House style

Overview

Our house style is very closely linked to our tone of voice: while the tone of voice gives general guidance on the kind of communicator the university should always aim to be, the house style gives more specific advice on how to do that.

House styles typically focus on the areas of written communication that are open to interpretation; that is, where there is more than one way of expressing something ‘correctly’. Our house style, then, is designed to get us all making the same choices. If we are to write consistently, we must write not just with one voice, but with one style.

A

Abbreviations are words (or versions of words) that are shortened by omitting the end of the word or words, e.g. Prof. (for professor) or inc. (for incorporated).

An abbreviation is always marked by a succeeding full stop, unless the abbreviation itself is a word, or is commonly accepted and understood, e.g. advert (for advertisement) postgrad (for postgraduate).

  • Do use accents on words where the unaccented form would have a different pronunciation and meaning, e.g. exposé, résumé.
  • Do not use accents on loan words (i.e. words from another language that have become commonplace in English), e.g. cafe (not café), naive (not naïve), oeuvre (not œuvre).

If you’re still unsure, choose what seems like the most appropriate form and be consistent.

Always use the appropriate accents for people’s names.

The first time you use an acronym, consider if it needs to be explained to your audience. If so, write out the name in full, followed by the acronym in brackets, e.g. Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Thereafter, just use the acronym, but consider restating the full form again (perhaps on first use in a new section) if the document you’re writing is especially long.

Do not expand the acronym where the abbreviation is better known than what it stands for, e.g. BBC, IBM, NATO.

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

See also abbreviations, contractions and initials

No commas in addresses when displayed, e.g.:

University of Exeter
Northcote House
The Queen’s Drive
Exeter EX4 4QJ
UK

Use commas in run-on text, e.g. University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE.

For department addresses, put the department name first. If the address is for a particular member of staff, put the name or job title first. Place the country on the last line if your audience is likely to be international.

See also email addresses and web addresses and hyperlinks

Accessibility is the design and provision of services made suitable for people with disabilities. In writing, this means careful consideration of presentation, style choices and phrasing. Some tips include:

  • Use italics sparingly – they can be hard for people with dyslexia to read and will not always be distinguishable to people using screen readers.
  • Provide captions – scripts for video content should always be captioned. This can help deaf and hearing-impaired audiences and provides an alternative for those unable to play sound.
  • Avoid coloured text and highlighting – especially when they are intended to indicate important information. Screen readers do not recognise different colours of text.
  • Provide a text alternative to infographics – wherever possible, provide a narrative version of information in an infographic for those unable to interpret complex diagrams.
  • Online, remember to fill alt text fields – provide a narrative in the alt text field for images that contain valuable messaging or information. If an image is purely decorative, leave this field blank, as a description of the image may be confusing.

B

round brackets or parentheses ( )

Avoid where possible. In marketing copy, use spaced en dashes to indicate parentheses – as used here – instead.

When writing a complete sentence within brackets, the punctuation also goes within the brackets. (This sentence, for example, is a complete sentence.) If the text in brackets is part of a sentence (as is the case here), the punctuation goes outside the brackets.

square brackets [ ]

Used rarely in copy, but indicates either:

  1. An editorial intervention or clarification in quoted material:

“The [Streatham] campus is within walking distance of the city centre.”

  1. A bracket within parentheses:

He walked from Streatham Campus to the city centre (about 1.5 miles [25 minutes]).

Be careful to honour the quirks of brand names in your copywriting. For instance, Facebook, not Face Book or FaceBook. iPhones and iPads always begin with a lowercase ‘i’ and YouTube has a capital ‘T’. Google takes a capital letter, unless you’re using it as a verb (i.e. to google), although we prefer the generic ‘search’.

C

Be consistent in your use of capitalisation, and always ask yourself why you are capitalising a word or phrase to avoid random, or apparently random, usage throughout a piece of writing.

departments

The English department; the Department of Politics.

modules

Use title case for modules (e.g. Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science; Frontiers in Global Health).

programmes

Use title case (e.g. English with Study in North America; Political Science).

subjects

Subjects are different from programmes and modules in that they are general and do not necessarily relate to a particular programme of study or module within a programme of study (e.g. she was always interested in history, so she enrolled on a History degree programme).

See also headings and subheadings and names and titles

proper nouns

Given names, countries, book titles etc. should be capitalised.

Contractions are where a word is shortened, but the first and last letters remain the same. Examples include Mr for ‘mister’ and Jnr for ‘Junior’. Do not end with a full stop.

