MSU Editorial Style Guide

(Updated April 21, 2021)

This guide was developed for use by anyone creating nonacademic print or electronic text pertaining to Michigan State University. It follows the most current editions of The Associated Press Stylebook and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary unless superseded by entries in this guide.

Questions or comments about this guide are welcome.
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academic degrees

Spell out and lowercase names of degrees when referenced generically in running text: He earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in history, a master of business administration and a doctorate.

Use such abbreviations as B.A., M.A., LL.D. and Ph.D. only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome. Do not use periods in MBA. Use these abbreviations only after a full name — never after just a last name.

Capitalize degree abbreviations with periods and set off with commas when following a name: John Doe, Ph.D., was the guest speaker.

In general, avoid using these abbreviations in stories or news releases unless referring to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., or Provost Teresa Woodruff, Ph.D., on first reference.

academic titles

Academic titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and lowercased when following a name: Associate Professor John Doe; Jane Smith, assistant professor.

When an academic title is used in apposition before a personal name as a descriptive tag, it is lowercased: The team was led by history professors William Green and Susan White.

The term “professor” should not be used simply to indicate “faculty member.” (Use of “professors” in the example above indicates that Green and White are, indeed, full professors, not just members of the history faculty.)

The forms for MSU titles are vice president “for”; dean “of”; chair or chairperson “of”; professor, associate professor and assistant professor “of” and instructor “in” — followed by the applicable field or unit.

See also University Distinguished Professor.

accommodation versus accommodations

Accommodation refers to something supplied for the convenience of accessibility: Accommodation for persons with disabilities is available. Accommodations generally refers to lodging and related service arrangements: The hotel offered first-class accommodations.

acronyms and initialisms

Acronyms (read as a single word, such as AIDS) and initialisms (read as a series of letters, such as HIV) are abbreviations that generally are less cumbersome to use than the complete name of the entity they represent. Avoid coining new ones to address isolated situations.

Generally, acronyms and initialisms are based on the initial letter of the words in the name of the entity they represent and are formed using capital letters without periods. Plurals are formed by adding “s” (e.g., SATs) or “’s” for terms ending in “S” (e.g., SOS’s).

An acronym or initialism should not be provided if there is no subsequent reference unless it is better known than the term for which it stands or there is a desire to promote its use.

Do not enclose an acronym or initialism in parentheses following the first text reference to the complete name for which it stands. The first reference to Michigan State University in institutional pieces need not be followed by (MSU) even when MSU is used in subsequent references.

Acronyms and initialisms commonly understood by the intended audience (e.g., GPA, ACT, SAT with prospective students) can be used on first reference.

MSU acronym anomalies include: Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), SOuthern Astrophysical Research (SOAR).


The correct order for campus address information below the individual’s name, title and unit is:

Building name
Street number and name Room number
East Lansing, MI 5-digit ZIP

Natural Science Building
288 Farm Lane Room 104
East Lansing, MI 48824

adjectives, coordinate

If two adjectives can be joined by “and” without affecting the meaning, they are coordinate and should be separated by a comma: It was a long, arduous exam.

adjectives, phrasal

A phrasal adjective (also called a compound modifier) functions as a unit to modify a noun. It is generally hyphenated if it appears before the noun: well-trained athlete. It is generally unhyphenated if it follows a verb: The athlete is well trained.

A two-word phrasal adjective that begins with an adverb ending in “ly” is not hyphenated even when preceding the noun: sharply worded reprimand.

If two phrasal adjectives end in a common element, the first phrase should end with a hyphen and the second with a hyphen and the common element: first- and second-place trophies.

Open compounds are not hyphenated even when preceding a noun: health care system, high school student, Nobel Prize winner. An en dash is used in place of a hyphen in a phrasal adjective when one of its elements is an open compound: Nobel Prize–winning author.


preferred spelling

affirmative-action statement, MSU

Michigan State University is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.

alumna/alumnus, alumnae/alumni

The plurals of alumna and alumnus are alumnae and alumni, respectively. While alumna and alumnae refer specifically to a woman or women and alumnus refers specifically to a man, alumni can be used to refer to both men and women and should be used for the general plural term. Do not use “alums” as a substitute.

