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Style Guide

A style guide is a set of comprehensive language guidelines for all of the writers and editors on your team. It ensures brand consistency. 

We use the Associated Press Stylebook as our primary reference. The following are some common AP Stylebook guidelines, as well as some exceptions that have been adopted for use in university publications and documents. Also included are some words and phrases specific to Cal Poly and the California State University. Refer to the CSU style guide to see how it and the other 22 individual campuses prefer to be known.


Generally avoid abbreviations. Do not abbreviate days of the week. Abbreviate “junior” and “senior” after an individual’s name. Abbreviate the words “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” etc., when used after a corporate identify. Ex: Ford Motor Co. Spell out when it occurs elsewhere in a name: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Generally follow spelling and capitalization preferred by the company. Ex: eBay, but capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence. Do not use all capital letters unless the letters are pronounced individually: IBM, BMW.

academic degrees / Dr. / Ph.D.

If mention of degrees is necessary to establish someone’s credentials, the preferred form is to avoid an abbreviation and use instead a phrase such as: Bill Spencer, who has a doctorate in psychology. “Dr.” can be used on first reference; however, use only the last name on all subsequent references. See Dr. / doctor.

Acceptable: Bachelor of Science degree, Bachelor of Arts degree, bachelor’s degree; Master of Science degree, master’s degree, Master of Business Administration; Master of Fine Arts degree; doctorate, doctoral or Ph.D.; Ed.D. Also, an associate degree (no possessive, lowercase). Use abbreviations such as B.S., B.A., M.S., MBA and MFA only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome. For less well-known degrees (i.e., Doctor of Engineering), spell out to avoid confusion.

People earn a degree; they don’t receive or obtain one. They can “hold” or “have” a degree.

For listing Cal Poly alumni academic degree information, see alumni – listing academic degree information.

academic departments

Department names should appear as they are listed in the current Cal Poly Catalog. Ex: Art and Design Department (not Department of Art and Design). The Orfalea College of Business has “Areas” not departments. Areas should be listed as: Accounting and Law Area, Economics Area, Industrial Technology Area. See Orfalea College of Business – Academic Areas.

In a departure from AP Stylebook guidelines, capitalize department and official program names. Ex: History Department, Women’s Engineering Program. The word “program” is not capitalized unless it is part of the proper name.

Do not capitalize the word “department” when it stands alone. See entry under capitalization.

academic quarters / seasons

Lowercase the names of the academic quarters: spring quarter, summer quarter, fall quarter and winter quarter. Likewise lowercase the names of the seasons.

academic titles

Capitalize and spell out formal titles such as chancellor, chair, vice president, etc., when they precede a name. Lowercase elsewhere. Ex: CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro appeared before the California Assembly. Marilyn Ernst, chair of the English Department, delivered the keynote address at the annual conference. (Note: The use of chair, as opposed to chairwoman and chairman, is not standard AP style.)


Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd., St. only with a numbered address. Ex: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number: Ex: Pennsylvania Avenue. Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name. Ex: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania avenues. Similar words (alley, drive, road, terrace, etc.) are always spelled out. Abbreviate compass directions in numbered address. Ex: 2020 S. Main St.

(See Cal Poly address for specific university guidelines.)

adviser / advisor

Use advisor. (This is a departure from AP.)

African American

No hyphen. Acceptable for an American Black person of African descent. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow a person’s preference. See nationalities and races and race in the AP Stylebook.

alphabetical order

Use alphabetical order when listing a series of equally important names (cities, countries, states, etc.). Also use alphabetical order when listing people unless there is a hierarchy.

alumni – listing academic degree information

Preferred method in magazines, newsletters and publications other than news releases (see hometowns in news release): List degrees in parentheses following the name: Betty McFarland (Agricultural Science, ’93); Daniel Lundenhall (M.S., Biomedical Engineering, ’08); Evan Valdez (CR, Biological Sciences, ’13). List only the last two digits of the graduation year, using the apostrophe to denote the missing two digits. Since Cal Poly is predominately an undergraduate institution granting primarily bachelor degrees, we have dropped the B.A., B.S., B.ARCH, etc., designations. Do include designations for graduate-level degrees and credentials (shown as M.S., M.A., CR). See also student – listing academic degree information.

