Grammar and Usage Guidelines



Spell out the word "and." Use the ampersand (&) only when it is part of a proper name (for example, AT&T).


Common Abbreviations

Common abbreviations are acceptable only inside parenthesis:

  • cf.        for compare
  • e.g.      for example
  • et al     for and others
  • etc.       for and so forth
  • i.e.       for that is


Degrees and Acronyms

Do not leave space in abbreviations containing periods. Use periods in abbreviations of academic degrees. Do not use periods in acronyms and abbreviations of organizations, agencies, and other groups.


Do not use the in front of acronyms that are pronounced like a word, such as NASA, but do use the in acronyms that are pronounced by their letters, such as the FBI.

Examples:   E.M.B.A          M.B.A.         Ed.S.             Ph.D.               ACBSP

                   ACHE            ACT             CLEP            GMAT             NCATE

                   SACS              a.m.             p.m.               B.A.                 B.S.


Capitalize the names of academic degrees when abbreviated or spelled out. The word degree is not capitalized. Use lower case for general references to degrees.

Examples: Education Specialist degree           master's degree program       M.B.A.



Synonymous with bachelor's degree.


bachelor's degree

Lowercase. Acceptable as an informal reference to any undergraduate degree.


Master of Arts, Master of Science



It is acceptable to use master's degree on any reference for either of these degrees. If the type of degree is pertinent to the story, be as specific as possible.




Plurals of abbreviations and number do not need apostrophes. (PCs, CDs, 1990s)


Symbols, Etc.

Spell out the following:


Units of measurement


feet, pounds (not ft., lbs.)

Note: The abbreviations may be used in tables and figures.


Place names


Alabama, United States (not AL, US, USA)

Note: In some instances, it may be preferable to abbreviate a state name, as in the case of giving a hometown in Class Notes, for example. In that instance, the traditional abbreviation should be used (Tenn.), not the postal abbreviation (TN).


Traditional Abbreviations for States


















District of Columbia










































New Hampshire


New Jersey


New Mexico

N. Mex.

New York


North Carolina


North Dakota

N. Dak.









Rhode Island


South Carolina


South Dakota

S. Dak.













West Virginia

W. Va.







Calendar designations


dates, months, years, days of the week

For dates and years, use figures. Do not use st, nd, rd, or th with dates, and use Arabic figures. Always capitalize months. Spell out the month unless it is used with a date. When used with a date, abbreviate only the following months: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec.


Course names


political science (not pol. sci.)




Abbreviate titles when used before a full name: Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Rep., the Rev., Sen. Military titles should be spelled out, and capitalized, when used as a formal title before a person’s full name (Lieutenant Colonel William C. Pruett, Major Leslie Relkin) and abbreviated thereafter (Lt. Col. Pruett, Maj. Relkin).

Generally, capitalize formal titles when they appear before a person’s name, but lowercase titles if they are informal, appear without a person’s name, follow a person’s name or are set off before a name by commas. Also, lowercase adjectives that designate the status of a title. If a title is long, place it after the person’s name, or set it off with commas before the person’s name.


Unfamiliar proper names


If an unfamiliar abbreviation is to be used, the first reference should be spelled out. The abbreviation may be used thereafter. Do not follow an organization's full name with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses or set off by dashes. If an abbreviation or acronym would not be clear on the second reference without this arrangement, do not use the acronym.

Examples:        National Association of Schools of Music          NASM






Do not capitalize. The word adjunct denotes someone who teaches at the university without permanent status as a faculty member. It also is occasionally used to show that a professor with faculty appointment in one academic department also teaches in a second department.


Awards and Honors


Capitalize the proper names of awards or honors. Use lower case for general references.

Examples:        Keller Key                   the key

                       Turris Fidelis              athletic awards


Board of Trustees


Capitalize the proper name of the governing body of the university. Use lower case for general references to the governing body or when used as a modifier.

Examples: the Board of Trustees        the board meeting




Capitalize the name of university structures. Use lower case for general references to the structures. 

Examples:        Norton Auditorium      the fine arts center

                       Collier Library            the library


Colleges, Cost Centers, Departments, and Offices


Capitalize the names of colleges, departments, and administrative cost centers or offices when the complete title is used. Use lower case for general references.

 Examples:        College of Arts and Sciences               arts and sciences

                        Department of Biology                        biology department


Committees and Organizations


Capitalize the proper names of committees and organizations. Use lower case for subsequent shortened references to committees and organizations or when used as a modifier.

