Keep capitalization to a minimum in all sorts of writing—the more words you capitalize, the more you complicate your text. The following are some general guidelines:
Reserve uppercase for brand names; for proper names or words derived from proper names; for official names, such as those of companies, departments or organizations and certain short forms of those names; and for words whose placement (i.e., at the beginning of a sentence, in a heading) requires or justifies capitalization.
Don’t capitalize the following, unless they begin a sentence or headline or occur in a hyphenated compound within a headline: a, an, the, and, or, for, no, as, since, concerning, during, any other prepositions and to in infinitives.
Don’t capitalize short forms of the names of university programs and facilities: the law school, the library, the financial aid office, etc.
Use capitalization only for official names of programs or departments, not for the names of disciplines, to prevent confusion. If you capitalize a word such as an academic discipline, a reader may take that to be the official name of your department or organization. Exception: do capitalize those words derived from proper nouns, such as French, English and American.
Capitalization may suggest that a word has some meaning for your department or field other than the widely recognized meaning. Rather than conveying importance, excessive capitalization may thus make your copy look jargony. Keep your prose as serviceable and accessible as possible.
Capitalization does not confer prestige or importance—it’s what you say about a discipline or program that conveys quality or prestige to the reader.
When in doubt, consult a current dictionary, which will reflect current usage and the spellings and forms your readers will understand.
See awards; certificates and forms; departments; disciplines; divisions; programs; titles of people.
See compact disc.
The acronym for compact-disc read-only memory, CD-ROM is more widely understood than the spelled-out form and is acceptable in all references.
Follow Samford University style for use of numerals. Consult a current dictionary for difficult cases. Note that compound adjectives with century are hyphenated.
first century, second century, 10th century
first-century art, second-century religion, 10th-century life
11th century, 13th century, 20th century
the ’60s, ’80s
the 1700s, the 1980s
14th-century literature, 21st-century technology
’80s-style capitalism, ’60s-influenced music
See also cultural periods, movements, styles, and numbers.
certificates and forms
The following guidelines apply to the titles of academic and professional certificates (as in Class AA Professional Certificate); visas; government forms; specialized forms, such as financial aid forms; and other documents referred to by name.
Terms that are more descriptive than anything else—such as application for admission, declaration of intent or application for admission to candidacy—should not be capitalized.
Capitalize the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs in the name of the form:
Class AA Certificate, Class AA certification
Class A Professional Certificate
the “A” Certification in School Psychometry
Form I-20AB Certificate of Eligibility
IAP-66 Certificate of Eligibility
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
When a number is part of a form’s name, use the numeral and omit any punctuation:
Wrong: Form 1,040EZ
Right: Form 1040EZ
Wrong: Form Two-A
Right: Form 2A
chair, chairman, chairwoman, chairperson
Use the organization’s official title or that preferred and used by the individual. Samford University officially uses chair for most positions. It is more important to be consistent and accurate than to be nonsexist. If the chair is male, call him chairman unless he prefers another designation. Avoid chairperson unless it is the official title for the office.
Don’t capitalize freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate, postgraduate, postdoctoral, nondegree or any similar designation, unless it is part of a title, a headline or the official name of an organization.
colleges and schools, Samford University
Because the colon is misunderstood by many readers and misused by many writers, it is best used before lists or series, formal statements and quoted matter set off from the main text.
Always place the colon outside quotation marks or parentheses. If a quoted passage happens to end with a colon, drop the colon.
Always capitalize after a colon when the colon introduces a formal statement or any kind of quotation, but lowercase in other instances.
There are three main uses of the colon:
1. To introduce explanatory or other related matter. The colon can be used to indicate a shift in tone or a grammatical break. Although correct grammatically, such constructions are often not understood, so it might be better to use an em dash (—); separate the sentence into two sentences with a period; use a comma and a conjunction; or use a semicolon.
2. To introduce quotations or formal statements.
3. To introduce a list or series.
Note: Don’t use a colon if the list is an object or complement of any part of the sentence. For example, in a sentence such as The subjects he studied were math, science, history, English literature, American literature and French, the list of subjects completes the sentence. In such a sentence, it would be incorrect to put a colon after were. This rule applies even to vertical or bulleted lists. See lists, bulleted.
