb” (no curvature). Capitalize the initial letter of the first word, the rest of the headline should follow sentence format.

Possessives: Proper noun ending in “s,” just add an apostrophe. Singular common noun ending in S: add ‘s, even when the next word starts with an “s,” per AP Style update in 2017.

QUAD
Main Quad to indicate the main quadrangle south of the Illini Union. Also the Engineering Quad, South Quad (south of Gregory Drive).

RE- AND PRE-
AP Style update in 2019: Do not hyphenate double-e combinations with re- and pre-. Exceptions are listed in AP Style and Webster’s.

RESIDENCE HALLS
On-campus living accommodations for students are referred to as residence halls. Do not use “dormitory” or “dorms.” For reference, the fourth University of Illinois president, Edmund James, instituted the preferred term in 1916 at a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony of the first residence hall on campus.

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.

STATE OF ILLINOIS, CITY OF CHAMPAIGN, ETC.
Use state of Illinois, city of Champaign, Champaign County.

STATE NAMES
The names of the 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base. No state name is necessary if it is the same as the dateline. This also applies to newspapers cited in a story. For example, a story datelined Providence, R.I., would reference the Providence Journal, not the Providence (R.I.) Journal. Place one comma between the city and the state name and another comma after the state name, unless ending the sentence.
Two-letter abbreviations are still used in lists, credit and party affiliations.
Only use post office abbreviations in complete addresses that contain a ZIP code. Example: Champaign, IL 61820.

TELEPHONE NUMBERS
Use hyphens and the area code. 217-333-6544.

THEATER/THEATRE
Use theater unless part of a name: on campus, Lyric Theatre, Summer Studio Theatre Company, Virginia Theatre, Tryon Festival Theatre, Illinois Theatre (the department)

TIME
Use figures, except for noon and midnight. 1 p.m. (not 1:00 p.m.), 8:15 a.m. Avoid redundancies such as 1 p.m. this afternoon. Time before day. Avoid saying the meeting will be “held.” Instead: The lecture begins at 1 p.m. Jan. 6.

U. OF I. EXTENSION
Extension on second reference, do not use “the” unless using it as an adjective: the U. of I. Extension program ….

UNDERWAY
Underway

URLS
If there is a www, you can drop the http:// illinois.edu. Do not drop https:// which is used to indicate a secure site.

WEBSITE
Also web, webpage, webfeed, webcam, webcast, webmaster, home page, internet, online and email.

Need more help?

When in doubt, look it up in The Associated Press Stylebook.

Questions may be sent to news@illinois.edu.