Every writer makes choices about word usage, spelling, punctuation, and use of acronyms, among other things, to make documents easily readable and professional in appearance. Sometimes these choices are governed by strict rules of grammar and punctuation. Other times, the choices are stylistic and a matter of editorial judgment.
Most publishers choose from one of several standard stylebooks to guide writers and editors in making some of these editorial choices. These stylebooks are also useful for looking up standard rules of grammar and punctuation and other information. George Mason University uses The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition), The Associated Press Stylebook , and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). The Mason Style Guide supplements these references and addresses points on which Mason style may differ from Chicago, Associated Press, and Merriam-Webster. In some cases, The Mason Style Guide indicates which of several options presented by Chicago or Merriam-Webster should be used in Mason publications.
The Mason Style Guide will be revised as needed. Please ask Strategic Communications about any phrase or usage not addressed in this resource. Your feedback will help us make additions or changes that will benefit all our faculty, staff, and researchers.
Please submit your comments and queries to Colleen Kearney Rich, Editorial Director, Strategic Communications, 703-993-8805; email@example.com.
- Avoid in running text (Professor Robert Smith, not Prof. Robert Smith).
- U.S. is acceptable as an adjective but use United States for the noun. (Hillary Clinton was a U.S. senator. George W. Bush lives in the United States.)
- Abbreviations are acceptable as part of a formal name (A. G. Edwards, IBM).
academic departments—An academic department is a division of a university or school devoted to a particular academic discipline. Capitalize the formal and informal names of Mason academic departments. Lowercase the department names of other universities.
- Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences/Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences Department
- School of Theater/Theater School
- Department of English/ English Department
He works in the chemistry department at James Madison University.
Lowercase academic majors except when using proper nouns.
- Asia Pacific studies
- applied computer science
Higher Education Program
Cultural Studies Program
Early Identification Program
Do not capitalize when writing about the program in descriptive terms.
teacher education program
interdisciplinary studies program
academic units—On first reference, use the unit’s full name, then on all subsequent references, just use the school or college. Capitalize only when using the full and official name of the unit: College of Visual and Performing Arts. University, college, and department are never capitalized unless they part of the official name or the first word of a sentence. Avoid using abbreviations unless absolutely necessary to avoid confusion (e.g., if both College of Science and College of Health and Human Services are mentioned in a piece).
academic unit (followed by approved abbreviation)
College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
College of Health and Human Services (CHHS)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS)
College of Science (COS)
College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA)
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR)
Schar School of Policy and Government (Schar)
Antonin Scalia Law School (Law)
School of Business
Note: The Volgenau School of Engineering is not abbreviated. Although the Volgenau School or simply Volgenau, has typically been used for subsequent references, as of 2017, Mason Engineering is also acceptable. The School of Business is not abbreviated.
academic years —Academic levels are not capitalized (senior, freshman, doctoral candidate). For undergraduates, use freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior as opposed to first year, second year, and so forth. When referring to students in Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School, use first year, second year, and third year.
Note: Freshman (not freshmen) is correct for use as a modifier (freshman class). See freshman.
- Do not use GMU when referring to the university; use George Mason University or Mason.
- Spell out title on first use with the acronym in parentheses directly after it. Acronyms may then be used on second and subsequent references. If the title is not repeated in document, do not include acronym with first use. Certain widely recognized acronyms are acceptable on first reference without spelling out the full name (GPA, CEO, SAT, NCAA, AIDS, HMO, NASA, FBI). Use in a headline is not considered a first use. Avoid use of acronyms in headlines.
- These acronyms take no periods (TA, FDR, JFK, CUE, IBM, RSVP, TRW). Commonly used credentials that do not require a degree are used without periods (RN, LPN).
- PhD, MA, BA, and BS do not require periods. See degrees, academic.
Do not capitalize. The provost spoke with acting Dean Maria Rodriguez. The vice president introduced former Mason President George Johnson.
- Do not use the four-digit extension on the Fairfax Campus zip code.
- In running text, spell out North, South, East, and West before the street name (400 North Maple Drive). Also spell out Street, Avenue, Road, Drive, Boulevard, and the like.
- In return addresses, state names should be abbreviated to suit two-letter U.S. Postal Service preferences. Otherwise, spell out the name of the state. See also states.
- Use formal names of offices: Office of the Provost, not Provost’s Office.
- Spell out numbers in street names (25 Fifth Avenue).
Mason addresses generally follow this order:
George Mason University
Name of department/school
Building name, room number
Street address, MS
City, VA Zip code
For units on the Fairfax Campus, use the following address:
George Mason University
4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
George Mason University
Merten Hall, Suite 2100
4400 University Drive, MS 2F7
Fairfax, VA 22030
For units on the Arlington Campus, use the following addresses:
George Mason University
3351 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
George Mason University
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
George Mason University
3434 North Washington Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
For units on the Science and Technology Campus, use the following address:
George Mason University
10900 University Boulevard
Manassas, VA 20110
For units at Mason in Loudoun, use the following address:
George Mason University
21335 Signal Hill Plaza, Suite 130
Sterling, VA 20164
- offices—When referring to Mason offices, capitalize administrative offices, even when the complete title is not used. (Meet him in the Admissions Office at 10:30 a.m.) Use lowercase for office titles when referring to offices outside Mason. (Virginia Tech’s office of university relations).
- titles—Do not abbreviate administrative titles. When listing administrative officers, follow the university’s organizational chart. Capitalize when used before the name, but lowercase when used alone or following the name. On second reference, use last name only. (Senior Vice President Jennifer “J.J.” Davis will attend the conference. Jennifer “J.J.” Davis, senior vice president, enjoys attending Mason basketball games. Davis gave a lecture.)