American Indians, Native Americans

Both are acceptable terms in general references for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. For individuals, use the name of the tribe. Ex: He is a Navajo commissioner. She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. If specific tribe information is not available, substitute American Indian or Native American. Some tribes and tribal nations use member; others use citizen. If in doubt, use citizen. In Alaska, the Indigenous groups are collectively known as Alaska Natives. First Nation is the preferred term for native tribes in Canada. Indian is used to describe the peoples and cultures of the South Asian nation of India. Do not use the term as a shorthand for American Indians. NOTE: For Cal Poly residence halls and Chumash preferences, see the yakʔitʸutʸu residential community listing in this stylebook. See Native Americans; Indians and nationalities and races.


Do not use the ampersand in text in program, department, college or building names. The ampersand will continue to be used in Cal Poly logos only and in company names that use it (PG&E).


No apostrophes are used in farmers market, Presidents Day and Veterans Day.

Apostrophes are used in place of omitted letters or numbers. Ex: Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead yet. Many people can vividly recall the ’60s. (Note: Do not use an apostrophe when the whole year is used. Many people can vividly recall the 1960s.)

area codes

See telephone numbers.

Asian American

No hyphen. Acceptable for an American of Asian descent. When possible, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference. For example: Filipino American or Indian American. See nationalities and races and race


In news usage, said is the customary attribution for direct quotes. However, says is used in some feature stories or narratives to express a sense of ongoing present or for mood. Putting said or says after the name is more natural; it’s the way people speak. Thus, it’s preferred for writing. It’s OK to put it before the name now and then if it works for the flow of the rest of the sentence. But in general, put the attribution after the name. Preferred: “The students performed beyond expectations,” coach Larry Anderson said. Exception: The students performed beyond expectations,” said Larry Anderson, vice president of student services. Be consistent within stories/articles when using said/says.

biracial, multiracial

Acceptable, when clearly relevant, to describe people with more than one racial heritage. Usually more useful when describing large, diverse groups of people than individuals. Avoid mixed-race, which can carry negative connotations, unless the person you are writing about prefers the term. Be specific if possible, and use biracial for people of two heritages or multiracial for those of two or more on subsequent references if needed. Ex: “She has an African American father and a white mother” instead of “She is biracial.” But: The study of biracial people showed a split in support along gender lines. Multiracial can encompass people of any combination of races.

Black(s), white(s) (n.)

Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. White officers account for 64% of the police force, Black officers 21% and Latino officers 15%. The gunman targeted Black churchgoers. The plural nouns Blacks and whites are generally acceptable when clearly relevant and needed for reasons of space or sentence construction. He helped integrate dance halls among Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian Americans. Black and white are acceptable as adjectives when relevant.

Black (adj.)

Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies, Black colleges. African American is also acceptable for those in the U.S. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow an individual’s preference if known, and be specific when possible and relevant. Minneapolis has a large Somali American population because of refugee resettlement. The author is Senegalese American. 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. Also use Black in racial, ethnic and cultural differences outside the U.S. to avoid equating a person with a skin color. Use Negro or colored only in names of organizations or in rare quotations when essential. See obscenities, profanities, vulgarities.


See disabled, handicapped.

board of directors / board of trustees

Always lowercase.

buildings / room numbers

Generally use last name only. Ex: Davidson Music Center, Fisher Science Hall, Smith Alumni and Conference Center, Baker Center for Science and Mathematics, Cotchett Education Building, etc.

