Writing Style Guide for western.edu

Consistency of style enhances communication clarity. For marketing and other public communication at Western, we follow, with some exceptions, the Associated Press Style, which also relies on Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary. These benchmarks aim to help writers and editors produce copy that translates well between platforms and is easy for all to read.

AP Style, while possessing its own formality, differs from many academic styles. For instance, the infamous “Oxford comma” is omitted from series lists (unless required for clarity; see below). While AP Style is used for our university communications, it may not be appropriate for research papers.

You can get the AP Stylebook by ordering a copy or online subscription directly from APStylebook.com.

Lacking – or in addition to having – a copy of the Stylebook, you can search “AP Style” on the web and find a variety of comments and examples. This site has some easily searched – if not perfectly accurate – information.

About This Guide

The alphabetized set of entries below includes some particular highlights of AP Style, some exceptions to it that we follow on western.edu, and some general grammar and word-use concerns noted when editing our new website. Click each entry to expand its explanation and examples.

You’ll find large collections of items under several entries, such as Attribution, Punctuation and Numerals. Just click on the headings to expand the lists of additional subentries. You’ll also find some information duplicated or restated, in some cases for emphasis, and in others because entries share issues.

This is a work in progress. We will try to alert the Western community to major changes. But please check back here regularly.

If you think you must, for some reason, deviate from these styles or you encounter a problem for which you cannot find a specified solution, at least be consistent within your page or document. Inconsistencies trip up readers and reduce comprehension.

Should you have questions or suggestions, please contact Sarah Higgins.


  • See separate entry, below.
Ante and post meridian
  • AP lowercases and includes periods and a space preceding a.m. and p.m.
  • On western.edu, we have chosen to omit preceding spaces and periods, which can cause problems with formatting.
  • Use noon and midnight, rather than 12pm and 12am.
    Example: The convocation is noon to 2pm Feb. 4 in the Savage Library.
  • When it’s obvious times refer to morning, afternoon or evening, you can omit am and/or pm.
    Example: The final presentation is from 7 to 9 tomorrow evening.
  • Do not include :00 when denoting exact hours.
    Example: The party begins at 5, and we must clear the ballroom by 11.
  • Note the period- and space-free style for am/pm is for western.edu only. Publications, articles and press releases should follow AP Style.
Businesses and organizations
  • Do not include abbreviations or acronyms in parentheses following the first mention of an organization.
  • If the abbreviation is not clear to the reader, spell it out.
  • Acronyms (initials that spell pronounceable words) have no periods, unlike most abbreviations.
  • Do not abbreviate association, assistant, attorney, building, district, government, president, detective, professor or superintendent.
    Example: The Metropolitan Development Association.
    Example: The English department.
  • You can abbreviate Company, Corporation, Brothers, Limited and Incorporated only at the end of a proper, company name (Co., Corp., Bros., Ltd. and Inc.).
    Example: Carrier Corp.
  • Write out unfamiliar governmental agencies and organizations on first reference.
  • Use an acronym or initials for subsequent references, so long as the reference is clear (usually by following closely in the copy); otherwise, spell it out.
    Example: The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued new rules of the road. The
    CDOT rules spell out how you should drive in different situations.
  • You can use widely recognized acronyms of organizations and government bodies on first reference.
    Examples: NATO, PTA, FBI and CIA.
  • Abbreviate elected officials’ titles and use their single-letter party affiliation, set off by commas and using hyphens.
    Example: Sen. Mark
    Udall, D-Colo., said ... .
  • Abbreviate the month when you have a specific date, except for March, April, May, June and July.
  • Since the year is a parenthetical statement added to the date, it must be set off by commas.
    Example: May 15, 2014, is the last day to register.
    Example: Sept. 15 should offer us good weather.
  • Write out the month when you don't have a specific date.
  • When you have only the month and the year do not use commas.
    Example: December 2012 was the last time we saw him.
Degrees and academic titles
  • Try to write out academic degrees whenever possible.
    Example: She has a doctorate in psychology.
  • Abbreviate degrees without any periods (AA, BA, MS, MD, LLD, PhD) in formal titles following a person's name.
    Example: Mary T. Johnston, PhD in psychology.
  • Don't abbreviate either professor or the rank. (By the way, it is assistant and then associate, followed by full professor.)
  • However, as with other titles, it is best to avoid formalizing the title in front of the name. Rather, when practical and necessary, follow the name with a parenthetical explanation of the academic rank.
    Example: Associate Professor Christine
    Better Example: Christine Braunberger, associate professor of … .
  • Do not place spaces between two initials used instead of the full first name and middle initial.
    Example: O.J. Simpson
  • Titles, such as Gov., Sen., Rev. and Dr., are abbreviated only when they come before a name.
  • Abbreviate states when used with a city.
    Example: He lives in
    Westcliffe, Colo.
  • Write out the names of all states when they stand alone.
    Example: She lives in Utah but goes to school in Colorado.
  • Do not use the Postal Service’s two-letter abbreviations, such as CO for Colorado, for states, except when listing a complete mailing address with ZIP code.
  • Accepted abbreviations within copy are: Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Kan., Ky., La., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.H., N.J., N.M., N.Y., N.C., N.D., Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis. and Wyo.
  • Eight states are not abbreviated in copy: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii.
  • Do not use periods with mph (miles per hour), mpg (miles per gallon), cm (centimeter), ml (milliliter), cc (cubic centimeter) or mm (millimeter).
  • Note that mm, cm, cc and ml are not preceded by spaces.
    Example: He drove 70 mph to develop the 35mm photos of the murder site. (Note the space before mph, but not before mm.)
  • Write out United States when it is used as a noun, but it can be abbreviated with periods when used as an adjective.
    Example: U.S. military spending is up this year, although some argue the United States is not safe.
  • Plurals of abbreviations and acronyms, unlike single letters, do not use apostrophes.
    Example: The CPAs will solve the problem.