Note: Do not capitalize descriptive titles or those with a modifier in front of them. (This afternoon Dean Peggy Agouris will speak. But: This afternoon College of Science dean Peggy Agouris will speak.)
admission/admissions—When referring to the various kinds of admission (freshman, transfer, readmission, provisional, nondegree, etc.) in a collective sense, use admissions. Admissions can also be used when referring to the fact that many students are admitted: the admissions of thousands vs. the admission of one student. Use admission to refer to a single type of admission (freshman admission, transfer admission). Use an s for admissions counselor and Office of Admissions.
affect, effect—affect, as a verb, means to influence. (The president’s decision will affect the election.) Affect, as a noun, refers to a set of observable manifestations of a subjectively experienced emotion. Effect as a verb means to cause. (He will effect many changes in the company.) Effect as a noun means result. (The effect was overwhelming. He miscalculated the effect of his actions. It was a law of little effect.) Avoid using impact to mean effect. See impact.
age—Do not include a person’s age unless relevant to the story. Use numerals when it comes to specific ages; when referring to decades, spell them out. (He is 5 years old. But: He started running in his fifties.) For ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun, use hyphens. (A 28-year-old man. The 28-year-old was running. But: The man is 28 years old.)
alumnus, alumni, alumna, alumnae—Use alumnus when meaning a man who has graduated, alumna for a woman. Use alumni for an entire group of graduates and a group of men graduates; use alumnae for a group of women graduates.
- For the treatment of alumni names in text, please identify them on first reference when possible: Lionel Forrest, BA English ’96, MEd Counseling and Development ’05, Johanna Luke, PhD Environmental Science and Public Policy ’12
- For degrees such as MPA, JD, and MSN, that have their descriptor as part of the name (Public Administration, Nursing) we normally leave as is: Roberta Reese, MPA ’05
a.m., p.m.—See time.
and/or —Avoid when possible. See also slashes.
anti—This prefix usually does not require a hyphen (except when it precedes a word beginning with i or an adjective or noun referring to ethnicity or religion. Example: anti-institutional, anti-American, anti-Catholic).
- Do not use apostrophes to form plurals (1940s not 1940’s) unless it would be confusing without (thus A’s, not As; p’s, not ps). To work around the issue with A’s, rewriting is preferable. (Hatef is a straight-A student.) Other letter grades should be written as Bs, Cs, Ds, Fs, Ws, and I’s.
- Possessives of singular nouns are formed by adding ’s (the school’s mascot).
- Possessives of plural nouns are formed by adding an apostrophe only (The dogs’ dishes).
- Possessives of proper nouns that end in s, x, or z are formed by adding ’s (Dave Andrews’s blog).
- Note that there is no apostrophe in University Speakers Bureau.
area codes—See telephone numbers.
athletics—The department is formally referred to as Intercollegiate Athletics without mentioning the word department. For informal use, refer to the department as the Athletics Department or Department of Athletics.
between, among—Use between to represent a one-to-one or a close relationship; use among for a relationship involving more than two parties or one that is less formal. (The discussions between the president and the faculty were productive. The candy was distributed among the children.)
- Biannual—twice each year. Semiannual is also acceptable.
- Biennial—once every two years.
- Bimonthly—every other month. Semimonthly means twice a month.
Board of Visitors—The Board of Visitors is an it, not a they. Board members are they. The same holds true for other titled groups. Use BOV to abbreviate Board of Visitors on second reference. When the word board is used alone, it is lowercase. (The board decided against it.)
book titles—See titles, publications.
- Use brackets if an explanation or modification is inserted in a quotation. (Mr. Graham has resolutely ducked the issue, saying he won’t play the game of rumor mongering, even though he has “learned from [his] mistakes.”)
- Brackets follow the same format as the copy contained within them. If the copy is italicized, the brackets will be italicized and so forth.
- Capitalize the names of campus buildings.
- The room name and number follow the building name, separated with a comma. Alpha characters in the room number are capitalized. Never abbreviate the word room to rm (Buchanan Hall, Room D217).
- It is acceptable to omit the first name of the person for whom a building was named (Johnson Center as opposed to George W. Johnson Center). Follow the lead of peoplefinder.gmu.edu. Note: For some formal publications such as Advancement and Alumni Relations pieces, you might have to use the full name.
campuses—Capitalize Fairfax Campus, Arlington Campus, and so on. Never use main campus to refer to the Fairfax Campus. Capitalize campus after listing the three campuses (Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William Campuses). The Mason in Loudoun location is not called a campus.
campuswide—Not campus-wide but university-wide. See Chicago Manual of Style 7.89.
capital vs. capitol—Capital refers to the city where the seat of government is located. (Alma visited the nation’s capital.) Use lowercase. Capital can also be used as a financial term. (He needed to raise capital to start his business.) Capitol refers to the site of legislative activity. Capitalize U.S. Capitol and the Capitol when referring to the building in Washington. Follow the same practice in referring to state capitol buildings.
- As a general rule, capitalize sparingly. Lowercase is preferred in modern usage.
- Lowercase the in front of all formal titles. (Scott attended the Ohio State University. He then went on to the School of Public Policy for his graduate degree. He reads the Washington Post.) See Chicago Manual of Style 8.68. For more information on official university names, visit www.collegesource.org.
- Lowercase the names of subject areas in text, unless the name is a proper noun, such as French. Academic majors, minors, concentrations, and certificates are not capitalized. (Mary was a double-major in English and sociology.) Capitalize a subject when used as the name of a specific course (Theories in Communication).
- Lowercase university, college, and school unless they are used as part of a formal title. (The College of Visual and Performing Arts is an academic unit at Mason. The college is one of 10 academic units.)
- Lowercase academic degrees, except when using the abbreviations (A bachelor’s degree, a bachelor of arts degree, BA).
- If a title comes after a person’s name, it is lowercase. If a title is used before the person’s name, it is uppercase (Steve Klein, professor of communication. But: Provost S. David Wu, Professor Steve Klein, or President Ángel Cabrera). Note: Do not capitalize descriptive titles or those with a modifier in front of them. (This afternoon Dean Peggy Agouris will speak. But: This afternoon College of Science dean Peggy Agouris will speak.)
- Lowercase descriptive adjectives that are not part of a recognized name. (The northern United States is quite cold in winter. But: Mason is in Northern Virginia.)
centers/institutes—Capitalize proper names: Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. The center or the institute are acceptable on subsequent references if it is clear there is only one. For a full list, see www.gmu.edu/resources/centers-institutes/.
century—See historical terms.
- Major U.S. cities do not need state identifiers in running text, except for cities of the same name in different states (Portland, Kansas City). See also states for a partial list. Foreign cities commonly associated with a country do not need a country identification (London, Bangkok, Tokyo, Toronto).
- Place a comma both after the city and state names in running text. (Fairfax, Virginia, is where Amaroo works.) Place a comma both after the city and country names in running text. (Cambridge, England, is Mariama’s hometown.)
- Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, entering class, sophomore class, and such. But: Class of 1995.
- Note: The 2015 entering class is the Class of 2019. Entering class always refers to the year corresponding to the fall that the class matriculated. If the students’ first school year was 2007–08, they were in the entering Class of 2007. (The 2018 entering class had the highest average SAT score of any entering class in the previous 20 years. Nearly 25 percent of the Class of 2017 graduated with honors.)
- If a student has been enrolled full time at Mason for more than four years, he or she is called a senior.
- For undergraduate and graduate students, do not use first year, second year, and so on; however, for Mason law students, use first, second, or third year.
- People enrolled in a PhD program who are still completing course work are generally referred to as doctoral students. People working on their dissertation are generally referred to as doctoral candidates.
- Do not hyphenate the prefix co. Example: coequal, costar. Only hyphenate when the next letter is an o or the word would be confusing if not hyphenated. Example: co-opt, co-worker. See Chicago Manual of Style 7.89 for a complete list.
- Be careful when constructing verbs with the co– prefix: You may coedit and co-write, but you never coauthor, although you may be a coauthor. In addition, you cannot cosponsor something with someone. You sponsor something with someone; that makes you a cosponsor.
- A colon is commonly used to introduce a list, quotation, statement, or summary. (All those attending the meditation retreat should bring the following items: comfortable clothing, a blanket, pillows, and a journal.)
- A colon should not be used after an incomplete sentence. (All those attending the meditation retreat should bring comfortable clothing, a blanket, pillows, and a journal.) See also lists.
- Serial comma. Use a comma before and in a series (Red, white, and blue; not red, white and blue).
- Clauses that serve to add information (nonrestrictive clauses) are set off by commas. (The wine glass, which is broken, is on the table.) This adds a fact about the only wine glass in question.
- Clauses that serve to define (restrictive clauses), as opposed to add information, are not set off by commas. (The wine glass that is broken is on the table.) This tells us which glass is broken.
committee/task force—Full names of committees and task forces that are part of formal organizations should be capitalized. (The Institutional Biosafety Committee is an advisory committee dedicated to excellence in the science and practice of biological safety.) Use lowercase for shortened and informal versions of committee and task force names. (The committee on biosafety will meet Tuesday.)
- Compose means to form by putting together. (The task force is composed of staff members only.)
- Comprise means to contain, embrace, or include all. (The task force comprises staff members. Not: The task force is comprised of. . .)
- Constitute means to make up the elements of the whole. (Staff members constitute the task force.)
conferences, lecture series, symposia—Capitalize formal names (The Networked Economy Summit). Use quotation marks for the title of a conference but not for an annual conference (“The Call for New Thought.” But: fifth annual AFCEA Conference). If the conference is being referred to informally, it should be lowercase. (He presented a paper at the annual conference of the Audubon Society.) Also, use quotation marks for titles of delivered papers or lectures, theses, dissertations, and published papers. For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style 8.70.
computer terms—See electronic media terms.
corporations—Use the name used by the company, including abbreviations and ampersands. Abbreviations are acceptable (e.g., Co., Corp.) in notes, bibliographies, and lists. Inc. should be eliminated in running text but can be included when listing companies or corporations. No comma precedes Inc. Full company names should be kept when writing or editing Advancement pieces.
- Registered nurse , RN
- Licensed practical nurse, LPN
- Certified financial planner, CFP
- Certified public accountant, CPA
- Licensed social worker, LSW
- magna cum laude—“With high distinction”; italicize and lowercase: magna cum laude
- summa cum laude—“With highest distinction”; italicize and lowercase: summa cum laude
- People often confuse the en dash (–), the em dash (—), and the hyphen (-). Each one serves a specific purpose.
- Use en dashes (–) to denote a range (pages 40–48) and to join adjectives when one of the adjectives is already a compound (New York–Boston route). For further information, see Chicago Manual of Style 6.78–6.84.
- Em dashes (—) may be used for material that amplifies, explains, or digresses. Because em dashes are often used to express emphasis, they should be used sparingly. Commas often may be used for the same purpose, but they are less emphatic than the em dash. For further information, see the Chicago Manual of Style 6.85–6.92.
- Do not use spaces around em or en dashes. (There are four states—Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan—that border Lake Michigan.)
- Hyphens, not en dashes, should be used in sports scores.
- In text, years are set apart from days and following text by commas. (July 4, 1976, was one of the happiest days of my life.)
- Use an en dash (–) to show a range of dates (March 5–7) and do not repeat the century (2001–02, not 2001–2002) except at the change of century (1988– 2001).
- Use the year with the month to avoid confusion. (His book will be published in October 2009.)
- Do not use st, nd, rd, or th, even if dates are adjectives (March 1 event, not March 1st event).
- Times come after days and dates (on Friday at 4 p.m.; on Monday, June 7, at noon).
- Months are not abbreviated except where space is limited.
- Use numerals for decades (1960s or the ’60s).
- Do not abbreviate days of the week or names of months unless space is limited. (The test was Monday, September 25.)
- Do not use a comma when only the month and year are used. (The book was published in September 1992.)
- When the term appears in the middle of a sentence, use a comma after D.C. (The Washington, D.C., area conference starts Tuesday.)
- Use Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia, or metropolitan Washington, D.C. Do not use Metro unless referring to the transportation system.
- Washington metropolitan area is acceptable.
- In abbreviated form, capitalize and do not use periods (BA, MS). Lowercase when using spelled-out version (bachelor of arts, master of science). The abbreviated plural forms do not require an apostrophe (BAs, PhDs).
