Style guide for English
A consistent style facilitates communication and ensures that we speak with "one voice" when we write. Just like we have a brand manual that specifies which colours and fonts to use, we have a style guide that describes what choices to make when it comes to style.
Stylistic choices are not always about what is right or wrong. There will often be several acceptable options. The challenge, then, is to agree on which variety to use, and to use it in a consistent manner.
This style guide should be used for all texts where SLU is the sender. That includes our web sites, our marketing material and all kinds of administrative documents - strategies, course syllabuses, job ads and everything inbetween.
For scientific and science writing, you will find more information on the SLU Library web.
No time to read it all?
If you do not have the time to read all the sections of the style guide, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions on house style:
- Use British English spelling: centre (not center), organisation (not organization), practice (noun) / practise (verb) etc.
- Use sentence capitalisation in headings.
- Use the date format DD MMMM YYYY (30 November 2020, not 30th November or November 30).
- Capitals for the full names of programmes, but lowercase for subjects ("the Veterinary Medicine programme" but "our research in veterinary medicine").
- Do not hyphenate compound nouns: the VH Faculty (not the VH-faculty), PhD student (not PhD-student; even better: doctoral student).
Acronyms and initialisms
Acronyms are abbreviations which consist of the initial letters of other words, and which are pronounced as a word, not as indiviual letters. Only uppercase the initial letter.
- Fomar, Ladok, Vinnova, Sluss
Acronyms that are not names will often start out as all uppercase, but as they become more established this will change to lowercase:
- laser, dvd, quango
Initialisms are abbreviations that consist of the initial letters of other words, and where these letters are pronounced separately. Use all uppercase for initialisms:
- SLU, EU, UN
Acronyms and initialisms can be helpful to avoid having to repeat long names, but should always be written in full the first time they appear in a text. In a longer text, you may need to repeat the full name at the beginning of every chapter/section. Even a very well-known initialism like EU may need explaining, depending on the audience.
Only use the most common abbreviations - ones you can be certain your readers will understand. Use full stops:
- c. (for circa), e.g., i.e., etc., viz.
Contractions are a type of abbreviation that consists of the first and last letter of a word. Do not use full stops in contractions:
- Dr, Mr
Do not use full stops in the abbreviations of degrees:
- BSc, MA, PhD
Units of measurement
Do not use abbreviations like mio or mill. You can use m for million and bn for billion, but write them in full the first time they appear. No space between the figure and the abbreviation.
- This will increase by 2 million to 20m by 2020.
Do not abbreviate thousand to k. Instead, write it in full using a comma as thousands separator.
- SEK 2,000
Abbreviated units of measurement are written without full stops. Use a hard space before the unit.
- 5 km
- 1,500 m2
Make sure you use uppercase and lowercase properly when using SI prefixes:
- kilo = k
- mega = M
- giga = G
SLU acronyms and initialisms
There are plenty of these. With a few exceptions, the Swedish acronyms/initialisms are used in English-language texts as well.
- the LTV Faculty
- the Council for Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (Fomar)
Only use capitals where it is necessary. There is a tendency to overuse capitals to emphasise "important" words. This clutters the text, reduces readability and should be avoided.
Below, you will find a fairly exhaustive list of when to use capitals in SLU texts. If in doubt, use lowercase.
1. We refer to SLU as “the university” with a lowercase “u”. If it is not clear from the context which university the text is referring to, rephrase the text.
2. In titles, use sentence capitalisation - only uppercase the first word and any proper nouns.
- A short presentation of SLU
- Cod has a key role in the Baltic Sea
3. Capitalise the full names of faculties, departments and other units.
Note that the definite article (the) is not part of the name. In for example letterheads, no definite article should be used.
- Faculty of Forest Sciences, Skogsmarksgränd, 901 83 Umeå
- I work at the Faculty of Forest Sciences.
For faculties, capitalise the abbreviated name the same way as the full name:
- The LTV Faculty has adopted a new long-term strategy.
The full names of administrative divisions and units are also capitalised:
- the Division of Learning, Media and Digitalisation
- the HR Unit
4. Capitalise the full names of boards, councils and committees. If anything else than the full name is used, use all lowercase:
- She is a member of the faculty board.
- The NJ Faculty's Equal Opportunities Committee organises lectures and seminars. Next week, the committee will …
5. Use title case for the full names of programmes, courses and degrees
- He teaches on the Biology and Environmental Science programme.
- Next semester, the students will take the course Macroeconomics I.
- It usually takes six years to complete an MSc in Veterinary Medicine.
6. Do not use capitals when referring to general subject or research areas.
- We conduct research in veterinary medicine and animal science.
7. Capitalise titles when attached to a name. In all other cases, use lowercase.
- The meeting was chaired by Head of University Administration Martin Melkersson.
- All heads of unit have been invited to attend.
8. Capitalise adjectives denoting nationality, and the names of languages.
- Swedish (not swedish)
9. Capitalise weekdays, months and holidays.
- Thursday, April, Easter
10. Do not capitalise seasons.
- This course is only offered during the autumn semester.
Do not use contractions (aren't, it's, won't, etc.) except in very informal writing, such as emails.
Date and time
Use the format day month year with no punctuation.
- 10 April 2013
Do not use superscript (10th April).
If the weekday is included, add a comma.
- Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Only abbreviate dates if it is absolutely necessary, e.g. in document headers. Use the format dd/mm/yyyy.
Do not refer to weeks by week number when writing in English, as this system is rarely used or known outside Sweden.
Use either the 24-hour or the 12-hour format depending on what you think best suits your intended readers, but do not mix the two. Separate hours and minutes with a full stop. No space between the digit and the abbreviation.
For duration of time, use one of the following formats:
- 9.00-10.00, between 9.00 and 10.00
Do not write
- from 9.00-10.00, between 9.00-10.00
Strive to use inclusive language - everyone who belongs to the intended audience of a text should feel included.
We all need to be aware of the impact our language may have upon others. This is important in all kinds of communication, in particular for those of us who produce texts for a wide audience.
Never assume that the reader has certain characteristics when it comes to education, age or ethnic/cultural background.
Another aspect of inclusive language is to write in a way that is gender-neutral. Using singular 'they' is perfectly acceptable and can be a handy alternative to 'he/she', 's/he' and the like . Or try rewording your text using a plural instead.
For more suggestions on words to use or avoid, the following sources may be of help:
- UK Government style guide, the section on words to use/avoid when writing about disability
- LGBTQ-inclusive language dos and don'ts from Sheffield Hallam University, UK
- Progressive's style guide with links to further resources, from the organisation Sum of Us
Case endings in Latin have to do with grammatical gender, not biological. The word professor is a masculine noun and takes the masculine adjective emeritus regardless of the gender of the person you are referring to. Only use emerita if you know the person you are referring to prefers that.
In English, both professor emeritus and emeritus professor are acceptable. Use professor emeritus in SLU texts - this is the slightly more common variant.
The masculine form alumnus is considered neutral and can be used regardless of gender. There is no need to write alumnus/alumna if the gender is not known. Use the plural alumni for mixed groups.
However, if you are referring to a particular female graduate, use alumna, and use alumnae for an all-female group of graduates.
Avoid the more recent forms alum/alums. In many contexts, 'graduate' works just as well.
Use the plural syllabuses, not syllabi. Words with Latinate endings that are a part of the language take an -s plural. As always, there are a few exceptions, the most common probably being bacteria and media.
The word data can take either a singular or a plural verb. Although it is a plural, it is often seen as a mass noun - like the word 'information' - which means it takes a singular verb.
Whichever form you use, make sure to use it consistently throughout your text.
Lists are a good way of structuring content and making a text more reader-friendly. However, it is important to maintain consistency in structure, grammar and punctuation in lists. Take care that each list item is a grammatically correct continuation of the introduction, and avoid mixing full sentences with phrases or single items in the same list.
Lists of short items should be introduced by a full sentence (like this one) and have the following features:
- introductory colon
- no initial capitals and no punctuation
- a full stop at the end.
Where each item completes the introductory sentence, you should:
- end the list introduction with a colon;
- label each item with a bullet, number or letter;
- end each item with a semicolon;
- close with a full stop.
If the list items consist of one or more complete sentences, introduce the list with a complete sentence and continue as follows:
- End the list introduction with a colon.
- Label each item with a bullet, number or letter.
- Begin each item with a capital letter.
- End each phrase with a full stop. That way, several sentences can be included in a single list item, if necessary.
For more information on the use of uppercase/lowercase in names, see the section Capitalisation.
Our abbreviated name SLU can be used in most texts, but unless the target group is strictly an in-house one, you must write the name in full the first time it appears in a text.
When you publish in scientific journals, it is extremely important that you use the university's full, official name.
Our four faculties, as well as several departments and most boards, councils and committees have an abbreviated name. The Swedish abbreviations are used in English as well.
Use uppercase only for the full names. For faculties, the abbreviated name counts as a full name.
- the VH Faculty
- the Board of Education (UN)
Campuses, buildings and rooms
These are handled as proper nouns.
- The E4 is easily accessible from Campus Umeå.
- You can take the bus from Malmö to Campus Alnarp.
The names of buildings and meeting rooms should also be uppercase. For names that consist of several words, uppercase only the first if the name is in Swedish.
- There are several teaching rooms in Ulls hus.
- The meeting will be held in Tornsvalan.
Foreign place names
When writing in English, use the English name/the form used in English for countries and major cities.
- Gothenburg (not Göteborg), Munich (not München) etc.
Follow the recommendations in this list of countries, territories and capitals compiled by the Publications Office, the publishing house of the European institutions.
In longer texts, spell out numbers one to nine and use numerals for 10 upwards (unless the number starts the sentence). Do not mix the two styles when they refer to the same category.
- Correct: There were 20 students present at the lecture. All 20 ...
- Wrong: There were twenty students present at the lecture. All 20 ...
For groupings of thousands, use a comma as separator.
Use a full stop as decimal sign.
- 0.75, 1.4
User per cent in longer texts. Use % in tables, figures and shorter texts. Be consistent. Always use figures, not words, for percentages.
- 50%, 50 per cent (not fifty per cent)
If needed for clarity, the currency code SEK can be added before any amount in kronor, even if no other currencies are mentioned in the text. The code should be followed by a hard space. Do not use both SEK and kronor.
Punctuation and formatting
The main purpose of a comma, or any other punctuation inside a sentence, is to increase readability and support a good rhythm when reading.
Introductory adverbs are normally followed by commas:
- This year, we will be launching only one new project.
- Nevertheless, it is important to plan ahead.
A comma is used to frame a non-essential clause, that is a clause that can be removed:
- NN, who speaks Chinese, should apply for the job.
Do not use a comma before an essential clause, that is a clause that is needed for the sentence to be complete.
- .Anyone who speaks Chinese is eligible to apply for this job.
British English generally does not use a serial comma before the penultimate item in a list:
- The division comprises Unit X, Unit Y and Unit Z.
(not Unit X, Unit Y, and Unit Z)
The colon can be used to introduce the items in a list.
- Students registering for this course undertake to: attend all lectures, meet deadlines for written assignments and actively participate in seminars.
It can also be used to introduce an explanation or conclusion:
- After a long discussion, the committee reached a conclusion: the project would not be possible without further funding.
A colon is only followed by a capital if the text after the colon is a quote or a complete sentence.
Hyphenation can be tricky. For Swedes writing in English, the most important thing to remember is not to hyphenate compound nouns.
Do not use a hyphen in compound nouns.
- PhD student, animal husbandry research, land use data, EU funding
Modifiers placed after the noun are not hyphenated.
- The report is up to date.
Modifiers placed before the noun are hyphenated.
- The up-to-date report
Compounds that contain an adjective are hyphenated when placed before the noun.
- first-rate research, Master's-level programme
Compounds made up of an adjective and a verb particle are always hyphenated.
- better-rated research, well-known results
Hyphenation is often used to avoid two consonants or two vowels together.
- aero-elastic, re-examine
However, in frequently used words the hyphen is often left out.
- cooperation, coordinate, radioactive
A hyphen (-) is shorter than an en dash (–). Do not use hyphens, or the even longer em dash (—), instead of an en dash.
Use double quotation marks (inverted commas) for quotes, and single ones for quotes within quotes and for introducing new concepts.
- "This event is known as a 'kosläpp', a cow release", he explained.
Any punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation mark.
- The vice-chancellor emphasised that "our knowledge is key to a sustainable world".
These should be used with caution, as exclamations are rarely needed in the kinds of texts we produce. There may be need for the odd one in texts for the web, in emails etc., but even there they should be used sparingly.
Bold and italics
The first choice for emphasising a word or phrase should be bold.
Italics can be hard to read, in particular on a small screen. Avoid italics for text that will be published on the web.
In texts intended for print, you can use italics or quotation marks for the titles of other written works – articles, reports etc. Choose one convention and use it throughout.
At SLU, we use British English spelling. Remember to check the language setting before you run the spellchecker.
- Use s spelling, not z.
In words such as organisation, specialisation, summarise, standardise etc, both -s- and -z- are acceptable in British English. However, consistent spelling is important. At SLU we use the -s- spelling. An advantage of using the -ise ending for verbs is that you do not need to keep track of the cases where it is the only acceptable variant.
- Keep the final e when adding -ment to verbs ending in -dge:
- Centre, not center.
- Distinguish between noun and verb in cases such as practice/practise, licence/license.
Tone of writing
Our voice and tone, how we express ourselves, influence how our readers perceive us.
- Perspective – Always write for the intended reader, and adapt your tone to the channel you are writing for. Short and concise for the web, more personal for a blog post, correct and balanced for a factual text.
- Vocabulary – use straightforward vocabulary, avoid abstractions, jargon and any kind of bureaucratese.
- Active vs passive – choose the active voice for verbs rather than the passive.