AP Style Quick Reference

AP Style Quick Reference

The guidelines below regarding word use, punctuation, capitalization, numbers and cultural sensitivity provide a convenient reference for the most common style issues you’re likely to face while writing or editing materials for the university’s audiences.

Editorial Style

The official editorial style manual for Dixie State University communications is The Associated Press Stylebook. The book is easy to use and is a storehouse of good information about grammar and usage. It covers most questions campus writers will have about style issues. All university units are expected to follow AP style.

Style also requires a good dictionary for spelling and usage issues not covered in the AP Stylebook. The AP-recommended dictionary is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, online at m-w.com. In most cases, the first spelling choice listed in the dictionary should be used.

Because writing for higher education is not the same as writing for the news media, there are three exceptions to AP style:

academic degrees: Generic degree terms such as bachelor of arts and master of science are not capitalized at Dixie State. Capitalize, however, when the formal name of the degree is used: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

African American: African American (not hyphenated) is the term used at Dixie State. For more, see the Cultural Sensitivity section below.

chair: Use the nonsexist terms chair or chairperson, depending on the preference of the unit. AP prefers chairman or chairwoman, but don’t use those unless they are part of an official title.

Word use

Acronyms: Acronyms should be in capital letters with no periods: GPA, ID cards, ROTC, USA. With the exception of well-understood acronyms and abbreviations, such as B.A., M.S., and other degrees, GPA and ROTC, spell out the full name or title on first use, followed by the letters in parentheses, if they are to be used repeatedly in the text. Many students take advantage of the First Year Experience Program (FYE) during their first year at Dixie State. FYE offers new students the opportunity to explore what Dixie State has to offer, both academically and socially, before committing to a major.

adviser: Not advisor.

advance, advanced: When used as adjectives, advance means “ahead of time” and advanced means “beyond others.” Thus, it would be advance tuition deposit, but advanced standing.

alumna, alumnae, alumni, alumnus: Alumna is the feminine singular form. Alumnae is the feminine plural. Alumnus is the male (or nonspecific gender) singular. Alumni is the masculine or mixed-gender plural.

and, but: And or but may begin a sentence. This approach can be useful in providing a transition between closely related sentences. But it shouldn’t be overdone.

catalog: Not catalogue.

coed: Don’t use this term to refer to a female student. It can be used to indicate both sexes, however, such as in coed residence hall.

compose, comprise: These words are often misused. Comprise means “include” or “encompass.” The whole comprises the parts, but the parts are composed of the whole. 
The Udvar-Hazy School of Business comprises five departments.
 The Udvar-Hazy School of Business is composed of five departments.

contractions: Although contractions may be discouraged in formal academic writing, they are acceptable in most instances for university news, marketing pieces and websites.

co-op: Use a hyphen so it’s not confused with coop.

course work: Two words. Not coursework.

credits: This is the accepted term at Dixie State. Don’t use credit hours or hours.

database: One word.

Dixie State University, Dixie State, DSU: Use Dixie State University on first reference in any piece. Use Dixie State as the shortened version for the name of the university. Avoid using DSU to prevent confusion with other institutions that share our initials. Exceptions are where DSU is part of a formal name (e.g., DSU Student Services, DSU Athletics, DSU Foundation, DSU Alumni Association.)

email: Don’t use a hyphen. This is a recent change to AP style. Don’t capitalize unless it starts a sentence or is before the email address in a vertical list.

flier, flyer: Flier is the preferred term for a handbill or an aviator. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses: The Western Flyer.

freshman, freshmen: First-year student and first-year students are the preferred terms.

grades: Use the capital letters, A, B, C, etc., with no quotation marks. Plurals are made by adding s, except in the case of A, which has an apostrophe to avoid confusion with the word as: A’s, Bs, Cs, etc.

gray: Not grey. But: greyhound.