- The word degree should not follow an abbreviation. (She has a BA in English literature. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature.)
- Do not capitalize bachelor of science, master of arts, and such. Likewise, do not capitalize the field (bachelor of arts in philosophy) unless it is a proper noun (bachelor of arts in English).
- In narrative text, for people with PhDs, do not use PhD after the name or Dr. before it (this rule also applies to MDs).
- Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. When mentioning multiple degrees, add an s to degree. (Arpi holds two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees.)
Formal Use, General Use, Abbreviated Use
- Bachelor of Arts, bachelor’s degree, BA
- Bachelor of Science, bachelor’s degree, BS
- Master of Arts, master’s degree, MA
- Master of Science, master’s degree, MS
- Doctor of Philosophy, doctoral degree, PhD
- Bachelor of Individualized Study, BIS
- Bachelor of Music, BM
- Master of Music, MM
- Master of Social Work, MSW
- Master of Business Administration, MBA
- Executive Master of Business Administration, EMBA
- Master of Public Policy, MPP
- Master of Public Administration, MPA
- Bachelor of Science in Education, BSEd
- Master of Education, MEd
- Master of Science in Accounting, MSA
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing, BSN
- Master of Science in Nursing, MSN
- Juris Doctor, JD
- Juris Master, JM
- Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA
- Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, MAIS
- Master of Fine Arts, MFA
- Master of Arts in Teaching, MAT
- Doctor of Arts, DA
- Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP
departments, offices—Names of Mason departments are capitalized when referred to as a particular department (the Department of English; Kyoko Okamoto, English). Names of disciplines alone are not capitalized when used for identification (philosophy courses, a biology professor, students majoring in history). Exceptions are languages (English, Spanish, Chinese). Names of specific Mason offices are capitalized (Office of the University Registrar, Registrar’s Office).
- download, upload
- email, But: e-business, e-commerce
- home page
- HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
- log on
- RSS (Rich Site Summary)
- screen saver
- user ID
- web page
- World Wide Web (See also web)
- URL (Uniform Resource Locator; also known as an individual web address)
- Use when breaking off a quotation. (“I really don’t feel like going, but I guess I have no choice . . .”)
- Use sparingly if at all.
- Use three dots with spaces around each ( . . . ), but close up the space between an ellipses point and a quotation mark (“. . . ).
- If a sentence ends with ellipses, also use a period ( . . . . ).
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style 13.5.
- Lowercase except at the start of a sentence.
- If an address does not fit on one line, do not use hyphenation when breaking it.
See also electronic media terms.
ensure, insure, assure—Ensure that, insure something, and assure someone. (Ensure that you lock the door when you leave. You should insure your car in case it gets damaged. I assure you, it won’t take long.)
ethnic and racial designations—National-origin identifiers such as Chinese American, Japanese American, Italian American are acceptable. Do not hyphenate, even when used as an adjective. (They opened an Italian American restaurant.) Capitalize Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, but lowercase white, black.
fellowships and other awards—The formal reference is capitalized (Academy Award, ADVANCE Award, Fulbright Fellowship, MacArthur Fellowship, Pulitzer Prize), but informal references (Fulbright grant, Guggenheim fellow) are not. For a full list of awards, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_prizes,_medals,_and_awards.
- Use nonsexist language whenever possible (chair, police officer, etc.). Although board chairman may be used, board chair is preferable.
- One way to get around the his or her dilemma is to recast in the plural. For example, “Let the student know when he or she is ready to move to the next level” should be changed to “Let students know when they are ready to move to the next level.”
- “When an individual advances, his self-esteem is greatly improved” could be rephrased as “When an individual advances, that individual’s self-esteem is greatly improved.”
- “A professor should avoid letting his biases get in the way of grading” should be changed to “A professor should avoid letting biases get in the way of grading.”
general education—Use lowercase. Do not use gened or GenEd. When specifically referring to general education at Mason, use Mason Core. See also Mason Core.
- Certain nouns and adjectives designating parts of the world or regions are capitalized (Deep South, Northern Hemisphere, East Coast, Northern Virginia, the West). Use lowercase letters when referring to a locality or compass direction (eastern, western, central Asia, south of Fairfax). See Chicago Manual of Style 8.47.
George Mason—The university’s namesake. Use George Mason, the man, to differentiate from the university. See also GMU.
Never use GMU. Use Mason if you are not using the university’s full name.
- In formal documents, use George Mason University on first reference; use George Mason on second reference, and in all subsequent references, the university may be referred to as Mason.
- George Mason University is used to formally reference the university in external materials, including publications, press releases, invitations, messages from the president, and departmental publications.
- While George Mason University is preferred, Mason can be used in publications for and about students, athletics, and less formal publications.
- Lowercase federal government, government.
- Congress is capitalized when referring to the body. Lowercase congressional.
- The United States Senate, the Senate, senatorial, the upper house of Congress
- The House of Representatives, the House, the lower house of Congress
- The General Assembly of Virginia, the assembly, the Virginia legislature, the Senate of Virginia, the House of Delegates graduation years—Jeff Wood, BS Finance ’03
grades, GPA—Do not put grades in quotation marks. Do not use an apostrophe for plurals (Bs, not B’s) unless it would be confusing without (thus A’s, not As). In such cases, it would be preferable to reword: a straight-A student. Use GPA, not grade point average.
half-time, half time, halftime—Hyphenate when used as a compound modifier (Selena is looking for a half-time position. She’s in school half time.) When halftime is one word, it refers to sports. (The Super Bowl halftime show was quite a spectacle.)
- Use the expression a person with disabilities as opposed to a disabled person or a handicapped person in university publications.
- Use a person who uses a wheelchair instead of a person confined to a wheelchair or a person who is wheelchair bound.
- When discussing people with learning disabilities, do not use the expression the learning disabled. Instead, state the specific learning disability in question. (Children with ADHD tend to have more difficulty focusing than other children.)
