Copy style guide

The Office of Marketing and Communications strives for a consistent style throughout WSU Vancouver communications. Two stylebooks guide our decisions.

Editorial style manual

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition

This manual governs all WSU Vancouver communications. If the answer is there, follow it (almost always). If it is not, check this style sheet or ask someone.


Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition

Consult this dictionary for preferred spellings and hyphenation.

Although mostly conforming to the main WSU institutional style, WSU Vancouver has some unique variations. For example, WSU uses the Chicago Manual for some things; WSU Vancouver does not.

Below are answers to common style questions you are likely to see in electronic and print materials for WSU Vancouver.

academic degrees – Lowercase bachelor’s degree; master’s degree, doctorate. Capitalize formal references: Bachelor of Arts (or Science); Juris Doctor; Master of Arts/Fine Arts/Science, Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Education. Spelling out the degree is preferred. When abbreviating, use periods with these: B.A., B.S., M.A., M.F.A., M.P.A., M.S., M.I.T., Ed.M., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D.. Do not use periods with nursing degrees (BSN, MN, DNP) or with MBA. Use Dr. before a name only with medical doctors. A person earns a degree, not receives a degree.

acronyms/initials – Spell out on first use in most cases; don’t use periods, i.e., the Associated Students of Washington State University Vancouver holds elections annually. The ASWSUV vote takes place in March. Use acronyms only for the following:

  • AAUW (formerly known as American Association of University Women)
  • P.E.O. (women’s educational organization uses periods in its formal title)

Other widely recognized abbreviations: AARP, AFL-CIO, ASAP, CIA, FBI, GOP, NAACP, NATO.

However, because some abbreviations could refer to more than one group (AMA could mean American Medical Association or American Marketing Association), it is seldom wrong to spell out an organization name.

advisor – Not adviser.

alumni – Although it is acceptable to use the slang term “alum” in casual conversation, it should generally not be used in written communications. Exception: “Nominate a notable alum” in a headline. [Because “Nominate a notable alumnus or alumna” wouldn’t make a good typographic element in an ad, flyer or email.] The formal name of the award at WSU Vancouver is the Notable Alumni Award.

Alumnus – this is a male who has graduated or has earned the required number of credits. It is a singular term, referring to one person, who is male.

Alumna – this is a female who has graduated or has earned the required number of credits. It is a singular term, referring to one person, who is female.

Alumni – this is a plural term, referring to a group or groups of two or more males only and/or groups of males and females who have graduated or earned the required credits.

Alumnae – this is a plural term, referring exclusively to a group or groups of two or more females who have graduated or earned the required credits. Remembering that for every rule there is an exception, here is one — there are some people who use the term “alumni” for “alumnae,” largely because more readers are likely to understand the first term. For our purposes, it’s best to use the term that your audience would want.

See also, “class year” and “nondegree holder.”

a.m., p.m. – Use a.m. and p.m. in all cases. Not am, pm or AM, PM. Use a space after the number: 6 p.m.

ampersand (&) – Never use in text copy unless it is part of a formal name, such as with a law firm or business. Never substitute it for the word “and.” However, it may be used as a design element.

area codes/phone numbers – Use hyphens, and always include the area code: 360-546-9779.

Board of Regents – Capitalize only when used in their entirety, in the formal sense: The Board of Regents meets monthly. Lowercase in other uses: The regents guide and support the college. Capitalize regent only when used before a name in a formal sense: Regent Mike Worthy lives in Vancouver. Scott Carson is a regent.

book/magazine/newspaper/movie/play titles – See “composition titles.”

brand names — Avoid them if possible. Use generic terms instead: lip balm instead of ChapStick® or chapstick; sticky notes instead of Post-its; tissue instead of Kleenex.

building/room – Capitalize building and room when listing it as part of a building name; e.g., The event is located in the Dengerink Administration Building, Room 129.

center – Upper case as part of the formal name; e.g., The Student Services Center hosts many financial aid events. On next references, use lower case: The center is located near the pond.