See also abbreviations and acronyms

Use the pound symbol £ or euro symbol € with numerals for amounts in those currencies, e.g. £25 or €3,750. For US dollars, use US$, e.g. US$300. For all other currencies, use the three-letter currency code followed by a space, and then the amount in numerals, i.e. INR 5,000 for five-thousand Indian rupees. Do not use a space between the numeral and any abbreviations, e.g. £50m for fifty million British pounds.

See also numbers and percentages

D

en dashes

Use with spaces in the middle of a sentence to indicate an interruption that provides additional information (e.g. ‘The two campuses in Exeter – Streatham and St Luke’s – are just a mile apart’).

Use with spaces at the end of a sentence to provide a detail that strengthens or contradicts what comes before it (e.g. ‘The Streatham campus is our largest – much larger, in fact’; ‘St Luke’s is our smallest campus – but academic life here is no less enriching’).

em dashes

Do not use em dashes.

See also hyphens

dates

Dates are in the format 1 January 2019 or Tuesday 1 January 2019.

Use a closed en dash (i.e. without spaces) for date ranges, e.g. 20–25 March.

Do not superscript ‘th’, ‘st’ or ‘rd’. These are hyphenated when used as an adjective (i.e. 18th-century drama), but unhyphenated as a noun (i.e. during the 18th century).

AD should come before the date: AD600; BC should come after: 300BC. There should be no space between the numbers and letters.

Use c1500, not c.1500 for approximations.

Academic (September–August) and financial (April–March) years are elided and presented with a slash /, e.g. 2019/20.

times

When indicating the time or duration of an event, use the 24-hour clock and the format as follows:

09:00; 15:45; 20:00

For durations of time, use:

09:00–11:30 or from 09:00 to 11:30.

See also currency, numbers and percentages

Short form

Long form

First

First-class Honours

2:1

Upper Second-class Honours

2:2

Lower Second-class Honours

3rd

Third-class Honours

E

Use to indicate irrelevant or unnecessary text removed from a quotation. It is not necessary to use an ellipsis to denote material removed from the beginning or end of a quotation. Use a space immediately before and after an ellipsis, e.g.‘ … ’

Note that an ellipsis resembles three consecutive full stops, but is in fact one character (in Microsoft Word, typing three full stops followed by a space will convert it automatically).

Never use to indicate a mysterious or uncertain ending, e.g. ‘To be continued…’

See also quotation marks

Addresses should be all lower case with Exeter written out in full (e.g. a.n.other@exeter.ac.uk, not A.N.Other@ex.ac.uk), except where it means the address won’t work, (such as admissions_ug@maths.ex.ac.uk). Don’t include a full stop when the address comes at the end of a sentence.

Don’t refer to a personal email address unless that specific person has agreed to do so. It is better to use a generic address (e.g. helpdesk@exeter.ac.uk), so that getting a reply doesn’t depend on one individual.

See also addresses and web addresses and hyperlinks

F

To be avoided in marketing copy, but where necessary, should be used to briefly provide source information or additional context.

See also references

bold

Use to highlight key words or phrases in text your audience may skim read. Also used for web address in print.

italics

Use sparingly for emphasis and work titles.

small caps

Do not use small caps.

underlining

Do not underline for emphasis or in titles. On the web, underlining generally denotes hyperlinks (where it should be used) and so is confusing when used for any other purpose.

See also accessibility, captions, lists, names and titles and web address and hyperlinks

bursary

A funding award for a taught programme. Eligibility is based either in part or only on financial criteria.

PhD bursary

A partial funding award which may require the student to carry out work in return for the bursary payment. For example, a student may be required to undertake teaching in return for the bursary.

If you are unsure whether you should advertise a PhD studentship or PhD bursary, please contact Student Finance on +44 (0) 1392 723890.

PhD studentship

An award funded through a UK research council, another external funder, or through the university, which covers the cost of fees and a research-council equivalent maintenance grant for the duration of the PhD. Students are not required to carry out any form of work in return.

scholarship

A funding award which is usually competitive, with eligibility based on criteria other than finance, e.g. academic or sporting ability, or being an alum of the university.

Refers to any non-compulsory study that takes place after high school (like A levels), but does not include degrees.

See also higher education

H

Hashtags are short words or phrases used on social media platforms to make related content easier to find, or to foster online discussion.

When devising hashtags, use lower case for hashtags containing only one word, even if that word is a proper noun (e.g. #exeter). Capitalise each word for hashtags of more than one word (e.g. #StudyAbroad). Use abbreviations and acronyms in hashtags only if they are widely used and generally understood by your target audience (e.g. #PhD or #EngLit).

