Pierce College Writing Style Guide

About the Style Guide

At Pierce College, we strive to inspire our readers by providing information about the important role we play in the community. To achieve this goal of effective communication, it is important to share our message with a common voice and with consistent branding.

The Marketing and Communications Department at Pierce College created this Style Guide as a reference for all who write and edit documents. Its primary resource is The 2013 Associated Press Stylebook.

Style Guide A to Z

This section includes guidelines for grammar, punctuation and commonly misspelled or misused words. This guide defers to the Associated Press Stylebook, and not Microsoft Word spell check.

  • • a, an:
    • Use a before a consonant sound: a historical time, a one-year employee, a universal theme
    • Use an before a vowel sound: An energy crisis. An honorable mention. An 1800s invention.
  • A lot: use as two words, not a lot
  • Abbreviations: similar to acronyms; if there is a chance someone could misunderstand, spell it out. Do not abbreviate titles before a person’s name, except Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr.
  • Academic degrees:
    • Either say "bachelor of arts" or "master of arts" (no apostrophes), or bachelor’s degree or master’s degree (not bachelor’s or master’s of arts).
    • Associate degree has no apostrophe or "s"
    • When the degree mentioned is specific: Master of Business Administration, both the degree and the field are capitalized.
    • If the word "degree" is used, then it is not capitalized: master of arts degree in business administration
  • Academic majors: Lowercase all majors except those that are proper nouns: a country (European History), a language (German, French, English, Spanish), etc. when used with the word "degree."
    Example: She has a bachelor’s degree in history
    If the major accompanies a specific degree, it is capitalized. Example: Master of Science in Education. Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
  • Academic year: use a dash to refer to an academic year: 2012–13
  • Acronyms: In general, avoid using acronyms for identity. Some readers, especially those outside the realm of our institution, find unfamiliar acronyms confusing. Therefore, when writing for the community, use acronyms sparingly. Think of them as an option, not a requirement.
    • When the choice is made to use an acronym, the first mention of a proper noun is spelled out: Career Technical Education
    • If there is a subsequent reference to it in the remaining text, the acronym follows the full phrase: Career Technical Education (CTE). The acronym, CTE, may then be used consistently in place of the words Career Technical Education.
    • However, if a proper noun is followed by minimal or no additional reference in the remaining text, there is no point in including the acronym.
    • Never use an acronym on first reference. Even common acronyms.
  • Afterward: correct as "afterward," not "afterwards"
  • Alumnus, alumni, alumna, alumnae, alum:
    • Alumnus: a graduate or former student of a specific school, college or university
    • Alumni: plural for alumnus
    • Alumna: a woman who is a graduate or former student of a specific school, college or university
    • Alumnae: plural for alumna
    • Alum: the shortened, informal version of an alumnus or an alumna
  •  a.m., p.m.: Lowercase, with periods
  • ampersand: Best to avoid in text unless part of a proper noun
  • awards: Capitalize them: Classified Employee of the Year Award
  • Backward: correct as "backward," not "backwards"
  • Basic skills: Not capitalized unless part of a proper noun
    • The students will improve their basic skills in the areas of math and reading
    • SCE’s Basic Skills Program includes elementary math.
  • Biannual, biennial, bimonthly, biweekly
    • Biannual means twice a year
    • Biennial means every two years
    • Bimonthly means every other month
    • Biweekly means every other week
  • board, board of directors, board of trustees: Capitalize only when part of a proper name.
    • The Pierce College Board of Directors meeting is held on the second Tuesday of each month
    • The board of directors approved the meeting’s agenda.
    • It is important to inform the board of that decision
  • Washington: Lowercase “state of” except when it is part of the official name of a government agency. Do not abbreviate "Washington" in the body of the text. Washington state refers to the state; Washington State refers to the university
  • Cancelled vs. canceled: both are correct (cancelled is the British spelling, whereas canceled is the American spelling)
  • Capitalization: please see special section on capitalization at the end of this style guide
  • Certificate program names:
    • Capitalize specific certificate program names: Fashion Merchandising Certificate Program. Do not capitalize certificate when using it in a generic manner: Rachel will receive her certificate from Pierce College.
  • Chancellor: In text, capitalize titles, including chancellor, only when they precede the name: Chancellor Michele Johnson. Lowercase titles when used alone or when following names: Michele Johnson, chancellor. The chancellor.
  • Committee group
    • Unless a committee or group is officially recognized and formally named, avoid capitalizing. For example, "The committee will review the applications to select interview candidates.”
    • Capitalize the official, proper names of long-standing committees and groups.
  • Dates: no comma after the year in a date in text. September 1, 2008 is reserved for your event. It is preferred to use the year after the date.
  • Department names: see Program names
  • District-wide vs. District wide: use district-wide.
  • Email: no hyphen and lowercase within a sentence. “Amy will email you her presentation.”
  • E.g.: Means "for example": She organized her sock drawer by length, e.g., ankle, crew, knee-high. Using "For example" is preferred over e.g.
  • English as a Second Language vs. English as a second language: No dashes between words, always lowercase the words "as" and "a." Because it is a proper noun, English is always capitalized.
    • Capitalized the phrase if referring to the specific department or course. For example: Pierce College has an English as a Second Language Program to assist students. (a specific division/department). Do not capitalize if used in a generic manner: “Pierce College is offering several levels of English as a second language (ESL) courses in the fall."
  • Fax: Not an acronym, therefore it is not capitalized.
  • Federal: Not capitalized unless part of a proper noun.
    • The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
    • The program is offered through the federal government.
  • First come, first served: This phrase is lowercase and does not include hyphens; a comma should be included after “come”: first come, first served.
  • Fiscal vs. monetary: Fiscal is used for budgetary matters; monetary is used for money supply. Examples: Receipts must be processed before the end of the fiscal year. The program had a monetary need to supply all the textbooks.
  • Full-time vs. full time; Part-time vs. part time: Hyphenate only when used as an adjective preceding a noun. Linda is a full-time instructor. We considered having an intern full time, but four days worked better.
  • Government: Always lowercase and never abbreviated. The exception is proper nouns. State government, U.S. government, federal government. The government raised taxes. The Government Accountability Office issued a report on community college funding.
  • Governor: Same capitalization rules as titles: Capitalize when specific and preceding a person’s name. Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. Lowercase when the title follows the person’s name: Jay Inslee, governor, will sign the bill today. Lowercase when using the word in a generic manner: The governor’s initiative will be placed on the ballot.
  • Health care: Health care should be written as two words, not one. Exception is for the Healthcare pathway.
  • In regard to: In regard to is the proper phrase, not in regards to.
  • Insure, ensure, assure:
    • Insure is for insurance: life and disabilities policies insure one’s income.
    • Ensure means guarantee: The company ensures the accuracy of their testing.
    • Assure means to set the mind at ease: I assure you the fingerprints do not match.
  • Italic type: Italicize titles of publications, names of ships or trains, movie titles, works of art, foreign phrases, legal case names, or for emphasis.
  • Its vs. it’s: its is one word, shows possession and doesn’t have an apostrophe. It’s is a contraction of two words, it is. It’s likely the Community Education department will add more classes this fall. Francesca knitted a scarf that was treasured by its new owner.
  • Junior, senior: Abbreviate Jr. or Sr. and use as a full name with no comma. Each is a unique, separate person. William Allen Smith Jr. William Allen Smith Sr.
  • Lifelong: As an adjective, lifelong is spelled as one word.
  • Log in, log on, log off: When used as an adjective, a hyphen is added. I want to log in. Please give me the log-in password.
  • More than vs. over: The preferred term in reports for numbers is more than, not over: Enrollment was increased by more than 20 percent. Over is a better choice for special relationships. The plane flew over the city. Over is more commonly used for ages: Seniors are over 62 years.