capitalization – See “uppercase or lowercase.”

citywide – Also, countywide, statewide, nationwide, worldwide, campuswide, systemwide. Exception: university-wide.

class year – WSU Vancouver class years should be listed like this: Butch T. Cougar ’98. For alumni couples: Butch ’98 and Kitty Cougar ’00. For couples with only one alumnus/a: Butch and Kitty Cougar ’00 or Butch ’98 and Kitty Cougar. (Also see “maiden name.”) The apostrophe before the class year must curve to the left – ’ not ‘ – and must be created manually by one of the following methods:

  • Press the following three keys together: Option + Shift + Close Bracket ( ] )
  • Hit the apostrophe key twice and then delete the first one.

co – See “hyphens.”

college – See “uppercase or lowercase.”

commas – Do not use commas before the words “and” and “or” in a series; e.g., Please complete sections one, two and three of the financial aid application. Exceptions include some official documents, such as the Commencement program and the college catalog. Use commas before and after a spouse’s name: He and his wife, Veronica, have two children. Do not use commas with “Inc.”; e.g., Cisco Systems Inc.

Commencement – Capitalize only when referring to WSU Vancouver’s event.

composition titles – Put quotes around the titles of blogs, books, movies, television programs, plays, poems, musical pieces/songs, lectures, speeches, articles, game apps and works of art. Capitalize (without quotes) titles of journals, newspapers, magazines, websites and reference works

couples (listing order for class notes) – If both people in a couple attended WSU Vancouver, list under the class year of the person who submitted the information and then cross reference with the other person’s class year, i.e., Jennifer Smith ’02 married Edward Black ’99 on May 3, 2010.

course titles – Put in quotes; e.g., “Philosophy of Religion.” Lowercase when describing courses in general; e.g., biology, mathematics and the classics.

coursework – Close up the two words.

dashes – Use an em (long) dash—no space on either side—when setting off text with a dash. Exception: Use spaces around the dash in datelines (VANCOUVER, Wash. — The college is building a new parking lot.) Note the following:

  • A hyphen denotes a single term (blue-green).
  • An N-dash indicates a range (10 – 20).
  • An M-dash provides emphasis (The man—a frightening apparition—demanded money).

dates – Abbreviate the month when used with a specific date, and use a comma after the year when it does not end the sentence: They were married on Dec. 15, 2010, in Seattle. Names of five months are not abbreviated: March, April, May, June, July. Names of seven months are abbreviated: Jan., Feb., Aug. Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec.

Spell out the month when used only with a year; e.g., January 2010. Spell out when used simply in reference to a month: The event will be held in January. Don’t use ordinal abbreviations: Jan. 2, not Jan. 2nd. Always spell out days of the week.

decades – Using the 1950s as an example: To abbreviate it, ’50s; e.g., The skirts were popular in the ’50s. To use for an age range, 50s: The shirt might appeal to a man in his 50s. To make it possessive, 50’s: It’s a 50’s thing.

departments – See “uppercase or lowercase.”

directions – Lowercase north, south, northeast, etc., when they indicate compass direction; capitalize when they designate regions. Uppercase when denoting widely known regions, including, for our audiences, Southwest Washington, Western Washington.

dollars – Do not include .00 as you would when the dollar amount includes cents; e.g., Tickets cost $50; not Tickets cost $50.00. For amounts less than $1, use the word cents, i.e., Raffle tickets cost 50 cents each, not $.50. For amounts of $1 up to $999,999.99, use the dollar sign. For amounts of $1 million or more, omit zeroes and spell out the word. Also, don’t break these amounts at the end of a line, even in justified copy. The amount should read clearly as $1 million, not $1 million.

