Editorial Style

Using consistent, clear language is more efficient, produces more readable copy and strengthens the University’s messages. With a few exceptions, Strategic Marketing and Communications follows the Associated Press Stylebook and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. For guidance on language questions and style specific to the University, consult the guide below. Additional guidance can be found online in both the California State University Diversity Style Guide and the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism Diversity Style Guide

University Name

Spell out San Francisco State University on first reference. On second reference, use San Francisco State. Thereafter, abbreviate to SF State or the University (with no periods between S and F). (Exception: It is unnecessary to use the full name for internal publications, including on first reference.) Never use “SF State University.” Only use SFSU when no good alternative exists. SFSU could cause confusion due to its similarity to the acronyms for other area institutions, such as USF and SJSU. (Exception: SFSU is acceptable in hashtags such as #SFSU2019 and #SFSUGators.)

Spell out California State University on first reference; thereafter, abbreviate to CSU. (Exception: It is unnecessary to use the full name for internal publications, including on first reference.)

Spell out University of California on first reference; thereafter, abbreviate to UC. When a specific campus is mentioned for the first time, place commas before and after the location. In the abbreviated form used on second reference, no commas are necessary.

  • She earned her B.A. in Political Science from University of California, Berkeley, before joining the Navy.


  • She played on the basketball team at UC Berkeley.

Capitalize the word University only when referring to SF State.

  • The University has invested a great deal of time in the strategic planning process.
  • There are many fine universities in Northern California.

Downtown Campus

The location should be referred to as the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus or SF State’s Downtown Campus. On second reference, drop San Francisco State University/SF State’s but keep Downtown Campus capitalized.

The EOS Center and the Romberg Tiburon Campus 

SF State’s Estuary & Ocean Science Center is located on the University’s 53-acre Romberg Tiburon Campus in Marin County. It should be referred to as “the Estuary & Ocean Science (EOS) Center” on first reference and “the EOS Center” or simply “the Center” thereafter. More information about the Center and its programs can be found at EOS Center Website.


Names and Titles

Include a person’s full name the first time he or she appears in an article. Thereafter, use his or her last name. (Exception: A title is always used for SF State’s president. So SF State’s current president is always President Lynn Mahoney on first reference and President Mahoney thereafter.)

  • Associate Professor of Psychology Jordan Allen co-authored the paper. According to Allen, it is the most detailed study yet of introversion.
  • SF State President Lynn Mahoney announced the change on Monday. President Mahoney called the new system “a great step forward for SF State.”

Use the title Dr. when referring to a doctor of medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine. Do not use it to designate doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), doctor of education (Ed.D.,), doctor of physical therapy science (D.P.T.Sc.), etc.

Capitalize all conferred and traditional educational, occupational and business titles when used specifically in front of the name or in lists and programs. (Exception: Do not capitalize such titles in the text when they follow the name, unless the title is a named or distinguished professorship.)

  • Professor of History Mary Steinberg has written a book about the protests.
  • Mary Steinberg has been a professor at SF State for more than two decades.
  • Benjamin Marlowe was chair of the Department of Journalism in the early 1970s.
  • Rachel Gross joined the SF State faculty in 2016 as the John and Marcia Goldman Chair in American Jewish Studies.

Also see “Special Instructions for Faculty Titles

Do not capitalize unofficial titles preceding a name.

  • The poet Mavis Primjer read from her latest work at the ceremony.

Do not capitalize titles that stand alone or follow an individual’s name.

  • The dean of the College of Health & Social Sciences must approve all research projects.
  • Contact the dean of students for more information.
  • Loretta Voorbeeld, professor of elementary education, will speak at the symposium.

Abbreviate the following titles when they precede a name: Dr., the Rev., Rep. and Sen. and all military and police titles. (NoteA list of military title abbreviations accepted by the Associated Press is available online.)

The titles of books, essays, plays, musical compositions, motion pictures, pamphlets, radio and television programs, songs, lectures, speeches, course titles and parts of volumes (chapters, titles of papers, etc.) should be placed in quotation marks.

  • “War and Peace”
  • “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
  • “Introduction to Psychology”
  • “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

The titles of newspapers, journals, newsletters and magazines should be in plain text without quotation marks.

  • The San Francisco Chronicle
  • Newsweek


Special Instructions for Faculty Titles

Capitalize an entire faculty title only when it immediately precedes the name. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

  • She called Associate Professor of Biology Beth Sampla.
  • She called Beth Sampla, associate professor of Biology.
  • She called Larry Keyner, a professor in the Department of Jewish Studies.
  • She called Jewish Studies Professor Larry Keyner

Capitalize named, distinguished and endowed professorships.