Exception: The Performing Arts Center has its own identity standards. The Performing Arts Center complex encompasses the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre, Performing Arts Center Outdoor Plaza, and the Christopher Cohan Center and its separate venues. The individual venues found within the Cohan Center include Harold Miossi Hall, the Pavilion, Philips Electronics Hall, the Founders Room, Colleen Moore Green Room, and lobbies on each floor. If an event is being held exclusively in a venue in the Christopher Cohan Center, a reference to the Performing Arts Center must come first and the Christopher Cohan Center, second. A reference to the name of the individual venue is optional. For example: “… at Harold Miossi Hall in the Performing Arts Center’s Christopher Cohan Center.” Or “… in the Performing Arts Center’s Christopher Cohan Center.” News about events held exclusively in the Spanos Theatre should merely reference the Spanos Theatre. For example: “… on stage at the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre.” If both facilities are used, it is appropriate to say that the event takes place in the Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo. Never use a comma or the words of or in before San Luis Obispo. Do not place San Luis Obispo before Performing Arts Center. After the initial reference to the full name of the facility and venue, it may be appropriate to shorten the name. For second and subsequent references to the Performing Arts Center use the “center,” or the “P-A-C” pronounced as three separate letters. For the Christopher Cohan Center use either the “Cohan Center,” or the “center.” “Cal Poly” should never be used in association with any of these shorthand terms. For example: do not use “Cal Poly Performing Arts Center.”

Exception: Some Athletics facilities require the full name. The following are acceptable: Alex G. Spanos Stadium, Bob Janssen Field, Mott Athletics Center, Baggett Stadium, Anderson Aquatic Center, Steve Miller and John Capriotti Athletics Complex and Mustang Tennis Courts.

Use capitals for rooms. Ex: Robert Towne will speak in Room 208 in Fisher Science Hall.

When also including building numbers, do so in parentheses after the building name. Ex: The presentation will be in Room 208 in Fisher Science Hall (No. 33).

Cal Poly address (preferred)

Individual’s name, department name, 1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-____ (the entire nine-digit ZIP code the unit has been assigned). Ex:

Mary Smith
Distribution Services
1 Grand Ave.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0122

(Note: Because the Cal Poly ZIP codes are unique, it is not necessary to include the words “Cal Poly” in the address. Also, department names are required; building names and room numbers are optional.

Cal Poly housing

See yakʔitʸutʸu.

California State University / CSU

Spell out on first reference: the California State University. (Upper case “T” in “The” only if it starts a sentence.) Ex: With its 23 campuses, the California State University is the nation’s largest public university system. The CSU or CSU can be used in all subsequent references. For more on CSU usage, visit its style guide.

campus offices

Do not capitalize the word “office” unless is it part of the actual department name. Ex: The President’s Office will host an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Friday. The Communications office prepares the weekly faculty-staff newsletter and other publications for on- and off-campus constituents.


Capitalize the L and D in Learn by Doing. Do not capitalize “university,” “college” or “department” when they stand alone. Capitalize when used as part of the whole name. Ex: The program is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts. The college has added a major in anthropology.


Avoid as a synonym for white unless used in a quotation.


Use figures for numbers 10 or higher: 21st century. Spell out for numbers nine and lower: fifth century. (Note lowercase.)


Sometimes used by Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Not interchangeable with Mexican-American. Use only if a person’s preference. (Note: This is a departure from AP Stylebook, which does not include a listing for Chicana.) See Hispanic; Latina/ Latino; nationalities, races and ethnicities.

cities / states

See state names.


Do not capitalize unless used as part of a formal name. See capitalization.

commas with dates

No comma used with months and year only AND month and day only. Ex: January 1972 was a cold month. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the month. His birthday is May 8.

Note commas in the following usage: Feb. 14, 1987, was the target date. She testified that it was Friday, Dec. 3, when the accident occurred.

commas in a series

Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put commas before the conjunction in a simple series Ex: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.

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

Use a comma before the conjunction in a complex series of phrases. Ex: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.

commas in company names

Do not use a comma before Inc. or Ltd. Ex: Institutional Financial Markets Inc.

course / class names

Capitalize names of course and class offerings.

cyber-, cyberattack, cyberspace, cyber

Follow the general rule for prefixes and do not use a hyphen: cyberattack, cyberbullying, cybercafe, cybersecurity. Ex: Cyber Monday and cyber (adj.) as a separate modifier: e.g., cyber shopping, cyber liability insurance.

dash / hyphen

The em dash (—) denotes an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause. Ex: We will fly to Paris in June — if I get a raise. Graphic designers will often use one longer line than two short hyphens to depict an em dash. Put a space before and after an em dash in all uses except the start of a paragraph.

Using a dash in lists, see lists.