Before using a hashtag, make sure it:

  • isn’t already widely used to group together unrelated material
  • is of an appropriate length for the platform you are using
  • is specific enough (for example, if you wish to create a hashtag for students in the Medical School, #medicine will be too broad)
  • doesn’t create an unintended ‘blend word’ (where two words, having been ‘pushed together’, form another, unfortunate or offensive word, as in these examples.

For more information, please see our social media guidelines.

See also number sign/hash #

Use sentence case (e.g. Getting here by train; Exeter and Cornwall). Use headings and subheadings thoughtfully – try to use them to organise information in the most audience-friendly way possible.

Instead of using descriptive, functional headings and subheadings (e.g. ‘Using the library’), try to make them livelier (‘Using the library is easy’) or use them to summarise information for skim readers (e.g. ‘The library contains books, journals, articles and IT resources’).

Avoid asking questions (e.g. ‘How many books can I borrow?’). Question headings are very good at telling your reader where to find the information they need, but they don’t give them any of it. A heading like ‘Undergraduates can borrow 20 books at one time’ provides the reader with the answer to the question they are most likely to have, while also indicating that related information can be found below.

Even short text can take headings and subheadings, and your readers will almost always appreciate them.

See also capitalisation and names and titles

Refers to courses of study only taught or based at degree-awarding institutions like universities, like degrees and postgraduate diplomas.

See also further education

Honorary titles are sometimes given to people outside of academia in recognition of outstanding non-academic contribution to a particular field. Recipients of honorary titles are formally referred to with their full name preceded by their title (e.g. Professor Jane Smith), but would be described in any explanatory writing as, for example, an ‘honorary professor’.

compound words

Hyphens are used in compound words where closing up would look awkward (e.g. take-off, part-time).

When following a noun, compound modifiers do not take hyphens, e.g. the records are not up to date; poetry from the nineteenth century. When they precede a noun, use a hyphen, e.g. up-to-date records, nineteenth-century poetry. Do not use a hyphen if the first word ends in -ly.

prefixes

Avoid using hyphens to link prefixes to words unless:

  • not doing so would cause confusion or ambiguity
  • the word being prefixed is capitalised (e.g. Sino-Soviet, anti-Darwinism)
  • a number or date is being prefixed (e.g. pre-1990)
  • a prefix is being repeated (e.g. re-released)
  • the prefix is ‘ex-’, used to mean former (e.g. ex-vice chancellor, ex-husband).

Cooperate and coordinate are always closed up and unhyphenated.

See also dashes

L

Latin abbreviations should always be presented in lower case and punctuated as shown in the word list.

Examples include et al. (for et alia or ‘and others’), e.g. (for exempli gratia or ‘for example’) and a.m. (for anti meridiem, or ‘before noon’).

See also acronyms and contractions

Lists should be used wherever possible: they help readers to digest important information quickly and help to break up long or wordy passages of text. Generally, lists should consist of at least three separate points, which should be made in hierarchical, consecutive or logical order, or if no such order is necessary, alphabetically.

bullet lists

Should usually be introduced by body text, followed by a colon:

  • each point should be made in lower case
  • items should usually not exceed a few words, or two lines of text
  • no end punctuation is necessary
  • except for the final point, which should conclude with a full stop.

number lists

Particularly good for information that is countable (e.g. ‘five steps to apply for student finance’ or ‘the choice of three modules’) and comprises full sentences. Here are three handy tips for using numbered lists:

  1. A numbered list should have a clear start and end.
  2. Because items in a numbered list are distinct, countable ‘steps’, they are usually full sentences.
  3. Don’t forget: full sentences always end with a full stop.

N

given names

Use full names for staff and students unless there is good reason for anonymising their contribution, or the individual specifies a preference for a shorter version of their given name. Do not use initials.

initials

Do not use full stops or spaces between initials unless explicitly required or requested by the person named.

published or performed works

Use italics for titles and use The in the title if appropriate (e.g. The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, but the Oxford English Dictionary. Do not use italics for names of religious texts (e.g. the Bible, the Koran)

titles

Use professional titles (e.g. Professor or Doctor) or their shortened forms (e.g. Prof. or Dr) ahead of staff names as appropriate.

See also capitalisation and contractions

Set in roman type if common in English-language writing. For other foreign words, set in italics on first use, or in a longer document, on first use in each section.

See also Latin abbreviations

Numbers from one to nine should be spelled out; numbers 10 and above take numeral form.

If a sentence contains a mixture of numbers below and above 10, use numerals for all.

