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EMU Style Guide for Writers and Editors

This EMU Style Guide is just that – “a guide” to consistency in capitalization, punctuation, use of professional titles, and other questions that arise almost every day as we write our emails, letters, brochure copy, and other materials aimed at public consumption. The EMU guide is based largely on the Associated Press Stylebook.

In some contexts (such as reports for accreditation agencies, employee handbooks or email correspondence), variations on the style guide are acceptable. Contrary to what some would prefer, it is impossible, nor is it appropriate, to claim one rule as applicable for all of the many contexts in which we use language.

This guide is not intended to replace other writing style guides – such as Chicago, MLA, or APA – often specified for academic papers, non-EMU periodicals, and other publishing venues.

The EMU marketing and communications editorial committee maintain this guide. Have a question or concern that isn’t addressed here? Email it to



Academic degrees: Do not capitalize names of degrees in narrative text. (Examples: Jane Doe has a bachelor of science degree in nursing, or Jane Doe has a bachelor’s degree in nursing.) Capitals may be used in a list or headline, or when it is otherwise awkward not to capitalize. Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. Bachelor of arts, master of divinity, and master of science, however, are written without the “s.” See also Professional titles.

When abbreviating names of degrees, do not use periods. Correct abbreviations are as follows: BA, BS, MA, MDiv, PhD, MD, etc. (This is a deviation from the Associated Press Stylebook, which calls for periods.)

For emeritus, see Emeritus.

Academic year: 2009-10, not 2009-2010, with the year separated by a hyphen (not a dash).

Acronyms: Multiple acronyms tend to confuse readers and clutter copy. Use acronyms only when needed to refer repeatedly to an entity that has a long title. Otherwise find a way to refer to the entity using a word from its name.

With multiple acronyms, a paragraph could look as cluttered as this:

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Church World Service (CWS) helped Afghan employees of UNICEF come to Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) to receive training in courses at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) and in Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR).

For multiple references, spell out the full name of an organization or program the first time it is used, followed by the acronym in parentheses. Refer to the acronym throughout the rest of the document.

Example: The Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP) is growing by leaps and bounds. Students in ADCP often have a wonderful experience. [This assumes you will continue referring to ADCP in the text. If not – if you will only refer to the program once or twice in the text or if there are other acronyms in the text – omit “ADCP” and simply say, Students in the program often have a wonderful experience.].

On the web: Generally, the preference is to spell out the full name in the first reference on each page.

Advisor vs. Adviser:  Advisor is preferred.

Ampersand: Use the ampersand sign (&) only when part of a formal title. Example: House & Garden,   C&O Canal, Rose Garden B&B. It is not used in any formal titles at EMU.

Athletics: Athletics department, not the athletic department (a department cannot be athletic). Ditto for athletics director Dave King (even if he works out regularly and thus really is an athletic director).


Bold: Boldface may be used within the content of select web pages to increase readability and draw attention to key phrases. It can also be used to identify web addresses in copy.

Generally,  use italics to provide emphasis within text.

Book titles: Capitalize all words in a title, except for articles of fewer than four letters unless the article is the first or last word of the title (in which case it is capitalized).

Italicize the complete title.

Generally, follow the first mention of the title with the book's publisher and publication year in parentheses.

Example: The novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (Simon & Schuster, 1962) by Ray Bradbury was a bestseller.

Buildings and places: Capitalize the full official names of buildings and formally designated places on campus. Examples: Campus Center, Park Woods.

Example: The art gallery is located in Sadie Hartzler Library. I wonder if he’ll go to the library after eating at the dining hall?


Capitalization: Official names (Appalachian Log Structures, General Electric ) and proper nouns (John, Mary, American, Boston, Christianity ) are capitalized. Common nouns and various shortened forms of official names are not capitalized.

Do not capitalize job titles or department names within paragraph text. In copy, titles are lowercase unless it is a formal one denoting authority, preceding the name. Examples: President Loren Swartzendruber and Provost Fred Kniss, but photographer Bill Brown, news director Jane Doe, and F.B. Early, faciliities staff.