Dr. – Use only for persons with degrees in medicine, dentistry, optometry, podiatry or veterinary medicine. The public associates this word with physicians.

ellipses – No spaces between ellipses (dots), but a space before and after: The … dog. When a sentence ends in a period, followed by an ellipsis, leave a space after the period, followed by the ellipsis and the usual space after it, even if you think it looks funny.

email – Do not hyphenate or capitalize: email, not Email or e-mail. The following words still require hyphens: e-book, e-commerce, e-newsletter, e-update.

emeritus, emerita – Indicates that an individual has retired but retains his or her rank or title. Follows the title, e.g., professor emeritus, not emeritus professor. Use emeritus for a man, emerita for a woman.

exclamation point – In general, do not use; there is virtually no need for exclamation points in the type of external writing we do, with the possible exceptions of a design element in a poster or promotional piece, or in quoted material.

faculty – The faculty is; faculty members are.

fewer than/less than – In general, use fewer for individual items, less for bulk or quantity; i.e., Fewer than 10 applicants (individuals) called. I had less than $50 (amount) in my pocket. But: I had fewer than 50 $1 bills (individual items) in my pocket.

filmmaking – One word, not two.

former – Always lowercase when used with a title, e.g., former President Elson S. Floyd.

fundraising, fundraiser – One word in all uses.

freshman/freshmen – Freshman is singular, freshmen is plural, i.e.: He is a freshman. The freshman class is the largest on record. The freshmen come from six different states. In most cases, however, avoid the term; use “first-year student” instead.

grade-point average – Hyphenate and spell out on first reference; GPA on second and future references.

graduate/grad (n.) – The slang term is acceptable in casual conversation, but in general avoid it in written communications.

headlines – The main headline or title for a document may use title case (Initial Caps on All Major Words). Subsequent headings and subheads should use sentence case (capitalize only the first word).

health care – Two words except when used to modify, in which case it is hyphenated: health-care profession.

hyphens (prefixes) – In general, do not hyphenate words beginning with “post,” “pre” and “co,” e.g., postdoctorate, preregister, cocurricular, coeducational. However, retain the hyphen with “co” when forming nouns, adjectives and verbs that indicate occupation or status, e.g., co-author, co-founder, co-chairman, co-worker. For “non,” the rules of prefixes apply, but in general no hyphen when forming a compound that does not have special meaning and can be understood if not is used before the base word, e.g., nontraditional. Use a hyphen before proper nouns or in awkward combinations, e.g., non-Western, non-nuclear. Also: Do not use hyphens with adverbs ending in “ly,” e.g., highly developed technology, environmentally responsible students.

initials – When using two or more initials, use periods without spaces, e.g., H.A. Dengerink.

Internet – Always uppercase the word, but lowercase Internet addresses, e.g., Also see “web.”

less than/fewer than – See “fewer than/less than”

long time/longtime – They have known each other a long time. They are longtime partners.

maiden name – Always use for alumnae; do not use for nonalumnae.

names, proper references – On first use, always include the person’s complete proper name; on second reference, use only the last name; e.g., “Enrollment in the program has risen,” according to David Harris. “It has continued to grow throughout the last five years,” Harris said. You may use first names on second reference when subjects within the same article have the same last name, such as siblings and spouses.


  • Do not use courtesy titles; e.g., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss.
  • Abbreviate as Jr. and Sr. only with full names. Do not precede by a comma; e.g, John Jones Jr.
  • Nicknames may be included on first reference after the formal name; e.g., Jonathan David “J.D.” Hall ’95.
  • In alumni magazine news: Follow the last-name-on-second-reference rule throughout, EXCEPT Class Notes, where the first name is used on second reference.

non – See “hyphens.”

nondegree holders – If someone attended WSU Vancouver but did not earn a degree, still list the class year in which they would have graduated.

noon – Use the word instead of 12 p.m.

numbers/numerals – Spell out zero through nine, use numerals for 10 and above. Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence, or, if necessary, recast or rewrite the sentence. However, a number that identifies a calendar year may be used at the start of a sentence; e.g., 2010 was a very good year.

Some exceptions in which numerals are always used for zero through nine:

  • Ages: She has a 2-year-old daughter. Her daughter is 2 years old. They have three sons, 2, 4 and 6.
  • Times: 2 a.m., not two a.m.
  • Dimensions: He built a 4-foot-long fence. He is 5 feet 6 inches tall. The storm left 5 inches of snow.
  • ALSO: No. 3 choice, 5 percent pay raise, a ratio of 2-to-1.

