Editorial Style Guide

University Communications and University Marketing use the Associated Press Stylebook as their primary reference. The following are some common AP Stylebook guidelines, as well as some exceptions that have been adopted for use in university publications and documents. Also included are some words and phrases specific to Cal Poly and the California State University. (For invitations, development communications, posters and postcards, many of these rules are relaxed.)


a | b | c | d | e | f | h | i | l | m | n | o | p | q | r | s | t | u | w | z



Generally avoid abbreviations. Do not abbreviate days of the week. Abbreviate “junior” and “senior” after an individual’s name. Abbreviate the words “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” etc., when used after a corporate identify. Ex: Ford Motor Co. Spell out when it occurs elsewhere in a name: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Generally follow spelling and capitalization preferred by the company. Ex: eBay, but capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence. Do not use all capital letters unless the letters are pronounced individually: IBM, BMW.


Academic Degrees / Dr. / Ph.D.

If mention of degrees is necessary to establish someone’s credentials, the preferred form is to avoid an abbreviation and use instead a phrase such as: Bill Spencer, who has a doctorate in psychology. “Dr.” can be used on first reference; however, use only the last name on all subsequent references.

Exception: If a person is mentioned early on in a very long document as “Professor Jack Smith,” and the reader might have difficulty recalling who Smith was in a second reference that appears much later, you can use some identifying language, such as “history Professor Smith.”

Acceptable: Bachelor of Science degree, Bachelor of Arts degree, bachelor’s degree; Master of Science degree, master’s degree, Master of Business Administration; Master of Fine Arts degree; doctorate, doctoral or Ph.D.; Ed.D. Also, an associate degree (no possessive, lowercase). Use abbreviations such as B.S., B.A., M.S., MBA and MFA only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome.

People earn a degree; they don’t receive one. They can “hold” or “have” a degree.

(For listing Cal Poly alumni academic degree information, see alumni – listing academic degree information.)


Academic Departments

Department names should appear as they are listed in the current Cal Poly Catalog. Ex: Art and Design Department (not Department of Art and Design). If unsure, go to www.catalog.calpoly.edu. The Orfalea College of Business has “Areas” not departments. Areas should be listed as: Accounting and Law Area, Economics Area, Industrial Technology Area. (See entry under Orfalea College of Business – Academic Areas.)

In a departure from AP Stylebook guidelines, capitalize department and official program names. Ex: History Department, Women’s Engineering Program. The word “program” is not capitalized unless it is part of the proper name. Ex: Wine and Viticulture program.

Do not capitalize the word “department” when it stands alone. (See entry under capitalization.)


Academic Quarters / Seasons

Lowercase the names of the academic quarters: spring quarter, summer quarter, fall quarter and winter quarter. Likewise lowercase the names of the seasons.


Academic Titles

Capitalize and spell out formal titles such as chancellor, chair, vice president, etc., when they precede a name. Lowercase elsewhere. Ex: CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White appeared before the California Assembly. Marilyn Ernst, chair of the English Department, delivered the keynote address at the annual conference. (Note: The use of chair, as opposed to chairwoman and chairman, is not standard AP style.)



Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd., St. only with a numbered address. Ex: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number: Ex: Pennsylvania Avenue. Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name. Ex: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania avenues. Similar words (alley, drive, road, terrace, etc.) are always spelled out. (See entry under Cal Poly address for specific university guidelines.)


Adviser / Advisor 

Use advisor. (This is a departure from AP.)


Alphabetical Order

Use alphabetical order when listing a series of equally important names (cities, countries, states, etc.). Also use alphabetical order when listing people unless there is a hierarchy.


Alumni – Listing Academic Degree Information

Preferred method in magazines, newsletters and publications other than news releases (see hometowns in news release entry): List degrees in parentheses following the name: Betty McFarland (Agricultural Science, ’93); Daniel Lundenhall (M.S., Biomedical Engineering, ’08); Evan Valdez (CR Biological Sciences, ’13). List only the last two digits of the graduation year, using the apostrophe to denote the missing two digits. Since Cal Poly is predominately an undergraduate institution granting primarily bachelor degrees, we have dropped the B.A., B.S., B.ARCH, etc., designations. Do include designations for graduate-level degrees and credentials (shown as M.S., M.A., CR).



