UIS Writing Style Guide
Language is always evolving and, for the most part, grammar, style, and usage can’t be presented as simply black and white. Any number of style guides and reference books are available today; they don’t always agree with each other, but that’s all right.
The guidelines you’ll see here are based on the Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press, though some departures have been made that are specific to UIS.
This guide is by no means exhaustive; it’s meant only to address some of the most common questions that writers on this campus may have.
If you want additional information, try:
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The reference section of Brookens Library
- The Center for Teaching and Learning
- Some suggestions for E-Style
Click on a letter to jump to that section of the alphabet:
- Degrees: Use periods in abbreviations for academic degrees (B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D.). Use apostrophes when the degrees are spelled out (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree).
Lowercase a degree when it’s spelled out following a person’s name (Harold P. Simpson, doctor of law) or if it’s referred to in general terms (a master of science, a doctorate in physics).
- Departments: Uppercase the name of an academic department as follows:
Ted teaches in the Department of Cryogenics. Ted teaches in the Cryogenics department. Ted teaches in the department. Ted teaches cryogenics. Ted is a professor of Cryogenics at UIS.
- Titles: Uppercase academic titles when they precede a name and are used as part of it (Professor June Clemens; June Clemens, chair of the Department of Archaeology; Professor of Archaeology June Clemens; archaeology professor June Clemens). Also see the section on “Titles” below.
- Use the active voice (the board decided) rather than the passive (a decision was reached by the board) whenever you can.
- Spell out state names used with a city (Boston, Massachusetts, not Boston, Mass., or Boston, MA), unless you’re creating a tabbed list or in a mailing address (Boston, MA 02109).
- Compass points and terms like street, avenue, and boulevard can be abbreviated in mailing addresses (818 N. Main St.).
- Use this format when sending U.S. mail to a campus address:
John Q. Professor
Aeronautics Department, UHB 6013
University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza, MS UHB 6000
Springfield, IL 62703-5407
Alright is all wrong.
- Author is a noun, not a verb. You can write a book or you can be the author of a book, but you can’t author one.
- Don’t use several words when a few can say the same thing, and more clearly. For example:
due to the fact that = because
in the event that = if
she is of the opinion that = she thinks
- If you’re writing for a general audience, don’t use a lot of jargon or technical terms unless you also explain what they mean.
- If you must use foreign words or phrases, double check for correct spelling and meaning. (You should also italicize them. However, if you cite a longer passage not in English, set it off like a quotation.)
- In the acronyms for most of the structures on campus (such as HSB, SAB, or UHB) the final “B” stands for building. So rather than saying Student Life is in room 20 of the SLB building (or the Student Life Building building), say Student Life is in SLB 20.
- Use campus to refer to each institution in the University of Illinois system individually. (The campus has adequate parking.)
- The word university is part of the proper name of each campus, but use it sparingly by itself in subsequent references to any one of them.
- The U of I uses University (note capital “U”) to refer to the entire University of Illinois — the three campuses and the central administration. Capitalize references made in that sense (the University seal, the University president, the University’s third campus).
- Springfield is the capital city, so we have the capitol building. (It helps to remember that the capitol building has a dome, which is spelled with an “o.”)
- Please resist the urge to use lots of capital letters, and especially to use all caps, except OCCASIONALLY for emphasis.
- Do capitalize:
proper names of specific persons, places, or things
University when used alone and referring to the University of Illinois as a whole. (See “Campus/University” above.)
the names of academic programs (the History program, a major in Women and Gender Studies)
- Don’t capitalize:
state in the phrase state of Illinois; words like center or auditorium when they stand in for the unit’s complete, proper name
academic degrees when spelled out (a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, a doctorate)
academic subjects (My adviser says I need to take a botany course.)
Also use lowercase in these instances: the universities of Illinois and Pittsburgh, the 1995 spring semester, the city of Phoenix, central Illinois.