These terms can mean either persons who have attended or those who have graduated from an institution. Clarification should be made if relevant to the context.

among versus between

Among is used for undefined or collective relationships. Between is used for one-to-one relationships. Between also is appropriate for more than two objects if multiple one-to-one relationships are understood from the context: collaboration between members of the consortium.

As with all prepositions, any pronouns that follow these words must be in the objective case: among us, between him and her, between you and me.


Avoid using “&” in place of “and” in running text, even in the names of units or organizations that use an ampersand.


The apostrophe replaces missing letters (e.g., doesn’t) and missing numbers (e.g., class of ’71). The curved (or “smart”) version is preferred unless it is standing for feet in a measurement: 6' 8".

If use of straight apostrophes is the convention for a website, consistency is key.

apostrophe, for possessives

The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding “’s”; the possessive of most plural nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe only. This general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms: Dickens’s novels, the Lincolns’ marriage.

When the entity possessed is the same for closely linked nouns, only the second noun takes the possessive form: I visited my aunt and uncle’s home. When the entities are different, both nouns take the possessive form: I appreciate my aunt’s and uncle’s specific talents.

artist in residence

three words


Direct and indirect quotes require attribution. For news writing, the preferred attribution is “said.” For feature writing, use “says.”


Big Ten

MSU is a member of the Big Ten (not Big 10) conference, which has 14 members. Other members are: Indiana University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska and University of Wisconsin.


Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges. Use of the capitalized Black recognizes that language has evolved, along with the common understanding that, especially in the United States, the term reflects a shared identity and culture rather than a skin color alone.

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees is capitalized in both explicit and implicit references to Michigan State University. Secondary references, such as “the board” or “the trustees,” are lowercased.


The complete building name is used on first reference: Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building, Communication Arts and Sciences Building.

Buildings named for a person use only the last name: Breslin Student Events Center, Hannah Administration Building, Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center, Wharton Center for Performing Arts.

Residence halls (never referred to as dorms or dormitories) do not include “residence” in their names: Case Hall is located near the Daugherty Football Building. Do not include directional indicators for halls with two sides unless relevant to the text: The James Madison College dean’s office is located in South Case Hall.



one word

See hyphen.

capital versus capitol

The seat of government is a capital: Lansing is the capital of Michigan. The building where a legislature meets is a capitol: The legislature cannot meet until renovations to the capitol are completed.


The general rule is that official names are capitalized; unofficial, informal, shortened, or generic names are not: Department of History, history department; Department of English, English department. This rule applies to names of offices, buildings, schools, departments, programs, institutes, centers and so on.

capitalization, following a colon

In running text, the word following a colon should be lowercased unless it is a proper noun or the beginning of a series of sentences or questions: The results were clear: the treatment was successful.

capitalization, of a common element

When a common element applies to two or more names and precedes them, it is capitalized: Departments of History and English. When a common element applies to two or more names and follows them, it is lowercase: Wharton and Breslin centers.

capitalization, of geographical references

Regional terms (often based on compass points) that are accepted as proper names are usually capitalized: Midwest, Southeast Michigan, West Michigan. Adjectives or nouns derived from such terms are usually lowercased: midwestern, midwesterner, southeastern Michigan, western Michigan.

capitalization, of internal questions

Direct questions within a sentence are normally preceded by a comma but generally are not capitalized at their beginning unless they are long or contain internal punctuation: The question, how are we going to tell her? was on everyone’s mind. (An indirect question is not capitalized nor does it require a comma: The question is what to do next.)

capitalization, of titles with names

Civil, military, religious and professional titles are capitalized when immediately preceding a name: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Gov. Whitmer. Titles following names, normally set off in apposition with commas, are lowercase: Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, was elected in 2018.

In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual's name.

Capitalize formal titles when they are used immediately before one or more names: Pope Francis, Vice Presidents John Jones and William Smith.

The following formal titles are capitalized and abbreviated as shown when used before a name both inside and outside quotations: Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., Sen. and certain military ranks.

Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual's name: The president issued a statement.

captions (cutlines)

Captions (cutlines) appear adjacent to and explain photos and artwork. They are generally written in present tense and follow standard capitalization and punctuation if they contain complete sentences. A caption that is an incomplete phrase begins with a capital letter but has no closing punctuation.


Use chair or chairperson in references to heads of departments and committees. 
See also academic titles.


Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname: Kansas City, New York City, Windy City, City of Light, Fun City.

Lowercase elsewhere: a Michigan city; the city government; the city of East Lansing.