Academic Degrees

  • Use an apostrophe in master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Do not capitalize.
    Example: She earned her bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
  • Spell out degrees whenever practical to make reading easier.
  • Unlike AP, when abbreviating degrees at Western, we do not use periods within a degree’s initials (see entry under Abbreviations, above).
  • Like AP, plurals of abbreviated degrees do not use apostrophes – unless they possess or contract something else.
    Example: He has two MAs but no PhD.
    Better Example: He has two master’s degrees and a doctorate.


  • Use address numbers before street names, room numbers after building names.
    Example: 600 N. Adams St.
    Example: Taylor Hall 314E
  • Abbreviate Boulevard, Avenue and Street only with exact, numbered addresses. 
    Example: She lives at 1015 Oak Ave. (Blvd., St.) 
    Example: She lives on Oak Avenue. Always write out Road, Drive, Court, Square, Lane, Alley and Terrace. 
  • On exact addresses, west, north, south and east are abbreviated with a capital letter.
  • Spell out compass points without specific addresses
    Example: She lives at 515 N. Smith Lane.
    Example: The store is somewhere on West Georgia Street.
  • Use numerals for addresses, even if the house number is less than 10.
    Example: She lives at 1 Pine St.


  • AP is clear that this word should be spelled adviser, and Webster’s lists er as the preferred spelling.
  • Western, however, like many other educational institutions, spells this word with or at the end.

Afterward, toward, backward, forward

  • These words do not end in s. Don’t add one.


  • If you use quotation marks, the quoted material must be attributed or its source obvious within the context.
  • Generally, attribution verbs should follow the names of speakers or writers, unless a paraphrase or identifying information follows the attribution.
    Example: “The university has a bright future,” says Brad Baca, interim president of Western State Colorado University.
    Example: “We’re firing on all cylinders,” he adds.
  • Use present tense for most profile articles and announcements from the school.
  • Past tense may be appropriate for reports on events that have taken place.
    Example: “Our enrollment is growing, our facilities are in great shape and our finances are in order,” he said during a Board of Trustees meeting.
  • Says and said are preferred verbs.
  • Note, noted, states and stated may be appropriate.
  • Adds and added may be useful for extended quotations.
  • Avoid overly colorful attribution verbs, such as cried or laughed.
  • Generally, quote only one person in a single paragraph.
  • When you change speakers, attribution should begin a new paragraph that includes a quotation, direct or paraphrased.
    Example: Mark Testostrine, director of complaints, disagreed, saying, “I don’t care about the numbers. It’s my perception that matters.”
  • The first time you refer to a person, use the person’s full name and title, if applicable.
    Example: John Brown, director of AIDS Awareness, said the annual AIDS Walk-Run was a great success.
  • A particularly formal title before the name is capitalized (see Capitalize).
    Example: Mayor Bill di Blasio has big plans for the Big Apple.
  • A person's title is always kept lowercase after the name or when standing alone.
    Example: Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, said ...
    Example: The senator was unrepentant.
  • For second references, use only the person's last name.
    Example: Brown said the event earned the organization $175,000.
  • For second references to children – especially when the names of their parents are in the same copy – and for employee bios on our website, it is appropriate to use first names.
    Example: Nyseha Green was the first-place winner in this year's Spelling Bee. Nyseha, 10, won for correctly spelling the word, "ennui."
  • Put nicknames in quotation marks.
    Example: Martha "Sunny" Von Bulow.
  • Abbreviate and capitalize junior and senior after a person's name. Do not separate these from their names with commas.
    Example: Cuba Gooding Jr.
  • When a title stands alone or comes after a name it is not capitalized or abbreviated.
    Example: I voted for the mayor.
    Example: I trust my professor.
  • When using a title before a name presented as an appositive (i.e., there is a comma between the title and the name), do not capitalize the title.
    Example: I believe the chapter president, Matthew Jones, is correct.
  • Put a long title after the name.
    Example: Brian Barker, director of marketing and media relations, says Western’s profile is rising among graduating high school seniors.
  • In general, do not use courtesy titles, such as Ms., Miss, Mr., Dr. or Mrs. Use only the person's last name for second references.