Do not use the ampersand in text in program, department, college or building names. The ampersand will continue to be used in Cal Poly logos only.



No apostrophes are used in farmers market, Presidents Day and Veterans Day.

Apostrophes are used in place of omitted letters or numbers. Ex: Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead yet. Many people can vividly recall the ‘60s. (Note: Do not use an apostrophe when the whole year is used. Many people can vividly recall the 1960s.)


Area Codes

– see entry under telephone numbers.


Buildings / Room Numbers

Use last name only: Ex: Davidson Music Center, Fisher Science Hall, Spanos Stadium, Smith Alumni & Conference Center, Cotchett Education Building, Mott Gym
Exception: The Performing Arts Center has its own identity standards, which can be found online here: Identity Standards Handbook 2009_PC Version_Final.pdf.

Use capitals for rooms. Ex: Robert Towne will speak in Room 208 in Fisher Science Hall.

When also including building numbers, do so in parentheses after the building name. Ex: The presentation will be in Room 208 in Fisher Science Hall (No. 33).


Board of Directors / Board of Trustees

Lowercase when used in copy.


Cal Poly Address (Preferred)

Individual’s name, department name, 1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-____ (the entire nine-digit ZIP code the unit has been assigned).

Mary Smith
Distribution Services
1 Grand Ave.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0122
(Note: Because the ZIP code is unique, it is not necessary to include the words “Cal Poly” in the address. Cal Poly ZIP codes can be found on the Distribution Services website ZIP+4 Listing by Department Name page.) Also, department names are required; building names and room numbers are optional.


California State University / CSU

Spell out on first reference: the California State University. (Upper case “T” in “The” only if it starts a sentence.) Ex: With its 23 campuses, the California State University is the nation’s largest public university system. The CSU or CSU can be used in all subsequent references.


Campus Offices

Do not capitalize the word “office” unless is it part of the actual department name. Ex: The President’s Office will host an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Friday.

The Communications office prepares the weekly faculty-staff newsletter, the Cal Poly Magazine, and other publications for on- and off-campus constituents.



Learn by Doing is capitalized. Do not capitalize “university,” “college” or “department” when they stand alone. Capitalize when used as part of the whole name. Ex: The program is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts. The college decided to add a major in anthropology.



Use figures for numbers 10 or higher: 21st century. Spell out for numbers nine and lower: fifth century. (Note lowercase.)



Do not capitalize unless used as part of a formal name. (See above entry on capitalization.)


Commas with Dates

No comma used with months and year only AND month and day only. Ex: January 1972 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. His birthday is May 8.

Note commas in the following usage: Feb. 14, 1987, was the target date. She testified that it was Friday, Dec. 3, when the accident occurred.


Commas in a Series

Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put commas before the conjunction in a simple series Ex: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.

Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction. Ex: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Use a comma before the conjunction in a complex series of phrases. Ex: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude. (For consistency, the Communications office has decided that three or more descriptive words constitute a complex series and takes the comma. Ex: The woman wore an elaborate costume that consisted of a lime green silk bandana, a dark long-sleeved patterned shirt, and a flowing black skirt. Note the comma before the conjunction because there are at least three words in each of the series.

Commas in Company Names

Do not use a comma before Inc. or Ltd. Ex: Institutional Financial Markets Inc.


Course / Class Names

Capitalize names of course and class offerings.


Dash / Hyphen

The hyphen ( – ) is used to indicate continuing or inclusive numbers or time periods. No spaces are used before and after. Ex: He taught at Cal Poly from 1978-99. Open House this year will run Friday-Sunday, April 21-23.

The em dash (–) denotes an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause. Ex: We will fly to Paris in June — if I get a raise. Graphic designers will often use one longer line than two short hyphens to depict an em dash. Put a space before and after an em dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph.

Using a dash in lists, see entry under Lists


Dates / Years

Use Arabic figures without st. , nd, rd or th. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate these months: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Ex: The class will begin Feb. 4, 2012. Always spell out March, April, May, June, July.

Spell out all months when using alone or with a year alone. Ex: September is typically the hottest month. The university began accepting applications for that major in October 2006. (Note: When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas. Ex: Please join us on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, to celebrate the New Year.

Years – When listing a span of years (1998-02, 2005-11), use the full four-digit number for the first year (before the hyphen) and the just last two digits of ending year. Ex: He taught at Cal Poly from 2005-11.

