Style guide (A-L)
This style guide is designed to help us produce consistent, clear and professional printed or online communications across the University.
Refer to the Guardian and Observer style guide and BBC News style guide for issues not covered here.
For grammar advice, check the Lexico website.
The University’s Equality Policy Unit has guidance on making your digital and printed information accessible.
We hope you’ll find this style guide useful. If you have suggestions for improving it, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and include ‘style guide’ in the subject line.
Abbreviations and acronyms
Avoid acronyms and abbreviations if possible – they can alienate or slow down readers who are not familiar with them.
The first time you use an abbreviation or acronym, explain it in full, afterwards you can refer to it by the initials, eg School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) or the Office for Students (OfS).
Where an organisation is best known by its abbreviated name (eg BBC, NHS, UCAS) use the abbreviation.
and, &, +
Use ‘and’ rather than ‘&’ unless it’s part of a brand name eg M&S. Use ‘plus’ rather than ‘+’ unless part of an academic grade or a brand name eg A+, Google+.
eg, etc and ie
See eg, etc and ie
Never write Doctor in full in titles, use Dr instead (without a full stop). Always write Professor in full.
Alumni, alumnus, alumna, alum
When referring to a group, use ‘alumni’ or ‘the Leeds alumni community’ (or ‘Leeds alumni’ for short).
Occasionally, we might use the singular terms, ‘alumnus’ (male) or ‘alumna’ (female), eg “The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, is a Leeds alumnus”, or “BBC presenter and Leeds alumna, Naga Munchetty” but we use these gender-loaded Latin terms sparingly and ideally not at all.
Instead, use ‘a member of our alumni community’, or where that is too unwieldly, the neutral term ‘alum’, especially when addressing a group of individuals. For example, in a letter to all graduating alumni: “as a Leeds alum, you are part of the University family”.
‘Alum’ is also the preferred term for use on social media posts. As it is an informal term, don’t use it in a very formal context (such as a letter from the Vice-Chancellor to an influential graduate) but it is perfectly acceptable for general written use and most UK universities now use it.
Although you can use the word ‘graduate’, be careful when doing so. All graduates are alumni, but not all alumni are graduates. When talking about our global community, always use ‘alumni’ not ‘graduates’.
Never use the phrase ‘an alumni’ in the singular as it is incorrect.
Never use the feminine plural ‘alumnae’. It is rarely used these days, except by universities with a very formal, traditional tone of voice.
- where letters have been removed, eg don’t (= do not)
- that something belongs to someone or is part of something, eg ‘the student’s results’ (the results of one student) and ‘the students’ results’ (the results of more than one student) .
To understand how apostrophes work read guidance on the Lexico website.
For more about when we use ‘you’ll’, ‘we’re’, etc – see Contractions.
- It’s and its – remember use ’s to indicate an omitted word, eg it’s not fair (= it is not fair), it’s been eaten (= it has been eaten), but not to indicate belonging, eg ‘the dog scratched its nose’.
- Plural abbreviations – don’t use an apostrophe, eg ‘several CVs or DVDs’ (not CV’s or DVD’s).
- Names that end in ‘s’ – usually you just add ’s after the word, eg ‘Charles’s book’ or ‘St James’s hospital’. Where an additional ‘s’ would be difficult to pronounce people often prefer to use an apostrophe after the -s, eg Willams’ or Leeds’. In University publications we use Leeds’ (not Leeds’s).
Introduce a list of bullet points with a preceding sentence and colon. Bullets are usually short points, continuing a sentence, with no capital letter at the start and no punctuation, eg:
We have developed a sustainability strategy focused on four core themes:
- developing knowledge and capacity
- being a positive partner in society
- enhancing our resource management
- developing a collaborative organisation
Occasionally, where the bullet points are made up of longer, independent sentences, they will need to start with a capital letter and end with a full stop, eg:
- We were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary prize, the country’s highest accolade for an academic institution, in 2009 and 2011.
- In the National Student Survey 2018, the University scored 88% for overall satisfaction.
Avoid long blocks of capital letters in body text as they are generally harder to read and can look ‘shouty’.
Initial capital letters are used for names and to make things clearer and aid understanding. For an organisation it’s important to be consistent. Here are some examples you might find in University communications:
Bachelor and Masters
Use an initial capital letter for Bachelor and Masters degrees, eg:
- The course requirement is a Bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons).
- All Masters courses are listed.
See also ‘Courses, subjects and modules’ and in this section.