GPA, grade-point average: Either is acceptable. GPAs normally have two numbers after the decimal, e.g., 3.00, 4.25.

international students: Not foreign students.

land grant: These words are closely linked, as are sea grant and space grant, so there is no need to hyphenate. Don’t capitalize unless referring to its formal name.

non: Words with the prefix non are generally not hyphenated unless the prefix is directly before a proper noun: nondegree, nonresident, noncredit, non-English speaking. The dictionary contains a long list of words with the non prefix and their appropriate spellings.

Off campus, on campus: Hyphenate when using as an adjective, not as an adverb. 
Off-campus housing is plentiful during the summer.
It’s difficult to find housing off campus during the fall term.

online: One word, no hyphen.

PacWest: Dixie State intercollegiate athletic teams participate in the Pacific West Conference. It can be shortened to PacWest in all uses.

pre and post: These prefixes generally don’t take hyphens unless they come directly before proper nouns. The dictionary contains a list of words with appropriate spelling. Use preregister, premedicine, preveterinary, postbaccalaureate, postdoctoral, pre-Columbian.

range of time, day or date: The preferred form in body copy is to spell out to, and/or through when referring to a range of time or days of the week. For a range of dates and in tabular material, use an en dash. The seminar is scheduled for April 1-3.
 Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 
World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945.

résumé: The preferred spelling includes the diacritical marks and helps avoid confusion with resume.

state names: Spell out the names of states when used alone in text. They are abbreviated when used after the name of a city or county. Check the AP Stylebook for the appropriate abbreviations of states. Always use the postal service abbreviation (e.g., OR, WA, CA) and zip code in a complete address.

Student housing: This is preferred to dorm or dormitory when referring to housing units at Dixie State.

toward: Not towards.

under way: Two words.

URLs: It isn’t necessary to include http:// or www. in a URL when it is clear that it’s a Web address. Some sites do, however, require one or both elements of the URL, so test it first. When listing Web addresses, try to get the URL to fit on a single line. If it is necessary to break the URL, try to break it before a slash or period. Don’t allow the URL to break itself by adding a hyphen because that could change the address. Use appropriate punctuation after a URL. If it finishes a sentence, place a period after it.

website: One word, lowercase. This is a recent change to AP style.

wide: University-wide is hyphenated. Most words with wide as a suffix are closed, though, unless they are long and cumbersome. If in doubt, check the dictionary.

work-study: Hyphenate; capitalize only when using the formal designation: Federal Work-Study Program.

yearlong: One word.


Ampersands: It’s best not to use an ampersand in place of the word and in text unless it is an official part of a name: Udvar-Hazy School of Business and School of Communication, Public Relations and Marketing Department, but AT&T. An ampersand may be used in specific instances such as campus banners where space for text on a single line is very limited.

Bulleted lists: When making a bulleted or numbered list, be sure that capitalization, punctuation and structure are consistent. If items in a list are complete sentences, end each one with appropriate punctuation.

Colons: The colon is used to indicate something is following that will complete or amplify the previous material. It isn’t necessary to capitalize the word immediately following a colon unless it begins a complete sentence of its own or is a proper noun. Don’t use unnecessary colons in sentences. 
Correct: Visit the website at dixie.edu. 
Incorrect: Visit the website at: dixie.edu. 
Use a colon when the sentence isn’t complete without it. 
Be sure to visit the Dixie State website: dixie.edu.

Commas: Do not use a serial comma in a series of more than two items unless it is necessary to clarify the meaning. If more than one series is used in a sentence, separate the series by semicolons if necessary to clarify the sentence. 
Correct: Dixie State is one of three open enrollment and dual mission institutions in the State of Utah. Incorrect: Dixie State is one of only three open enrollment, dual mission institutions in the State of Utah.

Set off the name of a state with commas when it follows the city name in a sentence: St. George, Utah, is the home of Dixie State University.

Dates are punctuated with commas setting off the year in a complete date: May 3, 2013, marked Dixie State’s first commencement ceremony as a university. There is no comma if only the month and year are used: Dixie State’s first university commencement ceremony was in May 2013. Don’t use ordinals such as 1st, 4th, or 23rd in dates.