For the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 9/11 is acceptable in all references.’


Day One

Capitalize and spell out as a chronological device for summarizing multi-day events such as Day One, Day Two. Lowercase in casual or conversational references.



(to indicate depth, height, length and width)

Ex: He is 5 feet 6 inches tall, the 5-foot-6 man (“inch” is understood), the 5-foot man, the basketball team signed a 7-footer. The car is 17 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet high. The rug is 9 feet by 12 feet, the 9-by-12 rug. A 9-inch snowfall. Exception: two-by-four. Spell out the noun, which refers to any length of building lumber 2 inches thick by 4 inches wide.


Department Names

Capitalize Cal Poly department, college and unit names. Ex: History Department, College of Architecture and Environmental Design; Administration and Finance office.



No hyphen. (Capitalize “E” if it begins a sentence.) Use hyphen for other e-terms. Ex: e-book, e-business, e-commerce.


Ellipsis ( … )

In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, constructed with three periods together with no spaces, but insert a space before and after, as shown above. Use to indicate deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, texts and documents.


Freelance / Freelancer

One word; no hyphen when used as a verb, adjective or noun (freelancer).


Fundraising / Fundraiser

One word in all cases.


Highway Designations

Interstate 5, U.S. Highway 1, state Route 1A. (Do not abbreviate Route and do not hyphenate.)


Home Page

Two words.


Hometowns in News Releases

We don’t have one consistent style for including students’ hometowns and majors in news releases. Rather, we suggest using text consistent with the style of the news release.

Ex: Secelia Rose, an animal science sophomore from Livermore, Calif., won the national horse judging competition. Microbiology senior Aurora Freeman, who hails from Lompoc, Calif., advanced to the finals in the systemwide research competition.



Use periods and no space when an individual uses initials instead of a first name: H.L. Mencken.



Lowercase in all instances.


Learn by Doing

Uppercase the “L” and “D.’ No hyphens.



Dashes should be used to introduce individual sections of a list. Capitalize the first word following the dash. Insert one space after the dash. Use periods, not semicolons, at the end of each section, whether or not it is a full sentence or phrase. Ex: Jones gave the following reasons:

— He never ordered the package.

— If he did, it didn’t come.

— If it did, he sent it back.


Login, Logon, Logoff

One word when used as a noun; two words in verb form. Ex: I log in to my computer.


Majors / Minors / Concentrations / Degree Programs

Spell out to avoid confusion. (Note: In the past, we used abbreviations, but believe it is helpful to the reader to spell it out.)

Lower case names of majors, minors, concentrations and degree programs.


Millions, Billions, Trillions

Use a figure-word combination. 1 million people; $2 billion, NOT one million/two billion. (Also note no hyphen linking numerals and the word million, billion or trillion.) 


Monetary Units

5 cents, $5 bill, 8 euros, 4 pounds.


Names / Junior / Senior

Preferred usage is full name on first reference; last name in subsequent references. Departments and colleges preferring to use first names for a more informal tone, be consistent in that usage throughout publication. Abbreviate Jr. and Sr. only with full names. Do not set off with a comma. Ex: Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.



Acceptable in all references to describe the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.



One word. For additional rules of prefixes, refer to AP Stylebook.



Spell out numbers one to nine; use numerals for 10 and over. Spell out a number at the beginning of a sentence. Ex: Three hundreds students signed up for the class. Use commas with numbers in the thousands. Ex: 2,568.

Generally, spell out and round off numbers in the millions. 49,850,000 would be approximately 50 million.

Use numerals to denote ages of people. Ex: He is 13 years old. They have a 6-year-old daughter.


Orfalea College of Business – Academic Areas

Uppercase the word “Area”: Accounting and Law Area; Economics Area; Finance Area; Industrial Technology and Packaging Area, Management Area, Human Resources and Information Systems Area; Marketing Area. The college also offers a concentration in entrepreneurship.


Over / More Than

“Over” refers to spatial relationships: Ex: The shelf is over the desk. “More than” refers to numbers or amounts. Ex: The group raised more than $10,000. More than 50 people attended the event. NOT: Over 50 people attended.



One word. Do not use the % symbol.



One space — not two — after a period at the end of a sentence.


