- Voice and Tone
- The University of Massachusetts: Using Our Name in Print or Online
- Names of Colleges, Schools, and Departments
- Academic Degrees
- University-Related Terms
- Titles and Ranks of People
- Titles of Literary and Artistic Works
- Numbers and Figures
- Dates and Times
- Inclusive Language
- Electronic Terms; Writing Alt Text
- Writing for Social Media
- Other Often-Used or Confused Terms
- More Resources
A consistent editorial style is essential to effective communication. This style guide for University of Massachusetts Amherst communications, though not meant to be prescriptive, suggests word choice and usage to ensure and promote consistency and support the university brand.
The university mainly follows The Chicago Manual of Style, but those writing and editing periodical copy or press releases may also rely on The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. For all spelling and definition guidance, communicators should use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
Since language is always changing, this guide is meant to be fluid and will be updated often. So, check back from time to time to make sure you’re using the most current editorial style to promote clear, concise, up-to-date communication.
Voice and Tone
University of Massachusetts Amherst communications should be active, clear, bold, confident, vibrant, and authentic; reflective of the university’s position as the flagship campus of America’s education state.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst: Using Our Name in Print or Online
In the appropriate context, acceptable names for the institution are:
the University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts
UMass (not UMASS)
In referring to the Amherst campus, the largest and oldest of the UMass system’s five campuses, take into account the purpose and audience of the publication in question.
In addressing alumni and certain national audiences who have been found to strongly associate the word UMass with the flagship campus, UMass or the University of Massachusetts may stand alone. The formality of the text should guide your choice of terms.
Where confusion with the other campuses in the system could result, and in communications with legislators, use UMass Amherst or the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The University of Massachusetts system campuses are:
University of Massachusetts Boston
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
University of Massachusetts Lowell
UMass Chan Medical School
Names of Colleges, Schools, and Departments
Capitalize formal names of colleges and schools. Lowercase otherwise, unless the name of the college or school is a proper noun. Examples:
- College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; the college
- School of Public Health and Health Sciences; the school
- Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, initial reference; Isenberg on subsequent reference. Do not use: SOM, ISOM, UMass Isenberg, or Isenberg SOM.
- Stockbridge School of Agriculture, initial reference; Stockbridge subsequently.
Capitalize formal department names. Lowercase otherwise, unless the name of the department is a proper noun. Examples:
- the Department of History, the history department, the English department
- Department of Polymer Science and Engineering; the polymer science and engineering department; polymer science and engineering; the department
Commonwealth Honors College
Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community
Integrated Sciences Building
Integrative Learning Center
Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management
McGuirk Alumni Stadium
Named Schools and Colleges
Use the full name of the school or college on the cover and in first mention in non-promotional, formal publications and other prominent public displays. Examples:
Elaine Marieb College of Nursing
Use last name and full name of school or college on the cover, in first mention in promotional publications, editorial materials, correspondence, and web content. Examples:
Marieb College of Nursing
School of _______ or College of _______ may be used in subsequent mentions.
Do not use the last name, abbreviations, or initialisms alone--"Isenberg" is the only exception in subsequent mentions of Isenberg School of Management.
Uppercase College and School when used as part of the proper name of a school or college. Lowercase when used alone, whether or not it refers to a specific school or college. Example:
(See Named Schools and Colleges Guide for more information.)
Old Chapel (not "the Old Chapel")
Example: We will meet on Tuesday at Old Chapel.
W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies
W. E. B. Du Bois Library
Omit periods in degree abbreviations whenever possible. (Allowable in formal contexts or where tradition dictates.) Examples:
The department does not offer a terminal MA degree; candidates are accepted directly into the PhD program.
Master’s is always a singular possessive. Example:
To date, the university has awarded 43,351 master’s degrees.
Associate degree, not associate’s
Punctuation in use of degrees in running text: Use comma before and after degrees.