The hyphen (-) is used to indicate continuing or inclusive numbers or time periods. No spaces are used before and after. Ex: He taught at Cal Poly from 1978-99. Open House this year will run Friday-Sunday, April 21-23.

The hyphen is used to avoid ambiguity. See AP Stylebook, but in general, no hyphen is needed if the compound modifier is commonly recognized as one phrase, and if the meaning is clear and unambiguous without the hyphen. Ex: third grade teacher, chocolate chip cookie, early morning traffic, special effects embellishment, climate change report, public land management, first quarter touchdown, real estate transaction. Do use a hyphen to make the meaning clear and avoid unintended meanings. Ex: small-business owner, better-qualified candidate, little-known song, French-speaking people, free-thinking philosophy, loose-knit group. Hyphenate well- combinations before a noun, but not after. Ex: a well-known judge, but the judge is well known. Generally, also use a hyphen in modifiers of three or more words: Ex: a know-it-all attitude, black-and-white photography, a sink-or-swim moment, a win-at-all-costs approach. No hyphen is needed to link a two-word phrase that includes the adverb very and all adverbs ending in -ly. Ex: a very good time, an easily remembered rule.

Many combinations that are hyphenated before a noun are not hyphenated when they occur after a noun. She works full time. She is well aware of the consequences. The children are soft spoken. The play is second rate. The calendar is up to date.


Datelines on stories should contain a city name, entirely in capital letters, followed in most cases by the name of the state, country or territory where the city is located.

Domestic cities that stand alone in datelines and in text: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington. (Use all capital letters in datelines.)

International locations that stand alone in datelines and in text: Amsterdam, Baghdad, Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Djibouti, Dublin, Geneva, Gibraltar, Guatemala City, Havana, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kuwait City, London, Luxembourg, Macau, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Monaco, Montreal, Moscow, Munich, New Delhi, Panama City, Paris, Prague, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, San Marino, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Vatican City, Vienna, Zurich. (Use all capital letters in datelines.)

These domestic and international locations can stand alone in text.

dates / years

Use Arabic figures without st., nd, rd or th. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate these months: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Ex: The class will begin Feb. 4, 2012. Always spell out March, April, May, June, July.

Spell out all months when using alone or with a year alone. Ex: September is typically the hottest month. The university began accepting applications for that major in October 2006. (Note: 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. Ex: Please join us on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, to celebrate the New Year.

Years – When listing a span of years (1998-02, 2005-11), use the full four-digit number for the first year (before the hyphen) and just the last two digits of ending year. Ex: He taught at Cal Poly from 2005-11.

For the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 9/11 is acceptable in all references.

Day One

Capitalize and spell out as a chronological device for summarizing multi-day events such as Day One, Day Two. Lowercase in casual or conversational references.


See disabled, handicapped.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program

An administrative program implemented during former President Barack Obama’s administration allowing young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S. Many refer to immigrants who would benefit from either the DREAM Act or DACA as “Dreamers.”

department names

Capitalize Cal Poly department, college and unit names. Ex: History Department, College of Architecture and Environmental Design; Administration and Finance office.

dimensions (to indicate depth, height, length and width)

Ex: He is 5 feet 6 inches tall, the 5-foot-6 man (“inch” is understood), the 5-foot man. The car is 17 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet high. The rug is 9 feet by 12 feet, the 9-by-12 rug. A 9-inch snowfall. Exception: two-by-four. Spell out the noun, which refers to any length of building lumber 2 inches thick by 4 inches wide.

disabled, handicapped

In general, do not describe an individual as disabled or handicapped unless it is pertinent to a story. If a description must be used, try to be specific about the type of disability or symptoms. Ex: An ad featuring actor Michael J. Fox swaying noticeably from the effects of Parkinson’s disease drew nationwide attention. Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with or suffers from multiple sclerosis. Rather, has multiple sclerosis. Some terms include:

accessible parking – Avoid handicapped-accessible parking. (This is a departure from AP style.)

blind – Describes a person with complete or nearly complete loss of sight. For others, use terms such as visually impaired or person with low vision.

deaf – Describes a person with total or major hearing loss. For others, use partial hearing loss or partially deaf. Avoid using deaf-mute. Do not use deaf and dumb. Some object to the term hearing impaired.