  • Use sparingly for emphasis.
  • Use instead of all caps or underlining.
  • Do not boldface headlines (H2, H3, H4, etc.) on western.edu.


  • … Only proper names.
  • This includes the full names of and specific references to academic programs, areas of study and university departments.
    Example: The Marketing & Media Relations Department at Western helps attract and retain new students.
  • Do not capitalize such words in generic use or without their proper-name component.
    Example: The department presents the public face of Western.
  • Do not capitalize job titles unless they are particularly formal (e.g.: President Barack Obama, Gov. John Hickenlooper) and immediately precede the name of the titleholder.
  • To avoid the choice of whether to capitalize a formal title, place the title after the name, where it should always be lowercase (e.g.: Brad Baca, interim president).
  • Professor is a formal title on western.edu; capitalize it when used before a professor‘s name.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS unless you really need to shout something. Consider boldfacing instead.
  • Compass points are not capitalized. However, references to specific regions based on those compass points are capitalized.
    Example: I love living in the Southwest, but traveling north from here in the winter really throws off my system.
  • Similarly, seasons of the year are not capitalized. However, we do capitalize the names of our semesters.
    Example: I’m eager to complete Spring Semester, so I can enjoy the summer.
  • Specific government bodies – such as Congress, House, Senate, General Assembly, Legislature (when referring to a specific gathering) and County Council – should be capitalized.
  • Do not capitalize non-specific references to government bodies.
    Example: The Senate and General Assembly meet this week, but unlike some other states’ legislatures, they must adjourn by June 1.
  • Specific geographic features should be capitalized.
  • Do not capitalize generic references to geographic features or descriptors applied to more than one feature.
    Example: The Black and Grand canyons are both National Parks.
  • Do not capitalize western.edu. Write around instances in which it might appear at the start of a sentence.
  • Do capitalize Western whenever you refer to our amazing university.

Center around

  • A physical and logical impossibility.
  • Things center on, not around.
  • ... Although things can revolve around.

Citations and footnotes

  • … are for academic papers.
  • We need less formal – but complete – attribution on the web and in our public communications.
    Wrong: (Love, 2009).
    Correct: … management researcher Schmirdlapp Love stated in 2009.
  • See Attribution, above.

Composition Titles

  • Italicize book and other publication titles.
  • Use quotation marks around movies, poems, songs and short stories.
    Example: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, is a novel by Jules Verne; “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” is a 1954 film from Walt Disney.
    Example: “The Raven” was first published in The New York Evening Mirror.
  • Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. Capitalize an article – the, an, a – or any word of fewer than four letters only if it is the first or last word in the title.

Comprise vs. compose

  • Comprise defines the whole, not its parts. Nothing is “comprised of” anything. But it may “comprise” many things. Comprise, therefore, comes in a sentence before the list of components.
    Example: The house comprises seven rooms.
  • Compose defines the components that make up a whole.
    Example: Seven rooms compose the house.
  • Learn more at this site.