  • CSU Distinguished Professor Mario Nessuno
  • Alexandra Pappas has been selected to be the first Raoul Bertrand Chair in Classics

Capitalize the names of University departments and divisions when they appear in a title even if the rest of the title is lowercased.

  • Dwayne Banks has been appointed the new vice provost for Academic Resources.
  • Carleen Mandolfo is the University’s associate vice president of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development.

Spell out Professor. Do not use the abbreviation Prof. Do not abbreviate assistant and associate when used in a title, such as assistant professor of astronomy.

Emeritus is the singular, masculine form; for references to women, use emerita (singular) or emeritae (plural). Emeriti may serve as the plural for a group that is composed of men only or of both men and women. 

  • Professor emerita of music, professors emeriti, faculty emeriti

When mentioning the colleges of Health & Social Sciences, Liberal & Creative Arts and Science & Engineering, always use ampersands, not “and.”



Abbreviate academic degrees as follows:

  • bachelor of science/bachelor of arts — B.S./B.A.
  • master of arts — M.A.
  • doctor of philosophy — Ph.D.
  • doctor of education — Ed.D.
  • master of business administration — MBA

Do not abbreviate the words association, avenue, boulevard, department, institute and street in narrative text. (Exception: Abbreviate avenue, boulevard and street when naming a specific street address).

  • The Pelda Institute’s offices are on Junipero Serra Boulevard.
  • The institute’s offices are at 2001 Junipero Serra Blvd.

Abbreviate months only when immediately followed by a specific date or dates.

  • The deadline for submissions is Dec. 12.
  • December is his favorite month.
  • Interviews and presentations will be held from Dec. 12 to 15.

Do not abbreviate names of states or countries. Refer to the AP Stylebook entry on “Datelines” for a list of major U.S. and foreign cities that do not need a state immediately following. (Exception: Small but familiar California communities do not need to be identified by state.)

  • Harris studied in Oregon.
  • Jones was born in Oakland, moved to Fremont as a teenager and now lives in Tacoma, Washington.
  • Lopez was born in Douglasville, Georgia.
  • Atlanta was host of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The names of certain buildings on campus can be abbreviated in internal publications when a specific room is being mentioned.

  • The meeting was held in ADM 155.
  • The professor gave his talk in LIB 296.
  • The class meets in BUS 222.

For pieces that will reach an external audience, write out the building name.

  • The meeting was held in room 155 of the University’s Administration building.
  • The exhibit will be housed in the Special Collections Gallery on the fourth floor of SF State’s J. Paul Leonard Library.



Capitalize college only when using the full name of one of the eight academic colleges at SF State.

  • The College of Business is beginning a new program.
  • The college is beginning a new program.

Capitalize library when referring to the J. Paul Leonard Library.

  • The Library will be expanded and renovated.
  • The J. Paul Leonard Library will be expanded and renovated.
  • I like my neighborhood library. 

Always capitalize “Gator” or “Gators.” Use these terms in informal references to athletic teams, the student body or alumni.

  • The Gator volleyball team defeated the Sonoma State Seawolves 2-0.
  • Gators put in more than 460,000 volunteer hours each year.

Capitalize association, building, center, club, conference, department, division, hall, office, senate, street, etc. when used as part of an official title; thereafter, do not capitalize these words when used alone to refer to the specific place or group.

  • Academic Senate; thereafter, the senate
  • Student Health Services; thereafter, SHS
  • Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; thereafter, the department
  • Board of Trustees (when referring to the CSU’s board); thereafter, the board or the trustees
  • Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism; thereafter, the center

Do not capitalize room or building unless it is part of an official name.

  • The meeting was held in room 545 of the Humanities building.
  • We attended a lecture in the Rosa Parks Room.

Capitalize, spell out and put quotes around the full name of a specific course or subject. Also, if citing the course number, separate it from the rest of the name with a colon.

  • “English 555: The Short Story”
  • “History 323: Imperial Rome”

Capitalize call letters of radio and television stations and alphabetical abbreviations of groups, organizations or institutions such as NOW, ROTC, USDA, UCLA or MIT without periods or spaces unless the entity uses such punctuation as part of its proper name. (Exception: U.S., when used as an adjective or noun, should be capitalized and written with periods.)

