University Terms, Grammar, and Style

Readers like consistency, even if they don’t know it. The following is a list of terms and grammar items commonly used by university employees, and proper style for each. Following these rules establishes consistency across university publications and enhances readability for users.


  • Put one space between sentences. Use only one space after a colon in a sentence. The first letter is capitalized only if what follows the colon is a complete sentence.
  • Avoid colons or semi-colons. Instead, use em-dashes (—). Better yet, break the sentence into two.
  • Avoid exclamation points. The more exclamation points on a page, the less professional it looks.
  • Limit use of parentheses. If you can’t fit the information into a sentence without extra punctuation, consider splitting the sentence into two or omitting the phrase.

Common Terms

These are the standardized conventions for some common terms and phrases used throughout the university.

Academic degrees

Degrees with two letters get periods, and longer ones do not. For example: B.A., M.S., MBA, DDS. Ph.D. has three letters, but only two are capitalized, so it gets periods. Note the apostrophe and lowercase in bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, but it is Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science.

Administrative offices and departments

Capitalize only the formal name of offices, departments, centers, and programs. Abridged versions are not capitalized.


  • The Program on Justice and Peace, the justice and peace program
  • The Office of the Provost, the provost’s office
  • Office of the Dean, the dean’s office


Always uses numerals. Hyphenate as an adjective preceding a noun: 19 years old, a 19-year-old student.

Alumni, alumnus, alumna, alumnae

Use the proper Latin forms.

  • Alumnus: a male graduate
  • Alumna: a female graduate
  • Alumni: plural for male or coed graduates
  • Alumnae: plural for female graduates
  • If you are uncertain of gender, use the word “graduate” to describe the person. Do not use “alum,” and do not use alumni as a singular noun.


  • He is an alumnus of Georgetown College.

Class of…

When a class is accompanied by a year, it is capitalized.


  • The weekend will welcome the Class of 2016. But: She is in the senior class.

Class standing

Do not capitalize the following terms: first-year, sophomore, junior and senior.

Colleges and schools

Use the full name on first reference and lowercase the abridged forms. The College is always capitalized to make it clear that “college” is not being used as a synonym for a university.


  • Georgetown College, the College
  • Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the graduate school
  • Georgetown Law Center, the law school or Law Center
  • McCourt School of Public Policy, the McCourt School


It is capitalized when referring to specific events: Commencement Weekend, Commencement 2012. It is lowercase when referring to generic events.

Course names

Course names are capitalized but not italicized or placed in quotation marks.


Use the numbers only (without ordinals) in dates. Abbreviate the month with the month, day and year, spell out when using just the month and the day. When using a year in addition to the month and day, put a comma after the day and year. Always spell out the day of the week fully.


  • On Oct. 27, 2011, the university began the Campaign for Georgetown.
  • For a range of dates (October 14–16), use an en-dash (–) rather than a hyphen.

Department names

Capitalize only when using the full name of the department.


  • He is the chair of the Department of Anthropology. She teaches in the biology department.


Note no hyphen: email.


Note uppercase: Internet.


Majors and academic fields should not be capitalized unless they are proper nouns such as English, Spanish literature, American studies.


Use numbers for percentages, but spell out percent: 4 percent.


Do not use periods.


They are not capitalized — winter, spring, summer, fall, autumn.


Do not abbreviate states in text. When used with a city, the name of a state should be offset with commas.


  • Jane Hoya is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The event will take place in San Diego, California, on Jan. 5, 2014.


Avoid over capitalization in text. Titles should only be capitalized if they appear before a name. Use them after the name whenever possible.


  • Dean Chester Gillis spoke at graduation. The dean invited students and their families to the graduation reception.
  • Jane Hoya, associate professor of biology also teaches neurobiology.
  • The student interned for the vice president of marketing at Merrill Lynch.
  • Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke to faculty and students in Gaston Hall.

U.S., U.K.

Note the periods: U.S. and U.K.

Washington, D.C.

In print and online, use periods in D.C.

Web page

Lowercase, two words: web page.


Lowercase, one word: website.

Writing accessibly

Write out abbreviations. Consider how certain words and phrases will be read by screen readers, assistive software used by people with visual impairments. For example, it can be useful to write out phrases like “non applicable” rather than using abbreviations such as “n/a” or “NA.”

Expand acronyms on first use. For example, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Reference these resources for additional information: