Tone and Style

Active Voice

Use active voice rather than passive voice whenever possible. Active verbs express meaning more emphatically than their weaker counterparts, the various forms of to be (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) in the passive voice. To avoid the use of the passive voice, state as clearly as possible who is responsible for the action in the sentence.


The committee found no discrepancies in the records.

Not: No discrepancies were found in the record.


The passive form of a verb is appropriate when the emphasis on is the receiver of the action (by making it the subject) or when the doer of the action is not important or is deliberately not mentioned.


This proposal is based on a careful analysis of all available research studies. (This emphasizes the basis of the proposal.)


Unfortunately, the decision was made without consulting any faculty members. (This emphasizes how the decision was made.)


The server was destroyed by a surge of power. (Emphasizes how the server was destroyed.)


Watch out for passive constructions that unintentionally point to the wrongdoer of the action.


Confusing: Two computers were reported stolen over the weekend by the head of Public Safety.


Clear: The head of Public Safety reported that two computers were stolen over the weekend.



Alumnus is the Latin singular masculine form, and alumna is the singular feminine form. For the plural, alumni may be used either for an all-male group or for a mixed group. For an all-female group, use alumnae. Avoid using the informal alum as well as the many other Latin declensions.


  • Jim Davis is an alumnus of the university.
  • Mary King is an alumna of the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Several University alumnae joined the American Association of University Women.
  • Five alumni of the 1964 football team will be honored Saturday.

The UNA Alumni Association does not limit membership to graduates, so writers should not assume that an alumnus is necessarily a graduate.



Make comparisons complete.


The use of more, better, or rather implies that than will follow.


Not: The proposed writing course will require that students develop more computer skills.


But: The proposed writing course will require that students develop more computer skills than the current course requires.


The use of so much replies that that will follow; if a comparison is not intended, substitute a term such a very or substantially.


Not: Enrollment has increased so much in the past five years.


But: Enrollment has increased so much in the past five years that some students feel a diminished sense of community.


Or: Enrollment has increased substantially in the past five years.


Use that to introduce noun clauses to avoid ambiguity.


Note: It is important the board understands the faculty concerns about promotions.


But: It is important that the board understands the faculty concerns about promotions.


Cities and Towns

The Associated Press generally requires cities to be followed by the state designation on the first reference unless the story has been clearly referenced to a particular state. Some cities are so well known that a state designator is unneeded. For Class Notes, however, it is unnecessary to identify a city in Alabama with the state designation.

Examples:        Tim Jones ’87 resides in Florence. (no state designation needed)

                        Tim Jones ’87 resides in Athens, Ga. (outside Alabama, specify state)



Infinitives are the form of a verb used as a noun: To stay is better than to go.


Splitting an infinitive by adding an adverb to the middle of an infinitive — adding quickly into the infinitive to go, for instance, to make to quickly go — is generally frowned upon by grammarians. Writers should keep adverbs outside the infinitives where possible: to go quickly.


Occasionally, however, more ambiguity arises by putting the adverb outside the infinitive. An example: The team's strong play is sure to extend further Lion hopes for a winning season. Does further modify to extend or Lion hopes? Splitting the infinitive would remove doubt in this instance.


Similarly, some split infinitives are nearly impossible to avoid: The student refused to so much as listen to the professor's explanation. The president expects the six-year graduation rate to more than double.


Inclusive (Gender Neutral) Language

Use plural forms, such as Professors . . . their, Students . . . themselves, etc. to include members of both sexes.


Faculty members are responsible for developing their own professional development plans.


Not: A faculty member is responsible for developing his own professional development plan.


When using the singular form and a pronoun is unavoidable, use the gender-inclusive he or she, his or her, not he/she, or s/he, his/her, and so forth.


Use chair instead of chairman, chairwoman, or chairperson. Other words with the suffix –man should be edited to –person (e.g., spokesperson) if an appropriate alternative (e.g. representative) cannot be found.



Write in clear, readable language that can be easily understood. Avoid technical jargon. All specialized terms and acronyms should be defined the first time they are sued. Write clearly, precisely, and simply.