Degree after name need only be mentioned in the first instance. Subsequent mentions of name do not need recurring degree citations.
Example: Javier Reyes, PhD, is chancellor of UMass Amherst.
alumnus; alumni; alumna; alumnae
Use alumnus (alumni in the plural) when referring to a man who has attended a school. Use alumna (alumnae in the plural) for similar references to a woman. Use alumni when referring to a mixed-gender group. Avoid using the shortened alum.
campus, campuses (plural), campus’s (possessive)
When referring to an alumnus/alumna in text, include the last two digits of their class year after the name, with a true apostrophe before the year. Do not use commas to separate names and class years. Example:
Norm Abram ’72 may well be America’s most famous carpenter.
When referring to an alumnus/alumna with multiple degrees, list the degrees in the order in which they were received. Note there is no space between the year and the degree abbreviation.
In the years since she graduated, Raveena Walsh ’79, ’85MS, ’90PhD has traveled throughout the world.
Use Hon for honorary degrees (only when they are granted by UMass).
Doctoral is an adjective; doctorate is a noun.
double major / double-major
When used as a noun, no hyphen:
"Lauren is a double major in history and theater."
When used as a verb, hyphenate:
"Lauren double-majored in history and theater."
emeritus, emeriti, emerita, emeritae
Emeritus and emerita are honorary designations and do not simply mean retired.
Use emeritus (or emeriti in the plural) when referring to a man who has received this honor. Use emerita (or emeritae in the plural) for similar references to a woman. Use emeriti when referring to a mixed-gender group.
first-year student (instead of "freshman")
UMass Amherst no longer uses the term "freshman" when referring to undergraduates in their first year of studies. Use first-year and with a hyphen as a descriptor.
Examples: "Rebecca is a first-year chemistry major."
"It is Rebecca's first year studying in the Department of Chemistry, but it's Tom's sophomore year in the department."
Five Colleges, Incorporated
The full and formal name of the academic consortium that includes the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Hampshire, Amherst, Mount (not Mt.) Holyoke, and Smith colleges.
Subsequent reference may be made to the Five Colleges.
The singular form “Five College” is adjectival and not hyphenated:
The Five College consortium was established in 1965.
grade point average (GPA)
Do not hyphenate grade point average or use periods in its abbreviation, GPA. GPAs refer to numbers, not grades—a GPA of 3.0, not a GPA of B.
Minuteman Marching Band
on campus; off campus
on-campus (adjective); on campus (adverb); off-campus (adjective), off campus (adverb). Examples:
off-campus housing, housing off campus
When a civil or military title is used before a last name, it should be spelled out. With full names, the title should be abbreviated. Examples:
General Schwarzkopf; Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
Senator Kerry; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Abbreviate and capitalize Co., Corp., Inc., and Ltd., and do not precede with a comma (except for Five Colleges, Incorporated).
Do not abbreviate street addresses in running text. Exceptions are NW, NE, SE, and SW used in some street addresses. Example:
The construction on Massachusetts Avenue will continue until March.
Academic degrees following a person’s name are abbreviated and set off by commas. Example:
Don Jones, PhD, has joined the faculty.
In running text, use the traditional editorial abbreviations for states (not the two-letter postal abbreviations) when they appear in conjunction with a city, and spell out when they stand alone. Examples:
He lives in Massachusetts, but went to school in Tampa, Fla.
The company is based in Newark, N.J.
In brief texts, such as class notes, bibliographies, tabular matter, and lists, traditional editorial abbreviations may be used.
Note: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah are never abbreviated in texts.
Two-letter postal abbreviations are for mailing purposes only.
|U.S. States and Territories||Postal Code||Editorial Abbreviations|
|American Samoa||AS||American Samoa|
|District of Columbia||DC||D.C.|
|Federated States of Micronesia||FM||Federated States of Micronesia|
|Marshall Islands||MH||Marshall Islands|
|Northern Mariana Island||MP||Northern Mariana Island|
Spell out when used as noun; use U.S. as an adjective. Examples:
China’s involvement with the United States.
