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 a generous gift to the College of Arts & Sciences (active) instead of The generous 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 a serial comma in a simple series of nouns or phrases: red, white and blue (no comma before “and”).
  • Use a serial comma before the terminal conjunction in a complex series or in other cases where the comma provides clarity and improves 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.

composition titles

  • Capitalize principal words in composition titles, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters (also known as title case).
  • Do not italicize or use quotation marks with newspaper or magazine names. Capitalize the in the name if that is the publication’s preferred style.
  • Use 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 use quotation marks with books that are primarily catalogs of reference material (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language); holy books, such as the Bible; and certain historical documents, such as the U.S. Constitution (or just “the Constitution”) and the Declaration of Independence.
    • Do not use quotation marks with course titles: Introduction to Anthropology; Concepts in Printmaking; Computer Science Principles.


  • 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 the person’s gender preference is known.

headlines, headings and subheads

  • Capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns (also known as sentence case).
  • If a colon is used, capitalize the first word after the colon.

names of people

  • In narrative text, use a person’s full name at first reference.
  • For subsequent references, use only the person’s last name, per AP Style and common journalistic practice. There are exceptions where the first name may be used on its own in subsequent references, but this is much more casual. Consider which option is most appropriate for your audience and platform, and stay consistent throughout.


  • 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 running text, use figures and the % sign: The poll shows that 45% of students agree with the initiative.
    • In charts, graphs and other visual mediums (such as ads), as well as social media and other communications where space is limited, the percent sign is also preferred. In these cases, it may be acceptable to start a full sentence with a numeral: 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 says that 70% is a passing grade. It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: She notes that 50% of the attendees were women.

photo captions

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

serial comma