Use of upper and lower case letters is often a key part of brand identity. When referring to brand names, follow the organisation’s own capitalisation, eg:
- ShanghaiRanking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities
Use an initial capital for the name and the word ‘building’, ie: Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Building, E C Stoner Building (one space between the initials), Brotherton Library, Parkinson Court, Social Sciences Building.
Courses, subjects and modules
Capitalise the first letter of each word in a course title, eg:
- BA Interdisciplinary Studies
- Masters in Business Administration
but write the name of subjects in general in lower case, eg:
- molecular oncology
- computing and data analysis
except for the name of a language, eg:
- French and Thai
Similarly, a general type of study is lower case:
- international foundation year routes
but the specific qualification is upper case:
- University of Leeds International Foundation Year
Write module titles in lower case (eg geography, molecular oncology, computing and data analysis), unless the word is a proper noun (eg English grammar and Elizabethan history). Module titles appear in this way in our prospectuses.
However, on Coursefinder module titles appear with the first letter of every word is upper case because they are pulled from the University’s programme and module catalogue, where they appear in this format.
Dates, periods, seasons
Capitalise the names of days, months, festivals and holidays, eg New Year’s Eve, Easter, Ramadan.
But use lower case for seasons (eg spring, autumn), for decades (the sixties) and for modern periods (the jazz age).
Disabilities or diseases
Use lower case except for conditions named after a person, eg dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but Asperger syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Faculties, departments, institutes and schools
Use upper case for a particular faculty, school or institute, eg:
- Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures
- School of Medicine
- Leeds University Business School
- Institute for Medieval Studies
but refer to ‘schools’ and ‘faculties’ in general. If you are referring to more than one school, spell ‘school’ with a lower case ‘s’, eg ‘the schools of Geography and Maths’.
Use upper case for the names of geographical regions and areas and named astronomical features (eg the Milky Way) but use lower case for: the earth, the sun, the moon, except when used in an astronomical context.
In the University’s publications and on its webpages (on Coursefinder), capitalise only the first letter of the first word in a heading, eg ‘A global reputation’, except for words which are names/proper nouns, eg ‘Life in Leeds’, ‘Improving your English’, ‘How to use Coursefinder’.
IT systems and programs
Capitalise the first letter of these words: Banner, Word, Minerva and Coursefinder, but see also ‘Brands’ in this section.
Job titles and roles
Use an initial capital letter for a recognised individual position, but not for a general role, eg:
- Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: International
- Executive Dean, Head of School, Head of Geography
- Julie Smith, Health and Safety Manager
- a senior lecturer in the School of History
- the health and safety managers
Use upper case for names of payments, grants and loans, as on the gov.uk website (eg Maintenance Loan, Tuition Fee Loan, Postgraduate Doctoral Loan, Working Tax Credit), but use lower case when referring to these payments in general, eg student loans, benefits, tax credits.
Publications, websites, films and works of art
Capitalise the first letter in the title only, not the first letter in every word (eg Alumni bursary: staff guide) but don’t capitalise ‘the’ where this is part of the title, eg the Times, the Guardian, the Complete University Guide.
See also Italics
Capitalise as follows:
- Highers and Advanced Highers
We use Masters not Master’s, as it’s the simplest to follow, with the same spelling and punctuation in every context. Several other universities also follow this punctuation.
See Faculties, departments, institutes and schools
Capitalise the first letter of each word in the title, but not the word ‘team’, eg Student Fees team or Quality Assurance team.
Capitalise the first letter of:
- the names of individual universities – the University of Sheffield, Leeds Beckett University
- the University when referring to the University of Leeds – eg ‘the University works closely with a range of partners’
Don’t use a capital letter when referring to:
- university in general – eg ‘we are a research-intensive university’
- more than one university – eg ‘the universities of Leeds and Birmingham’
We capitalise the first letter of some special events, eg Freshers’ Week, Open Day, Virtual Open Days, Postgraduate Open Days, Undergraduate Open Days.
Colons and semicolons
Use a colon before:
- a list – ‘There are only three ingredients: sugar, flour and coconut.’
- a summary – ‘To summarise: we found the camp, set up our tent and then cooked our first meal.’
- a quotation – ‘As Jane Austen wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ’
Use a semicolon:
- to link two separate statements that could stand as separate sentences, but are closely related – ‘The children came home today; they had been away for a week.’
- in a list that already contains commas, or where the items consist of several words – ‘Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry; Babylon 5, by JMS; Buffy, by Joss Whedon; and Farscape, from the Henson Company.’