Lowercase state in all such constructions: the state of Michigan, the states of Maine and Vermont.

Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. William Smith, the state Transportation Department, state funds.

clause, nonrestrictive

A nonrestrictive clause — one that is not essential to the meaning of a sentence — is normally introduced with the word “which” and preceded by a comma: Olds Hall, which was built in 1906, burned in 1916.

clause, restrictive

A restrictive clause — one that is essential to the meaning of a sentence — is normally introduced with the word that and not preceded by a comma: Each day that it snows becomes a holiday for school children in East Lansing.


Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in most simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. 

Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast. 

If the items in the series contain internal punctuation, especially commas, use semicolons between the items to make the distinct items clear: The letters in question are dated August 7, 1989; May 15, 1990; and January 4, 1991.

comma, with coordinate adjectives

See adjectives, coordinate.

comma, with conjunctions

When independent clauses — those with both a subject and a verb — are joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or, so, yet), a comma usually precedes the conjunction: The president explained MSU’s land-grant history, and the provost outlined the university’s mission. If the clauses are very short and closely connected, however, the comma may be omitted: The president was present but the provost was absent.

A sentence with two verbs governed by one subject does not include a comma at the conjunction: The president explained MSU’s land-grant history and outlined the university’s mission.

comma, with introductory phrases

An introductory phrase that contains two prepositional phrases should be followed by a comma: In Paris in 1929, the French government advised Germany to settle war reparations. Commas after short introductory phrases aren’t necessary, but consistency of use is essential within a document or publication.

comma, with parentheses and quotation marks

Commas go after an expression in parentheses (like this), and they always go inside quotation marks, except when a quotation mark stands for inches: The painting, entitled “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” an oil on canvas painted by George Seurat, 1884–86, measures 6' 8" x 10' 10", and is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

comma, with terms like as well as, including, namely and such as

If “as well as” follows a phrase using commas in order to distinguish its content from that of the larger group, the general practice is for a comma to precede it: He ate apples, oranges, grapes and cherries, as well as his sandwich. If the sentence structure is reversed, then no comma is used: He ate a sandwich as well as apples, oranges, grapes and cherries.

A comma should not be used with “as well as” if the phrase is connecting only two things: He ate apples as well as oranges. In such instances, use of “and” instead of “as well as” is preferable.

Generally, the expressions “such as” and “namely” are preceded by a comma: The study involved the three most critical issues, namely, voter registration, voter turnout and referendums. Can I silently change British spellings, such as “colour,” into American spellings in quotations?

Whether to use a comma before “including” depends on the intended meaning of the sentence. The presence of a comma makes the sentence nonrestrictive: He managed a variety of projects, including joint, combined and contingency exercises. (Projects may include joint, combined or contingency exercises or some combination of the three.) The absence of a comma makes the sentence restrictive: He managed a variety of projects including joint, combined and contingency exercises. (Every project must include joint, combined and contingency exercises.)

commas, with geographical units and time

Spell out and set off with commas the name of a geographical unit when it follows the name of a smaller geographical unit found within its borders: East Lansing, Michigan, is the home of MSU. London, England, is the home of Big Ben.

Set off the year with commas when a specific date precedes it: March 1, 2009, was the deadline. Do not include commas when only a month precedes the year: March 2009 was the deadline.

compose versus comprise

To comprise is to be made up of or to include: The whole comprises many parts. Do not use “is comprised of.” To compose is to make up or to form: Many parts compose the whole. It is acceptable to use “is composed of”: The whole is composed of many parts. The phrase “comprised of,” although increasingly common, is considered poor usage. Instead, use “composed of” or “consisting of.”

continual versus continuous

That which is continual is intermittent or frequently repeated. That which is continuous is constant or uninterrupted.

coronavirus, COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, some of which cause disease in people and animals, named for crownlike spikes on their surfaces.

The viruses can cause the common cold or more severe diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19, the latter of which first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

The terms "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" are not interchangeable. COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. When referring specifically to the virus, the COVID-19 virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 are acceptable. But, because COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus, it is not accurate to write a new virus called COVID-19.

MSU's Office of the University Physician recommends referring to the virus as the "novel coronavirus" or "new coronavirus" on first reference, instead of simply "the coronavirus."

