SSU Writing Style Guide

The Sonoma State University Style Guide is based upon guidelines of the Associated Press Stylebook, with additional recommendations specific to the SSU campus.


Always make a first reference before using abbreviations. If the abbreviation is not commonly known, identify the abbreviation within parentheses following the first reference. For example, Sonoma State University can be referred to as SSU without having to identify the abbreviation in parentheses.

~The Sonoma Film Institute (SFI) is showing a film...
~Associated Student Productions (ASP) presents...

Academic Degrees

  • Use an apostrophe in bachelor's degree, master's degree, etc.
  • Capitalize when used formally, such as Master of Science or Bachelor of Arts.
  • Lowercase when used informally, such as bachelor's or master's.
  • Abbreviate degrees to B.A., M.A., Ph.D., etc.
  • When used after a name, an academic abbreviation is set off by commas: Daniel Moynihan, Ph.D., was the guest speaker.
  • After a first reference, do not continue to address the subject as "Dr." Daniel Moynihan, Ph.D., was the guest speaker. Moynihan is an expert in communications.

Academic Departments

Use lowercase except for words that are proper nouns or adjectives.

~The department of history, the history department, the department of English, the English department.

Active / Passive Voice

Avoid writing with a passive voice. Use active language.

Instead of writing, "The event will be taking place Monday," write, "The event is Monday."


Always use figures. Age expressed before a noun uses hyphens.
~A 5-year-old boy
~The boy is 5 years old.
~The woman is in her 30s.
~The woman, 26, has a 2-month-old daughter.
~The law is 8 years old.


  • Alumni = masculine plural, often used in reference to either sex
  • Alumnae = feminine plural
  • Alumnus = masculine singular, often used in reference to either sex
  • Alumna = feminine singular


Backward, forward and toward do not have an "s" at the end of the word.

Buildings on Campus

When informally referring to on-campus buildings, abbreviate according to the following guidelines:

  • Ambrose Nichols Hall, Room 301 = Nichols 301
  • Art Building, Room 102 = Art 102
  • Darwin Hall, Room 101 = Darwin 101
  • Evert Person Theatre = Person Theatre
  • Environmental Technology Center = ETC
  • Green Music Center, Room 1058 = GMC 1058
  • Ives Hall, Room 101 = Ives 101
  • Rachel Carson Hall, Room 1 = Carson 1
  • Salazar Hall, Room 1050 = Salazar 1050
  • Schulz Information Center, Room 3001 = Schulz 3001 (not "Library 3001")
  • Stevenson Hall, Room 1062 = Stevenson 1062

Composition Title

Apply these guidelines to book, movie, opera, play, poem, song, lecture, speech and art titles:

  • Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four letters or more
  • Put quotation marks around the names of all such works except the Bible and books of reference.
    ~"The New York Times"
    ~Encyclopedia Britannica


  • Expand all contractions to their two-word origins.
    ~You're = You are
    ~They'll = They will
    ~There's = There is


Use a hyphen to help readers know which words go together. Examples:

  • a high-quality plastic
  • my much-improved health
  • the bug-filled garden
  • an open-minded person

Do not use a hyphen in adverbs because they already make it clear what is modifying what. Example:

  • the sadly neglected yard
  • a critically acclaimed book
  • your highly appreciated contribution
  • my completely uneventful morning
  • our embarrassingly late proposal


  • When writing just the month, use the whole word.
    ~October 2011
  • When writing the day and month, abbreviate the month but not the day. Do not abbreviate the months March, April, May, June or July.
    ~The event is Wednesday, Oct. 5.
    ~Classes begin Aug. 25.
  • Capitalize and spell out days of the week.
    ~The class is every Wednesday. Performances are Thursday-Sunday, June 11-14.
  • If an event occurs more than seven days before or after the current date, use the month and a figure.
  • Do not use st, nd, rd, or th with dates, such as October 31st.
  • Commas are not necessary if only a month and a year are given, but commas should be used to set off a year if the month, date and year are given.
  • If you refer to an event that occurred the day prior to when the article will appear, do not use the word yesterday. Instead, use the day of the week.
  • Use the letter "s" but not an apostrophe after the figures when expressing decades or centuries. Do, however, use an apostrophe before figures expressing a decade if numerals are left out.
    ~The University was founded September 22, 1961.
    ~The semester begins in January.
    ~The 1800s.
    ~The '90s.

Email, E-stuff

  • Write the word "email" rather than "e-mail" with a dash.
  • For all other uses, use a dash (e-book, e-resource, etc.)

Hyphen (-) vs. dash (—)

  • Use hyphen in times and dates.
    ~7 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • A dash is a punctuation mark similar to a hyphen but in length and function. The most common version of the dash is the em dash (—). In most computer programs, this is made by pressing the option (alt), shift and dash (-) keys simultaneously.
  • Example: In matters of grave importance, style—not sincerity—is the vital thing.

Freshman, Freshmen, First-Time Freshman

  • Correct: Freshman Orientation; First-time freshman/freshmen; FTF; Freshman Interest Groups
  • Incorrect: Freshmen Orientation. Freshmen Interest Group(s). First-Time Freshmen; First Time Freshman (w/o hyphen)

i.e. vs. e.g.

• Use i.e. to indicate "in other words."

• Use e.g. to indicate "for example."

Listing Names

When listing names, organize alphabetically by the last name. "Alex Brown, Tom Davis and Cathy Smith received the award."

More Than vs. Over

  • When accompanying numerals in amounts and figures (except for ages) use "more than" instead of "over."
    ~More than 150 prizes will be dispersed.
    ~To date, more than 200 faculty, as well as 600 students...
  • "Over" usually refers to spatial reference or age.
  • ~She doesn't look a day over 60.

    ~That sandwich is over six feet long.


The official name of the Univeristy is "Sonoma State University." In both print and electronic documents, first reference to the University's name should be "Sonoma State University." Subsequent references may be "Sonoma State," or if necessary for brevity, "SSU."


  • Spell out the numbers one through nine when they indicate sequence in time or location. Starting with 10, use numerical figures.
    ~They had a fleet of 10 station wagons and two buses.
    ~A 5-year-old girl
    ~The 1980s, the '80s
    ~First base, the First Amendment, he was first in line...
    ~First, second, third, etc. up to ninth.
    ~10th, 11th, 12th, etc. (however, do not use th, st for numerical dates such as October 31st)
  • Hyphenate numbers such as twenty-one, seventy-nine, etc.
  • If a sentence begins with a numeral, always spell that numeral out and capitalize the first word. (There were 150 ducks in the pond. Fifteen ducks swam in the pond.)
  • Spell out floors, as in first floor, second floor, third floor, etc.


  • Always spell out the word "percent." Do not use the % sign.

Places Cannot Make Requests

  • A place cannot make a request or statement, only a person can. Instead of writing, "Fairfield Osborn Preserve invites faculty and staff," write "Nathan Rank, director of the Fairfield Osborn Preserve, invites faculty and staff."

Phone numbers

  • Always include an area code for phone numbers.
  • Use dashes, not parenthesis, for area codes, e.g. 707-664-3189.

Scientific Terminology

  • Italicize scientific terminology.
    ~The Western Pond Turtle, clemmys marorata, was nearly extinct...

Spacing Between Sentences

  • Single space between ALL sentences.


  • Spell out all symbols, such as &, %, # - do not leave in symbol form unless the symbol is part of a formal name, such as AT&T.

That vs. Which

THAT should be used to introduce a restrictive (necessary) clause.
WHICH should be used to introduce a non-restrictive (unnecessary) or parenthetical clause.

  • A restrictive clause is one which is essential to the meaning of a sentence – if it’s removed, the meaning of the sentence will change. For example:
    ~Chairs that don’t have cushions are uncomfortable to sit on.
    ~Card games that involve betting money should not be played in school.
    ~To our knowledge, it is the only body in the solar system that currently sustains life…
  • A non-restrictive clause can be left out without changing the meaning of a sentence. Non-restrictive clauses are either in brackets or have a comma before and after them (or only before them if they come at the end of a sentence):
    ~Chairs, which are found in many places of work, are often uncomfortable to sit on.
    ~I sat on an uncomfortable chair, which was in my office.


  • Always include a.m. or p.m. as lower case with a space between the time of day and the a.m. or p.m., punctuated by periods.
  • Use noon instead of 12 p.m. and midnight instead of 12 a.m. The event is from 9 a.m.-noon in the courtyard.
  • When referring to the top of an hour, leave off the colon and zeroes. 9 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. 6:35 p.m.
  • Other examples: 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 8-10 a.m., 6 p.m.-midnight


  • In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual's name.
    ~Pope John Paul met with President Obama.
  • Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual's name
    ~The vice president declined to comment.
    ~Vice President Nelson Rockefeller declined to comment.
  • Capitalize formal languages within titles.
    ~Therese Simons, professor of English... John Murphy, professor of German...
  • Capitalize and spell out formal titles such as Chancellor, Chair, President, Professor, etc., only when they precede a name. Lowercase elsewhere.
    Judy K. Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University...
    ~Sonoma State University President Judy K. Sakaki...
    ~Assistant Professor Jerome Weisner led the conversation.
    ~Jerome Weisner, assistant professor of biology, led the conversation.
    ~Paul Schneider, deputy secretary of homeland security.
  • Lowercase modifiers such as "department" in "department Chair Scott Lindsay".


  • Use third person to identify the narrative voice. Instead of writing "We are pleased to present the event," write, "The Music Department is pleased to present the event."
  • When referencing a URL for those using assistive technology, give each link a description.
  • ~More information can be found at

    ~For a full schedule, visit

Web site or website? Log-in, login? Webpage? Web page?

SSU has adopted the following:
~web page