Examples:        Faculty Senate             the senate minutes


Composition Titles


Apply the following guidelines:

  • Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
  • Capitalize an article--a, an, the--or a word of fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in a title.
  • Italicize the titles of books, journals, magazines, movies, newspapers, operas, plays, long poems, collections of poetry, television series and works of art.
  • Use quote marks around the titles of articles or stories from within larger compilations; television episodes (either an individual show or an episodic title from a television series); shorter musical compositions or pieces from within a larger work; lectures; and shorter poems.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using a consistent style if several longer and shorter works are listed together. Make them all italic.
  • Do not italicize or put in quotes the Bible and books that are primarily works of reference, including almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, handbooks and similar publications. Do not italicize software titles such as WordPerfect or Windows.
  • Translate a foreign title into English unless a work is known to the American public by its foreign name.


Course Titles


Capitalize course titles when the proper name is used. Use upper case without periods for abbreviations of departments. Use lower case for general references to course titles (with the exception of English and other languages).


Federal, Government, National, and State


Capitalize the words federal, government, national, or state when they are part of official titles. Use lower case when these words are used in a general sense or as modifiers.

Examples:        federal funding            Government Printing Office

                       State of Alabama         state requirements




Capitalize whether referring either to the nationality or to fraternity members. Also capitalize names of fraternities and sororities: Sigma Chi Fraternity, Alpha Delta Pi Sorority. Do not use the Greek alphabet or informal abbreviations such as ADPi. Use the full name and spell them out. When referring to the department within the Division of Student Affairs that oversees the fraternities and sororities on campus, capitalize Greek Life.


Holidays and Observances


Capitalize specific holidays or observances. Do not capitalize general references to holidays and observance.

Examples:        Martin Luther King, Jr. Day   commencement

                       Memorial Day                         homecoming activities




Capitalize when referring to the specific weekend when alumni are welcomed back to campus. Lowercase otherwise.


Majors and Minors


Capitalize the word English and the name of any other language. Do not capitalize the titles of courses of study (names of majors).


Name of the University 


Capitalize the official title, University of North Alabama, and the shortened reference to the University. (The capitalization signals that the reference is to this specific university.) Capitalize the word University when it is part of an official title and when it indicates possession. Do not capitalize university when it is used as a modifier.

Examples:        the President of the University            university activities

                       the University's SOAR program         university-owned property


Titles and Academic Ranks


Capitalize official titles. Use lower case for subsequent references to such officials.

Examples:        Dean of Enrollment Management       the dean's office

                       President of the University                  the president

                       Professor Sue Jones                            the professor


World Wide Web, Internet


Capitalize when using the complete proper name or the shortened version. Do not capitalize when used as an adjective.




Use italics for emphasis, but use them sparingly.


Use italics to indicate the titles of books, magazines, journals, newspapers, films, plays, paintings, operas, oratorios, long poems published separately, collections of poetry, law cases, scientific names of plants and animals, and in-house publications. 

Examples:        The Flor-Ala   Lights and Shadows    To Kill a Mockingbird




Spell out numbers from one to nine used in the text. (There were three students running.)


Spell out numbers that begin sentences. (Eighty-seven faculty members applied ...)


Use Arabic numerals in a sentence containing a series of numbers. (... 27 faculty, 16 staff members, 42 students…)


Use numerals with abbreviations or symbols in tables and charts. (50 lbs., 9", 87%)


Use numerals all in addresses, dates, decimals, fractions, measurements, ratios, scores and statistics, exact dollar amounts, page references, and hours of the day used with a.m. or p.m.


Use figures for the ages of people: the 5-year-old boy or the students is 19 years old.


Treat percentages and amounts of money like other numbers. (78 percent, $1,001) Use the word percent following a numeral (42 percent) in the text of the report. Use the numeral followed by a percent sign (42%) in figures and tables.


If the text involves an infrequent use of numbers, you may spell out the percentages and amounts of money if you can do so in no more than two or three words. Consider a hyphenated term as one word. (One hundred dollars, twenty-three percent)


Spell out a fraction standing alone, but use numerals to express a whole number and a fraction. (One-third, 1 1/2) If two or more fractions appear in the same sentence, use one form consistently.


In reporting decimals, fractions always require a zero before the decimal point for values less than one, unless a value of one or greater is impossible. In general limit the extent of decimal places to two, rounding as needed. (0.54 cm)




The purpose of punctuation is to add expression and meaning to written words. Methods of punctuation vary, and authorities differ in their interpretation of rules. The modern trend is to use as few marks of punctuation as necessary for clarity and readability. Use the following rules as a general guide.




Use an apostrophe to indicate possession and to indicate the omission of letters.

Examples: University’s mascot           athletes’ grades           ten o’clock


Do not use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of abbreviations or numbers.

 Examples: PCs            CDs     2000s


More on Possessives


The Associated Press uses the following guidelines for creating possessives.


For singular common nouns and plural nouns not ending in s, add 's: the school's needs, the student's book, the horse's feed.


For singular common nouns ending in s, also use 's unless the following word also begins with an s, which would create a triple sibilant: the witness's answer, the witness' story.


For plural nouns ending in s and nouns plural in meaning but singular in form, add only an apostrophe: the classes' meeting rooms, mathematics' rules.


