UW Brand

Style and punctuation

The main references for all University of Washington communications are the current editions of The Associated Press Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Other references, including The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual, were consulted in creating the UW’s house style guidelines. These may be used as secondary sources if our house style and AP Style don’t address an issue you’re researching. The AP Stylebook and other references are available through the UW Libraries.

Check out these Grammar Gotchas and other tips from the UMAC editorial team.

Italics are used to indicate examples and highlight key terms throughout this document; they do not mean that the word or phrase should be written in italics.

abbreviations and acronyms

  • Spell out for first citation and follow with the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses: The Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT) adopted new procedures. CELT focuses its research on …
  • Avoid overuse of acronyms; include only if necessary to clarify multiple references in copy or if the organization/program/etc. is more commonly known by an acronym.

active voice vs. passive voice

  • Use active voice whenever possible: Mr. Husky gave the gift to the College of Arts & Sciences (active) instead of The gift was given to the College of Arts & Sciences by Mr. Husky (passive).


  • Use only if part of a formal name. Otherwise spell out and: College of Arts & Sciences, UW Professional & Continuing Education, computing and software systems.


  • In general, avoid unnecessary capitalization.
  • Headlines: Capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns (also referred to as sentence case).
  • Titles: Lowercase formal titles when used alone or when set off from a name by commas (Joe Husky, dean of the College of Engineering, will open the meeting … ). Capitalize formal titles when they precede a name (Dean Husky).
  • Boards, committees: Lowercase terms such as board of directors (Joe Husky is on the board of directors at ABC Corp.) unless it’s part of a proper name (UW Alumni Association Board of Directors).
  • Departments: Capitalize the formal name of an academic department (the University of Washington Department of Communication); lowercase the informal name except for words that are proper nouns or adjectives (the geography department, the law school, the Italian department).
  • Capitalize places, buildings and monuments such as Suzzallo Library, Mary Gates Hall, the Ave, the Quad, University Bridge, etc.
  • Lowercase academic season and quarters: autumn quarter, winter quarter 2019.
  • Lowercase state when referencing the state of Washington or Washington state.

commas (serial comma)

  • Do not use the serial comma in a simple series of nouns or phrases: red, white and blue (no comma before and).
  • Use the serial comma before the terminal conjunction in a complex series or in other cases where the serial comma will provide clarity and improve readability: UW Medicine provides primary and specialty care to patients throughout the Pacific Northwest, trains medical professionals and scientists, and conducts biomedical and health services research. (Use comma before and conducts.)

composition titles

  • Capitalize principal words in composition titles, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
  • Do not italicize or put quotation marks around newspaper names. Capitalize the in a newspaper’s name if that is the way the publication prefers to be known.
  • Put quotation marks around titles of books, songs, computer games, movies, operas, plays, poems, long musical compositions, television programs, specific episodes of television programs, lectures, speeches and works of art.
    • Do not put quotation marks around: books that are primarily catalogs of reference material (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language), the Bible, the Constitution (of the United States) and the Declaration of Independence.


  • Use contractions to maintain a conversational tone when it’s appropriate for the audience and platform.


  • Use an en dash (named because it is the width of the letter “n”) between ranges of numbers or dates and between adjectival phrases containing two-word concepts: 2011–2014, pages 226–229, Seattle–San Francisco flight.
    • Do not use spaces before or after the en dash.
    • In text, use the words from and to instead of a dash: He attended every home football game from 1980 to 1990.
  • An em dash (named because it is the width of the letter “m”) can be used for many different reasons, including: to set off a nonessential element that requires special emphasis, to set off a series with commas within a phrase or to indicate an abrupt change. Shyam Gollakota, an assistant professor in the wireless lab at the UW, is developing battery-free devices — some just half the size of a credit card — that can reflect and absorb surrounding radio signals.
    • Use a space on either side of the em dash.
    • To maintain the deliberate, emphatic effect of em dashes, use them sparingly and thoughtfully.


  • Use cardinal, not ordinal, numbers: April 1, not April 1st; July 4, not July 4th.
  • Use a comma before and after the year if placing a full date (month + day + year) within a sentence: The board met on September 25, 2014, to review the report.
    • Note that while AP style uses abbreviations for months (Sept.), it is also acceptable to spell out the entire month in text when space permits.
  • Do not use a comma if only listing the month and year: The board will meet in December 2015.

ellipsis ( … )

  • Use three periods with a space before and after the ellipsis: And then …

gender-specific language

  • Avoid language that indicates gender unless it is truly necessary; never assume gender.
  • Use chair to refer to the head of a committee unless the official title is chairman or chairwoman: Was a new chair elected at the meeting?
  • Use spokesperson instead of spokesman/spokeswoman, unless gender is known.

headlines, headings and subheads

  • Capitalize the first word and any proper nouns (also referred to as sentence case).
  • If there is a colon, capitalize the first word after the colon.


  • Spell out one through nine.
  • Use figures for 10 and above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages: the 9-year-old building; the 5-year-old boy. Also use figures for academic course numbers: History 6, Philosophy 101.
    • Exception: spell out casual expressions, such as a picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Spell out numbers that begin a sentence (or recast the sentence so it doesn’t begin with a number): Forty people attended the lecture.


  • In text, use figures and write percent rather than using the % sign: 45 percent of students agree with the initiative.
    • In charts, graphs and more visual mediums (such as ads), social media or communications where space is limited, the percent sign is permissible: 33% of Huskies are first-generation college students.
  • Percent takes a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The professor said 70 percent was a passing grade. It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50 percent of the attendees were female.

photo captions

  • Use present tense: Jane Husky poses with Dubs during W Day festivities.

secondary references (people)

  • In narrative text, use a person’s full name on first reference.
  • In subsequent references, it is acceptable to refer to the person using just the first name. Note that this is a more casual convention than the journalistic standard of using just the last name for secondary references. Determine which is most appropriate for the audience and platform and remain consistent throughout the communication.

serial comma