Writing Standards

For nearly every project — brochures, articles, flyers, web pages — the writing comes first. Strong story telling is at the heart of USD’s identity, as is our reputation for academic excellence. Don’t allow your message to be discounted due to misspellings or poor grammar.

The University of San Diego has a comprehensive Writing Standards Guide, based on the Associated Press Stylebook, the standard used by most of the nation’s newspapers and publications. Some guidelines listed here are specific to USD. When there is a discrepancy, the university’s style guide takes precedence over the Associated Press Stylebook.

The Writing Standards Guide, which can be found online, goes into great detail about USD’s preferred style for referring to specific things when you write, such as when to abbreviate something and how to refer to the names of the founders, the university president, the names of schools and the names of buildings. The following pages answer some of the most common questions.


academic degrees: The preferred style is to avoid abbreviation and to spell out degrees whenever possible. Use an apostrophe when spelling out degrees. Use abbreviations — such as BA, MA, JD, LLM and PhD — when the preferred form is cumbersome. Academic abbreviations should not include periods. The degree should be set off by commas when used in the middle of a sentence. (Example: Jane Smith, JD, was the keynote speaker.)

academic titles: Capitalize and spell out formal titles such as chancellor, chair, etc., only when they precede a name. This includes any modifiers germane to the title. Lowercase in all other instances.

Alcalá: Include an accent over the final a in all references. (Note: Notice the direction of the accent — Right: á; Wrong: à.)

Alcalá Park: This is the name of the campus, but should not be used as a synonym for the name of the university.

alum: Avoid using this common, yet slang, version of the word. The correct singular of alumni is alumnus.

alumna: singular, female

alumnae: plural, female

alumni: plural male; or plural male and female

alumnus: singular, male

a.m., p.m.: Lowercase with periods.

ampersand (&): All University of San Diego colleges, schools, centers, institutes, programs or departments
must spell out the word "and" in their proper name in print, on the web and
in other references.

area codes: All area codes should be referenced with parentheses. (Example: To order tickets, call (619) 260-4600.) See the telephone numbers entry for additional information.


campus-wide: Two words. Hyphenate when used as a compound modifier. (Examples: The final step in the campus-wide process will take place this month.)

Catholic: Always uppercase when referring to the denomination.

class years and degrees: List the graduation years and academic degrees for alumni in the following ways:

Single degree:

  • David Jones '90 (BA)
  • Mary (Daly) Smith '90 (MEd)

Multiple degrees:

  • David Jones '90 (BA), '92 (MEd)
  • Mary (Daly) Smith '90 (BA), '92 (MEd)

Married couples who are alumni:

  • John Smith '85 and Mary Smith (only John is an alumnus)
  • John Smith '85 and Mary Smith '87 (both are alumni)

An alternate option would be John '85 and Mary '87 Smith
Note: The apostrophe [ ' ] — not the open, single quotation mark [ ' ] — is used before the year to indicate that numbers have been omitted.

College of Arts and Sciences: Capitalize when part of a proper name. Notice that the word and is spelled out and is lowercase. Using an ampersand (&) is incorrect. Notice that Sciences is plural.

comma: In a series, use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series (Examples: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.)

composition titles: In general, all of the following composition titles should be in italics: book titles, magazine titles, computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, album titles, poem titles, radio and television program titles, and the titles of lectures, 28 speeches and works of art, including exhibitions and performances. While all aforementioned titles should be italicized in body copy, in headline text, do not use italics or quotation marks.

Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions of four or more letters. Capitalize an article — the, a, an — or words of fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in a title.

Exceptions: These rules do not apply to the Bible and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material. In addition to catalogs, this category includes almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, handbooks and similar publications.

course titles, class titles: Capitalize formal titles. (Examples: He enrolled in History 201 and in Political Science 201 this semester.) Lowercase general uses. (Example: He is taking history and political science classes this semester.

coursework: One word.


departments: Capitalize only when referring to the formal name of a department. Do not abbreviate.

doctor, Dr.: When referencing people who hold doctorate degrees or honorary doctorate degrees, list their name and doctorate degree on first reference (Example: Jane Smith, PhD) In subsequent references, it is acceptable to list the Dr. abbreviation before the person's last name.


ellipsis: Use to indicate an omission, pause or continuation. Place a space on either side of the ellipsis. (Example: There were four members of the academy ... at the conference.)

email: Not hyphenated. Lowercase when used in a sentence. Uppercase when used to refer to a point of contact.

email addresses: When listing University of San Diego email addresses, do not capitalize. University emails are not case sensitive and capitalization in the sandiego.edu implies that they are and could confuse the audience. Only capitalize other email addresses if they are case sensitive.

em dash (—): Use this long dash (rather than a hyphen, double hyphen or a short dash, which is called an en dash), to add emphasis, avoid the confusion of commas or to identify the source of a quote. Place one space on either side of the em dash. (Examples: Our program — one of the top five in the nation — recruits the best students throughout the country.)

emeritus: This word often is added to formal titles to denote that individuals who have retired retain their rank or title. When used, place it after the formal title, in keeping with academic institutions. Capitalize when used before a person’s name. (Example: Professor Emeritus John Jones.) Lowercase when it follows a person’s name or stands alone. (Example: John Jones, professor emeritus of history.)

en dash (–): This short dash is appropriate for separating course numbers from course names. (Example: ENGL 121 – Composition and Literature.) Place one space on either side of the en dash.

ext., extension: When listing university phone numbers and extensions, use the abbreviation ext. Do not spell out. Do not use X or x. Precede with a comma. (Right: (619) 260-4600, ext. 1111; Wrong: (619) 260-4600 x1111.) If the phone number and extension are part of a sentence that continues, a comma should precede and follow the extension. (Example: Call (619) 260-4600, ext. 1111, for show times and ticket prices.) Listing extensions alone should be done only with publications that are distributed internally. See the telephone numbers entry for additional information.


faculty: Faculty refers to the entire instructional staff. It takes a singular verb. Its plural is faculties. When referring to an individual, use the phrase "faculty member". When referring to a group of individuals numbering fewer than the entire faculty, use the phrase "faculty members."

