Punctuation and Grammar
Correct use of punctuation and grammar helps effectively tell our stories. Here are guidelines for content you’ll often encounter when writing about USU.
Lowercase and use an apostrophe in bachelor’s and master’s, but not in associate. Do not use apostrophes when referring to the official degree title and capitalize.
Use a hyphen when writing out an academic year.
In capital letters with no periods.
With the exception of well-understood acronyms and abbreviations, spell out the full name or title on first use, followed by the letters in parentheses, if they are to be used repeatedly in the text. Only use acronyms for degrees when in a list of graduates or a bio.
Use abbreviations only with a numbered address.
When making a bulleted or numbered list, be sure that capitalization, punctuation, and structure are consistent within the list. Capitalize the first word following the bullet and use a period at the end of each section whether it is a full sentence or a phrase. Maintain consistency throughout the entire document.
The colon is used to indicate something is following that will complete or amplify the previous material. It is not necessary to capitalize the word immediately following a colon unless it begins a complete sentence of its own or is a proper noun.
Do not use unnecessary colons in sentences.
Incorrect: Visit our website at: usu.edu.
Use a colon when the sentence is not complete without it.
University publications use the Oxford comma.
However, when writing news releases, one should use AP style. AP style does not use the Oxford comma — or serial comma — in a simple series. In a series with more complexity, an Oxford comma may be needed for clarity.
Dates are punctuated with commas before and after the year in a complete date: May 3, 2019, was a beautiful day. There is no comma if only the month and year are used: Utah State University will be closed December 25. Don’t use ordinals such as 1st, 4th, or 23rd, in dates.
Whether writing a university document, or for the news, maintain consistency throughout.
Committee, Center, Group, Program, and Initiative Names
Unless a committee, center, group, program, or initiative is officially recognized and formally named, avoid capitalizing. An ad hoc committee’s name, for example, would not typically be capitalized. Do capitalize the official, proper names of long-standing committees and groups and formally developed programs and initiatives.
DashesNeither USU Editorial Style or AP Style use the en dash (—), which is shorter than the em dash. Many word porcessors will automatically convert two hyphens (--) into an en dash instead of an em dash. To manually type an em dash:
- On an Apple computer: Press opt + shift + -
- On a Windows computer: Hold the alt key while you type "0151" on the numpad, then release the alt key. Altertively, hold the Windows key and press the period key, which will bring up an input menu for special characters. Click on the "symbols" tab (Ω) at the top, then the "general punctuation tab (<) at the bottom. You should see the em dash to the right of the shorter en dash.
- On a Chromebook or Linux computer: Press ctrl+shift+u type "2014," and press space or enter.
Don’t use a hyphen after an adverb ending in ly.
Some words that normally should be hyphenated for clarity: co-op (as opposed to coop), re-signed (as opposed to resigned), or for easier reading when the root word begins with a vowel: re-enrolled, re-admitted.
Use hyphens when two or more words describe a noun.
Use hyphens when two or more words are required in a verb phrase.
Adverbs that end in -ly modify the following word and do not require a hyphen.
Names With Degrees
Use a comma between a person’s name and degree.
Numbers in General
The following guidelines apply to the majority of USU writing except for scientific, statistical, technical, and mathematical writing.
- Spell out one to nine. Use figures for 10 and above.
- Use figures for percentages, decimals, credit hours, GPAs, book sections and pages, ages, distances and dimensions, quantities combining whole numbers and fractions, and when symbols rather than abbreviations are used for units of measure.
- Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space.
In casual cases, use words rather than figures or numbers.
Spelling out large round numbers is preferred.
Use a combination of figures and words with numbers in the millions and larger.
Use a comma for numbers with more than three digits unless they represent SAT scores or years.
Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence or rephrase the sentence to avoid beginning with a number.
Better: The university presented 49 students with the new degree at the May commencement.
If a sentence ends with a URL or an email address, the closing punctuation — usually a period — should be included.
Use periods in bulleted lists, even if including incomplete sentences.
The use of periods in degree abbreviations is preferred: B.A., M.S., Ed.D., Ph.D. There are no spaces in the degree abbreviations. *Note: Abbreviated degrees should only be used in lists, not in main body copy.
Hyphens are acceptable between number sequences. When writing online content, use hyphens to make the number clickable on a mobile device.
Pictures of Alumni/Students
When identifying someone, always identify them using the format:
- For alumni identify them with a name, degree, and graduation year. If they are a current student, identify them with a name and year in school.
For more details, visit USU Communications and Marketing Copyright and Model Release.
When writing text for USU Policies, words listed in the policy definitions section should be capitalized throughout the policy. When listing policies in a document, include the full policy citation on the first mention to avoid confusion. The formal names of policies should be capitalized.
Publications, Presentations, and Reports
Titles of books, periodicals, journals, movies, television and radio programs, musicals, plays, podcasts, works of art, museum exhibitions, and campus publications are styled italic with initial caps. *This deviates from the AP style. Presentation titles and poems are enclosed in quotes.
Quotation marks are placed outside of commas and periods, but inside of semicolons and colons. Question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on whether they are part of the quoted matter.
Avoid using quotation marks around a word to call attention to it or because there isn’t a better word to use.
However, do, on first reference, put quotation marks around a word that is likely unfamiliar to a reader.
- Use single quotations marks inside double quotation markes when you have a quotation within a quotation. Initial cap the quotation within the quotation.
- Use single quotation marks in headlines or article titles for uses that would normally call for double quotation marks.
Seasons and Semesters
Seasons, semesters, and terms should all be lowercase, unless the full, formal name is used.
Use figures with a.m. or p.m. (small caps or lowercase letters) to indicate specific times.
Use noon, in place of 12 p.m., for clarity.
Avoid using the term midnight if it creates ambiguity about what day something is taking place. Instead: 11:59 p.m. Thursday or 12:01 a.m. Friday.
Use an “s” without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries.
Use the correct placement for A.D. and B.C. (all caps).
AP Style Notes to Watch for in News Writing
- In general, avoid unnecessary capitalization.
- The title Dr. is used only for medical doctors, not someone with a doctorate. AP's definition of medical doctorates includes:
- Doctor of Dental Surgery.
- Doctor of Medicine.
- Doctor of Optometry.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
- Doctor of Pediatric Medicine.
- Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
- In general, formal titles are capitalized only when they precede a name, not after. This includes “Noelle E. Cockett, president of Utah State University.”
- Use a hyphen for both first-grader and first-grade student.
- Use figures for numbers of 10 and higher, except when they begin a sentence.
- In a simple series of items, AP style calls for no comma before the final “and,” such as in “red, white and blue.”
- Periods and commas are always placed within quotation marks, never outside.
- The possessive form of campus is “campus’s.”