But, remember that short, separate sentences work best online and for information people will probably scan, like promotional materials.
Use contractions (you’ll, we’re, it’s, etc) for a more conversational, less formal tone of voice. Examples in University-wide communications include:
- course overview text on Coursefinder, which ‘opens the conversation’ with the prospective student
- the front text of the University’s prospectuses, which talks about the University, our services and facilities, eg ‘You’ll find everything you need for your studies’
- our student recruitment webpages on www.leeds.ac.uk, eg ‘You’ll gain skills that will be invaluable to you.’
Use the full words (ie without a contraction) for a more formal tone of voice, such as in finance or applying information, eg:
- You do not apply for this course through UCAS.
- You may be able to apply for a loan to contribute to the cost of your study.
- If English is not your first language, you will need a recognised English Language qualification
It’s ok to use both contractions and full words within a publication, as long as you have a reason for doing this, as above.
When using a dash in text we use an en dash – with space on either side (which is longer than a hyphen -).
We use a closed en dash (ie with no space at either side) for:
- a range, eg Monday–Saturday, 20–30
- things with an equal relation, eg the Dover–Calais crossing, an editor–author relationship, the health–illness spectrum
Use either ‘from … to’ or ‘XX–XX’, but never use a combination of the two, ie not ‘the war from 1939–45’.
See also Hyphens
eg, etc and ie
In University publications we don’t use full stops within or after the abbreviations:
You can also spell out the phrases in full:
- for example
- that is
- and so on
A hyphen joins together words or parts of words to make a single compound word, eg second-rate, ex-directory. Hyphens can clarify meaning for the reader and avoid confusion, eg ‘re-cover’ and ‘recover’; ‘four year-old children’ and ‘four-year-old children’.
Hyphens are used less nowadays than in the past, eg multicultural, interdisciplinary, wellbeing. Also, the hyphen is often dropped as a word becomes more familiar, eg email, website, online.
Examples of hyphenated words we use in University-wide communications are:
- the Vice-Chancellor
Hyphens in adjectives and adverbs
Sometimes a word can appear with or without a hyphen, depending on its role in the sentence. Use a hyphen when the word is an adjective (describing a noun), but not when it is an adverb (describing a verb), eg:
- ‘part-time study is possible’ (adjective) but ‘you can study part time’ (adverb)
- ‘an up-to-date brochure’ (adjective) but ‘the brochure is up to date’ (adverb)
However, when an adverb can also be an adjective (eg hard), you’ll sometimes want to use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity, eg:
- ‘a hard-pressed person’ not ‘a hard, pressed person’
- ‘an ill-prepared report’ not ‘an ill, prepared report’
Don’t use hyphens after adverbs ending in –ly, eg:
- an internationally recognised university
- a constantly evolving newspaper
- genetically modified food
Avoid italics in online content, as they are harder to read, especially for people with visual impairments.
Limit your use of italics in printed materials to words or short amounts of text, as italics are harder to read.
Use italics for foreign words, such as coup d’état, but use roman (plain text) for commonly used words that have been accepted into English, such as ‘café’ or ‘déjà vu’.
Use italics for names of books, newspapers, plays, songs, theatre productions and artworks, eg ‘Film producer Deborah Forster has produced a film, The Golden Compass, based on the book Northern Lights by author Philip Pullman’. For titles of chapters within a book use single quotation marks not italics.
In University printed communications we have decided to capitalise the names of websites we occasionally refer to in the text, to make it clearer to the reader, eg:
- the Leeds for Life website
- our For Students website
Links in online content can add context and depth. They avoid the need to repeat information and help keep online information concise.
Linked text should be meaningful and make sense independently. This helps the reader decide whether the link will take them to information they want. It also helps visually impaired people using screenreader software, which reads aloud headings and links to give the user an overview of the webpage. Avoid generic links like ‘click here’ or ‘read more’, which don’t tell the user anything about the information they are linking to.
Make links concise, linking only the most relevant part of the wording, eg ‘Read more about teaching and assessment in the School of Physics and Astronomy’ instead of ‘Read more about teaching and assessment on the School of Physics and Astronomy website.’
For online content, avoid providing the full URL as link text, eg don’t write ‘visit https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk’ because screen readers will read out every letter or symbol individually and will ignore any words in the URL which are not user-friendly. Instead, write the link text as ‘visit the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures website’.
See Bullet points