Web Writing Style Guide
Table of Contents
We are aiming for a writing style that engages our readers in a conversation. We want to speak directly to them, answer their questions, and give them information as concisely and clearly as possible. We don’t want to bog them down with text. Web visitors are task oriented – they skim and scan, getting just enough information to get to their next destination. We can help web visitors achieve their goals through subheadings, bulleted lists, and numbered lists.
When you are writing, keep in mind that many people are finding us using Google and other online searches. Finding the right keywords or phrases to work into your copy can take time, but it can really make a difference in the number of people finding your site and spending quality time on the site. Success online depends on identifying the words your customers really use when they search, not just the words you think they’re using. Refer to the SEO page of the CMS Wiki for additional guidance. Please note: you will need to log in to the CMS to view wiki pages.
Clarity, accuracy, and consistency are critical to help the university establish its identity. The following guidelines, based upon the UMass Boston Brand Manual, The Point style guide, and the Chicago Manual of Style, will help members of the UMass Boston community work toward this goal. More detailed explanations are available through the Brand Manual.
The University of Massachusetts Boston, or
University of Massachusetts Boston
Brief, less formal name:
(You can use “the university” if it’s clear to which university you are referring.)
University of Massachusetts-Boston
University of Massachusetts, Boston
University of Massachusetts at Boston
U. Mass. Boston
The UMass Boston
and other variants
Please avoid unless using accurately
University of Massachusetts (refers to the whole system)
When spelling out the full name of the college, use “and” as opposed to “&.”
Centers should also have the full name spelled out: “and” as opposed to “&.”
For the page title, we will use this naming convention: X Department (e.g., Biology Department, Chemistry Department). For branding photos on the department pages, we will just use the name of the department’s discipline. (e.g., “Biology,” “Chemistry”)
Spell out on first reference, with the acronym in parentheses. If the entity is referred to only once in the story, don’t include the acronym.
Majors and minors at the undergraduate level should appear in the Undergraduate category. Degree-granting programs at the graduate level should appear in the Graduate category. All certificate programs should be classified as Professional Development, regardless of level.
All program pages should be titled as follows: Topic, Degree (no periods–same goes for PhD and MEd). It needs to be this way so they will all show up in the list on the main page alphabetically, and be easy to scan. If it is an online program, put online in parenthesis.
Program page examples:
RN, BS (online)
Mental Health, MS
School Counseling, MEd
Doctor of Nursing Practice, Post-MS
In the case of minors, the word Minor should follow the topic in parenthesis.
Examples for minors:
Community and Civic Engagement (Minor)
Youth Work (Minor)
Certificate programs should follow the same naming convention.
Certificate program examples:
Nurse Practitioner (Post-Master’s Certificate)
Conflict Resolution (Graduate Certificate)
Financial Planning (Certificate)
Full names, followed by acceptable short versions:
Catherine Forbes Clark Athletic and Recreation Center; Clark Center
Joseph P. Healey Library; Healey Library
John W. McCormack Hall; McCormack Hall
Robert H. Quinn Administration Building; Quinn Administration Building
Phillis Wheatley Hall; Wheatley Hall
Do capitalize the full names of administrative entities. Complete alternative versions may also be capitalized.
Office of the Chancellor; Chancellor’s Office
Department of Chemistry; Chemistry Department
College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Do capitalize titles in vertical lists.
Firstname Lastname, Chancellor
Firstname Lastname, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Firstname Lastname, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance
Do capitalize titles appearing in front of names.
Chancellor Firstname Lastname
Associate Provost Firstname Lastname
Do not capitalize titles appearing after names. In general, long titles should appear after names.
Firstname Lastname, the vice chancellor for administration and finance
Firstname Lastname, vice provost for academic support services
Do not capitalize titles used alone in place of names.
the chancellor; the vice chancellor; the dean; the director
If the titles include complete proper names of administrative entities, do capitalize those.
Firstname Lastname, director of the Healey Library
Firstname Lastname, dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Do not capitalize portions of the proper names of administrative entities.
the university; the college; the division; the vice chancellor for administration and finance (not Administration and Finance)
Do not capitalize the names of academic disciplines unless they come from proper names.
computer science; sociology; management; a professor of history; a student of English; a master’s degree in American studies
In headlines for news stories, always lowercase articles, conjunctions, and prepositions of four letters or less, unless such words are important or come at the beginning or end of the headline. Capitalize everything else.
Example: An Instructor’s Heroic Action Preserves the Ice Cream Supply
Check every name and title, every time, at www.umb.edu/offices_directory. NOTE: To get a professor’s title, you will need to take “Professor” add an “of” and then tack on their department’s name. E.g., Professor of History Firstname Lastname. See: Professor.
If a name includes them, include them in your story and make sure they’re there every time.
Avoid when referring to people with PhDs and EdDs, unless in a formal setting (invitation, program, university catalog, etc), or in a quote: “The thing about Dr. Smith is…”
Capitalize if before the name (“Professor of Psychology Chris Smith”); lower case after (“Chris Smith, a professor of physics").
Include when applicable. “Professor” by itself may be used for associate and assistant professors unless an indication of rank is clearly needed.