Jr., Sr., II, III, etc., in names are not set off by commas unless the person specifically indicates a preference for that: Martin Luther King Jr., Davis Love III.

Dashes: The en dash (named because it is the width of the letter “n”) is wider than a hyphen and is used between ranges of numbers or dates and between adjectival phrases containing two-word concepts: 2001–2004, pages 206–220, St. George–Salt Lake City flight. There are no spaces before or after the en dash. In text, however, use the missing words instead of a dash: He was at Dixie State from 1993 to 1998. (Not: He was at Dixie State from 1993–1998.) If the en dash is unavailable, it is acceptable to use a hyphen in its place.

The em dash (named because it is the width of the letter “m”) is used to indicate a break in thought or a strong parenthetical phrase: Two professors — what a contrast in styles — share the teaching duties. There are spaces before and after the em dash. An em dash is indicated by two hyphens in typed material.

Hyphens: Use the dictionary to determine the appropriate place for breaking and hyphenating words. Break words at the end of syllables, but consider the sound of the word. Some words are best not broken at certain syllables. Compound words that are hyphenated should not be broken in a second place at the end of a line: president-elect, not presi-dent-elect.

The trend is moving away from using hyphens in permanent compound words. The dictionary can help you determine the appropriateness of a hyphen in many cases. Don’t use a hyphen after an adverb ending in ly: She is an overly zealous recruiter.

Some words that normally would be solid should be hyphenated for clarity: co-op (as opposed to coop), re-signed (as opposed to resigned) or for easier reading when the root word begins with a vowel: re-enrolled, re-admitted.

Parentheses: If a dependent clause or other sentence fragment is in parentheses, the final punctuation goes outside the parentheses. If the parenthetical matter is an entire sentence, the final punctuation goes inside the parentheses. In the latter case, be sure to properly punctuate the preceding sentence leading up to the parentheses.

If parenthetical matter is included within another set of parentheses, brackets [ ] should replace the inner parentheses.

Periods: If a sentence ends with a URL or an email address, the closing punctuation, usually a period, should be included. There is no longer is any real danger of Web users trying to make the sentence-ending period part of the URL, but if you are concerned, use a different font for the actual URL or make it bold.

The use of periods in degree abbreviations is preferred: B.A., M.S., Ed.D., Pharm.D., Ph.D. Note also that there are no spaces in the degree abbreviations. For a cleaner appearance, it is acceptable to use degree abbreviations without periods in long listings or in text where degrees are repeated often.

There are no periods in DSU.

Quotation marks: Quotation marks are placed outside of commas and periods, but inside of semicolons and colons. Question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on whether they are part of the quote.

Avoid using quotation marks around a word to call attention to it or because there isn’t a better word to use: She uses “air quotes” constantly in her presentation, which is very annoying.


academic and administrative titles: Capitalize a title when it appears before the person’s name: Professor Fred Smith. Do not capitalize a title when it follows a person’s name: Fred Smith, professor of accounting. The exception to this rule is for a named chair or professorship that contains the academic title or for a faculty member who has earned a title such as Distinguished Professor: Jane Doe, Distinguished Professor of mathematics.

academic areas: Don’t capitalize areas of instruction unless the area is a proper noun: physics, English, elementary education, business and communication. The exception is when a formal department name is used: Department of Psychology, psychology department.

Capitalize the names of university units when the complete title is used: Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Dixie State University, School of Fine and Performing Arts. Lowercase other uses: financial aid office, the university, the school, fine and performing arts. Don’t capitalize a generic term that follows or precedes more than one name: colleges of Fine and Performing Arts and Military Sciences.