For proper names ending in s, add only an apostrophe: the Jones' house, Descartes' theories.


Pronouns have separate forms for possessive, and none use an apostrophe: mine, ours, your, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, whose.


For compound words, use the rules above to add an apostrophe or 's to the word closest to the object possessed: the major general's order, the major generals' orders; the attorney general's lawsuit, the attorneys general's lawsuit.


Use a possessive form after only the last word in a series of owners if ownership is joint: Bill and Mary's home. Lisa and Tony's vacation; or after each owner's name if ownership is individual: Paul's and Carla's vehicles.


Try to avoid double possessives: WRONG: He is a friend of the college's.


Try to avoid creating possessive form for inanimate objects.





Use a colon to introduce a series after as follows or a similar term, but not after such verbs as are or include. The sentence preceding the colon should be a complete sentence. Space once following the colon before beginning text.

Example: These steps must be completed for admission to the University: (1) file …




Dates. Use a comma in a date whose order is month, day, and year. If such a date occurs in the middle of the sentence, place a comma after the year as well.

Example: The construction began on April 20, 2014, and was finished two years later.


Do not use a comma between a month and a year or between a season and a year.

Example: The committee completed its report in spring 2015.


Introductory phrases and clauses need to be separated from the main clause with a comma.

Example: Wearing a clown suit, the professor kept the students’ attention for the entire 50 minutes.




Group numbers into thousands with commas. 1,500


Parenthetical Expressions


Set off parenthetical or transitional expressions with a comma before and after.

Example: The title and function of governing boards, however, will vary.

Example: The Planning Committee, which meets on a weekly basis, is responsible for developing a strategic plan for the department.


When a word like however, moreover, or nevertheless begins a sentence, follow it with a comma.




Use a comma between words, phrases or clauses in series unless the last two items in the series are to be considered one unit. 

Example: Among the offices in 601 Cramer Way are those of admissions, financial aid, purchasing, and human resources and affirmative action.

Example: The dining facilities are available to all students, faculty, staff, and guests.




Type a dash as two hyphens with no space between the hyphens and the words that precede and follow. A dash denotes an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause. 

Example: The vice president offered a plan—it was unprecedented—to raise revenues.




Treat an ellipsis, the three dots that connote omission of words, as though it were a single three-letter word. Put a space before and after it but no spaces between the dots: He said he would go, … and soon he did. If the material in a quote has been eliminated at the end of one sentence or the beginning of another, use a period after the last word of the initial sentence and then an ellipsis between it and the next sentence: She likes the class. ... Her mentor is teaching it.


Ellipses are usually unneeded at the beginning or end of the quoted material. The omission of what came before or after is implied by the quote marks. An ellipsis might be desirable at the end of a quote to indicate when the speaker herself has trailed off without finishing a sentence.


Exclamation Point



Use the mark to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotion. Avoid overuse. A well-written sentence can express surprise or strong emotion without an exclamation point.




Use a hyphen when two or more words are used as a single adjective preceding a noun, such as in the following: 

Examples:        full-time faculty            in-service training       part-time student

                       off-campus sites          self-study process        three-hour course


Use a hyphen when two or more words must be treated as one, or restructure the sentence.

Examples:        three-quarter-hour intervals

                       three quarter-hour intervals

                       Twenty-four students


Do not use a hyphen for words formed with the prefixes anti, co, post, pre, pro, pseudo, over, re, semi, sub, supra, un, and under, except in the following special situations.




Second element is capitalized or is a figure (un-American, pre-1914)


To distinguish homographs (recreate/re-create, unionized/un-ionized)


Second element is more than one word (pre-Civil War)


Do not use a hyphen in words such as the following: 

            Cooperate            database          extracurricular            frontline

            Multipurpose         online              postsecondary            subcommittee


Refer to the dictionary for proper hyphenation of prefixes and suffixes for more words.


Do not use a space before or after a hyphen.


Quotation Marks


Always type commas and periods inside quotation marks; semicolons and colons outside. Question marks and exclamation points appear inside the quotation marks only if they are the original punctuation of the quoted material.


Use quotes around titles of:

  • Articles or stories within larger compilations
  • Television episodes (either an individual show or the episode title of a TV series)
  • Shorter musical compositions or pieces from within a larger work
  • Shorter poems or poems published in a larger work


Use a consistent style if several longer works and shorter works are listed together. Make them all italic.




Use semicolons between items in a series when the items contain commas.

Example: The committee was composed of the following: the Vice President for Academic Affairs, chair; an assistant professor of English representing the Faculty Senate; and a student appointed by the President of the University.


Use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses that are not linked by a conjunction

Example: The participants in the first study were paid; those in the second were not paid.




Acceptable in phrases such as 24/7 or 9/11, but otherwise should be confined to special situations such as fractions, web addresses or to denote the end of a line of quoted poetry.