Try to avoid beginning a sentence with a number, but if you do, always spell the number out. Never begin a sentence with a year.

ordinal numbers (first, second, third)

The same rules apply as for numbers (see above), but always use numerals in lists, tables and graphics.

thousand separators

For thousands, use a comma before every set of three digits, e.g. 1,500; 23,937; 104,937.

millions and billions

For approximate millions and billions, use m and bn after the first number (rounded to a maximum of two decimal places, separated by a non-breaking space (CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE), i.e. 2 m; 30 bn; 3.74 m.

decimal points

Use as few decimal places as necessary, preferably one or two, e.g. 40.2, 36.75, rounding where appropriate. Try to use decimal places consistently within a document. If the last decimal place is 0, or is rounded to 0, omit it.

units of measurement

Prefer metric measurements over imperial (mm, cm, m, mg, g, kg, etc.) Always use numerals for units of measurement. Separate the numerals with a non-breaking space (CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE), e.g. 20 cm or 40 kWh: this ensures the measurement and the unit always appear on the same line.

elisions

To elide (or shorten) number ranges, use a closed en dash (i.e. an en dash without spaces) between the smaller number and the final digit of the larger number, e.g. 208–9. Where the numbers change across a range, retain as many digits as necessary, e.g. 65–71; 352–62; 89,999–91,000.

Do not elide numbers between or ending in 10 to 19, because of the way they are spoken, e.g. 10–12; 15–19, 114­–118.

See also currency, dates and times and percentages

O

Do not use the Oxford or serial comma  i.e. the comma preceding the word ‘and’ and following the penultimate item in a list – unless to not use it would make the list harder to understand.

P

In body text, use the numeral followed by per cent, e.g. 67 per cent. Use % in displayed material, lists, tables and graphics.

See also numbers

An individual's choice of pronoun should always be respected and never assumed.

As well as a way of referring to multiple people, 'they' can and should be used to refer to an individual who doesn't identify with gender-specific pronouns, and can also be used to refer to an individual whose gender identity is not known.

It is a common misconception that this usage is new and ungrammatical; in fact, it has precedence dating back to the 1300s and is recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary.

R

Unless it makes more sense to use another style (for instance, you might be writing about a particular referencing style, or writing about a subject that only ever uses a particular style), use the Harvard referencing system. For more information, see the Library’s Referencing guide.

See also footnotes

S

There are too many special characters to list, so below are some of the most commonly used ones. In general, only use special characters for their intended purpose, do not use in circumstances that are likely to confuse your audience, and always be consistent.

ampersands &

Do not use ampersands, unless replicating a brand name (e.g. Marks & Spencer) or common usage (e.g. Terms & Conditions).

asterisks *

Use to indicate that further details appear in small print, usually at the bottom of the page or webpage.

at @

The @ symbol generally only appears in an email address, separating the local part (like a given name or generic department name) and the domain name (‘exeter.ac.uk’). Do not use it in place of ‘at’ in general copy.

mathematical symbols + − × ÷ = < >

Use mathematical symbols in mathematical equations (which should be presented, when using Microsoft Word, using the Equation menu) and sparingly elsewhere. Please ensure the symbol means what you think it does, and keep in mind that the minus symbol () is not the same as a hyphen (-), en dash (–) or em dash (—). Similarly, the multiplication symbol (×) is not the same as the letter x.

number sign/hash #

Avoid, but remember the hash symbol is not the same as – and is not called – ‘hashtag’.

See also brand names and hashtags

Q

single quotes ‘ ’

Single quotes should be used to introduce a new or unusual idea or concept. They should only be used the first time the word appears, e.g. Universities are increasingly called upon to develop ‘third leg’ activities.

Singles quotes should also be used when giving an example that is not a direct quotation.

double quotes “ ”

Use double quotes for direct or reported speech, i.e. the exact words spoken or written.

“I can’t wait to begin my studies in Penryn,” he said.

According to the 2019 prospectus, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies offers “the most rigorous and advanced Arabic training at undergraduate level of any UK university.”

See also ellipses

T

Use tables to display statistical data or information that can easily be grouped – this will make it much easier for your audience to digest.

Capitalise the first word in a table unless it is the only word. Use sentence case for all table headings. Use end punctuation in cells featuring full sentences.

Use the international format of +44 (0) 1392 72xxxx.

See also addresses and email addresses

W

in print

www.exeter.ac.uk/biology, not http://www.ex.ac.uk/biology

Only include http:// if the address does not contain www. Note that ‘exeter’ should be written in full except where it means the URL won’t work. Do not add a full stop when the web address comes at the end of a sentence. Always set in bold.

on the web

Using text for your links is better for both users and search engines. Supply text which clearly and accurately describes the destination of the link. Avoid using web addresses themselves as link text unless you really have to, in which case follow the advice for print above.

See also email addresses