Student Affairs Editorial Style 101

Newspapers

Consistency is crucial for fostering trust in a brand, and one area where many large organizations falter is in maintaining a consistent editorial style.

Campus style covers rules around capitalization, punctuation, acronyms, titles and the like. Far from being trivial, a lack of stylistic consistency can impact institutional credibility.

Luckily, it isn't hard. UC Davis campus style is based on the Associated Press Stylebook (“AP style”), but includes some exceptions and institution- and division-specific rules. For those of in the Division of Student Affairs, the order in which they apply is:

  1. Student Affairs Marketing and Communications (SAMC) Editorial Style Guide
  2. UC Davis Campus Style Guide
  3. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style

Bookmark these; also, consider ordering at least one physical copy of the Associated Press Stylebook for your department if budget allows.

It can feel a bit esoteric, but it’s actually pretty easy to get the hang of campus style. Your reader may not literally thank you, but they will definitely have an easier time concentrating on your content without the distraction of inconsistent punctuation, capitalization and style.

Here are five of the most common style errors we encounter and how you can avoid them:

The Serial Comma (or “Oxford comma”)

You do not need a comma before an and or or coming at the end of a series of three or more elements.

  • Incorrect: students, faculty, and staff
  • Correct: students, faculty and staff

Do use a comma is a series of complex phrases or when the final element in the series requires an and or or

  • Example: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast. ​​​​​​

Capitalization

It is tempting to use capitalization as a shorthand way to signal importance; the Chancellor is an important figure on campus; the University is an important place for those of us who study and work here (both are incorrect). But overcapitalization negatively impacts readability, and campus style calls for a lot less of it than you might assume. Here’s an overview: 

  • In general, capitalize formal names of campus departments and units and lowercase informal references. Examples: we have Department of History, but history department and Native American Studies Program, but Native American studies.
  • Capitalize formal or courtesy titles—president, chancellor, professor, senator—before names of individuals, and lowercase formal titles following names of individuals.
  • Lowercase descriptive or occupational titles—teacher, attorney, history professor, department chair—in all cases.
Examples:
  • Gary S. May, chancellor;
  • Chancellor Gary S. May;
  • Interim Vice Chancellor Emily Galindo;
  • Emily Galindo, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs (not “interim vice chancellor—Student Affairs”);
  • history professor Tom Rosen;
  • Professor of History Tom Rosen;
  • Tom Rosen, professor of history;
  • Max Little, professor of English;
  • department chair Harry Johnson;
  • Professor Emeritus Tom Martin;
  • Tom Martin, professor emeritus of physics;
  • Dean Neal Van Alfen;
  • Deans Elizabeth Spiller and Michael D. Lairmore;
  • law school dean Kevin Johnson

We’ll level with you—capitalization can be tricky, but it is worth the effort to get it right. The above rules are a good starting point, and whenever you find yourself in doubt, you can refer to the Campus Style Guide entries on names and titles

Ampersands

This one couldn’t be simpler—just remember never to use an ampersand (&) in place of the word and unless it is an official part of a name, (example: Learning & Development at UC Davis). 

Dashes

This is a hyphen: (-). These are useful for joining words in certain cases (think “know-it-all attitude” and “well-known professor”) but not useful for date or time ranges, to signal an abrupt change in a sentence or in many other situations where you may be using them. Instead, you’ll need to use a dash—either an en dash (–), which is a bit longer than a hyphen, or an em dash (—), which is twice as long as an en dash.

Here are some guidelines that should see you through most situations. Note though that there is a certain amount of nuance here, so when in doubt you should always refer to the entry for punctuation in the Campus Style Guide.

En Dash

Use for time, date and other numerical ranges.

  • Example: April–July, 2018, 6:30 a.m.–8 p.m., March 13–14, pages 99–105.
  • How to: On a Mac, make an en dash by typing “option > hyphen.” On a PC, hold down the Alt key and type 0150 on the numeric keypad (or select from Symbol menu).
Em Dash

Use to signal abrupt change within a sentence (think: a more intense comma), for datelines and attribution.​​

  • Example: Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures? She listed the qualities—intelligence, humor, independence—that she liked in an executive.  DAVIS, Calif. — A new research program … “There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto.” — Cormac McCarthy.
  • How to: On a Mac, make an em dash by typing “option > shift > hyphen.” On a PC, hold down the Alt key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad (or select from Symbol menu).

Note that you do not need to put spaces on either side of dashes, with the exception of dateline and attribution situations.

Numbers and Percentages

  • The most important thing to remember here is: spell out whole numbers between zero and nine (example: zero, three, seven, 10, 47).
  • Use numerals in addresses, course numbers and other specialized contexts (including numbers one through nine).
  • Spell out the word “percent” rather than use the symbol, and always use numerals.