Use a colon after the following or similar constructions only if the list or illustrating matter immediately follows, or if the introductory sentence would be grammatically incomplete without the following.
Wrong: The five courses he took were: MATH 125, CHEM 107, ENGL 203, HIST 203 and ART 151.
Right: He took five courses that semester: MATH 125, CHEM 107, ENGL 203, HIST 203 and ART 151.
Right: The five courses he took wereMATH 125, CHEM 107, ENGL 203, HIST 203 and ART 151.
Right: He was required to take five courses that semester, so he took the following: MATH 125, CHEM 107, ENGL 203, HIST 203 and ART 151.
Wrong: The steps are as follows. Note that care was taken to eliminate redundancy:
Right: The steps are as follows (note that care was taken to eliminate redundancy):
Right: The steps are as follows. Note that care was taken to eliminate redundancy.
Right: I would like to make clear the following: The deadline is 4 p.m. Friday.
Right: After a moment’s pause, she spoke: “No exceptions will be granted.”
Right: He knew that his options after graduation were impressive: he could go to law school, accept the teaching assistantship at Harvard or work for his father. Why, then, did working as a ski instructor seem so appealing?
Samford University’s school colors are blue and red. In print, these colors are PMS 289 blue and PMS 200 red. The official Web colors for Samford University are #CC0033 red and #003366 blue. No other variations of red or blue should be used to identify Samford University.
Commas have a wide range of uses—but also a wide range of overuses. “When in doubt, leave it out” is a good guideline, but there are a few specific rules, outlined below, to keep in mind.
Use commas to separate three or more items in a series, but do not use a comma before the conjunction (if any) that joins the last two items:
We sent the memo to all deans, directors, council members and department heads.
No commas should be used if the items are simple and all linked by conjunctions. If the items in the series contain internal punctuation (including commas) or are very long or complex, use semicolons to separate them.
Commas belong inside quotation marks, outside parentheses or brackets.
Always use a comma before a conjunction that joins the clauses of a compound sentence, unless the clauses are very short and closely related:
We ordered Post-It Notes and Rolodex refill cards from the bookstore, and the store delivered them yesterday.
Sue runs and Ed plays golf.
Beware the sentence with a compound predicate (one subject, more than one verb). Don’t use a comma between clauses in a sentence with a compound predicate.
Sentences with compound predicates:
She has been driving that car for 10 years and put it in for repairs only twice.
He uses that office every day but seldom runs the air conditioner.
She has been driving that car for 10 years, and it’s only given her trouble twice.
He uses that office every day, but he seldom runs the air conditioner.
Use a comma or pair of commas to set off a nonrestrictive clause. A clause is nonrestrictive if it can be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause.
Nonrestrictive:Of Mice and Men, which is often banned by local school boards, is generally considered an American classic.
Use no commas with restrictive clauses that follow the main clause:
Restrictive: He will begin classes in January if he is accepted for admission.
Use a comma to set off a dependent clause that precedes the main clause:
Right: If he is accepted for admission, he will begin classes in January.
Use that (who in the case of people) to introduce a restrictive clause, which (who in the case of people) to introduce a nonrestrictive clause:
Restrictive: Steinbeck wrote the book that made us want to move out west.
Nonrestrictive:The Scarlet Letter, which I read in high school, has been made into a movie.
See also that and which.
Use commas to set off parenthetical elements that are closely related to the rest of the sentence. Use em dashes or parentheses to set off elements that aren’t so closely related to the rest of the sentence. Because punctuation plays a role in suggesting the closeness of the relationship between clauses, however, the choice of commas over em dashes or parentheses is a matter of editorial preference. See dash.
The professor, it was rumored, had decided not to teach his popular seminar in the fall.
That announcement was, to say the least, disappointing to many students.
TV 1234—a historical analysis of the sitcom—offers a close look at the phenomenon of television.
To test the student’s proficiency, the final examinations normally given in elementary Japanese courses (JAPN 101 and JAPN 102) will be administered.
Courses (and hours) in which the student has earned a grade of Incomplete (I) cannot be applied toward degree requirements.