- Note the spelling and capitalization for the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities (KIHd)
- See the American Psychological Association website for more information on preferred language regarding disabilities: http://apastyle.org/apa-style-help.aspx.
headlines—Every word is capitalized except articles (a, an, the), coordinate conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor), prepositions, and the to in infinitives. Note that the last word of a title is always capitalized.
historic/historical—Historic is used to describe an event that makes history. Historical is used to describe something that is based on history. Both take the article a, not an. (The 1969 moon landing was a historic event. Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Ivanhoe renewed interest in the Middle Ages.)
- Certain historical and cultural periods and events are capitalized (Enlightenment, Roaring Twenties, Age of Reason, the Great Depression).
- Ordinal numbers should be used when denoting centuries (18th century). Do not spell out centuries over the ninth century; use figures (20th century). Hyphenate as a modifier (20th-century archives).
- Centuries can also be expressed in numerals (1700s).
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style, 8.71–8.74, 9.32–9.34.
home page—Two words. See also electronic media terms.
- Lowercase in informal references. (She received a honorary degree for her humanitarian work in Africa.)
- Capitalize official honorary degrees. (Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Honorary Doctor of Laws, Honorary Doctor of Science. The Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters will be awarded to Governor Timothy Kaine.)
honors—Capitalize when using the formal name of the university program (Honors College, George Mason University Psychology Honors Program). Lowercase in informal use (honors courses, honors program, honors student).
- General Guidelines
- Hyphenate when the second element of a compound begins with a capital letter or numeral (pre-1914, anti-Semitic).
- Hyphenate when the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the following word (anti-inflammatory). Exception: coordinate, preempt
- Compounds must be distinguished from homonyms (re-cover, recover, re-sent, resent, re-create, recreate).
- In general, do not hyphenate words beginning with the prefixes co, non, pre, post, or re unless there is a possibility of confusion (co-op, post-master’s) or the root word begins with a capital letter (post-Renaissance).
- Hyphenate an adjective-noun modifier if there is a possibility of confusion (high-level class). It is not necessary to hyphenate when the pair is familiar (high school student).
- Hyphenate compounds used as adjectives (decision-making) but not as nouns (decision-maker).
- Do not hyphenate compounds with vice (vice chair, vice president).
- Hyphenate university-wide but not campuswide.
- Do not hyphenate freelance, yearlong, health care, African American, Asian American.
- An en dash, not a hyphen, should be used with a range of dates (1967–69) or times (5–7 p.m.) or to join adjectives where one of them is already a compound (post–Civil War).
- Words ending in -ly are never hyphenated (highly difficult, nationally ranked).
- Compound modifiers: when two or more words that express a single concept are used before a noun, use a hyphen to link them with the exception of the word very and adverbs that end in -ly (a full-time job, a poorly performed play). These combinations usually are not hyphenated after a verb. (She works full time.)
- Compound nouns: Many noun compounds are hyphenated (brother-in-law, well-being, 18-year-old, student-athlete).
- With numbers: Hyphenate the written form of compound numbers and fractions. (One-fifth of my income is spent on rent.)
- Between a prefix and proper name (mid-Atlantic).
- Capitalization: When hyphenated words are used in headlines, both words should be capitalized (Blue-Green).
- Suspensive hyphenation (He received a 10- to 20-year sentence in prison.)
- Sports scores take hyphens. (Mason won 25-2.)
- all (all-encompassing)
- anti (anti-federalist)
- cross (cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary)
- ex when compound means former (ex-president)
- high, low (high-level, low-tech)
- non when word that follows begins with n (non-native)
- noun + noun (scholar-poet)
- number + unit of measurement when used as an adjective (six-foot pole)
- self (self-restraint)
- well (well-trained) adjectival form only
- bi (bivalent)
- co (cowrite, exception: co-worker, co-opt)
- infra (infrastructure)
- inter, intra (interstate, intramural)
- macro, micro (macroeconomics, microcomputer)
- mid (midlife, midweek)
- mini (miniskirt, minicourse)
- multi (multicultural)
- non (nonsmoker; hyphenate words that begin with n such as non-native)
- pre (prefabricated, preveterinary)
- pro (progovernment)
- re (reinvent)
For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style 7.89.
imply/infer—To imply means to suggest. (Her fingerprints on the gun strongly implied her involvement in the crime.) To infer means to draw from. (The detective inferred from the evidence that she was involved.)
Inc.—Should be eliminated in text but can be included when listing companies or corporations. No comma precedes Inc. (even if the company uses a comma preceding the word Inc. in their official company name).
initials—Mason’s style does not use middle initials unless it is necessary to avoid confusion (John L. Jones) or unless the publication is formal. Be consistent from person to person in use of the middle initial. Two initials should be separated by a space (C. S. Lewis).
interim—Lowercase in all instances. In academia, an interim job title refers to a position to which a person is appointed between the time the incumbent steps down and a new person fills that position permanently. (The interim dean of music begins Monday.)
internet—Do not capitalize. See also electronic media terms.
invitations—If the invitation is to a Mathy House event, the invitation should read “Ángel and Beth Cabrera cordially invite you to….” Since the event is at their house, they are the official hosts. If the event is on campus or at a location other than Mathy House, the invitation should read, “Please join Ángel and Beth Cabrera at ….” This is preferred because in this case, although President Cabrera is not the event sponsor, this wording still lets people know that he will be there and hosting in his capacity as president.
- Use it when referring to a group, use they when referring to group members. (The committee met off campus, but it usually meets on campus. Committee members were not happy about this change, and they complained about having to drive.)
- The possessive is its, not it’s. It’s is the contraction for it is. (The house is old. Its shutters are falling off. It’s time to fix them.)
- They is a plural pronoun for it, he, or she, meaning those ones. They is often used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent. (Everyone knew where they stood; nobody has to go to school if they don’t want to.)
- Titles of books, magazines, newspapers, films, and collections of poetry. (Article titles are placed in quotes.)
- Titles of long musical compositions, such as operas. (Titles of songs and short compositions are set within quotation marks in roman type.)
- Titles of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and other art.