For information about MSU's response, visit the university's novel coronavirus information page

course titles

Official course titles are capitalized: Latin America and the World, IAH 203: Latin America and the World.

course work

two words

credit hours

Spell out numbers less than 10 for credit hours.



Data is the plural of datum and requires use of a plural verb: The data are inconclusive.


one word


Capitalize the names of months in all uses. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.

When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas. January 2018 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. His birthday is May 8. Feb. 15, 2019, was the target date. 

Decades may be referred to in any of the following ways: the 1960s, the ’60s, the sixties.

Centuries are referred to in ordinals — words for first through ninth and a combination of numbers and letters for 10th and later.

day care

two words always (noun or adjective)

days of the week

When referring to when an event took place in a news release, use the specific day of the week (i.e., Thursday or Saturday) instead of “today” or “tomorrow.” For example, On Saturday, I will not go into work. Today and tomorrow are not incorrect, but should only be used outside of news articles.


Do not use “Dr.” as either a medical or academic title preceding a name. If needed for the context, follow a name with the appropriate degree: John Smith, M.D.; Jane Doe, Ph.D. 


editor in chief

three words

education abroad

The preference of MSU's Office for Education Abroad prefers education abroad, not study abroad.


To indicate “for example,” use e.g. set off by commas: The course will include many components, e.g., weekly reading assignments, a group project, a final exam.


An ellipsis (. . .) can be used to indicate an omission from a quoted passage as long as the omission doesn’t change the meaning or the author’s intent. The three dots in the ellipsis should be separated by spaces, and the ellipsis should be treated as a word with regard to space before and after: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth . . . a new nation . . . dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

em dash

The em dash (—) is used to set off parenthetical phrases, especially long or complex ones, where something stronger than a comma is effective: The building — one of MSU’s oldest — will be reroofed.


no hyphen 

emerita/emeritae, emeritus/emeriti

The plurals of emerita and emeritus are emeritae and emeriti, respectively. While emerita and emeritae refer specifically to a woman or women and emeritus refers specifically to a man, emeriti can be used to refer to both men and women and should be used for the general plural term. All references follow the noun: dean emerita of the college, professors emeriti.

These terms are honorary designations and should not be used simply to mean retired.

en dash

The en dash (–) is used to connect words or numbers to indicate “from this through this”: The Lansing–Chicago flight leaves early. He served as president 1995–2000. If “from” or “between” is used before the first of a pair of numbers, the en dash should not be used; instead, “from” should be followed by “through” and “between” by “and”: He served as president from 1995 through 2000. He served as president between 1995 and 2000.

The en dash is used in place of a hyphen to join two elements when at least one element contains two or more unjoined words: Nobel Prize-winning author.

The en dash is used by some universities to indicate a specific campus: University of Wisconsin–Madison.

ensure versus insure

Both ensure and insure mean “to make certain.” However, only insure refers specifically to insurance.


The abbreviated form of et cetera (meaning “and other things”), etc. implies a list of things (never people) too numerous to list. When used, etc. is not preceded by “and.”


See race/ethnicity.

Extension, MSU Extension

Extension is capitalized in all references to Michigan State University Extension.



The word fax is derived from the word facsimile; it is not an acronym, so it should not be expressed in all capital letters.

fellow, fellowship

Do not capitalize unless part of an official name: Jane Doe was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Jane Doe received a Hellman Fellowship in Science and Technology Policy from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

foreign words and phrases

Commonly used foreign expressions and their abbreviations (e.g., ex officio, et al., cum laude) are not italicized. If a term is listed in the foreign words and phrases section of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it should be italicized.


Do not capitalize former when preceding a title: former MSU President Clifton Wharton; Clifton Wharton, former MSU president.


Full names of official forms and documents are capitalized: Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Founders Day

No apostrophe. 


The terms freshman and freshmen are the singular and plural nouns, respectively, that refer to students with 0–27 credits. The adjectival form is freshman: freshman year, freshman courses.

full-time, full time

Hyphenate as an adjective before a noun: She is a full-time student. Otherwise, leave as two words: He attends college full time.

fundraising, fundraiser

One word in all cases.


gender-neutral writing

In general, use terms that can apply to any gender. Such language aims to treat people equally and is inclusive of people whose gender identity is not strictly male or female.

Balance these aims with common sense, respect for the language and an understanding that gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is evolving and in some cases is challenging to achieve.

