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 Associated Press Stylebook, though some departures have been made that are specific to UIS. AP Style is used by journalists and is the preferred style for news releases and other information sent to the media.
This guide is by no means exhaustive; it’s meant only to address some of the most common questions that writers may have.
If you want additional information, try:
- OWL Purdue AP Style Guide
- AP vs. Chicago Manual Style
- The reference section of Brookens Library
- Some suggestions for E-Style
Click on a letter to jump to that section of the alphabet:
- Degrees: The preferred form is to avoid an abbreviation and use instead a phrase, such as John Doe, who has a doctorate in biology. 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). Use abbreviations for academic degrees (B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D.) only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would prove cumbersome.
- Departments: Lowercase the name of an academic department (the chemistry department, the computer science department), except when there is a proper noun in the title (The English department). Department names used as part of an official title are uppercase (The University of Illinois Springfield Computer Science Department, UIS Psychology Department).
- Titles: Uppercase academic titles when they precede a name and are used as part of it (Professor of Archaeology June Clemens). Lowercase academic titles following a name (June Clemens, professor of archaeology). 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.
- 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.
- The name of the university is University of Illinois Springfield. By decision of the Chancellor’s Cabinet, we dropped the use of the word “at” and are now known as University of Illinois Springfield – or simply Illinois Springfield.
- Avoid using campus to refer to the three universities in Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield. These should be referred to as universities, unless the reference is to the grounds.
- We are proud to be one of three universities in the world-class University of Illinois System.
- UIS recently added a statue of Abraham Lincoln to its campus.
- Lowercase university for a generic reference. Do not use alone with an initial cap to refer to the System.
- President Killeen was among the university leaders in attendance at the national conference.
- Effective with the approval of the 2016 Strategic Framework, University of Illinois System is the proper way to identify the entire organization. Acceptable second references are: U of I System, System, or University of Illinois on second reference.
- The University of Illinois System is regarded as the flagship public university system for the state of Illinois. The value of a University of Illinois degree to its graduates is indisputable.
- “U of I”, shorthand for University of Illinois, is to be used on second reference only. No punctuation. Do not use UI (although this is used by some media outlets and some units, such as UI Health).
- 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. Also capitalize phrases, such as Spring Semester 2016.
- 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 degree, a doctorate degree); academic subjects (My adviser says I need to take a botany course.) Also use lowercase in these instances: the city of Springfield, central Illinois.
- In titles, the first and last words, as well as all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and words like if, because, and that are capitalized. 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).
- Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple 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.)
- For dates and years, use figures.
- Capitalize days of the week, but do not abbreviate. If an event occurs more than seven days before or after the current date, use the month and a figure.
- Spell out the month unless it is used with a date. When used with a date, abbreviate only the following months: Jan., Feb. Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Always capitalize months.
- Do not use st, nd, rd, or th with dates.
- Use commas as follows:
The twins were born in April 1989.
The twins were born on Tuesday, Feb. 30.
The twins turned 16 on Dec. 30, 2005.
The twins started driving on May 1, 2005, and they went to the mall twice.
- Use apostrophes carefully: the 1990s, the ’90s (not the 1990’s or 90’s)
*Information provided by the OWL Purdue website
- 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. “The woman had four children and 12 grandchildren.”
- 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.
- Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases (a change in 2019): Enrollment rose 3.1% from a year ago. Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points. For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: Funding rose 0.6%.
- Phone numbers should be hyphenated (example 217-206-0000).
- 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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- Spell out all state names in the middle of a story, even when used in conjunction with a city name (Springfield, Illinois). Abbreviate state names when they are used as part of a dateline, list, agate or tabular material. The following state names are not abbreviated: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. For a full list of state abbreviations, visit the OWL Purdue website.
- 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). Some titles can be abbreviated if they’re used with a person’s full name (Sen. Daniel Henderson). Consult a reference source if you have questions about the use of religious or honorary titles.
- Use quotation marks around titles of books, computer games, movies, operas, plays, poems, albums, songs, radio and television programs and works of art. Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. Periods and commas used in conjunction with a title always go within the quotation marks.
Books: “The Kite Runner”
Poems: “The Iliad”
Movies: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”
Operas and other Musical Pieces: “The Marriage of Figaro”
Plays: “The Death of a Salesman”
Record Albums: Mudvayne’s “Lost and Found”
TV and Radio Series “A Prairie Home Companion”
Works of Art: Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, Rodin’s “The Thinker”
Do not put quotation marks around the Bible or books that are primarily catalogs of reference material. This category also includes, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, handbooks and similar publications. Do not use quotation marks around the name of computer software, such as Word. Names of newspapers, journals or magazines are not to be quoted or italicized.
The State Journal-Register
The Journal of Continuing Higher Education
These require quotation marks:
Articles in magazines and newspapers (“Fed Drops Interest Rate” in the New York Times)
Computer Games or Apps (“Farmville” on Facebook)
Dissertations and papers (a paper titled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”)
Essays (John Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”)
Short poems (Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”)
Song titles (Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary”)
Video games (“World of Warcraft”)These do not require quotation marks:
Individual episodes of a TV series (the Humbug episode of “The X Files”)
Statues (“The Young Lawyer”)
- 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.
The following examples briefly represent a general style adopted for this university.
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.
- Lowercase “internet” in the middle of a sentence.
- 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
- Lowercase “web” in the middle of a sentence.