Lowercase “l” in nearly all cases. Lecturers are not professors. “Instructor X” and “Lecturer Y” are not customary. In such expressions as “X, lecturer in French” and “Y, instructor in biology,” “in” is preferable to “of”: “instructor of biology,” for example, suggests that the discipline itself is getting a lesson.
Generally avoid, expect in more formal settings–lots of people have doctorates here (see Dr., Doctor above)
One word, no hyphen.
Books are “titled,” not “entitled.”
Generally avoid unless in a quote (too informal)
- titles of books
- newspapers (Boston Globe)
- magazine and journal titles
- television programs (Wheel of Fortune)
- paintings and other major works of visual art
- ships (except for the initial abbreviated prefix) (USS Nimitz, HMS Nonsuch)
Use quotation marks for:
- articles (“When Pedagogy Meets Politics: Challenging English Only in Adult Education”)
- parts of books (“Peas, Beans, and Lentils” (a chapter in the Cambridge World History of Food))
- conference and presentation titles
- song titles (“Love Potion Number Nine”)
- poem titles
- unpublished works
- course names (“Environmental Earth Science”)
- art shows
UMass Boston primarily follows the Chicago Manual of Style and occasionally the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. When there is a discrepancy, Chicago trumps the NYT.
Only one space after the end of a sentence, not two.
Initial-cap full sentences following colons.
In following Chicago style, UMass Boston uses the serial comma, meaning the comma that precedes the “and” or “or” that appears before the final item in a series of three or more.
Examples: "men, women, and children"; “bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree”
Other uses for commas:
- to set off nonessential information (“The exhibit, which had been recently installed, was in the south wing.” “The exhibit was in the south wing” makes sense as a standalone sentence; the middle part isn’t essential.)
- before the coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence (“The first negotiation was a failure, but the second one was a success”; both parts of the sentence can stand alone)
- after an opening dependent clause or adverbial phrase (“Although he was from a wealthy family, Roosevelt championed the poor; “After seven hours, the jury delivered its verdict.”)
- with modifiers that function separately (“The expansive, newly restored train station)
- with years with exact dates (“May 25, 2006, the museum was dedicated.” But “The museum was dedicated May 2006.”)
- to introduce a brief quotation (“President Truman is known to have said, “The buck stops here.”)
- With numbers of 1,000 or larger (11,205 students)
- After i.e. and e.g. (e.g., 11,205 students)
Numbers and Dates
Write one through nine as words; 10 and above as numerals. (Consistency within a sentence overrides this rule; e.g., “There were 7 cats, 9 dogs, and 27 chickens.”)
First through ninth as words; 10th and above as numerals
Ages written as numerals (3 months, 5 years, 45)
For decades, don’t use apostrophes (“She was in her 50s”)
A full date has a comma after the year (“Jan. 7, 2001, was a good day”), but a specific month does not have a comma after the year (“Sept. 2007 was a bad month”)
Do not use 1st, 7th, 23rd, etc. unless used in the title of a work or event. Examples: the 10th annual, 17th century. Never alter titles or names even if they conflict with our rules.
Not needed when talking about an event in the past 12 months or the next 12 months.
Lower case with periods: a.m. or p.m., NOT AM or PM.
Use “noon” instead of 12 p.m.
In stories, there’s usually no need to specify time of day, beyond morning/afternoon/evening (if that).
For calendar listings, omit the :00 if the event begins or ends at the top of the hour.
For lapses of time:
If in the style of a list, we want to use an en dash, which is a punctuation mark slightly longer than a hyphen, with no spaces in between. (In HTML, the coding is: –)
6 p.m.–3 p.m.
If in “running text” (i.e., a sentence), we want to put a “to” in between the two times.
Example: The room is available from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Area code followed by seven-digit number. Periods, not hyphens.
Example: McCormack Hall, 2nd Floor, Room 200
a while (n.); awhile (adv.; “stay awhile”)
coauthor (n., v.)
disk (but compact disc)
titled (when referring to names of works)
U.S. (adj. only; spell out the noun)
-ward (toward, upward, afterward, etc.)
World War II
email (no hyphen; not e-mail)
homepage (one word)
Internet (capital I)
log in/log-in: (v.; “Log in to your account.”); log-in (n., adj.; “Find your log-in information.”)
online (one word, no hyphen; not on-line)
website (not Web site or web site)
All URLs need to be lowercase.
The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (University of Chicago Press).
Note: The Chicago Manual is available online to UMass Boston employees here.
The Associated Press Stylebook (Basic Books) and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (Three Rivers Press).
Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd Edition, by Bryan A. Garner (Oxford University Press).
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2nd Edition, revised by Ernest Gowers (Oxford University Press).
Modern American Usage, by Wilson Follett as revised by Erik Wensberg (Hill and Wang).
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, now in a fourth edition (Longman).
American Heritage Book of English Usage (Houghton Mifflin), available online at www.bartleby.com/usage.
This is just a sample of items that might come up when writing or editing for the web.
Refer to the UMass Boston Brand Manual for additional guidance or contact the Office of Communications.
Last Updated: August 14, 2012