- In titles, the first and last words, as well as all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and words like if, because, and that are capped. The words a, an, the, and, but, or, for, nor, and prepositions of any length are lowercased (unless they’re the first or last word). The to in infinitives or the second part of a hyphenated word is also lowercased (A Long Way to Run, To Have and Have Not, Planning a Sit-down Dinner Party, Your Next Dinner Party: Buffet or Sit-Down).
*See the Chicago Manual of Style for additional, specific examples.
- Use one before and or or in a series. (We ate toast, eggs, and cereal. I had my choice of red, black, or blue pens.)
- In this sense, compose means to create or put together. (Jack’s comic book collection is composed of several first editions.)
- Comprise means to contain or include. (The panel comprises people from all parts of campus.) Note, however, that the panel is not “comprised of” people from all parts of campus.
- You may want to use constitute, or something entirely different, if neither compose nor comprise seems to work. (Eleven problems constitute the math test. The math test consists of eleven problems. People from all parts of campus make up the panel. Panel members are drawn from all parts of campus.)
- Use include when a list may not be complete. (The list of confirmed guests includes Senator Gatsby.)
- Days of the week and names of months should be spelled out, except in tabular material.
- Use commas as follows:
The twins were born in April 1989.
The twins were born on Tuesday, April 30.
The twins turned 16 on April 30, 2005.
The twins started driving on May 1, 2005, and they went to the mall twice.
- Use apostrophes carefully: the 1990s, the ’90s, the nineties (not the 1990’s or 90’s)
- Capitalize the title as follows: Dean Olivia Gordon; Dean Gordon; Olivia Gordon, dean of the School of Architectural Sciences; Dean of the School of Architectural Sciences Olivia Gordon. Olivia Gordon is the dean of architectural sciences. (Also see the “Titles” section below.)
- In general, we prefer to use “Dr.” as a medical title and avoid it when talking about academics or clerics. When it’s necessary to mention that a person holds a doctorate, you can often do it parenthetically (Joseph Q. Bixby, Ph.D., or Joseph Bixby, who holds a doctorate in geology).
However, as an academic institution we understand that earning a doctorate is an achievement to be respected and also that speaking of “Dr. Bixby” may contribute to the prestige, credibility, and authority of the University, its faculty, and programs.
In those instances, use “Dr. Joseph Bixby” on first reference and “Dr. Bixby” on second reference. Then, depending on the case at hand, “Bixby” may be acceptable in subsequent references. Unless you’re writing very informally, or you’re a close personal friend or are quoting someone who is, never refer to Dr. Bixby as “Joe.”
- Although they both mean “to make certain,” ensure and insure are not quite interchangeable. Insure more properly refers to finances. (Using this method will ensure success. Insure yourself against the high cost of illness.) Assure implies the removal of doubt or suspense. (I assure you that I mean no harm.)
- Entitled means to have a right to something. (Martin was entitled to a third of his grandfather’s estate.) Don’t use it if you’re talking about the name of a book, play, etc. (The presentation was titled “Learning to Use Algorithms.”)
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- Note the hyphen. Abbreviate GPA and give the number with two decimal places (a GPA of 3.00 on a 4.00 scale).
- Although it’s increasingly common to see they/their used as gender-neutral singular pronouns, this is incorrect. (A student should consult with his or her adviser. Students should consult with their advisers.) If following this advice makes a sentence awkward, try to rewrite it.
- Check a recent dictionary. Treatment of a word can change as it moves into common use.
- Or read for clarity. “Her reply was thought provoking.” Does that mean her reply was thought (considered) provoking or that it was thought-provoking (it made you stop and think)?
- Words made with these prefixes are generally not hyphenated:
- Some exceptions: If the resulting word is difficult to pronounce or looks odd, hyphenate it (cochair/co-chair; coworker/co-worker). Hyphenate words that can be mistaken for other words (co-op/coop; re-creation /recreation).
- Hyphenate two words combined to make an adjective. (It was a hair-raising experience. Helen is a full-time student, so she can only work part time.)