  • Multicolored, multimillion, multilateral, multicampus, multilingual, Multilanguage: All used as one word, no spaces or hyphens.
  • Noncredit vs. non-credit: Noncredit should be spelled as one word with no hyphen.
  • Nondiscrimination, nonprofit: used as one word, no spaces or hyphens.
  • Numbers: Numbers 0 through 9 should be spelled out in any reference except when referencing time (see entry for time for more details) or ages. Numbers 10 and above should be referenced using numbers except when then number as at the beginning of a sentence; in that case, it should be spelled out. John Doe has registered for three classes. John Smith has worked for Pierce College for 20 years. Twenty-five students are enrolled in the painting class.
    • Following dates, omit th, rd, st, nd: Not December 21st, but rather December 21.
    • Grade numbers (unless they begin a sentence): She passed the 7th grade.
    • Age of students: Welcome seminars are primarily geared to new students over 18. Always use figures for people and animals (but not for inanimates). The girl is 8 years old. The law is eight years old.
    • Only use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun. A 5-year-old boy. The boy is 5 years old.
    • When using generic ages, use an s with no apostrophe. The woman is in her 30s.
    • Phone numbers: do not use periods to separate numbers: 253-555-3239.
    • Dimensions – use figures and spell out "inches," "feet," "yards," etc: The basketball player is 6 feet 4 inches tall. Hyphenate the dimensions if they are used as adjectives: The 5-foot-6-inch woman, the 5-foot-7-inch man.
    • When using percentages in a paragraph, spell out "percent:" When looking at comparative data, the program is up three percent over last quarter.
  • Online: written as one word, no hyphens.
  • Part-time vs. part time: hyphenate only when used as an adjective preceding a noun. Steve is a part-time instructor. We considered having an intern part time, but realized we needed someone who could work full time.
  • Preregistration, preregistered: written as one word, no hyphens
  • Program names capitalization/abbreviations and acronyms: Always capitalize when referring to a specific program or department. Always spell out the full program name first, then use acronyms in parenthesis for each reference after that: English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
  • Room: capitalize only when being used with a specific number: English 101 will be held in Room 117. Lowercase the word in generic references: The room needs to be cleaned before the quarter begins.
  • Seasons, quarters and terms: Capitalize when referring to a specific term or season: Fall 2014 Quarter. Do not capitalize when referring to the season in a generic manner: Our program has a larger enrollment in the fall term than in the winter term.
  • Staff: Use a singular verb if you are considering the group as a unit: The entire staff is contributing to the gift.
  • If you are speaking of the staff as individuals, the staff would read staff (members) are notified about an opportunity to study abroad.
  • State: When talking about Washington in a generic way, use lowercase state, unless it’s the first word of a sentence. Use state of Washington, Washington state. Never capitalize "state" unless referring to the college WSU.
  • Statewide: written as one word, no hyphens
  • Systemwide: written as one word, no hyphens
  • Technology Terms: Below is a list of commonly used computer and Internet terms, acronyms and software programs:
    • Adobe Illustrator
    • Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop
    • AutoCAD
    • Backup
    • Database
    • Download
    • email
    • Internet: capitalize when referring to the World Wide Web)
    • Keyword
    • PC
    • Pop-up menu
    • Pull-down menu
    • Screen saver: two words
    • Spreadsheet
    • Troubleshooting
    • User ID: two words
    • Website; webcast
  • Time: use lowercase a.m. or p.m. with periods. Noon and midnight are acceptable and preferred to 12 noon or 12 midnight (both are repetitious). Use times using just hours: 9 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. Registration opens at 7 a.m. The office closes at 6 p.m. The game starts at 3 p.m.
  • Titles: Capitalize titles only when they’re used immediately before a person’s name in text. Chancellor Michele Johnson spoke at the event. When the title comes after a person’s name, never capitalize it: Michele Johnson, chancellor, will speak at the event. When referenced without a specific name, always use lowercase: The chancellor will attend the event.
  • Veterans services: No apostrophe in either word
  • Wailtlist vs. wait list vs. wait-list: correct as one word, no hyphen: waitlist
  • Workforce, workplace, workstation: Each are one word, no hyphen
  • Work site: correctly used as two words, no hyphen