As a general rule, only capitalize when a job or position title is used in stand-alone copy, such as business cards, web headers, job titles on personnel web pages, and name badges.

Do not capitalize the names of undergraduate majors and minors except when the name is proper (Bible, Spanish ) or the first letters are often used as an abbreviation (Adult Degree Completion Program, abbreviated as ADCP). More examples:

  • He is an English major, with a minor in psychology.
  • The students are part of the language and literature department.
  • Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) brings a lot of people to EMU.
  • I work for the marketing and communications department.

In general, beware of over-capitalization, which can result in a paragraph as ridiculous as this:

The Task Force welcomes a new Dean, beginning Spring Semester 2015. Everyone from the Executive Secretary to the Chair of the Department is invited to a Welcoming Reception in the President’s Room, where the Assistant Professor of Nonsense will make our University proud.

In title-case headlines, web headers, or column navigation with hyphenated compounds, each word in the hyphenated compound should be capitalized.

Examples: Cross-Cultural; Life-Changing

Why EMU favors lowercase style in most instances:

  • Standard style guides require lowercase letters in running text for such things as job descriptions and unofficial department names. Most mainstream media favor lowercase style, making it the style most familiar to non-campus readers.
  • Because official EMU publications already use the lowercase style, and because it is the preferred style in much of the business and professional world, we recommend that all EMU writers adopt this style.
  • Keeping almost everything lowercase – except official names and proper nouns – simplifies decisions about when to capitalize shortened forms of official names.

Chairperson vs. chairman: We use “chair.” Use gender neutral terms whenever possible.

Examples: firefighter, mail carrier, police officer.

Citations: EMU’s web postings and periodicals do not follow a particular academic citation style. On the web, for simplicity’s sake, we cite the title in quotation marks, followed by the publication title, and then the publication date.

Commas: To ensure clarity, use commas to separate elements in a series of multi-word phrases, including before the “and.” If the series is a listing of related short items – such as I made a fruit salad with pears, apples, peaches, strawberries and oranges – then the comma before the conjunction can be safely omitted.

Examples: EMU is fun, pretty and friendly. BUT: EMU is fun for international graduate students, pretty when the sun is setting, and friendly to most visitors. Our university is noted for its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, excellent biology and education departments, and spiritually challenging chapel services.

In writing cities and states in running text, place one comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence.

Examples: She drove from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Hagerstown, Maryland, en route to her home in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She said Staunton, Virginia, was her birthplace.

If a year follows the month and day of the month in running text, separate the year with commas on each side. If no day is specified, no commas are needed.

Examples: July 15, 1954, is the hottest day ever recorded in Virginia, reaching 110 degrees, which makes the 80-something temperatures experienced in July 2013 seem relatively pleasant.

Committee, center, group, program and initiative names:
Unless a committee, center, group, program, or initiative is officially recognized and formally named, avoid capitalizing it. 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.


The Menno Simons Historical Library contains a wealth of intriguing materials. The collection is located on the third level of the Hartzler Library.

The Creation Care Council is in charge of environmental initiatives on campus.

The presidential search committee, appointed by the university’s board of trustees, met in closed executive session.

The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding offers courses for academic credit and non-credit trainings.

Course titles: For course titles in running text, follow the capitalization guidelines for book titles and enclose each course title in quotation marks. Example: The student took “Humanitarian Aid,” “Restorative Justice” and “Trauma Healing.”

Do not capitalize course titles and do not use quotation marks if the titles are written generically as topics, as in this example: “The student took classes in humanitarian aid, restorative justice, and trauma healing.”

Keeping in mind the growing preference for lower-case words, it is not necessary to capitalize course titles in catalogs or lists, as in this example:

Courses include:

  • Organizational management
  • Family and consumer science


Dashes: In EMU publications and the news blog, we denote a dash by an en-sized dash mark with a space on each side separating it from the nearest word. For other purposes, an em-dash with no surrounding spaces may be acceptable. The best choice is often determined by look of a particular font.

Dates: Abbreviate the names of months in copy only when accompanied by an actual date. If a year follows the date, separate the year with commas on each side. Example: We will meet Dec. 12, 2012, to discuss strategic planning, but not meet in November. In formal documents or in publications intended for an international audience, spelling out the months is acceptable.