U.S. involvement in China; U.S. dollars
In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. The University of Massachusetts Amherst uses a “down style” of capitalization, in which proper names and adjectives are capitalized, but generic terms, such as university, street, and state, are lowercased except when used as part of a formal proper name.
titles of persons
In the down style, the title of a person is capitalized only when that title precedes a name; a title is lowercased when it follows a name or stands alone. Examples:
Chancellor and Mrs. Reyes
Javier A. Reyes, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
In the most formal, honorific contexts (invitations, event programs) a full “up” style may be used. Examples:
Javier A. Reyes, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
(Such titles as president of the United States, the pope, and the dean of students are not exceptions, regardless of the respect otherwise accorded them.)
majors, fields, and courses of study
Lowercase the names of majors and fields of study unless the name is a proper noun. Examples:
Among her friends, Stella counts communications, English, French, and biology majors.
The department is looking for candidates with strong backgrounds in chemistry, physics, or mathematics.
Use initial capitals in course titles. Examples:
Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry
Introduction to Literature
Certain academic requirements are capitalized by convention. Examples:
By the end of his junior year, he had fulfilled all the General Education requirements.
This course fulfills the Junior Year Writing Requirement for animal science majors.
Lowercase the names of concentrations unless the name is a proper noun. Example:
Students should declare their intention to follow the biotechnology concentration at the end of their sophomore year.
Do not capitalize fall, winter, spring, summer. Example:
He took five classes in the fall semester.
ampersand (and); &
Do not use the ampersand (&) in running text. The only exception to using an ampersand in running text is if it is included in a well-known branded entity, such as AT&T, M&Ms, Ben & Jerry's, U.S. News & World Report.
The ampersand may be used in running headers, footers, and tabular matter only such as part of an official name UMass college, school, department, or center that uses the ampersand in its tier-2 or tier-3 branding. Examples:
Asian Languages & Literatures
Judaic & Near Eastern Studies
Center for Applied Mathematics & Computation
An apostrophe indicates that letters have been omitted, or indicates possessive case or plurals.
Use an apostrophe with the year of graduation—a true apostrophe, not an inch mark—as in:
- class of ’21
- Michael Doyle ’56
Use ’s to form the possessive of singular nouns
- my dog’s leash
- Susan’s library books
Use ’s to form the possessive of plural nouns that don’t end in “s”:
- children’s hospital
- university’s degree programs
For singular common nouns that end in "s," use an apostrophe plus “s”.
The bus's windows were broken.
Use ’s for collective nouns and proper nouns ending in “s”:
- Dr. Seuss’s poetry
- Congress’s vote on the amendment
- Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities
UMass’s and Massachusetts’s are technically correct but, since they’re awkward, it’s best to re-work the sentence.
Plural nouns are apostrophe only at end of word.
- All students' clubs and organizations have an annual budget.
Do not use an apostrophe when forming plural figures, as in:
- the late 1800s
- the early ’50s; late 1950s
Use ’s in master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Never use masters’ degrees.
Colons separate major parts of sentences, or they introduce a quotation or a list.
Insert a colon after “as follows” or “the following.” Capitalize the first word after the colon if what comes after it is a complete sentence. Otherwise, don’t. Examples:
Students, please note the following: Bring your notebooks and laptops to class.
Students were instructed to bring the following: notebooks and laptops.
Use a colon to introduce a direct quotation. Example:
I received an email that said: “Your essay on Shakespeare is two days late.”
Use commas to separate elements in a series, including the element preceded by “and” (which is referred to as a serial or Oxford comma). Example:
By now she had taken exams in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
Commonly related elements are not separated by punctuation. Examples:
The committee considered initiatives in community service learning, recruitment and retention, and research and development.
Alumnus Jack Roulette, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., now lives in Reno, Nev.
Commas and periods go inside double quotation marks; colons and semicolons outside them. Examples:
“I’ve heard enough,” said the director.
The marching band likes to play “Maria.”
At reunion, Eliot gave a memorable rendition of “You Gotta Have Heart”; Greta was his inspired accompanist.
Use a comma with numbers greater than one thousand. Example:
1,200 or 1,343,000, and the like
Dashes separate parts of a sentence and can serve several functions. There are two kinds of dashes used most often in promotional, formal, or general written communication.
- em dash
The em dash can indicate a strong break in a sentence, as in the first example below. Or it can be used to show emphasis, as in the second example, usually used in pairs. The em dash can be used in place of colons, commas, or parentheses, depending on the context. Note there is no space on either side of the dash. Examples:
- I like green vegetables—like broccoli, kale, and chard.
- My family has lived in Massachusetts for six generations—long before it became known as the Bay State—and we plan to stay here for many more.
In Microsoft Word, create an em dash by pressing Ctrl, Alt, and the minus sign on the number keypad all at the same time. (You can also set your Preferences to convert a double hyphen to an em dash.) Mac Pages users, press Shift, Option, and the minus key at the same time.
- en dash
The en dash separates a range of dates, times, or numbers. Again, don’t insert a space before or after the dash. Examples:
- President Obama’s term was 2009–2017.
- Homecoming Weekend will be held Sept. 12–14.
In Microsoft Word, create an en dash by pressing Ctrl and the minus sign on the number keypad at the same time. Mac Pages users, press Option and the minus key at the same time.
An ellipsis is a series of three dots that indicates the omission of a word, phrase, or even a paragraph from a quoted passage.
Indicate an omission within a quotation by using an ellipsis (three periods between words that should be treated like a three-letter word). Example:
“Every fall ... we boil down maple sap to make syrup.”
When omitting something after a complete sentence, add a period at the end of the sentence followed by a space and then the ellipsis (three periods without spaces between them). Example:
“At UMass Amherst, we are committed to the educational and social development of our students. ... We keep this commitment in mind as we develop our courses and special programs.”
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using exclamation points sparingly. Mostly, they should be used with an emphatic or ironic statement. Examples:
- Look out!
- It was 110 degrees in Venice, Florida, today. Here in Massachusetts, we should be so lucky!
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends “a spare hyphenation style” unless a hyphen is needed to prevent misunderstanding or confusion. This pertains to nouns as well as adjectives. For example, we no longer need to hyphenate words such as “fundraising” and “groundbreaking.”
Use a hyphen:
- If the word that follows a prefix begins with a capital letter
- With the prefixes ex-, self-, and all-, as in ex-president, self-control, all-consuming
- With the prefix co-, such as co-founder and co-director
- When the last letter of the prefix and the first letter of the next word are the same, as in pre-engineering
- With terms such as non-credit and non-discrimination
- When used as adjectives, such as part-time or full-time
To join two or more words that create an adjective describing a noun. Examples:
- well-worn jeans
- vine-ripened tomatoes
- one-way street
With “in-person” when it is used as an adjective, as in “We’ll be attending an in-person English class.”
Note: When leaving out the second half of a hyphenated term, keep the hyphen but leave a space. Examples:
- 5- to 8-year-olds
- single- or double-occupancy
Rules for hyphenated compounds in headlines and titles (taken from The Chicago Manual of Style):
Always capitalize the first element.
- Capitalize any subsequent elements unless they are articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor), or such modifiers as flat or sharp following musical key symbols.
- If the first element is merely a prefix or combining form that could not stand by itself as a word (anti-, pre-, etc.), do not capitalize the second element unless it is a proper noun or proper adjective.
- Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number (twenty-one or twenty-first, etc.) or hyphenated simple fraction (two-thirds in two-thirds majority).
Do not hyphenate:
Compound modifiers that come after a noun, as in:
- The jeans were well worn.
- The tomatoes were tree ripened.
- This street is one way.
Adverbs ending in -ly, such as:
- highly qualified applicant
- beautifully painted portrait
The terms “vice president” or “nonprofit”
The terms “full time” and “part time” when they are not used as adjectives, such as “I work full time in a grocery store after school.”
The term “in person” when not used as an adjective, as in “We’ll be attending the English class in person.”
For a comprehensive list of words that should be hyphenated, see The Chicago Manual of Style, section 7.89 Hyphenation Guide.
Use a single space after the period at the end of a sentence.
Quotation marks are used around a direct quotation, direct speech, and some literary titles.
Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations. Example: “After I failed the exam,” my friend said, “the professor told me, ‘You should have asked me for help.’”Place periods and commas inside quotation marks. Place colons and semicolons outside quotation marks. If exclamation points and question marks are not part of a direct quotation, also place them outside. Examples:
- The coach said, “Let’s have a good practice before tonight’s game.”
- My history professor said to “include dates at the end of the term paper”; however, I don’t know the dates.
- Who said, “A penny saved is a penny earned”?
Enclose these in quotation marks: song titles, articles, poems, individual titles as part of a series, lectures, book chapters, photographs, and unpublished works. Examples:
- “Hold On,” sung by Adele
- “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
- Ansel Adams, “Half Dome, Merced River, Winter,” Yosemite Special Edition Photograph
Elements in a series that are punctuated internally should be separated by semicolons. Examples:
The meeting was called by the department head and included White, the executive officer; Smith, the chief undergraduate adviser; and Brown, the graduate program director.
Titles and Ranks of People
academic rank and specialties
In formal lists of faculty members, always include academic rank and verify that the rank is current.
- Curry S. Hicks, Professor of Physical Education
In running text, refer to faculty by their full name on first reference, and by their last name on second and subsequent references.
- Curry S. Hicks was a professor of physical education during the Massachusetts State College era.
- It is Hicks, of course, after whom the Curry Hicks Cage is named.
Faculty members with doctorate degrees are not referred to as "Dr."--only individuals with medical degrees may be referred to as "Dr." in their titles.
It is usually best to avoid the unmodified title “professor” in reference to faculty who have not attained full professorial rank. If specification of rank is not desired, expressions such as these may be used:
- George A. Smith, a faculty member in engineering
- Mary Clark of the English faculty
Never use courtesy titles such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., and the like. Use Dr. only when the person is a medical doctor, and then only on first reference. Use courtesy titles only as an exception, when explicitly preferred by the subject or as a part of a person’s identity/persona/public title.
titles of persons / chancellor title
Lowercase titles of persons except when used in front of the person’s name.
- Chancellor Javier Reyes
- Chancellor and Mrs. Reyes
- Javier A. Reyes, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Javier A. Reyes, PhD, is the chancellor of UMass Amherst
- the chancellor
Use of “PhD” when referring to UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes: Whether with the chancellor title prefix or not, “PhD” after “Javier Reyes” occurs in the first instance only.
Chancellor Javier Reyes, PhD, will address the graduates at this week’s commencement ceremony.
Javier A. Reyes, PhD, began his role as chancellor of UMass Amherst in the summer of 2023.
Always include a comma after “PhD” in running text.
In the most formal, honorific contexts (invitations, event programs) a full “up” style may be used.
- Javier A. Reyes, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
- the Chancellor
Titles of Literary and Artistic Works
Titles and subtitles of books, proceedings, collections, periodicals, and newspapers are italicized, or set in roman type in a sentence otherwise italicized. Examples:
- Look for the Oxford English Dictionary definition.
- An article about her appears in The New York Times.
Titles of articles and features in periodicals and newspapers, chapter titles, and titles of short stories and essays are enclosed in quotation marks. Examples:
- I occasionally look at “Elementary Rules of Usage” in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
Titles of operas, oratorios, and other long musical compositions are italicized.