disabled – A general term used for a physical, mental, developmental or intellectual disability. Do not use mentally retarded.

handicap – It should be avoided in describing a disability.

mute - Describes a person who cannot speak. Others with speaking difficulties are speech impaired.

wheelchair user -  People use wheelchairs for independent mobility. Do not use confined to a wheelchair, or wheelchair-bound. If a wheelchair is needed, say why.

diverse / diversity

The word “diverse” is an adjective to describe a larger set, a group of people or a set of experiences. Diverse cannot describe a single person or a photo. Do not use the phrase “diversity problem” or “diversity issue.” Lack of diversity is a problem, not diversity or inclusion itself.

Dr. / doctor

Use Dr. on first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine. Do not use Dr. before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. Instead, when necessary or appropriate for a specific audience. Ex: Cassandra Karoub, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was lead researcher. In a list: Stephanie D’Ercole, Ph.D.

DREAM Act, “Dreamers”

The DREAM Act – Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – is congressional legislation that would allow young immigrants in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria. They are commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” Note the use of quotation marks.

dual heritage

No hyphen for terms such as African American, Asian American and Filipino American, used when relevant to refer to an American person’s heritage. The terms are less common when used to describe non-Americans, but may be used when relevant: Turkish German for a German of Turkish descent.

ellipsis ( … )

In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, constructed with three periods together with no spaces, but insert a space before and after, as shown above. Use to indicate deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, texts and documents.


No hyphen. (Capitalize “E” if it begins a sentence.) Use hyphen for other e-terms. Ex: e-book, e-business, e-commerce.


See nationalities, races and ethnicities.

freelance / freelancer

One word; no hyphen when used as a verb, adjective or noun (freelancer).

fundraising / fundraiser

One word in all cases.


See disabled, handicapped.

highway designations

Interstate 5, U.S. Highway 1, state Route 1A. (Do not abbreviate Route and do not hyphenate.)


A person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture. Follow the person’s preference. Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican-American. Hispanic does not include people or descendants of Brazil, who speak Portuguese. See Latina/o; and nationalities, races and ethnicities.


One word. The “front” page of a website.

hometowns in news releases

Cal Poly doesn’t have one consistent style for including students’ hometowns and majors in news releases. Rather, we suggest using text consistent with the style of the news release.

Ex: Secelia Rose, an animal science sophomore from Livermore, California, won the national horse judging competition. Microbiology senior Aurora Freeman, who hails from Lompoc, California, advanced to the finals in the systemwide research competition.


See yakʔitʸutʸu.


See dash/hyphen.


Do not refer to any person as an alien, an illegal or illegals. The word undocumented is preferred if it is relevant to the subject’s story.


Capitalize this term used to refer to original inhabitants of a place. Aboriginal leaders welcomed a new era of Indigenous relations in Australia. Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples represent some 62% of the population.


Use periods and no space when an individual uses initials instead of a first name: H.L. Mencken.



Latina / Latino

Latino is often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term Latinx. Ex: Hernandez prefers the gender-neutral term Latinx. For groups of females, use the plural Latinas; for groups of males or of mixed gender, use the plural Latinos. Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian or Mexican American.


A gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina referring to people of Latin American descent, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Uruguay, Venezuela. Not included are Belize, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Falklands.

Learn by Doing

Uppercase the L and D. No hyphens. So as to not dilute Cal Poly’s brand, avoid other Learn by phrases, such as Learn by Winning or Learn by Innovating, etc.


Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, questioning and/or queer. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other forms such as LGBTQIA and other variations are also acceptable with the other letters explained. I generally stands for intersex; A can stand for asexual (a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction), ally (a person who is not LGBT but who actively supports the LGBT community) or both. Queer is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur.

Pronouns: Always ask people what pronouns they use to describe themselves: She/her/hers; he/his/him; they/them/theirs are gender-neutral pronoun options adopted by AP. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. In a departure from AP style, Cal Poly will use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze. A singular they might be used when an anonymous source’s gender must be shielded and other wording is overly awkward: The person feared for their own safety and spoke on condition of anonymity. Arguments for using they/them as a singular sometimes arise with an indefinite pronoun (anyone, everyone, someone) or unspecified/unknown gender (a person, the victim, the winner).