Degrees: Capitalize abbreviations of degrees (see Academic Degree entry) but not the spelled-out versions and not when they’re referred to generically.


He received a master’s in conflict transformation from EMU.

Miller family members hold a total of five doctoral, three master’s, and 10 bachelor’s degrees.

James Miller, PhD, earned his bachelor of science degree from JMU.

Department names: Lowercase department and office names in running text, except in cases where capitalization is needed for clarity. References using shortened or unofficial names should be lowercase.

Faculty members from the biology, chemistry, and psychology departments are meeting this afternoon.

Members of the information services staff are available to assist you.

Mary Miller of the music department has been promoted to associate professor.


Email: No longer hyphenated, according to the 2011 Associated Press Stylebook.

Emeritus:  Emeritus and emerita are honorary designations and do not simply mean "retired." The plural forms are emeriti (more than one male or mixed group) and emeritae (more than one female); like alumni, emeriti is usually acceptable for a mixed-gender group.

Emeritus modifies professor, similarly to the title associate professor.

Capitalize "emeritus" or "emerita" when it is used before a proper name: Professor Emeritus John Doe

Do not capitalize if used as a noun: John Doe is professor emeritus of English.


  •    When Emeritus follows both a named professorship or chair and an Institute post, both are capitalized
    • Jimmy Hendrix, John Doe Distinguished Service Professor and Professor of Physics, Emeritus
  •    President emeritus is never capitalized, even if it's used as part of a second title.

Exclamation points: Use only one at a time as an occasional punctuation device.


Headlines: EMU now puts most headlines in sentence style, with only the first letter capitalized. Our designers are free, however, to employ various headline styles. Of most importance, the headline style should be consistent within a document or website.

When using title case, here is a general guideline: capitalize the first word of every line and all other nouns, verbs (including the “to” in infinitives or other verb phrases), and modifiers, plus all prepositions of four or more letters. Use lowercase articles (a, an, the) and two- and three-letter conjunctions and prepositions, unless they begin a line (in a headline) or are used as a verb substitute or part of a verb phrase.

Examples: Jones To Take Seat, but Smith Campaigns to the End.

When using compound modifiers separated by a hyphen in title-case headlines, web headers, or column navigation, each word in the compound modifier should be capitalized.

Examples: Life-Changing Experience instead of Life-changing Experience.

Hyphenation: Avoid ending a line with a hyphenated word, even if it means rewriting the sentence. Use hyphens to combine words that make an adjective, except when the first modifier ends in “ly,” in which case a hyphen is considered to be redundant and is not used.

Examples: She works in a part-time position. He does not work part time. (In the first sentence “part-time” is an adjective; in the second it is not.)

She holds a newly minted PhD. She will be employed in a just-created job in a freshly overhauled agency.


Internet: Lowercase internet as of the 2016 Associated Press Stylebook.

Italics: Be guided by the Modern Language Association (MLA) in italicizing titles. (News releases would be the exception – they should adhere to AP style, which calls for quotation marks around most so-called composition titles.) In MLA style, the following titles are italicized: magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays, operas, musical albums, and works of art. In comparison, the following titles should be put in quotation marks: short or minor works (including book chapters and articles in periodicals), songs, short stories, essays, short poems, one-act plays, and episodes in a TV series.

Italics can also be used for emphasis, but do not combine this with another graphic element such as bold or underline.


Mennonite jargon: Do not assume that your audience is Mennonite. Spell out references to common Mennonite acronyms in the first reference, followed by the acronym in parentheses.

Example: EMU alumni sometimes serve with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). MCC refers to relief, development and service agencies of Mennonites in Canada and in the United States.

If linking or footnoting items pertaining to Mennonites, refer to, rather than

Months: See Dates


Names: Use initials with a name (first or middle) in the first reference to the person as often as possible. This helps to distinguish between the many current students and alumni who share last names. Do not precede “Jr.” or “Sr.” with a comma.