A true gender-neutral noun often presents itself easily: chair or chairperson, firefighter, workforce. In other cases, a noun may technically not be gender-neutral but instead be a masculine noun that assumes the generic case under English language convention: actor, host.

He, him and his should not be used to refer to both genders. Use the plural terms they, them and theirs or revise the sentence to eliminate their use entirely.

In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/theirs is acceptable as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and is preferable.

Humanity is preferable to mankind. Manufactured is preferable to manmade.

grade point average (GPA)

Acceptable in all references for grade-point average


When greater is used with the name of a city to denote a whole metropolitan area, it is capitalized: Greater Lansing.


health care

always two words (noun or adjective)


one word


The fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion.

Use a hyphen to separate noninclusive numbers, such as telephone numbers: 517-355-1855, 1-800-942-7866 (1-800-WHARTON).

Use a hyphen in compound modifiers. See adjective, phrasal.

But when a modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs instead after a form of the verb to be, the hyphen usually must be retained to avoid confusion: The man is well-known. The woman is quick-witted. The children are soft-spoken

Do not use a hyphen to designate dual heritage: Italian American, Mexican American, French Canadian, Latin American.

Avoid duplicated vowels, tripled consonants: Examples: anti-intellectual, pre-empt, shell-like.

Most words formed with prefixes (e.g., midcareer, multidisciplinary, metadata) are not hyphenated. However, a hyphen is used when the prefix precedes a proper noun (mid-July) or to avoid double i’s (multi-institutional), double a’s (meta-analysis) and other combinations of letters or syllables that might cause misreading (re-cover versus recover).

Words formed with the suffix “wide” do not include a hyphen (e.g., campuswide) unless they have more than two syllables (e.g., university-wide) or include a proper noun (Lansing-wide).



To indicate “that is,” use i.e. set off by commas: That great American holiday, i.e., Thanksgiving, is almost upon us.


Use only as a noun, never as a verb.

Inc., LLC, Ltd., PC, etc.

See names, business.

international students

Use of the phrase international students is preferable to foreign students.




The name of MSU's faculty and staff news website and weekly email is one word.

italics, for distinction

Use italics (or quotation marks) to set off a word being discussed or explained, but use one or the other consistently throughout a document or publication.

Avoid setting off a common informal expression: the dean’s get-together, not the “dean’s get-together.”



Jenison Field House

three words

Jr., Sr., III, etc.

See names, personal.


preferred spelling


The terms junior and juniors are the singular and plural nouns, respectively, that refer to students with 56–87 credits.



hyphenated as a descriptor of MSU

like versus such as

This word and this phrase can generally be used interchangeably when introducing an example or series of examples, although “such as” is more generally used in formal prose. Comparisons, however, always call for the use of “like.”

lists (introduced by a complete sentence)

In running text, vertical lists are best introduced by a complete sentence followed by a colon. Items in a list should be parallel; that is, each item should be introduced by a verb, a noun phrase or some other similar construction.

Items that are phrases are lowercase (unless capitalization is required for a proper noun), and there is no closing punctuation.

The following items must accompany your application:

  • three letters of recommendation, including one from a teacher
  • brief personal essay
  • check for $25
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid form

Items that are complete sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a period.

Do the following to complete your application:

  • Provide three letters of recommendation, including one from a teacher.
  • Submit a brief personal essay.
  • Send a check for $25.
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.

lists (introduced by a phrase)

In running text, if a vertical list completes an introductory phrase, there is no colon following that phrase. Items are lowercase (unless capitalization is required for a proper noun) and are followed by punctuation (period after the final item and comma or semicolon after all others as appropriate). The word “and” is not required following the next-to-last item.

The Office of Admissions requires that applicants

  • provide three letters of recommendation, including one from a teacher;
  • submit a brief personal essay;
  • send a check for $25;
  • complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.

Lower Peninsula (of Michigan)

always capitalized



always hyphened

Midwest, midwestern

References to the Midwest of the United States are capitalized. Derivatives, such as midwestern, are not.


Monetary amounts are expressed with numerals. Large amounts can include words and should not be hyphenated: $5 million award, $50 billion deficit.

Always lowercase dollars. Use figures and the $ sign in all except casual references or amounts without a figure: The book cost $4. Dad, please give me a dollar. Dollars are flowing overseas.

For specified amounts, the word takes a singular verb: He said $500,000 is what they want.