Dashes should be used to introduce individual sections of a list. Capitalize the first word following the dash. Insert one space after the dash. Use periods, not semicolons, at the end of each section, whether or not it is a full sentence or phrase. Ex: Jones gave the following reasons:

– He never ordered the package.

– If he did, it didn’t come.

– If it did, he sent it back.

login, logon, logoff

One word when used as a noun; two words in verb form. Ex: I log in to my computer.

majors / minors / concentrations / degree programs

Spell out to avoid confusion. (Note: In the past, we used abbreviations, but believe it is helpful to the reader to spell it out.)

Lower case names of majors, minors, concentrations and degree programs.


one word.


Mexican citizens or those of Mexican descent.

millions, billions, trillions

Use a figure-word combination. 1 million people; $2 billion, NOT one million/two billion. (Also note no hyphen linking numerals and the word million, billion or trillion.)


Traditionally the term underrepresented students or underrepresented communities is preferred. If using “minority,” be sure to qualify the type of minority and the confines of the ratios referenced (i.e., a racial minority at Cal Poly vs. a socioeconomic minority in the U.S.) The demographics of California and the nation are shifting to the degree that minority is often inaccurate and should not be used as a substitute for “non-white.” Ask your subjects how they’d like to be described. (Note: This is a departure from AP style; it does not include a listing for minority.)

monetary units

5 cents, $5 bill, 8 euros, 4 pounds.


See disabled, handicapped.

names / junior / senior

Preferred usage is full name on first reference; last name in subsequent references. Departments and colleges preferring to use first names for a more informal tone, be consistent in that usage throughout entire publication. Abbreviate Jr. and Sr. only with full names. Do not set off with a comma. Ex: Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

nationalities, races and ethnicities

Ask your subjects how they’d like to be described. Only use descriptions of race or ethnicity if it is pertinent to the story. For instance, in groundbreaking, historic or significant biographical and announcement stories, such as being elected U.S. president, being named to the U.S. Supreme Court or other notable occurrences. Ex: Barack Obama was the first Black U.S. president. Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Jeremy Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. It is also pertinent when reporting a demonstration or disturbance involving race or such issues as civil rights or slavery.

In other situations with racial overtones, use news judgment. Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races and tribes (except when referring to Cal Poly’s yakʔitʸutʸu residential community): Arab, Arabic, African (but: Black), American, Caucasian (but: white), Cherokee, Chinese (both singular and plural), Eskimo (plural Eskimos) or Inuit, French Canadian, Japanese (singular and plural), Jew, Jewish, Nordic, Sioux, Swede.

Native American

Follow the person’s preference. Where possible, be precise and use the name of the tribe: He is a Navajo commissioner. First Nation is the preferred term for native tribes in Canada. See Indians, nationalities and races, race and tribe, tribal.


Use as the abbreviation for number in conjunction with a figure to indicate position or rank: No. 1 man, No. 3 choice. Do not use in street addresses, with this exception: No. 10 Downing St., the residence of Britain’s prime minister. Do not use in the names of schools: Public School 19.


One word. For additional rules of prefixes, refer to AP Stylebook.


Spell out whole numbers one to nine; use numerals for 10 and over. Spell out a number at the beginning of a sentence. Ex: Twenty-seven students signed up for the class. Use commas with numbers in the thousands. Ex: 2,568.

Generally, spell out and round off numbers in the millions. 49,850,000 would be approximately 50 million.

Use figures to denote ages of people and percentages (even less than 10). Ex: He is 13 years old. They have a 6-year-old daughter. Only 6 percent of the students took the survey.

Orfalea College of Business – Academic Areas

Uppercase the word “Area”: Accounting and Law Area; Economics Area; Finance Area; Industrial Technology and Packaging Area, Management Area, Human Resources and Information Systems Area; Marketing Area. The college also offers a concentration in entrepreneurship.

percent, percentage, percentage points

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. If it’s necessary to start a sentence with a percentage, spell out both: Eighty-nine percent of sentences don’t have to begin with a number. 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. Use decimals, not fractions, in percentages: Her mortgage rate is 4.5%. For a range, 12% to 15%, 12%-15% and between 12% and 15% are all acceptable. Use percentage, rather than percent, when not paired with a number: The percentage of people agreeing is small. Be careful not to confuse percent with percentage point. A change from 10% to 13% is a rise of 3 percentage points. This is not equal to a 3% change; rather, it’s a 30% increase. Usage: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage point tax cut. Not: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage points tax cut or Republicans passed a tax cut of 0.25 of a percentage point.