Numbers: Spell out numbers one through nine at the beginning of, and within, a sentence. Beginning with 10, use numerals, except when the numeral begins a sentence. Special situations:

  • Use numerals for all ages.
  • All academic credit hours should be represented by numerals.
  • For large monetary sums, use numerals and write (for example) $2 million, not $2,000,000.
  • For percentages, use the numeral followed by the % sign. (This diverges from AP style, which calls for using the word “percent” rather than a % sign; AP style is to be used in news releases.)

Example: Thirty adult college students, ages 25 to 40, rode in two vans to participate in the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale. They spent 16 hours there, earning 3 academic credit hours and helping to sell $1 million worth of quilts. This amounted to 90% of all funds raised.


Online: one word, no hyphen.


Percent: For percentages use the numeral followed by the % sign. (This diverges from AP style, which calls for using the word “percent” rather than a % sign; AP style is to be used in news releases.)

Professional titles: In cases where we wish to note a person’s academic credentials, it is best to put the abbreviation of the degree after the first mention of the person’s full name (not after just the last name). Set off the degree with commas, without periods within it (i.e. write Stan Yoder, PhD, not Stan Yoder, Ph.D.). This is preferable to writing Dr. Stan Yoder, since “Dr.” can mean anything from a chiropractic doctor to a doctor of ministry.

We do not use Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms.

In general, list the full name (including any initials; see Names) in the first reference and use the last name in subsequent references.

In running copy, capitalize job titles only when they immediately precede the individual’s name or when they are named positions or honorary titles, as in Roman J. Miller, Daniel B. Suter Endowed Professor of Biology.


It’s common knowledge that President Loren Swartzendruber loves to golf.

The president, Loren Swartzendruber, is in his third term at EMU.

The president of EMU travels frequently.

Have you taken a course from Professor Owen Byer?

See more under Capitalization.

Pronouns: Writers may use non-gendered pronouns at the request of a subject. 


Question marks: Is one enough? (The answer is “yes!”)

Quotation marks: Put the period (or comma) inside the closing quotation marks, even if the quote is not part of the sentence.

Example: The professor said, “I am a tough grader.”

Do the same for single quotations: The professor said, “The students have joked that I am ‘heavy with the marking pen.’”


Seasons and semesters: Lowercase seasons, semesters, and terms. Examples:
spring semester, fall 2008, the summer 2007 term.

Spaces between sentences: Use one space between sentences. Word processing systems manage spacing properly between sentences when you key in only one space.

States: On May 1, 2014, the Associated Press began requiring its journalists to spell out the names of states and not to use abbreviations in running text. This makes sense given the global reach of AP copy and the fact that many outside the United States don’t know state abbreviations. EMU’s news blogs and periodicals now spell out state names.

Postal codes should be used in addresses at the top of a business letter, on an envelope, and so on. (Below, alphabetically, find postal abbreviations for states.) In the body of a business letter, in official documents, etc., it’s best to spell out all state names. For the nation’s capital, EMU uses “Washington D.C.” (no commas around D.C.).

State / Abbreviation
Alabama / AL
Alaska / AK
Arizona / AZ
Arkansas / AR
California / CA
Colorado / CO
Connecticut / CT
District of Columbia / DC (D.C. in text)
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
Ohio / OH
Oklahoma / OK
Oregon / OR
Pennsylvania / PA
Rhode Island / RI
South Carolina / SC
South Dakota / SD
Tennessee / TN
Texas / TX
Utah / UT
Vermont / VT
Virginia / VA
Washington D.C. / DC
West Virginia / WV
Wisconsin / WI
Wyoming / WY

When the name of a state follows a city, it needs to be separated with appropriate punctuation, usually commas on both sides.

Example: Development staff will travel this week to Bluffton, Ohio; Souderton, Pennsylvania; Chesapeake, Virginia; and Illinois. Next week some will go to Hagerstown, Maryland, and others to Hickory, North Carolina, before all will return to EMU.

An editor may permit state abbreviations for certain uses, such as in the Milepost section of Crossroads or when clarity would be helped by inserting an abbreviation in parentheses. Example: The dance took place at the Dayton (VA) Learning Center. This will distinguish it from a learning center in Dayton, Ohio.

