Prose + personality

The visual identity is just one component of a successful brand; tone and personality in what we write is another. So it’s got to be energetic, smart and vibrant — our writing should be as intelligent as our people. Tout the great work of Cogswell College with feeling. Don’t be afraid to say something simply, wittily or pithily. Faculty, students and staff are excited by what they do; the language used to describe that work should reflect that passion, personality and commitment.

There is another goal of this style guide: to provide a set of rules that will provide a framework for clear and consistent communication to our many audiences — to the public at large; to the media; to students and parents; and to our friends and partners.

Basic style rules

All numbering is per Associated Press: Spell out one through nine except when referring to purely numerical measures (e.g., 6 percent, $8). Use Arabic numerals for 10+ except at beginning of sentences.

Do not use serial commas (“a, b and c” not “a, b, and c”).

Gender rules: Use “his or her” when referring to an individual general subject and either “his” or “her” with recurring, specific examples. Use plural construction or recast the sentence whenever possible to avoid this issue.

Commas (,) and periods (.) always go within quotes: John said, “I'm hungry.”  “Me too,” said Jane.

Hyphenate compound adjectives. This makes it easier to understand the sentence and is proper English. “A real-time feed” but “the feed updates itself in real time.” As a general rule, adjectives appear before the subject. (Do not, however, hyphenate compound adverbs in which the first word ends in -ly: “privately held,” not “privately-held.”)

Avoid unnecessary capitalization of Important Words. Capitalize proper names (of standards, etc.) but not simple technical terms. Do not capitalize titles (except acronyms such as CEO, CFO, etc.) within a sentence (“John Smith, director of marketing, said...”).

All items in bulleted lists have first word with initial cap, rest lower case. No final punctuation unless elements are full sentences. If possible, list elements should be consistent — all sentences or all phrases. Last item in list: no period at the end (unless, of course, one or more items are sentences).

  • Loan programs
  • Payment schedules
  • Frequently asked questions

If for some reason the list is punctuated as a sentence (try to avoid this, but if it is), then last item in list does get a period at the end.

  • Loan programs;
  • Payment schedules; or
  • Frequently asked questions.

A company or organization is “it.” Companies are always “it” — not “they” — when referred to in the singular. “BigCo offers its employees many benefits." (Watch out for using “it” or “its” too often instead of specific names; this is confusing when many organizations are mentioned in a row.)

No double spaces between sentences. This is a convention from when typewriters used the monospace Courier typeface, in which every letter takes up the same amount of space, and one needed the two spaces to visually cue the end of a sentence. Now we have DTP and a wider range of font choices, and we can pretend to be master printers who use one space.

Some general do’s and don’ts:

  • Avoid passive sentence structure and verbs (“Mistakes were made.”). Whenever possible, use active verbs and tenses.
  • Avoid noun chains (a series of nouns, or a series of adjectives, verbs and nouns that also have noun meaning); they are too dense to read. (For example, change “the first outsource site infrastructure solution provider” to something like, “the first company to provide an outsourced solution and infrastructure.”)
  • Avoid too many “adjective adjective” or “adverb adjective” constructions.