Performing Arts Center

See buildings/room numbers.


One space – not two – after a period at the end of a sentence.


Generally do not hyphenate, except as noted in the prefixes entry in the AP Stylebook. In recognition of common usage and dictionary preferences, do not hyphenate double-e combinations with pre- and re-. Ex: preeclampsia, preelection, preeminent, preempt, preestablished, preexisting and those listed in re-.



quotation marks

If a full paragraph of quoted material is followed by a paragraph that continues the quotation, do not put close-quote marks at the end of the first paragraph. Do, however, put open-quote marks at the start of the second paragraph. Continue in this fashion for succeeding paragraphs, using close-quote marks only at the end of the quoted material.

Quotation marks can be used around a word or words used in an ironical or unusual sense. They can also be used on first reference around a word or words that are unfamiliar.

The period and comma always go within the quotation marks. The dash, semicolon, question mark and exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

quotation marks in a headline

Use single quotation marks in a headline.


See attribution.


See nationalities, races and ethnicities.


Generally do not hyphenate, except as noted in the prefixes entry. In recognition of common usage and dictionary preferences, do not hyphenate double e-combinations with re- and pre-. Ex: reelect, reemerge, reemphasize, reemploy, reenact, reengage, reenlist, reenter, reequip, reestablish, reexamine and those listed in pre-.

school grades

Use figures for grades 10 and above: 10th grade. Spell out for first through ninth grades: fourth grade, fifth-grader (note hyphen).


One word, lowercase.

special needs

Use “person-first” language, e.g., a person with diabetes; people with disabilities. Some people prefer to be referred to as “autistic” rather than “having autism,” so best to check with your subject. See disabled, handicapped.

state names

Spell out the names of all 50 states when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base. No state name is necessary if it is the same as the dateline. This also applies to newspapers cited in a story. For example, a story datelined Providence, R.I., would reference the Providence Journal, not the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal. The eight state names that are never abbreviated in datelines or text are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Well-known cities that stand alone in datelines (Los Angeles, New York) may be used alone in stories that have no dateline if no confusion would result. This also applies to stand-alone cities in stories with a dateline. In a story with a California dateline, Los Angeles, Sacramento and other California cities stand alone. In a story with a Tennessee dateline, Nashville and other Tennessee cities stand alone. But as datelines, AP uses the states with those cities, in part for international audiences. See datelines for lists of U.S. and international cities that stand alone in datelines and within stories.

Punctuation: Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence or indicating a dateline: Ex: He was traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, to Austin, Texas, en route to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She said Cook County, Illinois, was Mayor Daley’s stronghold.

student – listing academic degree information

In general, use terms such as first-year biomedical engineering student, fourth-year animal science student, sophomore business major, senior chemistry student. Avoid using the projected graduation year. Instead of: Architectural engineering student Sandra Succotash (’24), Use: first-year architectural engineering student or sophomore architectural engineering student.


One word, lowercase.

technology references

cyberspace, cyberattack, cyberbullying, cybercafe, cybersecurity, internet, email, e-book, e-reader, e-commerce, online, web, web browser, website, webcam, webcast and webmaster. Exceptions: Cyber Monday and cyber as a separate modifier (Ex: cyber shopping, cyber liability insurance).

telephone numbers

Do not use parentheses around area codes. Hyphens are used. Ex: 805-756-1111.

that / which

Use “that” and “which” when referring to inanimate objects and to animals without names. Use “that” for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas. Ex: I remember the day that we met. Use “which” for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas: Ex: The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place. (Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use “which”; otherwise, use “that.” A “which” clause is surrounded by commas; no commas are used with “that” clauses. Also see the essential clauses, nonessential clauses entry in the AP Stylebook for guidelines on using “that” and “which” to introduce phrases and clauses. )

theater / theatre

Use theater unless the proper name is Theatre. Ex: Spanos Theatre, the Theatre and Dance Department.