- When a word or term is not used functionally but is referred to as the word or term itself, it is italicized. (What is meant by neurorobotics?)
- Letters used in algebraic equations should be italicized.
- Names of ships and other vessels are italicized. Note that such abbreviations as USS (United States ship) and HMS (Her [or His] Majesty’s ship) are not italicized. (USS SC-530, Apollo II, HMS Frolic)
See also foreign words.
Jr., Sr., III in names—See names.
last, past—Use last when referring to something that has not recurred or will not happen again. (Inga took the last ferry to Stockholm on that ill-fated, misty night. The last time she saw Anders, he was leaving for good.) Use past when referring to something that might continue. (He has spent the past two years in complete isolation.)
lay, laid, laid, laying—Use as the transitive verb that requires an object. (She laid the rug on the floor.) See www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ youmeus/learnit/learnitv59.shtml for more information.
less/fewer— Use less when referring to amount, degree, quantity, or value. Use fewer when referring to things that can be counted individually. (Fairfax got less snow this year than last year. Fewer people showed up than expected.)
libraries—Capitalize George Mason University Libraries, University Libraries, Arlington Library, Fenwick Library, Gateway Library, and Science and Technology Library, but not the libraries. (University Libraries recently acquired a new collection. Visit the libraries on Wednesday for more information.)
lie, lay, lain, lying—Use as the intransitive verb that does not require an object. (They were lying on the floor listening to the sound of raindrops hitting the tin roof.) See www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/youmeus/learnit/learnitv59.shtml for more information.
- Do not use a colon after a verb or a preposition introducing a list. (The list includes Ines, Julie, and Ming. Not: The list includes: Ines, Julie, and Ming.)
- Maintain parallel construction in listed items. (Use either phrases or complete sentences throughout the list when possible.)
- In vertical lists, use a period after each item if one or more is a complete sentence. In that case, the first words should be capitalized. Otherwise, capitalization of the first words depends on the context. If none of the items is a complete sentence, use no punctuation at the end of each item.
- Avoid numbering unless there will be a reference to the numbers in later text. If you must number a list in running text, place numbers (without periods) in parentheses. Exception: use numbers in a list format if writing out instructions.
man, mankind—When referring to men and women, use human or humanity. See gender.
Mason—Use in place of George Mason or GMU. See GMU.
Mason IDEA—The Mason IDEA is an acronym. Please use all caps when referring to it. See also masonidea.gmu.edu.
measurements— In text, spell out percent, degrees (temperature), feet, and inches. In tables, the symbols for these words (%, °, ‘, “) may be used. See symbols.
- Correct: The local media are focusing heavily on missing persons stories.
- Incorrect: Some believe that the media is fair and balanced.
minorities—Avoid using the term minority when referring to people who are not Caucasian. See ethnic and racial designations.
money—Amounts of money are written in these ways depending on the context: $5, five dollars, $2 million. Be consistent if listing several amounts. If the number in a reference to an amount of money is spelled out, so is the unit of currency. If numerals are used, use symbols such as $ (five dollars, $5,325, seventy cents, $3.25). For foreign currency, see Chicago Manual of Style 9.20–9.25.
months, days—Do not abbreviate days of the week or names of months unless space is limited. (The test was Monday, September 25.) Do not use a comma when only the month and year are used. (The book was published in September 1992. The conference will be in November.)
multi—No hyphen, in general: multicultural, multifaceted. See also hyphenation.
names—No comma before Jr. or Sr. or III. Space between initials (T. S. Eliot). See also professional titles. Middle initials are not used unless the piece involves two individuals whose names cannot be otherwise distinguished.
Northern Virginia—Capitalize as a recognized name. See also capitalization.
not only, but also—Should be used to join parallel structures. Correct: The provost not only met with John, but also praised his work. Incorrect: The provost met not only with John, but also with his family.
- One through nine are spelled out; 10 and above in numerals. If a series of numbers contains a number that would normally be used as a numeral, all numbers in that series should also be numerals, even if they normally would be spelled out. (She lost 7 of her 10 nickels, leaving her with 3.) In a more technical matter, a numeral may be used with units of measure (5 cm; 6”).
- First through ninth are spelled out; thereafter, 10th, 11th, and so on.
- Use two letters with 22nd, 23rd, and so forth.
- Use numerals with percent (7 percent), dollar sign ($3), temperature (8 degrees), scores (7-3), page (page 2), room (room 9), and chapter (chapter 6).
- Numbers beginning a sentence are always spelled out.
- For figures greater than 999,999, use million or billion (2.3 million, 4 billion). See also millions, billions.
- Use a comma in a figure greater than 1,000, unless it’s a year.
- Dashes should not be used as a substitute for “to” in a range of time (from 1967 to 1983, not from 1967–83).
- Note there is a space between the number and the measurement (10 cm), and there is no period after a measurement abbreviation.
- Use numbers for credit hours (At least 9 credits are required). See credits.
- Abbreviate for rankings lists (No. 5).
online—Do not hyphenate. See also electronic media terms.
over, less than, under—When referring to a lesser number of things or people, use fewer rather than less or under. (Fewer than a dozen people made it to the movie last night.) Similarly, when referring to a greater number of things or people, use more than rather than over. (More than 10 classes were canceled.)
parentheses—Put a comma after a set of parentheses, never in front. For example: The new lab, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will open next week. See the Chicago Manual of Style 6.98.
passive voice—In most instances, the active voice is preferable to the passive voice. For example, Students discovered graffiti on the campus grounds is preferable to Graffiti was discovered on the campus grounds by students. There are instances where the passive voice is preferable to the active voice. Passive voice is acceptable when the agent executing the action is obvious, insignificant, or unknown or when a writer wishes to delay identifying the agent until the last part of the sentence or to avoid identifying the agent altogether. (The wall was vandalized in the middle of the night.) It is also effective when the acting agent does not want to claim responsibility for the action. (New regulations were passed last week, so employees must act accordingly and complete their salary reduction forms.) The passive voice is effective in such circumstances because it highlights the action and what is acted upon rather than the agent executing the action.
phone numbers—See telephone numbers.
pre-, post—Do not hyphenate words that take the prefixes pre- or post- unless the first letter of the second word is capitalized or the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter in the second word.
presently—One possible meaning is in the near future. If this is the meaning you wished to suggest, try to substitute the word soon for presently. If that construction makes sense, you can safely use presently. But if you wish to refer to what is going on in the here and now, use currently.
president—On first reference, use President Ángel Cabrera; on subsequent references, Cabrera or the president. When the title is serving the function of a description, it is lowercase. (He gave the letter to university president Ángel Cabrera.) See also administrative, capitalization.
principal, principle—Use principal (n., adj.) when referring to someone or something first in authority or importance (principal investigator, principal issue, school principal). Use principle (n.) when referring to an essential truth (principle of trust).