For appearances’ sake, it’s usually best to leave off commas at the ends of centered lines of text in invitations, headings, titles and similar places.
Appositives are usually set off by commas, unless their function is restrictive:
The head of the department, Professor Smith, holds several terminal degrees. (nonrestrictive, because there is only one department head)
His wife, Jill, just got promoted. (nonrestrictive, because he has only one wife)
My coworker Jeff is responsible for those files. (restrictive, because there is more than one coworker)
If two or more adjectives modify a noun, separate them with commas, but don’t use a comma if the first adjective modifies the combination of the second adjective and the noun:
Birmingham usually has short, mild winters.
She told me she had no time for my petty grammatical considerations.
compact disc, compact discs, CD, CDs
In many contexts, CD or CDs is appropriate in all references for compact disc. If it’s likely that your readers might read CD as certificate of deposit, however, spell out compact disc on first reference.
In straight text, use a company’s full name whenever possible. Avoid abbreviations, except as in examples below or in the case of a widely used short form or initials. See acronyms
and abbreviations. Consult the company if unsure.
Drop Inc. or Ltd. in most informative publications, particularly if the name of the company clearly indicates that the entity is a company. If the company’s name is also the name of a product, however, including Inc. or Incorporated might clarify matters. In legal or technical documents and directories, Inc. and Ltd. may stand if needed. In all cases, be consistent: if you use Inc. with one company’s name, use the equivalent abbreviation for all. Use no comma between the company name and Inc.
Friday Lumber Company, Friday Lumber
Norfolk Southern Corporation, Norfolk Southern
Capstone Title Services, Capstone Title
but Newsweek Inc. (to avoid confusion with the name of the magazine)
Cooperative Education Program, Co-op
Co-op or Co-op Program is an acceptable second reference, but lowercase co-op when used as an adjective:
Her co-op experience was professionally and intellectually rewarding.
Capitalize Samford University Core CurriculumandUniversity Core Curriculum, but lowercase curriculum in other uses:
a 300-level course
a senior-level course
a course at the 400 level
a course at the freshman level
course numbers and titles
When a course number and title are given together, give the alpha symbol and number followed directly by the title. There is no intervening punctuation, nor should there be any abbreviation of words in the title.
ART 231 Painting I
RELG 211 Preaching
HIST 334W Folklore: Europe to America
Do not use alpha symbols when speaking generally of a department or program’s courses or of an academic discipline.
Wrong: Students may count up to 18 hours in SOCI, POLS or PSYC toward the major.
Right: Students may count up to 18 hours in sociology, psychology or political science toward the major.
When listing courses by number, repeat the alpha symbol with each number.
Wrong: The required courses include ENGL 200, 205 and 301W or 302W.
Right: The required courses include ENGL 200, ENGL 205 and ENGL 301W or ENGL 302W.
Any two distinct courses, no matter how closely linked, should be indicated by and instead of a colon.
The required courses include ENGL 200 and ENGL 205, ENGL 303W and ENGL 304W, and ENGL 301W or ENGL 302W.
Use numerals for credit hours, no matter how small the number.
If the number begins a sentence, headline or title, it should be spelled out.
When writing a statement such as he earned 5 hours’ credit, always include ’s or s’ with hour or hours, or use of:
You need 36 hours’ credit to graduate.
For my senior thesis, I earned 6 hours’ credit.
For the independent study, he earned 1 hour’s credit.
She earned 15 hours of credit for her work at RISE.
cultural periods, movements, styles
Such terms are usually capitalized when they derive from proper nouns. When in doubt, consult a current dictionary. The following list includes terms sometimes found in university publications.
Age of Reason
Antiquity, ancient Greece, ancient Rome
cold war (Cold War only when referring to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. conflict)
colonial period (U.S.)
Elizabethan period, Elizabethan drama, literature, poetry
fin de siècle
industrial revolution (Industrial Revolution only in rare, specific instances)
Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, late Middle Ages
modern, but Modernist poets
Reconstruction (U.S. Civil War contexts)
Reign of Terror (French Revolution contexts; lowercase in all others)
Stone Age, Old Stone Age
Victorian studies, poetry, literature