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Words & Styles

A

A and An
Use "a" only before words that start with a consonant sound. Use "an" before words that start with a vowel sound. Note that some words that begin with a consonant letter begin with a vowel sound and should, thus, take an "an." Examples:
A planet
An asteroid
An M-class planet

Abbreviations and acronyms:
Where possible, avoid alphabet soup. As an exception to AP, spell out abbreviations and acronyms on first reference and follow with parenthesized acronyms or abbreviations. The following are acceptable on first reference in all uses: FIU, GPA. Widely known abbreviations and acronyms may be used in headlines: NASA, NSF, EPA.

Academic degrees:
Write out all academic degrees: bachelor of, master’s in, doctorate in, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate’s.
When necessary to refer to associate degrees (which we do not offer): associate degree, associate’s. While associate degrees do entail some degree of specialized coursework, they do not formally have a major. A student earns an associate degree, but never an associate in.
Abbreviate degrees only in tabular information: BA, BFA, BS, MA, MBA, MD, MFA, PhD, etc.

Academic titles:
Generally, it’s best to follow the name with a title: Roary Panther, professor of marketing. If it’s necessary to precede a person’s name with their academic title, do not capitalize the title: professor of marketing Roary Panther.
Do not use Dr. as a title, except when referring to a medical doctor (MD).

Addresses:
Exception to AP. Do not use periods. Use numerals and spell out in all elements of addresses:
11200 SW 8th Street
Miami, Florida 33199

All caps:
Don't use all caps, except with abbreviations and acronyms: FIU, MMC, BBC.

Ampersands:
Use in titles, navigational elements, headings and buttons. Do not use in paragraph copy. The correct HTML character entity is &.

B

Building Names:
Abbreviations and acronyms are acceptable only when referring to a specific location within that building: PC 421, PC, first floor. When referring to the building without a specific location, spell out: Primera Casa was FIU’s first new building. Use our standard abbreviations: MMC map, BBC map.

Bullet lists:
Capitalize first letter of each list item. When a list item consists of a complete sentence, use periods. Only use colons before the beginning of a list, not inside a list item. Instead, use a dash in list items. See Dashes and Hyphens.

Buttons:
Buttons should always describe the action the user is taking. Use simple, persuasive language in buttons: Done, Next, OK, etc. Put your pitch in your headings and copy, not in buttons. Use title case in button copy.

C

Campuses and Centers:
FIU has two main campuses: Modesto Maidique Center in West Miami-Dade County and Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami.
In addition, it has several other locations:

  • Downtown on Brickell
  • Engineering Center
  • FIU at I-75
  • Miami Beach Urban Studios
  • Marriott Tianjian China Program

Coach:
Do not capitalize before a name: coach Pat Riley.

College and School Names:
Do not capitalize “college” or “school.” Examples: college of Arts, Sciences and Education and school of Journalism and Mass Communications.

D

Dashes and Hyphens:
Hyphens: Connect two or more words to form a single word or concept (as in compound modifier): “A well-known celebrity,” for example. Use in place of underscores or spaces in filenames for images, documents, etc.
Dashes: There are two distinct forms of dashes.

  • Em Dash — The longest of the dashes, it is so named because it spans the width of an uppercase “M.” Stylistically, it’s useful in many cases – like appositives, parenthetical asides, and lists (ahem) – where a comma or parenthesis might be used instead. The em dash implies a more immediate connection to its context. Also used for attribution, as in a quote. Use spaces before and after an em dash. The HTML character entity is —.
  • En Dash — The middle sibling in the dash-hyphen family, it is so named because it spans the width of a lowercase “n.” The en dash is used to separate ranges, as in dates and numerical ranges, where the word “to” might be used. The HTML character entity is –.

Department and division names:
In informal and formal uses, do not capitalize department, division, etc., in names: department of Modern Languages. In informal uses, do not capitalize the department name except when capitalizing a language as part of a department name: the biology department, the English department.

Drop-add, drop-add period:
Hyphenated in all uses.