- Ex is hyphenated when it’s used to mean former (ex-spouse).
- It’s a noun, not a verb. (The impact of a meteor had a tremendous impact on the dinosaurs.) The meteor did not impact the dinosaurs, though you could say it affected them or had an influence on them.
- Don’t mix prepositions and dashes in the same phrase.
These are ok: “He works from 9 to 5.” “He works 9-5.” This is not: “He works from 9-5.”
These are also ok: “People between the ages of 18 and 25 will love this movie.” “People aged 18-25 will love this movie.” “Everyone aged 18 through 25 will love this movie.”
Note: Using thru for through is acceptable only in very informal writing, or in tabbed or other materials where space may be a consideration.
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- Simple, short lists don’t require much punctuation.
“To go camping we need a tent, sleeping bag, and insect repellant.” “We need a tent, sleeping bag, and insect repellant to go camping.”
- Complex lists may require additional punctuation.
“We need these things to go camping: (1) a lightweight, easily assembled tent; (2) sleeping bags that are comfortable and can be zipped open and closed quickly; and (3) hypoallergenic insect repellant, preferably a brand that contains an FDA-approved sunblock.” [Note: You can substitute (a), (b), and (c) for (1), (2), and (3).]
- For even amounts, omit the .00 except if needed in tabbed lists ($5, not $5.00). It’s easy to misread $5.00 as $500.
- For amounts less than $1, use figures and spell out cents (5 cents, 75 cents).
- “The new library cost $1 million.” “The chips cost 88 cents.” “He looked like a million dollars.” “Jason had to put in his two cents.”
- In general, spell out numbers one through nine and use figures for numbers 10 and higher.
- But for consistency’s sake, treat numbers alike in the same context (a 103-story office building between apartment houses only 3 and 4 stories high; four seniors out of a group of twenty-five students).
Exceptions are years (2 A.D.), percentages (7 percent), and measurements (9 feet, 3 degrees). Also, for inclusive numbers in which one is lower than 10 and one is higher, use figures for both. (Answer questions 4 through 74.)
- The complete, proper name of an office should be capitalized. Other references should be lowercased (the Office of Financial Assistance, the financial assistance office).
- It’s percent not per cent.
- Except in tabular material, use numbers and spell the word out (1 percent, not one percent or 1%) and use decimals, not fractions (0.5 percent, not 1/2 percent or 1/2 %).
- In general, plurals are not made by using an apostrophe + s. However, you can make an abbreviation plural by using ” ‘s ” if there is more than one period (M.A.’s and Ph.D.’ s, but vols. and yrs.).
- Proper names are never made plural by using an apostrophe. (The Joneses (not Jones’s) left on vacation. All the Sallys (not Sally’s) are here.)
- A collective noun is a group of individuals considered as a unit – an audience, jury, or committee, for example. Collective nouns take singular verbs and pronouns when you’re thinking of the members as a whole. (The family who lives next door is named Mulligan.) These nouns take plural verbs and pronouns when group members are thought of as individuals. (The jury are washing their hands before they go to dinner.)
- Words like athletics and politics are generally considered singular. (Politics is a dirty business.)
- Our preference for forming the possessive of proper nouns ending in “s” is to add only an apostrophe (Texas’ flag, UIS’ soccer team).
- Possessive pronouns ending in “s” do not take an apostrophe. (My hand is cleaner than yours. Your hand is cleaner than hers.)
- Don’t confuse it’s (it is) with its. (It’s time to go. The dog bit its trainer.)
- Proved is a verb. (He proved to be an exciting speaker.) Proven is an adjective. (He has a proven talent for speaking.)
- Quality is a noun, not an adjective.
This is ok: “We’re proud of the quality of our faculty.” This isn’t: “We’re proud of our quality faculty.”
You can use quality as a modifier, however, if you combine it with another word. (We have a high-quality faculty.)
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- The choice of that or which can make a difference in the sense of your sentence.