Use figures except for “noon” and “midnight.” Use a colon to separate hours from minutes. Do not use “:00” to represent even hours. Ex. 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. (Note: a.m. and p.m. are lowercase, take periods and have no spaces between the letters and the periods.)


Apply these guidelines to the titles of books, movies, plays, poems, albums, songs, operas, radio and television programs, lectures, speeches, and works of art: Capitalize all words in a title except articles a, an, the; prepositions of three or fewer letters for, of, on, up, etc.; and conjunctions of three or fewer letters and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet, etc. unless any of those start or end the title. Capitalize prepositions of four or more letters above, after, down, inside, over, with, etc. and conjunctions of four or more letters because, while, since, though, etc. Capitalize both parts of a phrasal verb: “What to Look For in a Mate”; “Turn Off the Lights in Silence.” But: “A Life of Eating Chocolate for Stamina”; “Living With Both Feet off the Ground.” (Note the different uses of for and off, and thus the different capitalization, in those examples.) Capitalize to in infinitives: “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up.” Put quotation marks around the names of all such works except the Bible, the Quran and other holy books, and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material.

Translate a foreign title into English unless a work is generally known by its foreign name. An exception to this is reviews of musical performances. In those instances, generally refer to the work in the language it was sung in, so as to differentiate for the reader. However, musical compositions in Slavic languages are always referred to in their English translations. For other examples, including music compositions, refer to the AP Stylebook.

tribe, tribal

Refers to a sovereign political entity, communities sharing a common ancestry, culture or language, and a social group of linked families who may be part of an ethnic group. Capitalize the word tribe when part of a formal name of sovereign political entities, or communities sharing a common ancestry, culture or language. Identify tribes by the political identity specified by the tribe, nation or community. Ex: the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation. The term ethnic group is preferred when referring to ethnicity or ethnic violence. For Cal Poly residence halls, and Chumash preferences, see the yakʔitʸutʸu residential community listing in this stylebook. See American Indians, Native Americans, Indians and nationalities and races


One word in all instances.

university name

Preferred usage in most instances: Cal Poly. Add “in San Luis Obispo” if needed for clarification. She attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo from 1999-03. See The Cal Poly Name

Do not capitalize the word “university” when used alone. See capitalization.


One word, lowercase.

University of California

No periods in UC. Show as UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, etc. UCLA is familiar enough in California and beyond to abbreviate.


Lowercase web, web browser, webcam, webcast, webinar, webmaster, website.

Week of Welcome

Use full name on first reference; WOW can be used on subsequent references. Do not use periods or italics in the abbreviation. Do not say WOW week.

wheelchair user

See disabled, handicapped.

yakʔitʸutʸu residential community

In recognition of the Indigenous peoples of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly named its new residential community yakʔitʸutʸu, which means “our community” in the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash language. In all communications, refer to “Indigenous people of San Luis Obispo County” or the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribe. Use present tense. Instead of “The tribe was,” or “This land used to be the tribe’s,” use “San Luis Obispo County is the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribal homeland.” Lowercase all names; no exceptions – not even when beginning a sentence. Use full names on all communications (verbal, email, print, digital and web). Don’t replace or omit characters. A plain text document can be downloaded and saved to your desktop for copying and pasting. Exceptions: URLs, shortened links. For more information, current photos and graphics, contact Housing. 

Tribe name: yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini

Housing complex name: yakʔitʸutʸu

Building names: tsɨtkawayu, elewexe, tšɨłkukunɨtš, tiłhini, tsɨtqawɨ, nipumuʔ, tsɨtpxatu.

ZIP code

Use all caps for ZIP, which stands for Zoning Improvement Plan. Lowercase the word “code.”

-wide / wide-

-wide: No hyphen. Ex: citywide, campuswide, universitywide, systemwide, statewide, worldwide, industrywide.

wide-: Usually hyphenated. Ex: wide-angle, wide-open, wide-awake, wide-eyed.

In text for invitations, development communications, posters and postcards, many of these rules are relaxed.)