- A named professorship is called a chair. It is often, but not always, created by and named for the donor of the funds setting up the endowment that supports it. Capitalize the titles of named professorships (Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences, the Drucie French Cumbie Chair); lowercase regular professorial positions (an assistant professor of foreign languages). Note that Distinguished Visiting Professor is considered a named professorship and should therefore be capitalized.
- Note that there may be people teaching who are not professors of any kind. Check to see whether they are an adjunct, instructor, or lecturer.
- If someone is a visiting professor, they need to be referred to as such.
- University Professor, which is the highest ranking professorship, is capped, even when not used before a name.
- Before a name, capitalize: “Professor Smith” (see administrative).
programs—See academic programs.
- Italicize titles of books, magazines, newspapers, films, plays, albums, musical compositions, and works of art.
- Titles of articles, lectures, and research projects are enclosed in quotation marks.
- The Bible, Qur’an, and Torah are not italicized and not enclosed in quotation marks.
- When a book title appears as part of the title of a paper, enclose the paper in quotation marks and use italics for the book title.
- For the possessive form of a title, the ’s is not italicized. Example: U.S.News & World Report‘s ranking….
- Do not italicize the in newspaper titles (the Washington Post).
- When someone is writing a book, place the title in quotation marks. When the book is published, italicize the title.
- Commas and periods are kept within end quotation marks—whether single or double; other punctuation remains outside them unless part of the quotation.
- Quoted words, phrases, and sentences that run into the text are enclosed in double quotation marks. Single quotation marks enclose quotations within quotations; double marks, quotations within these; and so on. (“Don’t be absurd!” said Henry. “To say that ‘I mean what I say’ is the same as ‘I say what I mean’ is to be as confused as Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. You remember what the Hatter said to her: ‘Not the same thing a bit! Why you might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’”) See Chicago Manual of Style 13.30, 6.114–115.
race Avoid using the word minority when referring to people who are not Caucasian. See ethnic and racial designations.
school and college names and abbreviations—See academic units. Capitalize individual colleges (College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the college; School of Law, the law school).
scientific names—The scientific names for animals and plants are composed of two words, the genus and the species. The domestic dog, for example, is Canis familiaris. The genus is always capitalized. The species is always lowercase. Both words are italicized. See Chicago Manual of Style 8.120 for further guidance.
seasons—Names of seasons are lowercase, even when referring to a specific academic semester (winter, spring, summer, fall, fall semester, spring semester). If adding year, say “fall 2005”—not “…fall of 2005.” Note: summer term is lowercase.
semicolon—When items in a series involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons. (They will honor Mian M. Saeed, professor emeritus of history; Yakir Aharonov, Distinguished Professor of Theoretical Physics; and Charlene Douglas, associate professor of nursing.)
spacing—Use single spaces after most punctuation, including periods and colons. Do not use spaces before or after hyphens, en dashes, or em dashes. In a list, do not use a double line space between the introductory phrase and the first item of the list.
staff—Use staff as a singular noun; use staff members to denote individuals. (The staff gets larger every year. Many staff members like to telecommute.) See also faculty.
- Do not abbreviate state names in running text. Exceptions may be made when states appear with city names in class notes, tabular material, and mailing addresses (use U.S. Postal Service codes).
- State names are not required for major cities. State names should follow smaller and lesser-known cities.
- A comma always follows the state name in text, except at the end of a sentence.
- Use commas before and after state names when they appear with cities in text. Correct: Fairfax, Virginia, is southwest of Washington, D.C. Incorrect: Fairfax, Virginia is southwest of Washington, D.C.
- When the name of a lesser-known city appears in the name of a newspaper, include the state in parentheses after the city. The state is italicized as is the newspaper name [Aurora (Illinois) Beacon News]. Do the same for counties.
students—Identify students by department, major, or status. (A graduate student in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, a doctoral candidate in public policy.) A student’s major is not capitalized.
subject-verb agreement—Many nouns (including staff, faculty, committee, board, team, class, public, and group) can be both singular and plural. Deciding on a singular or plural verb depends on whether the intent is to refer to the group as a whole or to the members of the group. For clarity, it helps to add members of. (Many members of the Mason faculty are world-renowned scholars. The staff at Mason is top notch.)
- In text, spell out percent. In tables, % may be used, but not in a header. See also percent.
- In text, spell out degrees (temperature), feet, inches, and cents. In tables, the symbols for these words ( °, ‘,“, ¢) may be used, but not in a header. See also measurements.
- In text, spell out cents. In tables, the symbol ¢ may be used but not in a header. Amounts greater than 99 cents should be in numerals and preceded by a dollar sign ($4). See also money.
- Abbreviate without periods (SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, TOEFL, IELTS).
- If a test is widely recognized, do not spell out first occurrence in text.
- Be sure to avoid redundant language. For example, TOEFL is the acronym for the Test of English as a Foreign Language; to refer to it as the TOEFL exam would be redundant. (Odval took the TOEFL and exceeded her expectations.)
- Restrictive: The book that I wrote in 1981 is about French politics. With this wording, the author distinguishes this book from ones he wrote in other years.
- Nonrestrictive: The book, which I wrote in 1981, is about French politics. With this wording, the author merely gives the reader some extra information.