Father: Father is the more common and informal title used when referring to a priest and is used in most instances at University of San Diego. Father is always capitalized and spelled out when used as a title before the name of a priest.

first-year: This term is preferred over "freshman."


Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science: Capitalize when part of a proper name. Using an ampersand (&) is incorrect. Notice Science is singular, not plural.

Harris, president, James T.: The university’s president should be referred to as James T. Harris III. In signatures to official correspondence, he should be referred to as James T. Harris III, DEd.


Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies: Spell out in full on first reference. Notice using an ampersand (&) is incorrect. On subsequent references the school may be listed as the Kroc School. The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice — which is the name of the institute, as well as the building in which the institute is located — is a component of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.


Mass: Always capitalize when referring to the ceremony.

months: Months are spelled out when they stand alone or are listed with only a year. When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with comma. When used with a specific date, abbreviate January, February and August through December. Spell out March, April, May, June and July. The exception to this rule is when referring to a month in a formal invitation. In formal invitations for university events all months of the year are to be spelled out and not abbreviated.


numbers: Spell out numbers zero through nine. (Example: She purchased four books for the class.) Use numerals for 10 through 999,999. Use a comma in numbers above 999. (He registered for 15 units. There are more than 7,000 students at the university) Express numbers larger than that with a combination of numerals and words. (Example: There are more than 3.5 million residents in the city.) Spell out first through ninth, starting with 10th use figures when they indicate sequence in time or location. (Examples first base, the First Amendment, he was first in line. He was 10th in line.) Use 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. when the sequence has been assigned in forming names that are geographic, military or political designations: (Examples: 1st Ward, 7th Fleet, and 1st Sgt.)


Pope: Capitalize pope when used as a formal title before a name. Lowercase in all other uses.


Reverend: Reverend is usually reserved for formal uses in letters and introductions and is abbreviated before a name. The title is spelled out and lowercase if it follows a name or is independent of a name.


School of Business: Capitalize when part of a proper name. Lowercase when used separate from or with less than the complete and formal name. (Examples: The School of Business, but the student applied to the business school.)

School of Law: Capitalize when part of a proper name. Lowercase when used separate from or with less than the complete and formal name. (Examples: The School of Law, but the student applied to the law school.)

School of Leadership and Education Sciences, SOLES: Capitalize when part of a proper name. Notice the word and in the proper name is spelled out and is lowercase.
Using an ampersand (&) is incorrect. Notice Sciences is plural. The acronym for the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), should be avoided on first
references, and its use should be limited because although it’s shorter than spelling out the formal name of the school, it is not well known.

Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering: Spell out the name of the school in full on first reference. Notice that Shiley-Marcos is hyphenated when referring to the name of the school. On subsequent references, the school may be listed as the school of engineering, but should be lowercase. (Examples: The Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, but the student applied to the school of engineering or the student applied to USD’s engineering school.)


telephone numbers: When listing telephone numbers, use parenthesis to set off the area code. Do not use hyphens, slashes or periods. (Example: (619) 260-4600).

The Immaculata: This is the signature building on campus. It is one of the rare instances where the word The is capitalized in all references to the building or the church. (Example: Mass was held in The Immaculata.)

times: Use numerals, without colons and zeros for even hours. (Example: 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.) Use a colon and numerals to separate hours from minutes in partial hours. (Example: 10:15 a.m. or 2:30 p.m.) Spell out noon and midnight but do not capitalize.

time, date, location: This is the preferred order when writing a sentence that lists these elements. The date should be set off by commas. (Example: The lecture will be held at 4 p.m., Sept. 28, in Shiley Theatre.)

titles: Capitalize and spell out titles when used directly before an individual's name (Examples: Dean Jane Smith, Vice President John Jones). Lowercase and spell out when they are separate from a person's name, are set off from a person's name using commas or are not used with a person's name. (Examples: Jane Smith was named dean of the school in 2001. John Jones, the vice president of the company, will retire in June. The vice president issued a statement.)


URL listings, website addresses, domain names: Omit the http:// that generally precedes website addresses. However, if a site address does not begin with www., the http:// is necessary. Remove the slash that generally appears at the end of a website. (Right: www.sandiego.edu; Wrong: http://www.sandiego.edu/).

USD: Always spell out the University of San Diego name in full on first reference in the body of your copy. It is preferred to then refer to "the university," although the acronym USD may be used on subsequent references.


website: One word. Lowercase.


years: Use figures, without commas. (Example: 1975). Use an s without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries. (Examples: the 1890s, the 1800s, the 1990s, the '90s.) Years are the lone exception to the rule in numerals that a figure should not start a sentence. (Example: 1976 was a good year.) When referring to an academic year, list it without abbreviation. (Example: The scores went up during the 2002-2003 school year.) See the numbers entry for additional information.