For amounts of more than $1 million, use up to two decimal places. Do not link the numerals and the word by a hyphen: He is worth $4.35 million. He proposed a $300 billion budget.

The form for amounts less than $1 million: $4, $25, $500, $1,000, $650,000.

Spell out the word cents and lowercase, using numerals for amounts less than a dollar: 5 cents, 12 cents. Use the $ sign and decimal system for larger amounts: $1.01, $2.50.


Months are not abbreviated in running text, nor should a comma be used if just the month and year are stated: September 2009.

Capitalize the names of months in all uses. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.

When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas.

Examples: January 2016 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. His birthday is May 8. Feb. 14, 2013, was the target date. She testified that it was Friday, Dec. 3, when the crash occurred.

See also dates.

MSU Libraries

MSU Libraries is a unit that encompasses the Main Library and numerous branch libraries, some located within the Main Library building and some in other facilities across campus.


The name of MSU’s news website is one word.


No hyphen

See prefixes.


No hyphen

See prefixes.


names, business

Business name qualifiers, such as Inc., LLC, Ltd., and PC, are not set off by commas: Pfizer Inc. was founded in 1849.

names, personal

Personal name qualifiers, such as Jr., Sr., and III, are not set off by commas: John F. Kennedy Sr. was the 35th president of the United States.

Enclose nicknames in quotation marks within the complete name: George Herman “Babe” Ruth.


No hyphen

See prefixes.


No hyphen

See prefixes.

North Campus

This is the area of campus north of the Red Cedar River.


Use words for numbers from one through nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 and greater. Use commas in numbers 1,000 and greater, except in reference to SAT scores, which do not contain a comma.

Use words for ordinals from first through ninth. Use numerals for ordinals 10th and higher.

Use words for fractions: two-thirds, three-quarters.

Use numerals for percentages: 5%, 55%.

Spell out numbers less than 10 for credit hours.

It is now acceptable to begin a sentence with a numeral and letter: 3D movies are becoming more popular. Do not use a hyphen in 2D or 3D. 

See also dates.


off-campus, off campus

Hyphenate as an adjective before a noun: She has an off-campus job. Otherwise, leave as two words: He works off campus.

on-campus, on campus

Hyphenate as an adjective before a noun: He has an on-campus job. Otherwise, leave as two words: She works on campus.


one word


part-time, part time

Hyphenate as an adjective before the noun: She is a part-time student. Otherwise, leave as two words: He attends college part time.


Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases (a change in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote. Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.

For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%.

In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

Constructions with the % sign take a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60% was a failing grade. He said 50% of the membership was there.

It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50% of the members were there.

phone numbers

Always include the area code with a telephone number and separate it from the number with parentheses, a hyphen, a slash or some other symbol.


Three rules are constant:

–Except for cooperate and coordinate, use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel.

–Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized.

–Use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes: sub-subparagraph.

president, MSU

The preferred name configuration for MSU’s president is Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. Capitalize president when it immediately precedes the name and lowercase it when it follows the name: President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.; Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., president of MSU. 

provost, MSU

The preferred name configuration for MSU’s provost is Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D.


quotation marks

The curved (or “smart”) version is preferred unless it is standing for inches in a measurement: 6' 8".

If the use of straight quotation marks is the convention for a website, consistency is key.

quotation marks, for distinction

Use quotation marks (or italics) to set off a word being discussed or explained, but use one or the other consistently throughout a document or publication.

Avoid setting off a common informal expression: the dean’s get-together, not the dean’s “get-together.”

quotation marks, with quotes

Quoted material is enclosed in quotation marks. Quotations within quotations are enclosed in single quotation marks: “Shakespeare, who is often called ‘the Bard of Avon,’ will be the focus of this English course,” said the professor.

Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks. Colons and semicolons follow closing quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points follow closing quotation marks unless the question mark or exclamation point belongs within the quoted material.

quotation marks, with titles

Use quotation marks around names of all works such as book titles, computer and video game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art.



In compliance with U.S. Department of Education mandates, MSU uses the following terms in reporting racial and ethnic data: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Hispanic (of any race); Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White.

Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races, tribes, etc.: Arab, Arabic, African, American and Black, Caucasian, Cherokee, Chinese (both singular and plural), Indigenous, Inuit, French Canadian, Japanese (singular and plural), Jew, Jewish, Nordic, Sioux, Swede, etc.