- Lowercase the, no matter how a corporation, organization, or publication uses the in their own publications.
- In text, the at the start of titles or works of art is generally capitalized (The Canterbury Tales) but not at the start of titles of newspapers or periodicals (the Washington Post).
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style, 8.169.
- The time of day is written as simply as possible (4 p.m., 4 to 5 p.m.). Use noon and midnight, not 12 noon, 12 p.m., or 12 a.m.
- Unless the context is a formal publication do not use :00 or o’clock. For formal invitations, use o’clock, not :00.
- Lowercase a.m. and p.m., and use periods.
- List time after dates. (Thursday, January 1, 2004, at 3 p.m.)
- Do not use an en dash in place of to in a range of times introduced by from (from 5 to 7 p.m., not from 5–7 p.m.).
- Names of associations, organizations, conferences, meetings, and such follow the same guidelines used for corporations, except that the article the preceding a name is lowercase even when it is part of the formal title and the organization capitalizes it.
- Use Company when a business uses the word as part of its formal name. Inc., Corp., and Ltd. are usually not needed but when used after the name of a corporate entity, they should be abbreviated, even at the first mention.
- Such words as center, team, and conference that are part of an organization’s name are lowercase when used alone. (New members of the Center for Social Complexity attended the event. The center aspires to contribute to the excellence, discovery, and invention in the international computational social science community.)
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style 8.62–8.70.
- Civil, professional, military, and religious titles appearing before a person’s name are capitalized. (General Eisenhower, President Ángel Cabrera). After or without a name, lowercase the title (Linda M. Parsons, assistant professor of accounting; the president; the director).
- On second reference, use last name only. When listing administrative officers, follow the university’s organizational chart and list officers in descending order based on titles.
- Capitalize endowed professorships whether before or after a name (Deborah J. Goodings, the Dewberry Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering). See University Factbook for a listing at irr2.gmu.edu/Factbooks.
- A person’s title may be abbreviated if followed by their first and last names (Rev. Henry Brown). Do not abbreviate the title if only their surname is given (the Reverend Brown). Faculty members are referred to by full name without title (Laurie Ann Schintler, not Dr. Laurie Ann Schintler).
- For deans, capitalize when used before a name, lowercase in all other references. (Dean Peggy Agouris. Peggy Agouris is a dean.) See also capitalization.
- Dean of students—capitalize when used before a name, lowercase in all other references. (Dean of Students Pam Patterson. Pam Patterson is the dean of students.)
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style, 8.19–8.33.
- Governor is never abbreviated and is only capitalized when referring to the official title (former governor Tim Kaine; Virginia governor Ralph Northam; Governor Northam).
- In general, in less formal text, avoid titles such as the Honorable and Dr. PhDs are not called Dr. and do not have PhD listed after their names.
- Faculty members are generally listed with a title after their name. In more formal publications (commencement program, invitations, promotional programs), if we are promoting a professor from somewhere else, we can refer to them as they wish (PhD, etc.)
- Titles appearing before the name are capitalized. If the title appears after or without the name, the title is lowercase. (Carl Botan, professor of communication.) See also capitalization.
- On second reference, use last name only.
- Italicize titles of books, newspapers, magazines, television shows, films, plays, albums, musical compositions, and works of art. For the possessive form, the apostrophe and “s” are not italicized (Evita’s music). Do not italicize the in newspaper names (the New York Times, the Washington Post).
- Titles of lectures, speeches, episodes of television and radio series, songs, poems, articles from newspapers and periodicals, chapters, short stories, essays, and individual parts of books are in roman type and within quotation marks.
- Lowercase articles (a, an, the), coordinate conjunctions (and, or, for, nor), prepositions regardless of length, and to in infinitives.
- Capitalize everything else, including the aforementioned parts of speech if they appear as the first or last word in a title (On the Waterfront).
- For further guidance, see Chicago Manual of Style, 8.168–8.201.
- Trademarks must be capitalized. Some trademarks have become so common it is often overlooked that they are indeed trademarks. Some examples are Academy Award, Band-Aid, Breathalyzer, Dumpster, Frisbee, Heimlich Maneuver, Jacuzzi, Jell-O, Kleenex, Laundromat, Mace, Magic Marker, Muzak, Photostat, Rolex, Scotch Tape, Styrofoam, Xerox.
- Trademarks should be followed by the word it often replaces, when appropriate (Rolex watch). In some cases, it may be best to avoid using the trademark altogether and just use the generic term as long as it is easily understood. For a more complete listing of trademarks, visit the International Trademark Association’s website.
- Unless you are the company that holds the trademark, you do not need to use a trademark symbol. (®, ™)
United States—Spell out United States when used as a noun. (The United States is a diverse nation.) Abbreviate as U.S. (periods, no spaces) when used as an adjective. (A basic course in U.S. history is being offered this semester.)
universities (other)—Be respectful of how other universities write about themselves, instead of trying to apply our style guidelines to their official names. For a complete list of university names, see www.collegesource.org.
Washington, D.C.—Use the full name, not D.C. or the District. Use Metro only when referring to the Washington, D.C., area transportation system. Use comma before and after D.C. in a sentence. (He has lived in Washington, D.C., for 10 years.)
- Lowercase web.
- World Wide Web is not needed; web is sufficient.
- http:// is not needed.
- Forward slash (/) at the end of the url is not needed
- Lowercase website (one word).
- Do not use < > around a web address.
- Web addresses do not get underlined in publications. They may be underlined online to indicate an active link.
- Italicize the titles of online publications (HotWired).
- Check all web addresses to ensure accuracy and live links.
See also electronic media terms.
well-being—See hyphenated prefix.
Do not use the four-digit zip code extension for the Fairfax, Loudoun, or Arlington addresses.
- Fairfax 22030
- Arlington 22201
- Loudoun 20164
- Prince William 20110-2203
See also addresses.
The University Catalog is a good resource for confirming the spelling of professors’ names and course titles (Note that course titles may change mid-semester even after the catalog is published each April). The People Finder section of the university website contains updated information on academic ranks and named professorships.