  • In the United States (and most countries), every original creation fixed in a tangible form is copyrighted. A digital camera card is considered tangible.
  • Copyright automatically belongs to the creator or author.
  • … Unless the author is legally an employee or signs a work-for-hire agreement, in which case the copyright belongs to the employer or contractor.
  • You must have a specific, written license to reproduce copyrighted materials.
  • Using copyrighted materials without a license puts you and your employer or client at risk.
  • There is no requirement of notice for protection of copyright.
  • Notice, such as ©2014 Greg Smith, however, is recommended and may affect litigation.
  • In order to bring an infringement case, an author must register the copyright in question with the Library of Congress.
  • Prior registration affects awards, which can range to $150,000 per willful infringement.
  • Most creations on the Internet and in print are copyrighted.
  • Works created by and for the U.S. government and many other governments are in the public domain, and may be freely used.
  • Many authors release their works with broad licenses, such as those from Creative Commons.
  • Learn more at the Copyright Office website.

Corporate designations and generational descriptors

  • … such as Inc., LLC, Ltd. and Jr., are not preceded by commas in AP or Western style.
    Examples: Apple Inc.; Jones, Patterson and Schmirdlapp LLC; Gregory W. Smith Sr.
  • But in most cases, you don’t need to cite the corporate status or family lineage and can skip questionable abbreviations or acronyms.


  • ... is – despite common (mis)usage – a plural noun.
  • The singular version is datum.
  • Use plural verbs with data (metadata, etc.).
    Example: The data explain much about the population.
    Example: The data prove you are incorrect.
  • ... Or avoid constructions in which data affects a verb.
    Example: You are incorrect, according to the data.


  • Use cardinal numerals for dates.
    Example: The paper is due Nov. 1 (not 1st).
  • Set off with commas years used with specific dates.
    Example: June 1, 1970, was when it all began.
  • Also see Abbreviations, above.

Either/or and neither/nor

  • If you use either to introduce, it must be followed by a clause beginning with or.
    Example: Either you do your homework or I will take away your iPad.
  • If you use neither, it must be followed by nor.
    Example: Neither your whining nor the stomping of your little foot will change my mind.
  • Nor can also follow other negatively introduced clauses, beginning with such words as never and not.
    Example: Never has such an action been seen by two people at once, nor has it been previously recorded.
  • The previous point can be a judgment call. It often helps to read a sentence aloud as you try to decide.


  • One word.
  • Capitalize only if used at the beginning of a sentence or in a headline (as above) or title.

Flush left copy on our website

  • …. unless there is a compelling reason for centering or flush right.
  • Justified copy almost never works on the web.
  • Eye-tracking and comprehension studies suggest flush left (aka: “ragged right”) copy is easier to read in print, as well.


  • On western.edu, we use up-style or title case for headlines (H2 through H4 on the website).
  • H5s and smaller are down-style or sentence case.
  • Headlines should never be boldfaced on western.edu.
  • In general, they should not be followed by a colon – although they may contain one.
  • Use single quotation marks in headlines.
  • Headlines (H2, H3, etc.) improve search-engine optimization. Boldface does not.
  • The best headlines include both nouns and verbs; they are not merely labels.


  • External links (outside western.edu) should open in a new window.
  • Internal links can open in the same window.
  • Use the “LinkIt” tool (available by right-clicking) for internal links.
  • It is usually better to link keywords in a sentence, rather than spelling out a link to a website or email in the copy.
    Example: Crested Butte Mountain is only 31 miles from campus.
  • For web and email addresses readers should remember, you may wish to get literal.
    Example: For more information, contact admissions@western.edu.
  • Use anchors to send readers to specific points in a web page.

If vs. whether

  • In many constructions, such as dealing with yes/no questions and or constructions, the two words are commonly used interchangeably.
    Example: I didn't know whether you were coming to the party.
    Example: I didn't know if you were coming to the party.
    Example: I didn't know whether you were coming or not.
    Example: I didn't know if you were coming or not.
  • However, it is more proper, often clearer, to use whether in circumstances in which either word is accepted.
  • Use if for conditional clauses (which might include then).
    Example: If the party is early, (then) I will be late.
  • Use whether with alternatives.
    Example: Don‘t worry about whether I make it.
  • Use whether after prepositions.
    Example: Let‘s talk about whether you will be coming.


