Writing Style Tips

What's a writing style guide?

Our quick writing guide is meant for CAES faculty and staff to use in order to promote consistent wording in college communications. OCCS uses the Associated Press Stylebook as a guide, and we have highlighted some of the most important and useful rules for our work. We have also included a few organizational rules and other tips to keep your news and print materials on point and in line with our style. 

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News Writing Tips

  • In your first sentence, or lede, use your most interesting information to draw in readers.
  • The end of your story is likely to get cut first. Don’t put anything crucial at the end.
  • Keep it short and concise. One-sentence paragraphs are OK.
  • Keep similar information together. Don’t make the reader hunt for these elements. Note: With an event, put the location, date, time, cost and other details in the same sentence or paragraph.
  • Every person should have a title on first reference, then use that person’s last name. If more than one person has the same last name, use first and last names throughout.
  • Consider alternate story formats: Q-and-A, a list, a photo and caption, or an infographic. How would the information best be presented so that it’s understood by the audience?
  • Always include a For more information at the end of your writing. List a contact name, title and any relevant contact information (phone number, web address, email address, etc.). Example: For more information, contact Sample Name, Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for UGA Extension in Sample County, at 123-456-7890 or visit extension.uga.edu/county.
  • In a caption, identify all people in a picture, what they’re doing, the when and where, and the photographer.
  • When using acronyms, spell out the name on first reference and follow it with the acronym in parentheses. Example: Spock and Captain James T. Kirk were collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Other General Tips

1. When writing web addresses, don’t put http:// in front of the address unless it’s needed to make the link work. Start with www. where applicable. Try to use hyperlinks. Example: extension.uga.edu or www.caes.uga.edu
2. There is only one space after a period, not two.
3. Don’t use quotation marks, all caps, underlines, bold or italics for emphasis in long-form writing.
4. Periods and commas go inside quotation marks.
Example: “Houston, we have a problem,” astronaut Jim Lovell said.

AP Style Tips

Times and dates

  • Times always use numerals and are always followed by a.m. or p.m. (Note the periods between the lowercase letters.) Example: 8 a.m., 10:30 p.m.
  • Use noon or midnight instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.
  • Avoid redundancies like 10 a.m. in the morning.
  • Abbreviate months when used with a specific date and year, like Jan. 1, 2016. If you’re only writing the month and year, don’t abbreviate the month. Abbreviations are Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. (March through July aren’t abbreviated.)
  • Decades should use numerals. Only use apostrophes, if necessary, to stand in for numbers. Example: The 1930s or the ‘30s

Capitalization

  • Capitalize proper names (a specific person, state, country or organization).
  • Capitalize formal titles that come before a name, but not after. (Note: If a title is long, put it after the name for easier reading.) Example: President Jere Morehead spoke yesterday. Morehead is the first alumnus of UGA to serve as president in more than 45 years.
  • Capitalize commonly established regions. Example: The South, but not southern Georgia.
  • Don’t capitalize campus when used with a city. Example: University of Georgia Tifton campus. On second reference use UGA-Tifton, UGA-Athens or UGA-Griffin. Do capitalize North Campus, South Campus, East Campus and West Campus.
  • UGA Extension districts and program areas are capitalized. Example: Northwest District; Agriculture and Natural Resources program
  • The formal titles of departments start with Department of, so capitalize Department of Entomology, but don’t capitalize entomology department because it’s not the formal title.

Punctuation

Apostrophes

Apostrophes stand in for letters or make words possessive. Example: Don’t is a contraction for do not; the apostrophe represents the o. Example: Leslie’s waffles are better than her parents’ waffles.

Commas

  • Use commas to separate elements in a series, but don’t use a comma before the conjunction (and) in a simple series. Example: Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye are the Avengers.
  • Use a comma to separate adjectives of equal rank. (If you can plug the word and in for the commas without changing the meaning or sense of the phrase, the adjectives are equal.) Example: It was a dark, dangerous night. = It was a dark and dangerous night.
  • In most cases, use a comma before “which.”

Exclamation Points

Exclamation points are overused. They should be used rarely and only when exclaiming something. Never use multiple exclamation points after a sentence.

Hyphens and Dashes

A hyphen (-) is smaller than a dash (–).

  • Use a hyphen to join words and to avoid ambiguity. Example: He recovered his wallet. vs. He re-covered his roof.
  • Use a hyphen with compound modifiers (unless the adverb is very or ends in -ly). Example: full-time job; well-known Extension agent. Example without hyphens: very good camping trip; agriculturally inclined
  • Use a hyphen to avoid repeating letters. Example: anti-intellectual, shell-like
  • Use hyphens when writing out numbers or in some ranges. Example: fifty-one, twenty-two. Example: The agents were part of a three- to four-year program.
  • Use hyphens in writing time ranges. Example: 8-10 a.m. or 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Dashes should be used mid-sentence if a phrase needs to be set off or if there’s a series within a phrase that uses commas. There is a space before and after the dash. Example: The UGA Extension program areas – Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H Youth Development – were discussed.

Common Spelling Errors

  • all right (Always two words)
  • barbecue (Always one word)
  • email (No hyphen, lowercase)
  • fundraising (Always one word)
  • farmers market (No apostrophe)
  • foodborne (Always one word)
  • honeybee (One word)
  • turfgrass (One word)
  • online (One word)
  • website (One word, lowercase)

Numbers and Measurements

Numerals

  • Don’t begin sentences with a numeral. This includes 4-H and 4-H’ers. (Use the club or the members instead.)
  • Spell out single-digit numbers less than 10.
  • Use numerals, even if less than 10, for most measurements, including temperatures, distances, weights, etc., and for addresses, ages, percentages, dates, and money

Addresses

With addresses, abbreviate only Avenue, Boulevard and Street; use Ave., Blvd. and St.

Ages 

Hyphenate if the age acts as an adjective. Example: Maggie is 2 years old. The 12-year-old boy, Bart, danced with his 10-year-old boy sister, Lisa.

Money

Use a dollar sign ($) and numerals. Don’t write 7 dollars or $7 dollars.
In money and generally, use million and billion instead of writing out the zeros.

Percentages

Use the percent sign (%) when percentages are paired with a numeral.

Temperature

Write (numeral) degrees Fahrenheit on first reference, then (numeral) F. Example: 86 degrees Fahrenheit, then 54 F on subsequent temperature references.


CAES and Extension-specific Tips

Naming University of Georgia Organizations

The full, formal title is University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Use it on first reference. Note that Service is no longer part of the name. Use UGA Extension or Extension thereafter. Use University of Georgia on first reference, then university or UGA.

Use University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences or, if you’ve already said University of Georgia, use UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on first reference, then college or CAES.

Use the rule above for the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Its acronym is FACS.

Titles

Use these titles on first reference: Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) agent, Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) agent or 4-H Youth Development (4-H) agent. Thereafter, use the acronym. Example: John Smith is the Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) agent for UGA Extension in Sample County. He has been an ANR agent for 12 years.

4-H

4-H members are referred to as 4-H’ers. The formal program area name is 4-H Youth Development. Note that 4-H and Youth or 4-H & Youth are no longer used.

Master Gardener

The full, formal title is Master Gardener Extension Volunteer. Use it on first reference. Use Master Gardener or MGEV thereafter.
Example: Jane Smith is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer for UGA Extension in Sample County. She has been a Master Gardener for 12 years.

Facilities

Research is carried out in the agricultural experiment stations or research and education centers (formerly called “branch stations”). The generic term is lowercase, but the individual names are capitalized. Example: The Coastal Plain Experiment Station is in Tifton, Georgia. There is a research and education center in Blairsville, Georgia.