Punctuation & Formatting

Expand All
  • Ampersand

    Use the ampersand (&) if used by a company in its official title. Otherwise, avoid using it. Exceptions: Arts & Sciences, A&S.

  • Apostrophe

    When making the plural of figures, do not use an apostrophe.


    The early 1900s, the early ’50s

    When forming possessives, generally use ’s for most nouns not ending in s unless the following word begins with an s. Use only the apostrophe for nouns ending in s.


    hostess’ seating arrangement, women’s rights, Dickens’ life works

    To show joint possession, use a possessive form on the last element.


    Susie and Bill’s home.

    To show individual possession, the possessive form must be used with all elements.


    Bob’s and Jill’s term papers.

    Use the apostrophe with plurals of a single letter.


    His report card showed several A’s and a couple of B’s.

  • Brackets

    Brackets are used when information is inserted in quotations for purposes of clarification.


    "[Franklin] Roosevelt was my favorite president."

  • Bullets

    Capitalize the first letter of the first word of each bulleted item, whether it is a phrase or a complete sentence.

    If individual bulleted items form complete sentences, use appropriate punctuation at the end of each sentence.

    If copy in bulleted items is composed of single words, phrases, or dependent clauses, it is not necessary to punctuate after each item or after the last word. If punctuation is used, confine it to punctuation normally found at the end of a sentence. Do not use semicolons or commas after bulleted items.

    Keep bulleted items brief; anything longer than two sentences is a paragraph.

    Keep voice and verb tense consistent in the same set of bulleted points. Also, make sure there is parallel construction.

  • Colon

    A colon follows a statement that introduces a direct quotation of one or more paragraphs. Also use a colon after "as follows." If the quotation following a colon forms a complete sentence, capitalize the first word of the sentence. If it is not a complete sentence, lowercase the first word.


    Here’s what you need to do: Clean out your dorm room, return the library books, and pay your parking tickets.

    Use a colon at the end of a sentence or phrase to introduce lists, tabulations, texts, and series. Also, use a colon to introduce an explanatory word or phrase.


    Three factors were involved: time, expense, and necessity.

  • Comma

    Place a comma after digits signifying thousands, except when referring to temperature or year.


    1000 degrees
    The changes will take place in 2005.

    Use a comma to introduce a complete quote.


    According to Bettie Smith, "Funding has been obtained to bring the Supreme Court justice to campus."

    Do not use a comma in names ending with Jr. or a numeral.


    Michael D. Smith Jr.
    Jay Edwards III

    When writing a date, place a comma between the date (if given) and the year, and after the year.


    On July 4, 1776, the nation celebrated its first Independence Day.

    Do not place a comma between the month and year when the day is not mentioned.


    March 1987

  • Ellipsis Mark

    Use an ellipsis mark ( ... ) to indicate the deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, texts and documents.

    Treat an ellipsis mark as a word. In a sentence, use one regular space on both sides.

    If the words that precede ellipses form a complete sentence, place at the end of the last word before the ellipses, resulting in four periods.


    The professor said, "I thought it was a good idea. ... The committee agreed with me."

  • En Dash, Em Dash

    Use an en dash to connect numbers and words in a range. The en dash, which is slightly longer than a hyphen, can be created on Mac computers by pushing the option and hyphen keys. On PCs, it can be created by pushing the control and minus keys.

    There is no space on either side of the en dash.


    We are open 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Monday–Friday.

    Use an em dash to give special emphasis. An em dash can be created on Mac computers by holding down the option key and pushing the hyphen key twice. On PCs, it can be created by pushing the alt, control and minus keys.

    Put a space on both sides of an em dash in all uses.


    The information I sent you is true — and you know it!

  • Exclamation Point

    Use sparingly. 

  • Hyphen

    Hyphens are joiners; use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words. Some general rules:

    Hyphenate "part-time" and "full-time" only when used as adjectives.


    She works part time; she has a part-time position.

    Hyphenate any modifying word combined with "well" that precedes its subject.

    Do not use the hyphen to connect an adverb ending in "ly" with a participle.


    She is a highly qualified student and lives in an elegantly furnished home.

  • Listing Events

    When listing multiple calendar events in a program series, start by listing the event name (bolded) and speaker name(s), followed by the date, time and location. Readers are generally scanning for subjects, speakers or program titles that interest them rather than dates. List events chronologically.


    The Case for an Aristocratic Electorate
    Claudio López-Guerra, assistant professor of political studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, Mexico City
    Sept. 13, 4:30 p.m.
    Whitehurst Living Room

    When applicable, include supplementary information or the speaker’s abstract below the event listing. Link to related sources for more information.


    Discussion with David "Sonny" Lacks
    Moderated by Craig Kocher
    Wednesday, Mar. 20, 7:30 p.m.
    Robins Pavilion, Jepson Alumni Center

    A book signing and reception will follow in the Ukrop Gallery.

    Ethical Dilemmas in Scientific & Medical Research
    Brown Bag lunch book discussion with Center for Civic Engagement
    Friday, February 15, 2013
    305 Tyler Haynes Commons

    Jessica Flanigan, assistant professor, Jepson School of Leadership Studies
    Rick Mayes, associate professor of political science and co-coordinator, healthcare and society program
    Judith Schrempf, assistant professor of management

  • Paragraph Indentations

    Generally, do not indent the first paragraph of a story. Do not indent subheads or the first paragraph after a subhead.

  • Semicolon

    Use the semicolon to link two independent clauses when there is no coordinating conjunction such as and, but, or for. Do not capitalize the first word after a semicolon unless it is a proper noun.


    The homework was due Friday; I didn’t finish it until today.

    Use semicolons to separate elements in a series when they contain material that must also be set off by commas. Use the semicolon before the final element in the series.


    The survivors include her husband, Steve; her children, Susie, James and Mike; and her parents, Dr. and Mrs. L.J. Edwards.

  • Sentence Spacing

    Use only one space between sentences in any document.

  • Serial Commas

    Use commas to separate elements in a series, including a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.


    The flag is red, white, and blue.

    Also use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases:


    We considered whether the students were prepared for the test, whether they had used their time wisely, and whether they had a good attitude.

    Do not use a comma to separate elements in weights and measures.


    5 ft. 10 in. tall

  • Superscript

    Superscript is for notes only.

    Manually change if your computer puts "th" in superscript.


    Incorrect: the 19th century

    Correct: The 19th century

  • Quotation Marks

    Use single quotation marks for quotations printed within other quotations.

    Use single quotation marks in headlines.

    If several paragraphs are to be quoted, use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but at the end of the last paragraph only. Use the same technique if sentences continue to another paragraph.

    Periods and commas should be set inside quotation marks; colons and semicolons should be set outside. Exclamation points and question marks that are not part of the quotation go outside.

    A word or term unfamiliar to the reader, or one that is used in a way other than is commonly understood, may be introduced in quotation marks on first reference. Subsequent references, however, do not need the quotation marks.

    Put quotation marks around a word or phrase used in an ironic sense.

    When a sentence ends with a single quotation mark and a double quotation mark, the period should be inside the single quote.