  • … are terms you might search to learn more about Western.
    Examples: academic, adventure, admissions, backcountry, beauty, business, campus, college, Colorado, diversity, educate, education, elevated, elevate, entrepreneurship, environment, environmental, fitness, friendly, graduate, Gunnison, high-altitude, individual, intimate, lab, laboratory, learn, learning, liberal arts, management, mountain, natural, nature, outdoor, professor, recreation, research, resort, Rockies, science, social, sport, state, student, sustainable, sustainability, welcoming, wilderness, small-town, undergraduate, university, valley, value, Western.
  • Including keywords in text, alt tags, descriptions and links boosts both reader understanding and search-engine optimization.

Like vs. as

  • Like is a preposition.
  • As is a conjunction.
  • A simple way to remember which to choose is to consider whether the following clause includes a verb. If it does, you need as, not like.
  • Yet another simple way to choose is to consider whether you might substitute similar to or similarly to for the word. If you can, use like.
    Example: His hat looks like a mongoose curled up on his head.
    Example: He skied as if the devil himself were following.


  • Use numerals and dollar sign up to six figures.
    Examples: $4, $3.35, $600,000.
  • Do not include a decimal unless there are cents.
    Example: $10 (not $10.00).
  • Use numerals, decimals and lowercase words for amounts greater than $1 million. Do not hyphenate.
    Examples: $2 million, $8.35 billion.
  • Spell out only in casual use.
    Examples: Please give me a few dollars. Dollars are flowing overseas.
  • Use numerals and cents for amounts less than one dollar.
    Examples: 5 cents, 73 cents.
  • Use numerals only, and align decimals if possible, in tabular data.

Not only ... but also

  • If you use not only to introduce a clause, you must follow it with but also.
    Example: Not only is he picky about grammar, but he also can be a real jerk when he corrects others.
  • It's tempting in some cases to leave out the but. However, it is more proper and often clearer to the reader to include it.


  • In general, spell out numbers less than 10.
    Example: He jumped four times and fell five.
  • In general, use numerals (figures) for numbers of 10 or more.
    Example: He jumped four times and fell five during 15 runs down the hill.
  • Do not start a sentence with a numeral. If possible, recast the sentence to avoid this. Otherwise spell it out.
    Example: Forty-five veterans attended the ceremony.
    Better Example: The ceremony drew 45 veterans into the cold.
  • There is one exception: calendar years.
    Example: 2005 was a year filled with natural disasters.
  • Use numerals for all measures of dimension, speed, weight and age.
    Example: The box is 4 by 6 inches.
    Example: Although she is now 19 pounds, she was only 4 pounds at birth.
    Example: Although he turns 4 next month, he is now 3 years old.
  • Use Arabic, not Roman, numerals.
  • ... Unless part of a proper name, showing personal sequence for animals and people, or noting wars.
    Examples: Pope John Paul II, UGA IV (the Georgia Bulldog mascot), World War II, VII photographic cooperative.
  • Use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) for act numbers in plays. But: the first act, the second act, etc.
  • Use figures (numerals) for addresses.
  • Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth in street names. Use ordinal numerals (with two-letters) for 10th and above.
    Examples: 222 E. Tomichi Ave.; 1 First St.; 622 19th Street.
  • Spell out and hyphenate fractions less than one.
    Examples: two-thirds, three-fourths.
  • Use figures for fractions greater than one; convert to decimals when practical.
    Examples: 1.7, 3.167.
  • When not practical to convert to a decimal, use a slash between the numerator and denominator and pair with any whole number by using a hyphen.
    Examples: 3/13, 1-1/27.
  • Use numerals and words to denote numbers larger than 999,999.
    Examples: 1 million, 27 billion, 900,000.
  • For clarity, repeat the words in such constructions when reporting a range.
    Example: Cost estimates range from $4 million to $10 million.
  • See AP Stylebook for more details.


  • A handy preposition for explaining relationships concerning altitude and rank.
  • Not so handy – or proper – for explaining quantities or sizes.
    Wrong: Over 2,300 students arrived on campus this past fall.
    Correct: More than 2,300 students arrived on campus this past fall.

Paragraphs vs. line feeds

  • On western.edu, a paragraph (aka: hard return) adds space between lines.
  • A line feed (aka: soft return) does not add space.
  • Use a line feed when you want lines of copy to appear immediately beneath each other, as in a complete address or list.
  • ... although for most lists it’s better to use the bullet or numbering tools in the Drupal editor.
  • The Enter or Return key on a computer’s main keyboard generates a paragraph command.
  • Shift-Enter (Return) or the Enter key on a numeric keypad generates a line feed only.
  • If you paste from a word processor, you will need to remove any extra lines of space manually inserted between paragraphs.