“Norma never wore perfume that made her sneeze.” (But she drenched herself in the other kind.)
“Norma never wore perfume, which made her sneeze.” (She had allergies.)
- Use that to introduce an essential clause, one that can’t be eliminated without changing your meaning.
Use which to introduce a nonessential clause, one that can be left out without changing the basic meaning of the sentence. (Frank couldn’t recall the Latin phrase that he used as a password. Frank couldn’t recall the Latin phrase, which he used as a password.)
- Times should be designated by a.m. or p.m. Don’t use :00 except as needed in tabular material.
- 12 midnight, 12 noon, or Friday evening at 8 p.m. are redundant. Try midnight, noon, Friday at 8 p.m., or Friday evening at eight o’clock.
- A personal title is capitalized when it comes immediately before the holder’s name and is used as part of that name (Chancellor Daniel Henderson), but not if it follows the name (Daniel Henderson, chancellor) or if it’s used more to describe the person than as part of his or her name (university chancellor Daniel Henderson).
Some titles can be abbreviated if they’re used with a person’s full name, otherwise spell them out (Rev. Daniel Henderson, Reverend Henderson).
Consult a reference source if you have questions about the use of religious or honorary titles.
- Titles of books, movies, plays, etc.
These take italics:
books (The Kite Runner)
long poems (The Iliad)
movies (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
newspapers (the New York Times)
operas and other long musical pieces (The Marriage of Figaro)
periodicals (National Geographic )
plays (The Death of a Salesman)
record albums (Mudvayne’s Lost and Found)
TV and radio series (Dirty Jobs, A Prairie Home Companion)
works of art (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Rodin’s The Thinker)
These require quotation marks:
articles in magazines and newspapers (“Fed Drops Interest Rate” in the May 14 Wall Street Journal)
chapter titles (chapter one of David Copperfield, “I Am Born”)
dissertations and papers (a paper titled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”)
essays (John Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”)
individual episodes of a TV series (the “Humbug” episode of The X Files)
short poems (Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”)
song titles (Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary”)
- See the “Campus” entry above.
- Use use.
- No hyphen.
- The correct form when referring to a UIS vice chancellor is “vice chancellor for” not “of.” (Michael Millroy is vice chancellor for human resource management.)
- Use who or whom instead of that to refer to people and to animals with names. Use who when it’s the subject of the sentence, clause, or phrase. (Lassie is the dog who saved Timmy.) Use whom when it’s the object of a verb or preposition. (Timmy is the boy whom Lassie saved.)
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Matters of electronic style – no less than old-fashioned grammar – are open to interpretation. Here is one from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The following examples briefly represent a general style adopted for this campus.
And please, do take the time to read over what you’ve written at least once before hitting the send button. Unless your input is urgently needed, clarity, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and basic civility still count.
- All these are commonly used, but we lean toward keeping the hyphen and lowercasing the “e,” unless it’s the first word in a sentence.
Emoticons and acronyms
- Please don’t use little smiley faces : ) or similar emoticons in anything but the most casual messages.
- Likewise, don’t assume that everyone knows what “BTW,” “LOL,” or other trendy acronyms mean.
- Capitalize it when you’re speaking of “the” Internet.
- One word
- Like the “1” in 800 telephone numbers, the “http://” can (almost always) be safely omitted from web addresses.
- Don’t underline web addresses, and don’t underline other text for emphasis. Most people now assume that underlined text is linked text.
- Opinions differ about putting a period at the end of a web address that is also the end of a sentence; some prefer to leave a space between the address and the closing punctuation (www.uis.edu .). Our preference is to punctuate the end of the sentence, with no extra space. Questions or exclamations that end in a web address still require the closing ? or ! (You bought that at Amazon.com! How could you buy anything at Amazon.com?)
World Wide Web
- Initial caps for the full name and if (like “Internet” above) you’re speaking of “the” Web. But otherwise lowercase web (web address, webpage, website).