Titles of songs and other short compositions are enclosed in quotation marks. Longer works with generic titles are set in roman type, but are not enclosed in quotation marks.
Titles of movies and of television and radio programs and series are italicized. A single episode in a television or radio series is set in roman type and enclosed in quotation marks.
Titles of most poems are set in roman type and enclosed in quotation marks. A very long poetic work, especially one constituting a book, is italicized and not enclosed in quotation marks.
Titles of plays are italicized. Parts of plays are lowercased and set in roman type.
Titles of paintings, drawings, photographs, statues, and other works of art are italicized.
Numbers and Figures
Spell out cardinal and ordinal numbers one through nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 and above. Examples:
- Three, third, nine, 10, 15th, 93, 100
The same rules apply to round numbers in the millions and billions. Examples:
- eight billion, 10 million people, 140 million people
Use numerals in scores, court decisions, and legislative votes (with an en dash). Examples:
- a 7–5 victory, a 5–4 ruling, a Senate vote of 34–23
Spell out imprecise numbers. Example:
- More than a thousand UMass students are studying abroad.
The spelled-out “percent” is preferred in printed publications, although % may be used on webpages or in lists.
Always use numerals in front of the word “percent” unless the number begins a sentence.
- a 7 percent solution (not seven percent)
- Seven percent of zero is still zero.
Use No. as the abbreviation for number to indicate position or rank:
- UMass Amherst is ranked the No. 1 public research university in New England.
Dates and Times
Use cardinal, not ordinal, numbers. Examples:
April 1, not April 1st; July 4, not July 4th.
Spell out days of the week. For months, spell out when used alone; abbreviate when used with a specific date. But don’t abbreviate these months: March, April, May, June, July. Use numerals for years (i.e. 2022).
Use no punctuation with just month and year or season and year, but use commas if using the day and month together. Examples:
- May 2012; spring 2010
- a June 5, 2012, deadline
- Join us on Friday, April 28, for a reception.
Decades are either spelled out (lowercased) or expressed in numerals. Examples:
- the nineties
- the 1990s, the ’90s, the mid-1930s.
- 4:30 a.m.; 4 p.m.
For noon and midnight, use noon and midnight without the figure 12.
In our communications, we strive to use inclusive language that acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities. Other than a few added examples, these suggestions for writing and talking about diverse groups of people are taken from the Guide to Inclusive Language, a U.S. government publication. When in doubt, always ask the subject what their preference is for descriptors such as pronouns, ability level, what they call their partner/spouse. When it is not feasible to ask the subject, the following guidelines apply.
ability and disability
If a person’s situation, medical condition, illness, or injury is relevant to the content, be as specific as possible and avoid inserting value judgments about their circumstance. For example:
- Use has multiple sclerosis, not is afflicted with or suffers from. Avoid describing people as disabled, handicapped, or confined to a wheelchair.
- Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around disability or mental illness, such as crazy, dumb, lame, schizophrenic, or stupid.
- Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around sensory disabilities, such as blind spot or tone deaf.
Avoid referring to someone’s age unless age is relevant to what you’re writing about. Use older person rather than senior or elderly.
gender and sexuality
Make content gender neutral wherever possible.
When writing about a hypothetical person or if you’re unsure of the person’s pronouns, use they or them, or the student, instead of he/she. When they is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb. Example:
- When asked what their favorite food is, Taylor said they enjoy pizza with anchovies. (Singular, gender-fluid pronoun “they” with plural verb “enjoy” rather than “she enjoys” or “they enjoys.”)
Use descriptors of gender identity or sexual orientation as modifiers, not as nouns. For example, say trans student, cisgender professor, or lesbian woman.
Use different sex instead of opposite sex.
Use spouse or partner instead of husband and wife; use parent instead of mother and father. Use your student instead of your daughter or your son.