On first reference, use the full name of a person or an organization. In general, use only the last name of a person on second reference or a shorter name of an organization as listed in this guide. The Associated Press does allow use of the first name for people 15 or younger.


Use a person's name in the manner that an individual prefers to be known: Mary Smith Jones, Mary Smith-Jones, Mary (Smith) Jones. For alumni, the latter shows that Smith was part of the legal name that the student had while in college. Occasionally, the use of nee, which means born, is still used: Mary Jones, nee Smith.


Avoid use of the phrase "maiden name" when possible. Use "former name" or "birth name" when applicable.



Use a nickname in place of a person's given name when it is the way the individual prefers to be known: Jimmy Carter. When a nickname is inserted into the full name of an individual, put it in quotes: William "Bill" Jones.



Parallel Construction


Parallel construction refers to words and phrases that occupy parallel positions in sentence structure. It may be necessary to add more words to make parallel structure clear.


Non-parallel: The yearbook, the newspaper, and catalog

Parallel: The yearbook, the newspaper, and the catalog


Non-parallel: A time not for words, but action.

Parallel: A time not for words, but for action.


Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses (that/which)


A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a predicate. A restrictive clause contains information essential to limiting the meaning of the word the clause modifies. A nonrestrictive clause contains information that might be considered incidental or parenthetical.


Prefer that for restrictive relative clauses and which for non-restrictive relative clauses.


Restrictive: Classrooms that are equipped with data projectors are usually available in the evenings and on the weekends. (In this sentence, the clause “that are equipped with data projectors” is necessary information limiting the subject, classrooms, to a subset of all rooms.)


Nonrestrictive: Classrooms, which are equipped with data projectors, are usually available in the evenings and on weekends. (This sentence implies that all classrooms have data projectors.)


Time Element

When giving a time for an event, use central standard or central daylight time for events happening in Alabama. Generally, central time is assumed, but if it is necessary to show the time is central, use either CST (Central Standard Time) or CDT (Central Daylight Time) as abbreviations after the time. If an event is happening elsewhere, use the time zone of that region but include the central time in parenthesis: The Los Angeles alumni chapter will meet for a watch party at 10 a.m. (Noon CST).


When an event occurs at the top of the hour, the minutes are unnecessary: 3 p.m. rather than 3:00 p.m.


Use a.m. and p.m. lowercase. Use noon and midnight rather than 12 a.m. or p.m.

The proper order for listing an event is time, day, date, place: The meeting will be at 2 p.m. Monday, July 1, at the Performance Center. In an exception to the Associated Press, which says to use either day or date but not both, the university style guide recommends using both day and date in media releases to prevent confusion about whether a day of the week is coming or past. Don't use today, tonight, yesterday or tomorrow except when quoting someone.


University Name

The preferred reference is the University of North Alabama. Subsequent references should be to the University, with capitalization indicate that the reference is to this specific institution.



Use figures without commas: 1975, 2007. Use commas to set off the year from the month and day: Jan. 11, 1975, was a special day. Use an s without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries: the 1890s, the 1800s.

Years are the only exception to the general rule that numbers starting a sentence should be spelled out: 1976 was the bicentennial.

When showing a range, use 2009-10 to show a fiscal year or academic year. For other periods, spell out the range: from 2009 to 2010



Use simple, direct language whenever possible.


Use:                                     Not:


although, even though          in spite of the fact that

because                                due to the fact that

except                                   with the exception of

finally, ultimately                  in the final analysis

for                                        for the purpose of

if                                           in the even that, if it should turn out that

in fact                                   as a matter of fact

probably                               it is probable that

soon                                     in the near future

to                                          for the purpose of

today, presently                    at the present time, at this point in time

until                                      until such time as


Substitute simple verbs for phrases using a verb plus a noun object, such as choose rather than make a choice, suggest rather than offer a suggestion, present rather than make a presentation, and consider rather than take into consideration.


In most cases, avoid starting sentences with There is, There are, or It is.


Not: There are 14 principal committees involved in the study.


But: Fourteen principal committees are involved in the study.