Quotation Marks

If a full paragraph of quoted material is followed by a paragraph that continues the quotation, do not put close-quote marks at the end of the first paragraph. Do, however, put open-quote marks at the start of the second paragraph. Continue in this fashion for succeeding paragraphs, using close-quote marks only at the end of the quoted material.

Quotation marks can be used around a word or words used in an ironical or unusual sense. They can also be used on first reference around a word or words that are unfamiliar.

The period and comma always go within the quotation marks. The dash, semicolon, question mark and exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.


Quotation Marks in a Headline

Use single quotation marks in a headline.



He was my No. 1 choice. (Note abbreviation for “Number”). Do not use in names of schools or in street addresses: Public School 19. Exception: No. 10 Downing St., the residence of Britain’s prime minister.


School Grades

Use figures for grades 10 and above: 10th grade. Spell out for first through ninth grades: fourth grade, fifth-grader (note hyphen).


Sept. 11, 2001

9/11 is acceptable in all references. Include 2001 if needed for clarity.



One word, lowercase.



Spell out the names of the states when they stand alone in text. The names of eight states are never abbreviated: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Use the following abbreviations for the others: 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., Wyo.

Punctuation: Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence or indicating a dateline: Ex: He was traveling from Nashville, Tenn., to Austin, Texas, en route to his home in Albuquerque, N.M. She said Cook County, Ill., was Mayor Daley’s stronghold.


Technology References

Internet (uppercase); Web (uppercase); Web page (uppercase, two words); email, online, website, webcam, webcast and webmaster (lowercase, no hyphen, one word).


Telephone Numbers

Do not use parentheses around area codes. Hyphens are used. Ex: 805-756-1111.


That / Which

Use “that” and “which” when referring to inanimate objects and to animals without names. Use “that” for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas. Ex: I remember the day that we met. Use “which” for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas: Ex: The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place. (Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use “which”; otherwise, use “that.” A “which” clause is surrounded by commas; no commas are used with “that” clauses. Also see the essential clauses, nonessential clauses entry in the AP Stylebook for guidelines on using “that” and “which” to introduce phrases and clauses. )


Theater / Theatre

Use theater unless the proper name is Theatre. Ex: Spanos Theatre, the Theatre and Dance Department.



Use figures except for “noon” and “midnight.” Use a colon to separate hours from minutes. Do not use “:00” to represent even hours. Ex. 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. (Note: a.m. and p.m. are lowercase, take periods and have no spaces between the letters and the periods.)


Titles (Quotation Marks vs. Italics)

Put quotation marks around the names of titles of books, computer games, movies, operas, plays, poems, albums and songs, and lectures, speeches and works of art. No quotation marks are used on references to the Bible and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material. In addition do not use quotation marks or italics for journals, magazines, newspapers, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks and similar publications.

Also capitalize but do not place in quotes descriptive titles for orchestral works: Ex: Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Orchestra, Beethoven’s Serenade for Flute. Note: If the use of the instrumentation is not part of the title but is added for explanatory purposes, the names of the instruments are lowercased. Ex: Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major (the common title) for violin and viola. Use quotation marks for non-musical terms in a title. Ex: Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Use quotation marks for special, full titles: Ex: “Rhapsody in Blue.”



One word in all instances.


University Name

Preferred usage in most instances: Cal Poly (add San Luis Obispo if needed for clarification (include commas before “San Luis Obispo” and after if sentence continues. She attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, from 1999-03.)

Also can use: California Polytechnic State University (with city, if necessary)

Avoid: Cal Poly State University and CPSU

Do not capitalize the word “university” when used alone. (See entry under capitalization.)


University of California

No periods in UC. Show as UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, etc. UCLA is familiar enough in California and beyond to abbreviate.



Lowercase in all instances in reference to the internet.


Web Addresses

“http://” is not needed at the beginning of a URL unless the address does not start with “www” or there might be confusion about whether it is a web address.


-Wide / Wide-

-wide: No hyphen. Ex: citywide, campuswide, systemwide, statewide, worldwide, industrywide.

wide-: Usually hyphenated. Ex: wide-angle, wide-open, wide-awake, wide-eyed.



Not WiFi, wifi, or Wi-fi.


Workbook, Workday, Workforce, Workhorse, Workout, Workplace, Workstation, Workweek


ZIP Code

Use all caps for “ZIP,” which stands for Zoning Improvement Plan. Lowercase the word “code.”