E

Ellipsis ( ... ):
Used to denote a trailing off of speech (a "Shatner Pause" effect) or to condense a quote. While it consists of three periods, the ellipsis is a singular punctuation mark. Use a space before and after an ellipsis. Examples:
"Space ... the final frontier."
"The needs of the many outweigh ... " " ... the needs of the few."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received ... in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

F

Fall, Spring, Summer:
Capitalize when used as names of terms. Do not capitalize when referencing the seasons.

FIU:
Acceptable in all uses. No periods.

H

Headings/headlines:
Appropriate heading tags help screen readers and search engines understand the hierarchy and the substance of a page. Without the semantic meaning imparted by these tags, screen readers would have no way of knowing what’s most important on a page, resulting in a very frustrating experience for people using screen readers.
Since they carry semantic meaning, H tags should never be used to style text, for example. Instead, they should outline the content of the page. Any styling needed should be made with CSS styles.
A few helpful hints:

  • Always reserve the h1 for the page title. A page should only have one h1 tag
  • Don’t skip heading tag tiers. Use an h2 to create your first content headline. Then, use an h3 to create a subheading within the h2. Use an h4 to create a subheading within the h3 and so on
  • If you need to create a new content area of equal importance to the previous h2, feel free to create a new h2
  • With the exception of h1, you can use as many tags as needed, but be sure to consistently follow the hierarchy

Any element within a heading tag should be written in title case. Capitalize principle words. Do not capitalize conjunctions, articles and prepositions unless they start a sentence: The Hunt for Red October, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Do not use title case for blurbs, bullet lists, or any other element that does not act as a header.

I

Images:
Where appropriate, use alt tags on images to provide a pleasant experience to users visiting our sites with the use of assistive technologies. It’s not necessary to use them on purely decorative items, but any time an image conveys information, an alt tag is necessary. Learn more about alt-tags. Avoid using images with text as a replacement for a font.

Information Architecture Standards:
In general, avoid audience segmentation for primary site navigation. Instead, group like-content in groups under logical headings: academicsabout uscontact usalumnigivingnews & eventsresearch, etc. Segmented audience pages can be embedded in the footer or as a tertiary navigational element, with Digital Communications’ approval.

L

Links:
Do not use “gibberish” links or “click here” constructions. Instead, it’s better to link a descriptive phrase that gives the user more information. This approach is also cleaner and more adaptable to user interfaces that don’t use the cliché “click,” such as assistive technologies or touch screens.
Ideally, structure your writing such that the link is at the end of the sentence.
Do: Get the student handbook.
Don’t: Get the handbook at http://someurl.com/files/handbook.pdf
Don’t: Click here to get the handbook.

M

Majors:
When referencing a major, only capitalize names of languages: a student majoring in English, a student majoring in physics.
Students major in a subject, they are not their majors:
Do: Jimmy is majoring in architecture.
Don’t: Jimmy is an architecture major.

MyFIU:
Note the use of case.

N

Numerals:
Use numbers in all instances; an exception to AP. When a sentence begins with a number, spell it out. Consider recasting the sentence.

P

Percent:
Spell out the word in copy. The symbol is acceptable in charts and tabular information.

Phone numbers:
Always use hyphens: 305-348-2000.

R

Resident Assistant:
RA only acceptable on second reference.

S

Spaces:
Use only one space after a period when starting a new sentence.

Student Government Association:
SGA on second reference. Capitalize the formal name, but not in generic reference: Student Government Association, student government.

Student Organizations Council:
SOC on second reference.

T

Titles, job descriptions:
Capitalize proper titles when they precede a name: President Mark B. Rosenberg. Do not capitalize titles when they follow a name: Mark B. Rosenberg, president. Job descriptions are not capitalized: office manager John Doe.

Times:
Exception to AP: No periods or spaces: 11am.
Do not use :00 constructions. Examples of proper use: 9am, 9:30pm.
Avoid redundancies, such as 11pm at night or 11am Monday morning.
When expressing a range, use an en dash (HTML character entity –) without spaces: 9–10pm, 10am–12pm.
Used sparingly, the following phrases are acceptable when a colloquial effect is desired: o’clock, noon, midnight. Do not use these phrases in tabular information or listings.

U

University:
Do not capitalize "university" unless you are spelling out the full university name. Examples: Over 54,000 students attend the university. Over 54,000 students attend Florida International University.