Use trans instead of transgender
Use trans woman/trans man instead of transsexual woman/transsexual man
Use nonbinary as an umbrella term for individuals who do not identify as female or male
LGBT, LGBTQ are acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and 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 in the acronym explained. I generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for allies (a person who is not LGBT but who actively supports the LGBT community), asexual (a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction) or both.
Note that sex, gender, and sexual orientation are not synonymous.
Other trans-related language to use:
- “sex assigned at birth” or “assigned male at birth”/“assigned female at birth” (not “born male/female,” “biologically male/female,” or “genetically male/female”)
- “chosen name,” “personal pronouns,” or “the name and pronouns someone uses for themselves” (not “preferred name” or “preferred pronouns”)
- “gender-inclusive” housing, restrooms, etc. (not “gender-neutral”)
- “gender-affirming surgery” (not “sex change” or “sex reassignment surgery”)
Use "lesbian, gay, and bisexual people" (or "LGB people"), rather than "sexual minorities"
Use "gay man," rather than "homosexual man"
Use "same-sex sexuality," rather than "homosexuality"
Use alumni when referring to a group of people representing more than one gender.
race, ethnicity, and religion
Don’t make assumptions; ask how people identify themselves, and be aware of complexities within racial, ethnic, and religious identities. Terms such as Latino/a, Latinx, and Hispanic are descriptors of ethnicity, not race—in fact, a person’s ethnic identity can include any race.
Rather than “minorities,” which can be inaccurate, use “historically underrepresented groups” or “people of color,” or use “ethnic minority,” “linguistic minority,” or “racial minority,” depending on the context.
Avoid using words, images, or situations that reinforce racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes. Avoid the term non-white, or other terms that treat whiteness as a default.
Capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense. Do not capitalize white. Use Black and white only when clearly relevant. When using brown as a racial descriptive, do not capitalize.
When referring to a person’s race or ethnicity, aim for specificity and use adjectives, not nouns. For example, refer to a Korean student rather than an Asian.
Capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.
The acronym BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Use sparingly.
Use Native, not American Indian. If possible, ask the person you’re writing about if they prefer using a specific tribe or nation when describing their identity.
Don’t hyphenate biracial, multiracial, or dual heritage.
Latino(s), Latina(s), and Latinx are all acceptable. Latinx is a gender-neutral term used as a substitute for Latina or Latino. If possible, ask how people identify themselves.
Use international students instead of foreign students.
Do not use hyphens when designating dual heritage: African American, Asian American, Mexican American. However, note these UMass Amherst exceptions:
- Afro-American Studies
- The W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies
For more information on inclusive language, see:
- Disability Language Style Guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism
- National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Style Guide or the GLAAD Media Reference Guide
Electronic Terms; Writing Alt Text
Terms related to the internet are capitalized only if they are trademarked as such or otherwise constitute the proper name of an organization or the like. Generic terms that are capitalized as part of a proper name may be lowercased when used alone or in combination.
internet protocol (IP); the internet; the net; an intranet
log in (v); login (adj. and n.)
"You'll need to log in so you can access your calendar."
"Never share your login credentials."
URL (Uniform Resource Locator—individual web address)
Sentences that include a URL should be punctuated normally (avoid use of http:// in print publications).
The UMass home page is at www.umass.edu.
Break addresses, if necessary, before a dot or after a dash. Examples:
World Wide Web; the web, a website, a web page
A few notes on creating alternative text for web imagery…
Alternative text, or “alt text,” is the description of images and icons that can be accessed with screen readers or read aloud to people who are blind. Some people prefer to read complex material in print rather than see a chart or icon, so using alt text enables users to select the best way for them to process web content.
When creating alt text, keep the widest possible audience in mind, making the text as generally accessible as you can. For example:
- When describing people, use terms that are neutral in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, ability, and age. Use such terms only if they are necessary or applicable to the storyline.
- Instead, use their relationship to the university, such as alumni, student/s, parents, faculty, basketball player.