Names of majors, minors, options and programs are lowercase: communication, business administration, theatre.

academic terms: Lowercase, even when used with a year: fall term, winter term 2013. Summer semester is capitalized when referring to the Summer Semester Office, but lowercase otherwise: summer semester 2013.

baccalaureate core, bacc core: Lowercase these except when preceded by Dixie State or Dixie State University: bacc core requirements, Dixie State Baccalaureate Core courses.

bachelor’s degree/master’s degree: These are lowercase and possessives, not plural. Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree, a masters, etc., but there is no apostrophe in bachelor of arts or master of science.

course titles: Capitalize course titles when used in text: She is taking Cultures in Conflict this semester.

degrees: Don’t capitalize the subject area unless it is the formal name of the degree: B.S. in Physics, Honors Baccalaureate in Political Science, Bachelor of Science in Biology, bachelor’s degree in biology.

headlines, headings and subheads: Capitalize the first word only along with any proper names. This makes it easier to maintain consistency as well as avoid questions about whether articles or prepositions (e.g. the, of, with, when) should be capitalized in a heading.

homecoming: Capitalize only when referring to the DSU Homecoming.

internet: internet is no longer capitalized and used as a proper noun.

state: Don’t capitalize. It’s state of Utah, not State of Utah. Use the same rule with city of St. George. Capitalize the name of a specific county or region, however: Washington County, Iron County, West Coast.


Spell out numbers of nine or less within text. Use numerals for higher numbers. Exceptions are made for ages, monetary units, percentages, credits and grade-point averages, which are always numerals unless they start a sentence: 8 percent, 3 credits, 3.50 GPA, 3-year-old daughter, 7 cents. It’s acceptable to mix uses in a sentence: Dixie State has 13 intercollegiate athletics programs, seven women’s and six men’s. It is permissible to spell out numbers from one to 99 in formal or scientific writing.

Spell out percent instead of using the % symbol: 18 percent, not 18%.

Plurals of numerals are made by adding the letter s: 100s, 1990s. There is no apostrophe in the plurals. Contractions of years take an apostrophe: Class of ’92.

Numbers containing four digits or more (except years) take commas between each series of three numbers: 4,000; 12,197; 12,297,865. For rounded numbers of more than six digits, it is appropriate to use a figure and a word: $14 million, 237 billion.

Use dollar signs and numerals for monetary references. It’s not necessary to add .00 after whole dollar amounts, but it is permissible in a sentence that also contains fractional dollar amounts. If you are just discussing cents, use the word: 5 cents; 47 cents.

Telephone numbers are written with a hyphen between groupings: 435-652-7500; 800-234-5678. A “1” should not precede the area codes. The telephone company no longer uses parentheses to set off area codes.

Spell out numbers at the start of a sentence unless they represent a year. 1776 is the year the Declaration of Independence was signed is permissible, but it would be better to rewrite the sentence to avoid starting with the year: The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

Dates are indicated by cardinal, not ordinal numbers: April 1, not April 1st; July 4, not July 4th.

A series of years can be indicated by using the entire year in both cases or only the last two numbers in the second year: 2009-2010 or 2009-10. When the years cross a century mark, the entire year must be used: 1999-2002, not 1999-02.

Cultural sensitivity

Avoid all sexual or racial stereotyping and language. Use he or she or make the usage plural: they. Many words now have neutral alternatives: firefighter, police officer, chair, or chairperson. Use these rather than assuming a particular gender. Don’t create words such as s/he, and use skillful writing to avoid putting two words together with slashes: he/she.

Disabilities are handled according to the preference of the person or group. In writing about disabilities, stress the person, not the disability: persons with disabilities rather than the disabled. If you have questions, check with DSU Disability Resource Center, 435-652-7516.

Ethnic designations generally follow the preference of the group being referred to. DSU Multicultural/Diversity Center, 435-652-7730, can help with questions. As a general rule, identify ethnic groups by recognized ethnic designations. African American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latina, Latino, Hispanic and Native American are acceptable identifiers.

When referring to ethnicity, the generic terms black and white aren’t capitalized. However, if you capitalize one to conform to a particular group’s preference, capitalize both.