For more, see “numerals” in the AP Stylebook.

online – One word.

organizations – See “acronyms/initials.”

over/more than – “Over” is a descriptor of physical location (as in over the hill); “more than” is a descriptor of quantity. Use more than when referring to quantities; e.g., The event raised more than $1 million; not over $1 million. Or: More than 800 individuals attended the concert; not Over 800 individuals attended.

percent – Spell out the word unless used in a columned data report; e.g., We increased revenue by 25 percent, not We increased revenue by 25%. No hyphen necessary with percent, e.g., The man received a 5 percent raise, not The man received a 5-percent raise.

post – See “hyphens.”

pre – See “hyphens.”

prefixes – See “hyphens.”

president – Capitalize when used before the name in the formal sense, e.g., President Kirk H. Schulz. Use lowercase when referring to the position or the individual holding it; e.g., “The president is pleased.”

professor – Capitalize before a full name; lowercase after the name. Endowed chairs: capitalize only proper name, i.e., Robert Bode, Alma Meisnest endowed chair of the humanities.

program – Uppercase as part of the formal name; e.g., The Creative Media and Digital Culture Program is housed in the Multimedia Classroom Building. On next references, lowercase; e.g., The program offers students internship opportunities.

quarter – Fall quarter, summer quarter, etc.; often used in financial reporting.

quotation marks – Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks; e.g., WSU Vancouver is great. The dash, semicolon and question mark go within the quotation marks when they apply exclusively to the matter being quoted; e.g., He asked, “Why is WSU Vancouver great?”. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence: Did I just hear you say, “WSU Vancouver is great”?

rivers, streets, buildings – When referring to more than one street, river or building, lowercase the designation following their names; e.g., They rafted on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Elevator repair is complete in Dengerink Administration and Classroom buildings.

say or said – When attributing quotes, past tense (said) is preferred.

schools, colleges – Use full and formal names on first reference; e.g., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, not Virginia Tech.

semester – Lowercase: fall semester, spring semester.

spacing – Use only one space after a period at the end of a sentence.

spellchecker – If your word-processing program has one, use it, but know that it may not be the last word.

split infinitives – In most cases, do not separate an infinitive by an adjective when the adjective could easily be moved; e.g., “to quickly run,” “to determinedly block.” But it is acceptable to split an infinitive if avoiding it would make the sentence awkward or change its meaning; e.g., He decided to promptly return the money he found.

staff – Singular, as in the staff is. Or, staff members are.

states – Lowercase state when it follows a state name, e.g., Washington state. However, capitalize if it is part of a title; e.g., Washington State Bar Association.

state names – Spell out state names when the city or town is not in the same state as the dateline, or where necessary to avoid confusion: Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine.


  • Use AP Style state abbreviations in the magazine and, if desired, in brochures, posters, etc. (See AP Stylebook for the list of those abbreviations.)
  • Use U.S. Postal Service abbreviations (listed below) when using complete addresses; e.g., The college is located at 14204 NE Salmon Creek Ave., Vancouver, WA 98686. (Note that area codes are necessary in online communications, such as email invitations, so that Google Maps can identify the location when a reader clicks on it.)

Post office abbreviations:

Post office abbreviations listed by state name and two letter abbreviation.
State name Abbreviation
Alabama AL
Alaska AK
Arizona AZ
Arkansas AR
California CA
Colorado CO
Connecticut CT
Delaware DE
Florida FL
Georgia GA
Hawaii HI
Idaho ID
Illinois IL
Indiana IN
Iowa IA
Kansas KS
Kentucky KY
Louisiana LA
Maine ME
Maryland MD
Massachusetts MA
Michigan MI
Minnesota MN
Mississippi MS
Missouri MO
Montana MT
Nebraska NE
Nevada NV
New Hampshire NH
New Jersey NJ
New Mexico NM
New York NY
North Carolina NC
North Dakota ND
Oklahoma OK
Oregon OR
Pennsylvania PA
Rhode Island RI
Ohio OH
South Carolina SC
South Dakota SD
Tennessee TN
Texas TX
Utah UT
Vermont VT
Virginia VA
Washington WA
West Virginia WV
Wisconsin WI
Wyoming WY