- Make sure the description is in keeping with the function of the image and the web content that surrounds it.
- Be brief and specific, but use complete sentences if they make the meaning clearer.
- Use correct punctuation to facilitate the sense when read aloud.
- Describe what someone would see, literally, rather than intangible qualities. For example: “a green landscape” rather than “a beautiful green landscape.” Or “a car with the doors ripped off” rather than “a car that just exploded.”
Writing for Social Media
The University Relations Social Media Team is the official voice of UMass Amherst on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and more. We help communities on campus looking to grow their social media presence, students promoting an activity or idea, or faculty using social media as a teaching tool.
Here are some recommended guidelines when writing for social media:
- Although specific social media posts or campaigns might be intended for specific audiences, they may actually be read by anyone. So, keep the content inclusive and accessible for a wide audience.
- That said, if you know who engages with you the most through social media, make sure to focus on their interests and needs.
- Write with clarity; avoid acronyms, initialisms, and jargon.
- Write to inspire action based on your message.
- Be up front about who you are, revealing your affiliation with UMass Amherst.
- Be professional. Remember, you’re representing and speaking for UMass Amherst.
Other Often-Used or Confused Terms
Spell out the term on first reference, with the acronym following in parentheses. Example:
The Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) is a student-centered learning agency within the Division of the Center for Student Development.
back up (verb), backup (noun and adjective)
Example: You’ll need to back up to avoid the traffic backup caused by the overturned truck carrying backup equipment.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the commonwealth
To comprise is “to be made up of, to include” (the whole comprises the parts).
To compose is “to make up, to form the substance of something” (the parts compose the whole).
The phrase comprised of, though increasingly common, is poor usage. Instead, use composed of, consisting of, or made up of.
A quick primer from the AP style guide: “COVID-19 is acceptable on first reference for the coronavirus disease that first appeared in late 2019. If you use ‘COVID-19’ on first reference, use COVID on second reference or to save space in headlines. 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.”
day care (noun); day-care (adjective)
decision maker (noun); decision making (noun); decision-making (adjective)
Use residence hall or residence halls instead.
Ensure means to make certain. Insure means to guarantee against loss (as in to issue an insurance policy).
This is a first-rate institution. But: Our faculty is first rate.
follow-up (adjective preceding a noun); follow up (verb)
full-time (adjective preceding a noun); full time (after a verb)
health care (noun); health-care (adjective)
in-depth (adjective) use “in depth” when not an adjective
Use “in depth” when not an adjective.
Insure means to guarantee against loss (as in to issue an insurance policy). Ensure means to make certain.
Jr., Sr., II
No punctuation precedes these unless presented last name first.
John W. Jones Sr. and Anthony P. Swasey II
But: Jones, John W., Sr., and Swasey, Anthony P., II
Hyphenated and lowercased as an adjective, the term refers to the colleges and universities, among them the institutional predecessor of UMass Amherst, founded as a result of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Example:
The university must never forget its responsibilities as a land-grant institution.
sign up (verb); sign-up (adjective)
startup (noun and adjective)
theater (but check official name in case “theatre” is used)
under way (adverb); underway (adjective)
work study (noun); work-study (adjective)
- The Editorial Style Guide for UMass Magazine, a guide for magazine contributors
- Named Schools and Colleges Guide
- Associated Press Stylebook
- American Psychological Association (APA) Style Book
- The Chicago Manual of Style Available on campus to all, or off campus to UMass Amherst students, staff, and faculty with a UMass Amherst IT NetID (username) and password.
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
- Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage
- The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual
- Oxford English Dictionary online
- Accessible Social, a guide for making social media content accessible
- Diversity Style Guide and Disability Language Style Guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism
- National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Style Guide or the GLAAD Media Reference Guide
- The Conscious Style Guide is a comprehensive resource for learning more about the conversations behind terms, categories, and concepts