  • Spell it out. Do not use the % symbol (except in tabular data).
  • Use figures.
    Example: Nearly 50 percent of the student body participates in athletics.
  • Repeat percent with each figure.
    Example: Previous results suggest 25 percent to 30 percent will succeed.

Passive vs. active voice

  • Avoid the use of passive voice when you have a choice.
  • Active verbs allow simpler sentence constructions, are dynamic and easier to understand.
    Passive: He was hit by a car.
    Active: A car hit him.​


  • Follow Webster's New World College Dictionary and AP Stylebook for specific suffixes and words.
  • Generally, we do not hyphenate when using a word that starts with a consonant.
    Examples: prerequisite, corequisite.
  • Except for cooperate and coordinate, use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the following word begins with the same vowel.
  • Use a hyphen if the following word is capitalized.
  • Use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes.
    Example: sub-subparagraph.


Note that Internet communication has historically placed some limits on accommodating certain punctuation. Our western.edu and most recent browsers can display most, if not all, extended ASCII characters, such as typographers’ (or “curly”) quotation marks and apostrophes, ampersands, accent marks, and typographers’ dashes. Hence, you can import to our website from MS Word and other word processors copy including such characters. However, when using our Drupal editor, quotation marks, apostrophes and dashes will not automatically appear in typographers’ formats. Use of lower-level ASCII solutions (such as straight quotes and apostrophes, and hyphens for dashes) is acceptable, but not preferred. Following are some specific notes on punctuation:

  • In general, do not use them, in a series or otherwise, to replace and.
  • However, they are acceptable in proper names.
  • At Western, we use ampersands to condense the proper names of programs, areas of study and departments.
    Example: Recreation, Exercise & Sport Science.
    Example: Marketing & Media Relations.
    Example: She was particularly skilled at both marketing and media relations.
  • … show a possessive relationship, replace letters omitted in a contraction and form plurals of single letters.
  • They are not used for plurals of anything else, including groups of initials and acronyms.
    Example: Jenny’s desk is very clean.
    Example: The Smiths’ house is awesome.
    Example: There are two N’s in Jenny.
    Example: We have too many CEOs and not enough CPAs.
  • Possessives get complicated when words end in s.
  • For plural possessives ending in s, add a single apostrophe.
  • For possessives of common nouns ending in s, add ’s (witness’s) unless the next word begins with s.
  • For proper nouns ending in s, add a single apostrophe (Wiens’).
  • See the “Punctuation” chapter of the AP Stylebook for details.
  • Do not use an apostrophe s for decades and centuries, although an apostrophe is used to note the omission of the century portion of a year.
    Examples: the ’80s, ’92, the 1980s, the 1800s.
  • In general, do not use asterisks on our website.
  • Instead, use bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Asterisks are appropriate for footnotes on a schedule, table or in similar situations. However, it is usually better to package the information differently, explaining details in parenthetical phrases or within parentheses.
Bulleted and numbered items
  • … should generally end with periods. In nearly every case, such items are alternative endings to the same sentence. In others, it just makes for easier reading.
    • The coursework prepares students to:
    • Attend graduate school.
    • Start their own businesses.
    • Save the world.
  • … are specific typographic characters.
  • On western.edu, we set off dashes with spaces between them and adjacent words or numerals.
  • If you have trouble producing dashes, use a single hyphen (-) in place of a dash.
  • Here’s a handy guide to typing dashes on several computing platforms.
  • Use a longer em dash (—) to introduce a definition or explanation of a term.
    Example: Slacklining — An adventure sport in which participants attempt to balance, walk and perform tricks on thin webbing, typically stretched between two trees.
  • Use a shorter en dash (–) to denote an abrupt or parenthetical change of thought within a sentence.
    Example: The program is fun – although quite challenging – for students who want to make a difference in their community.
  • Never use a double hyphen (--) to denote a dash or anything else.
  • …  indicate a continuation or the omission of a part of a quotation.
  • They are not for changes in a thought or the direction of a sentence.
  • Use a dash or colon instead.
  • … Although an ellipsis may be used to denote hesitation in a thought the speaker or writer does not complete.
  • We form an ellipsis with three periods, set off by a space on either side: … .
  • If there is a proper period or other punctuation involved (as above), it is also set off from the ellipsis by a single space.
  • Do not use an ellipsis at both ends of a quotation.
  • See AP Stylebook’s Punctuation section for more detail.
Exclamation point
  • Use to denote a high degree of surprise.
  • Avoid overuse. End mildly exclamatory sentences with a period.
  • Do not use to generate excitement for an upcoming event.
Multiple modifiers
  • Separate with a comma.
    Example: “This unique, unprecedented perspective …”
  • This can get confusing when modifying a pair of words recognized as a single noun. In such cases, no comma is needed.
    Example: That’s an amazing mountain bike.
  • Compound adjectives and adverbs should be hyphenated, unless the first word ends in ly or very is part of the combination.
    Example: The first-year student faces many challenges.
    Example: The lightly frosted sidewalk was slippery.
    Example: The presentation was very heavy with complaints.
  • Do not hyphenate compound adjectives when used as nouns.
    Example: He was hanging out with a 4-year-old child, but he is only 2 years old.
  • To learn more, see “hyphen” in the Punctuation section of the AP Stylebook.
One space after all punctuation
  • … including periods, colons, commas, ellipses, etc.
  • The two-space convention dates from typewriters with their mono-spaced fonts.
  • Almost all fonts these days are proportionally spaced, so the extra spaces are no longer needed, create distraction for the reader and may confound some automated editing routines.
  • Parentheses can disrupt the flow for readers and should generally be avoided (despite their extensive use in this style guide).
  • Dashes or commas may more elegantly contain parenthetical thoughts.
    Example: The statue – a gift from the Class of 1990 – stands out front.
  • If part of a sentence, punctuation for that sentence goes outside the parentheses.
    Example: He was injured by bad equipment (from Acme manufacturing).
  • If a complete, independent sentence, place punctuation inside the parentheses.
    Example: (An independent, parenthetical sentence includes a period – or, perhaps, question mark – before the closing the parenthesis.)
  • Use parentheses for insertions in proper name.
    Example: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News.
Quotation marks
  • … contain all associated, adjacent punctuation, except for some rare uses of semi-colons, question marks, exclamation points and dashes.
    Example: “Here is the answer,” she said.
    Example: He called them all by unique nicknames: “Big-Water Mike,” “Jumpin’ Joe,” “Crazy Eddy” and “Whirlpool Wally.”
  • Do not use quotation marks to denote vernacular words, phrases or clichés.
  • Titles of movies, plays, short stories and poems should be contained within quotation marks (book titles are italicized – see Composition Titles).
    Example: “The Two Towers” was an amazing movie, but my favorite book in the series was The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Use quotation marks around a nickname included with a proper name.
    Example: Mark “Shredder” Jones tore up the slope.
  • Use single quotes (‘) only in headlines and for quotations within other quotations.
    Example: “I was amazed when Joe shouted ‘Fire!’ in the middle of the ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Mike said.
Punctuating a Series
  • Do not use a comma preceding conjunctions (such as and, or and but) in a series – unless a comma is needed for clarity (ie, no Oxford commas).
    Example: The coursework includes lectures, readings, quizzes, a final paper and a final exam.
  • The need for clarity is usually prompted by a similar conjunction appearing in the same series.
    Example: Challenges include market realities, costs, course design and testing, and the fact the Business Administration and Economics programs are both seeking more students.


  • … requires a modifier.
    Wrong: We have quality programs.
    Correct: Our programs are high quality.

Subject-verb agreement

  • Singular subjects require singular verbs.
    Example: The fox jumps across the ditch.
  • Plural subjects require plural verbs.
    Example: The foxes jump across the ditch.
  • The most common errors come when using the verb to be (is, are, was, were, has, have, etc.).
  • These errors often involve conjunctions, particularly and and or.
  • Subjects joined by and require plural verbs.
    Example: The fox and the hound were good friends.
  • Subjects joined by or (nor) usually require singular verbs.
    Example: Neither the fox nor the hound was able to change his lot in life.


  • Follow Webster's New World College Dictionary and AP Stylebook for specific suffixes and words.
  • If words are not listed, use two words for the verb form; hyphenate noun or adjective forms.
  • Some suffixes that don't take hyphens (according to AP and Western style): -wide, -wise (when it means in the direction of or with regard to), -less, -like (unless there's a triple l).
    Examples: countywide, future wise, student less, professor like.

Superfluous words

  • Extra words don‘t always convey extra meaning.
  • In many cases, they just slow down comprehension.
  • In some, they can genuinely disrupt it.
  • Using passive, rather than active verbs (see "Passive vs. active voice," above), is a sure way to pad your word count and reduce your readability.
  • In addition, the following words and phrases are often best left out of your writing:
  • In most cases, you just don't need this word.
    Superfluous: I am currently working on amassing the credits to earn my master‘s degree.
    Better: I am studying for my master‘s degree.
  • In some others, now or another simple word will suffice.
    Superfluous: Currently, our department is reaching out to the university community for answers.
    Better: We are now seeking answers from across campus.
  • In rare cases, currently can be helpful.
    Example: We are not currently accepting applications.
  • Seldom needed.
  • Often, you can replace located with the verb to be.
    Superfluous: You'll find the store located in the new shopping mall.
    Better: The store is in the new mall.
Prior to
  • There‘s seldom – if ever – a reason to use this pompous phrase.
  • Use before instead.
  • Almost never needed.
  • Instead, say when, either vaguely – with a month, season or decade – or precisely, with the actual date and/or time.
    Superfluous: Recently, the department received a grant.
    Better: Last fall, the department received a grant.
  • When used as a conjunction, you can often omit this word without changing the meaning of the sentence.
    Superfluous: The president said that he was going to Denver.
    Better: The president said he was going to Denver.
  • But be careful: Sometimes that can be key to a sentence's meaning.
    Example: He said Wednesday that he was there for the meeting. (He clearly said it Wednesday.)
    Questionable Example: He said Wednesday he was there for the meeting. (Was he there on Wednesday, or did he say it Wednesday?)

Telephone numbers

  • Use periods between area codes, exchanges, etc.
    Example: 970.943.3000.

That vs. which

  • That is restrictive (essential): a sentence’s meaning requires the clause following the word.
  • Which is non-restrictive (non-essential): a sentence’s core meaning does not change same without the following clause.
  • That should not have a preceding comma; which usually should.
    Example: The third house, which has green shutters, may be a very different structure from the third house that has green shutters.
  • In many cases, that can be eliminated and the meaning will remain clear.
    Example: The third house on the left is the one you want.

That, which, who and whom

  • That and which are for inanimate objects and ideas, often including animals.
  • Who and whom are for people, and sometimes for animals we treat like people.
  • Who refers to the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase.
    Example: The winner is the competitor who earns the most points.
  • Whom refers to the object of a sentence, clause or phrase.
    Examples: The winner is the competitor to whom the most points were awarded. Whom do you wish to see?
  • If the object of a preposition or verb is also the subject of a sentence or clause, use who.
    Example: Who do you wish had won the race?


  • … is the correct American spelling of most programs and venues.
  • However, Western’s Theatre and Performance program is spelled with an re at the end.
  • And our performance space in Taylor Hall is called a Theatre.

Time, date, place

  • Do our readers a favor and save commas by consistently listing details of all events in this order.
  • Include the day of the week if the event is within 10 days of the posting or publication, and consider including it with all event listings outside a calendar grid.
    Wrong: The game will be played in Mountaineer Stadium, on Nov. 8, at 1pm.
    Correct: The game is set for 1pm Saturday Nov. 8 in Mountaineer Stadium.

To and through

  • … are handy words that tell readers just what you mean when denoting time.
  • When practical, use one or the other instead of a hyphen or dash to explain a time span.
    Examples: The gathering is set for 9 to noon Wednesday Oct. 3 at the University Center. Similar events are scheduled for every first Wednesday from October through May.

Waiting list, wait-list

  • Merriam-Webster's online dictionary recognizes wait-list(ed) as a transitive verb. The participle and gerund form wait-listing is also acceptable.
  • However, the queue that results from such actions is called a waiting list.
    Example: He wait-listed the class and found himself atop the waiting list.


  • One word.
  • Capitalize only if used at the beginning of a sentence, in a headline or in a title (as above).


  • Our website’s name is always presented as lowercase.
  • This includes headlines, as you might note at the top of this page.


  • Don't use this abbreviation of our name.
  • We are Western in most references on western.edu and on second references elsewhere.
  • If there‘s any chance for misunderstanding, spell it out: Western State Colorado University.
  • ... Then use Western for subsequent references.