Students: Do not capitalize freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, or first-year student in running text.

First-year is the official term for incoming students at EMU rather than freshmen, but if the people interviewed for an article use the latter term in speech, feel free to go with this in the article.

Submitting articles for publication: Use Word format, double spacing. Make text flush left,ragged right. End each paragraph with a return. Indent the first line of the next paragraph. This kind of uniform formatting makes it easier for our copyeditors and designers to do their jobs.


Telephone numbers: 540-432-4000; not (540) 432-4000 or 540/432-4000. On posters or ad copy, 540.432.4000 is acceptable.

Drop the “1-” prefix from phone numbers where the area code is included, unless writing for an international audience.

Theater vs. theatre: The former is the standard U.S. spelling; the latter is the British one. The EMUmarketing and communications department uses “theater,” unless the British form of the word is within a proper noun (e.g., Playback Theatre). Most U.S. university communications departments use “theater.” Some people in the field prefer “theatre.”

Time: Cut out unnecessary 0s. Use lowercase a.m. and p.m. (note use of periods). Use a hyphen, without neighboring spaces, to denote a time span.

The meeting will be at 9 a.m. (not 9:00 a.m. and definitely not 9:00 a.m. in the morning)
It’s noon, not 12 noon; it’s midnight, not 12 midnight.
It’s 8 to 9 a.m. or 8-9 a.m. (not 8 a.m. – 9 a.m.)


Underscore/Underline: Underscore copy judiciously as emphasis on an important word or phrase. See Bold and Italics.

Also, be aware that web page links are usually underlined in browsers, so avoid
underlining text that is not a “clickable link.”

United States: It’s United States (spelled out) when used as a noun. Use U.S. as an adjective. (Non-U.S. publications typically use “US” without periods.)

Example: Most EMU students are from the United States. As U.S. citizens, they often pay taxes.

University: Use lowercase unless you are spelling the full name of the university.
Example: Eastern Mennonite University is the university of choice in town.

URLs:  “www” often can be dropped without causing confusion.

Example: Find out more about EMU by taking a virtual tour at:

In Internet communications, do not add a treatment like italics to the URL and do not remove the “http://” or any other part of the URL. Doing so would reduce the likelihood of being able to click through to the actual website.


Web/website: Capitalize World Wide Web. Lowercase web and website (one word). See Writing for the web.

Web headers or headlines: Use title case for H1, H2 and page titles. Use sentence case for H3 and H4 tags.

Widows: Do not leave one word stranded on its own at the beginning of a line or at the top of a column of text. Rewrite the sentence or change formatting to eliminate the stranded word. This can be difficult on the web, because different browsers and screen sizes will wrap text differently. One trick that often works is to replace the space before the last word with a non-breaking space in the code.

Writing for the web: Given the mixture of text, images, sounds, and video competing for the online reader’s attention, writing for the web takes particular skills. Here are seven tips, culled from our Web Publishing Guide.

  1. Keep your info up to date. Content has to be necessary, meaningful, and kept current. Prospective students will quickly drop a school from their list if information is outdated or hard to review! Dump outdated content if you can’t make it current.
  2. Put the most important info in the top-left triangle of your page. If readers don’t notice relevant content, they’ll move on to another page, or even exit the site. Make sure the first two paragraphs succinctly state the most important information.
  3. Make each page easy to scan. On primary pages, paragraphs should be two to three sentences – only 70 words total. Provide visual cues, like meaningful headlines (h3), to introduce paragraphs. The first two words of your headlines are especially important.
  4. Use the EMU vocabulary list. These words are part of the EMU identity. Use them to keep the style and tone of the site consistent, and to increase our search rankings by making our information easy to find.
  5. Use bulleted lists. When you have more than three items to cover, consider bullets, or organize your items into a simple table or grid.
  6. Address your audience in a conversational tone. And favor active (rather than passive) verbs.
  7. Write at a high-school grade level, using everyday language. Unless your content is relatively deep within the site, you should write sparingly and resist ponderous academic words.


Years: 1990s not 1990’s. Use an apostrophe when shortening a reference to a decade such as the ’90s.

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