Writing and style

University of Exeter style guide

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Introduction

If something isn't clarified in this A-Z, please refer to The Guardian's online style guide.

The Oxford English Dictionary online is also very useful.

Grammatical terminology

  • Adjective - describes a noun (The pretty girl; the boy is handsome)
  • Adverb - describes a verb (He ran quickly; they walked home slowly)
  • Apostrophe - denotes possession (David’s cap) or an omission of a letter (I’m fine)
  • Colon - indicates a significant pause between two closely related phrases, or indicates the start of a list (The winners are: )
  • Comma - denotes a pause in a sentence (Excuse me, are you Margaret Thatcher, or do you just look like her?) and can be used to break up items in a list (I need eggs, flour, milk, and bread)
  • Hyphen - a link which joins two words together
  • Infinitive - the ‘whole’ form of a verb, constructed in English with ‘to’ (to buy). Splitting an infinitive means breaking up ‘to’ from its verb: 'To boldly go' is a split infinitive
  • Noun - denotes a person, place or thing
  • Semicolon - indicates a pause shorter than a colon, but longer than a comma, and links two closely related complete phrases
  • Verb - denotes an action (They ran away)

A

Abbreviations and acronyms

Higher Education is littered with acronyms, from the degrees we award to research funding bodies and all manner of technical language. It is important not to assume that the reader will always understand what acronyms mean, especially those referring to internal departments, research centres, and systems.

The first time you use an acronym on a print or web page, consider if it needs to be explained to the audience, and if so write out the name in full initially with the acronym in brackets afterwards: eg, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Thereafter, just use the acronym. The exception is where the abbreviation is better known than what it stands for eg BBC, IRA, AIDS.

Full stops should not be used with acronyms or abbreviations. This rule covers all academic awards and degrees (eg, BA, MA, MPhil, BPhil, MEng, EdD, PhD, PGDip, PGCert, etc).

Also omit the full stops in abbreviations such as eg, ie, etc, Dr, Mr, Mrs, am, pm.

Accents

Use accents on foreign words, unless the word has been anglicised. Exceptions: précis; exposé (to distinguish from expose).

Addresses

No commas in addresses:
University of Exeter
Northcote House
The Queen’s Drive
Exeter EX4 4QJ
UK

In the case of department addresses, put the department name before the University.

Adviser

Not Advisor

Affect/Effect

When used as a noun (eg, the results of something) it’s always ‘effect’. ‘Affect’ is the verb, or when the noun is referring to emotion.

A level

Not A Level or A-level or A-Level

All right

Not Alright

American usage

In general, British rather than American conventions of usage and spelling should be used. For example, -ise rather than -ize in words such as emphasise; -ogue rather than -og in words such as catalogue.

If you're unsure whether a spelling is English or American in origin, the Grammarist website is a useful resource to check.

Ampersand (&)

Unless used as part of a company’s name (eg, Procter & Gamble), avoid using ampersands.

Apostrophe

Apostrophes are used to show (a) possession (The University’s halls of residence; The Students’ Guild) or (b) omissions (I’ll, They’ll) in words and phrases. 

  1. Possession
    With a singular noun, the apostrophe goes before the <s>:

    Claire’s hat
    The cat’s blanket

    With a plural noun, the apostrophe goes after the <s>:

    The boys’ game
    Students’ Union

    If a word already ends in <s>, then the apostrophe alone signifies possession; no <s> is needed:

    In James’ opinion
    Their patio wasn’t as impressive as the Jones’
    The ladies’ room

    A word with an irregular plural still takes the <’s>:

    The children’s playground
    The people’s votes
    The men’s eyes

  2. Omission of a letter

    It’s okay, I’m all right
    you’re right 
    don’t worry

NB. It’s always means ‘it is’ or 'it has'. If it does not mean this, don’t use an apostrophe.

Apostrophes are never used to denote the plural:

Apples (not Apple’s)
Pears (not Pear’s)

Where not to use apostrophes: Don’t use an apostrophe to form a plural with numbers and letters: 1990s not 1990’s; 3 As at A level, not 3 A’s at A level; CDs not CD’s.