Lowercase seasons in all generic references: winter 2009, spring semester 2009. Capitalize when part of an official name: Fall Welcome activities.


Lowercase in all references: fall semester 2009. Note that summer semester options are session one, session two and full session.


The most common use of the semicolon is between two independent but related clauses not joined by a conjunction: Terrie Taylor, University Distinguished Professor, intends to do more research in Africa; however, her timeline has not been finalized.

Semicolons are used to separate items in a series that include internal punctuation: The committee membership breakdown was as follows: professors, four; associate professors, two; and assistant professors, seven.


The terms senior and seniors are the singular and plural nouns, respectively, that refer to students with at least 88 credits.


always hyphenated

social identities

Social identities include age, color, disability status, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic level and veteran status.


The terms sophomore and sophomores are the singular and plural nouns, respectively, that refer to students with 28–55 credits.

South Campus

This is the area of campus south of the Red Cedar River.

Southeast Michigan, southeastern Michigan

The geographic region is capitalized; the directional derivative is not.


Only one space follows any form of punctuation, including a period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, semicolon, colon and the like.


Whether the government or the place is meant, the words city and state are lowercase: She works for the state of Michigan. This is a city of East Lansing ordinance.


Acceptable on first reference for science, technology, engineering and math, but spell out the full phrase shortly thereafter.


always hyphenated

study abroad

The preference of MSU's Office for Education Abroad prefers education abroad.


Use these terms with care because they can be imprecise and politically and legally fraught.

Survivor can denote someone who has lived through an injury or disease, but also can apply to someone who endured a threat but escaped injury. Example: a mass shooting survivor.

Likewise, victim can create confusion because it can variously mean someone killed, injured or subjected to mistreatment such as sexual misconduct.

Be specific if there is room for confusion. The ceremony honored people wounded in the mass shooting, not The ceremony honored victims and/or survivors of the mass shooting. The play told the story of those killed in the hurricane, not The play told the stories of the hurricane's victims.

Survivor is often used to describe someone who has lived through physical or emotional trauma, as in abuse or rape survivor. It is best to be specific when referring to individuals, especially if the person was never in danger of death. The use of survivor gets more latitude when describing groups. A group of Holocaust survivors met at the memorial.



The definite article “the” should not be capitalized before names of either on- or off-campus entities, even if the entities capitalize it in their own materials: the School of Hospitality Business not The School of Hospitality Business; Ohio State University not The Ohio State University.

The Spartan

The statue that stands at the north end of Demonstration Hall Field is The Spartan. It is casually referred to as Sparty, as is MSU’s costumed mascot.

theatre versus theater

Use “theater” unless the proper name is Theatre: Shubert Theatre.

they, them, their

In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. 

In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person's name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person uses a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person. 

Thumb (of Michigan)

always capitalized

time references

Time is written numerically followed by a.m. or p.m., as appropriate, except for noon and midnight: 8 a.m., 2 p.m. Inclusion of terms like “in the morning” or “in the afternoon” is redundant. 

titles, of people

Civil, military, religious and professional titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and are lowercased when following a name or used in place of a name.

Do not use courtesy titles, i.e, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss.

See also academic titles.

titles, of works

Use quotation marks around names of all works such as book titles, computer and video game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art.

See also quotation marks, with titles.


not towards


Like other titles, trustee is capitalized before a name and lowercase following a name: Trustee Melanie Foster; Melanie Foster, MSU trustee.

See also Board of Trustees.


United States/U.S.

The abbreviation is acceptable as a noun or adjective for United States. In headlines, it’s US (no periods).


Even in references to MSU, the word “university” standing alone is lowercase: The university is in East Lansing.

University Distinguished Professor

University Distinguished Professor is an official designation established in 1990. (It does not indicate recipients of MSU’s Distinguished Faculty Award.) It is always written with initial capitals: Jane Doe, University Distinguished Professor of history; Jane Doe, University Distinguished Professor, Department of History.



See hyphen.

Upper Peninsula (of Michigan)

always capitalized


Remove “http://” and “www.” from URLs if inclusion is not needed for connection to the website.


vice president

two words

See also academic titles.



one word and lowercase


one word and lowercase

West Michigan/western Michigan

The geographic region is capitalized; the directional derivative is not.


always hyphenated