Other notes about state names:

  • Use a comma before and after the state; e.g., The event was held in Helena, Montana, on Nov. 15, 2010. They live in Washington, D.C., and work at the White House.
  • Do not include the state name for cities well known to our audiences, e.g., Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and for other well-known cities nationwide. (See list below.)

U.S. cities that do NOT require a state name:

Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (when it’s Oregon), Spokane, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver (when referring to the city in Washington state as opposed to the one in British Columbia).

International cities that do NOT require a country name:

Amsterdam, Baghdad, Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Berlin, Bagota, Brussels, Cairo, Copenhagen, Djibouti, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Gibraltar, Guatemala City, Hamburg, Havana, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kabul, Kuwait City, London, Luxembourg, Macau, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Monaco, Montreal, Moscow, Munich, New Delhi, Oslo, Ottawa, Panama City, Paris, Prague, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, San Marino, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Vatican City, Vienna, Zurich.

time, date, place – Use in this order: time (include a.m. or p.m.), date, place. Do not use day of the week except on posters.

times – When a time is on the hour, do not use a colon and zeroes; e.g., 9 a.m., not 9:00 a.m.

toward – Not towards.

under way – Two words in virtually all uses. One word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense, e.g., an underway flotilla.

United States vs. U.S. – When used as a noun, spell it out; e.g., We live in the United States. Abbreviate when used as an adjective; e.g.: The U.S. economy is sluggish.

university – Washington State University Vancouver is the formal name; university is a reference, i.e., We work at Washington State University Vancouver. We like working at the university.

uppercase or lowercase – Determine if the usage is a formal name. If so, uppercase. If not, lowercase.

  • departments and programs – Department of Biology is the formal name; biology department is the reference. Office of Marketing and Communications is the formal name; marketing and communications office is the reference. However, if any of the words for a department or program are formal names, capitalize only those words, but do not capitalize the word program or department, e.g., English department.
  • job titles – Capitalize and spell out when the title is used in its formal sense before the name, i.e., Associate Professor of Computer Sciences Butch T. Cougar has published his research on Web use. Preferred use is to put the title after the name and use lower case, i.e., Butch T. Cougar, associate professor of computer sciences, has published his research.
  • college – Clark College is the formal name; college is a reference: Beverly works at Clark College. She likes working at the college.
  • publications – Chicago Manual of Style, but the manual; The Columbian, but the newspaper; Journal of Neuroscience, but the journal.

URLs – Omit http:// and www. However, do check that the link works without them.

versus, vs., v. – Spell out the word in ordinary speech and writing. The use of “vs.” is permitted in short expressions. Use “v.” only for court cases; e.g., Marbury v. Madison. Wars – World War I, the First World War; the Great War; the war; the two world wars (and the same for World War II.) (Chicago Manual of Style)

Web address – Remove hyperlink so text is not underlined. If Web or email listing comes at the end of a sentence, place a period following the listing. Make sure website addresses are not underlined or hyperlinked. http:// and www. are not necessary for most addresses. Include in every promotional piece(e.g., “Save the Date” cards and fliers), unless advised otherwise.

web – Short form of World Wide Web. Close up most of its compounds: website, webcam, webcast, webfeed, webmaster, webpage. Exceptions: web address, web browser. (AP Style 2016)

web address – Remove hyperlink so text is not underlined. If web or email listing comes at the end of a sentence, place a period following the listing. Make sure website addresses are not underlined or hyperlinked. http:// and www. are not necessary for most addresses. Include in every promotional piece (e.g., "Save the Date" cards and fliers), unless advised otherwise.