Capitalize names of ethnic groups and nationalities, including when used as adjectives. (Note: “Black” is capitalized; “white” is not.)

  • Elaine Hito, professor of Asian American studies
  • an Irish folk song
  • the African American community
  • “As a Black artist, I felt the need to address this issue,” said Smith.

LGBTQ is acceptable when referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and does not need to be spelled out.

Headlines for press releases, web stories and CampusMemo are in “down style.” The first word of all headlines must be capitalized; all words that follow are lowercase, except for proper nouns. (Exception: SF State Magazine headlines are capitalized. Only coordinating conjunctions, prepositions and articles such as “a,” “an” and “the” remain lowercase.)

  • Contest winners announced
  • Ceramic Guild launches holiday sale
  • SF State to celebrate International Education Week

Capitalize all words in the titles of books, plays, films, lectures, musical compositions or events unless they are prepositions, articles or conjunctions. (Exception: The first word of a title is always capitalized, regardless of what part of speech it is.)

  • “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
  • “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
  • International Education Week
  • The International Day for Protection of Children

Do not capitalize “the” in the name of an organization or group.

  • His research was supported by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
  • Who doesn’t love the Beatles?

Do capitalize “the” in the full formal name of a publication.

  • Last month she was profiled in The New York Times.

Capitalize recognized geographical regions. (Exception: Do not capitalize points of the compass.)

  • The professor spends her weekends in Northern California but works in Southern California.
  • He moved to northern Idaho.
  • We are walking north across campus.
  • the South, the Midwest, the East

Rule change from previous style guide editions: Capitalize official college degrees when spelled out. (Do not, however, capitalize the type of degree: “bachelor of science,” “master of arts,” etc.)

  • He has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in Russian Literature.
  • She has a master’s degree in Computer Science from University of California, Berkeley.

Rule change from previous style guide editions: Capitalize the formal names of University majors. Do not capitalize names of generic fields of study.

  • Yu plans to continue building her research skills and pursue a Ph.D. in Economics with an emphasis in Health.
  • Roberts is majoring in Africana Studies.
  • Though Evans loves math, he decided to focus on dance instead.

Do not capitalize organized groups or classes of students in a university or high school or the words freshman, sophomore, junior, senior or graduate when referring to the classification of the student.

  • “English 101: Composition 1” should be taken in the freshman year.
  • Calvin Talmid is a senior in the College of Humanities.
  • The junior class will conduct its annual election tomorrow.

Do not capitalize designations of officers of a class, social organization, etc.

  • She was elected freshman class secretary.
  • Paula Schlesinger is president of the SF State Animation Society.

Do not capitalize the words colleges, schools and departments when referring to more than one individual college, school or department.

  • The program is a collaboration of the colleges of Ethnic Studies and Liberal & Creative Arts.

Do not capitalize seasons unless part of an official title.

  • Thompson will be a freshman in the fall.
  • His brother will graduate at the end of the spring semester.
  • I am looking forward to the Fall Fun Pumpkin Fest in October.

Capitalize Commencement when referring to SF State’s main Commencement ceremony. Commencement Day is also capitalized. Do not refer to the graduation-related ceremonies held by departments or student groups as Commencement or graduation, either uppercase or lowercase. Instead, use “recognition ceremony,” “award ceremony,” “reception,” etc.



Place one space after periods, colons, commas, semicolons, etc. Do not use two.


Whenever possible use “smart”/curly apostrophes and quotation marks (‘ ’; “ ”) rather than “dumb”/straight apostrophes and quotation marks (' '; " "). When referring to years, use an apostrophe only to indicate numerals that are left out. 

  • the class of ’97
  • Chris Clark (B.A., ’92)
  • the 1960s (not “the 1960’s”)
  • the ’80s (not “the 80’s” or “the ’80’s”)

Note: Take care that the apostrophe is facing the right way.

  • Incorrect: ‘88 for 1988
  • Correct: ’88


Use a colon after an independent clause to direct attention to a list, an appositive (a noun or noun phrase that renames another noun near it in the sentence) or a direct quotation of one or more paragraphs. If the colon is followed by a complete sentence, the first letter in the sentence should be capitalized.

  • Students should always have the following things: paper, pens, textbooks and a positive attitude.
  • My roommate is guilty of two of the seven deadly sins: greed and gluttony.
  • The protestors came to the rally to demand one thing: peace.
  • There was only one thing wrong with his statement: It was a lie


Use dashes sparingly. Place one space before and after all dashes.

Use em dashes (Mac: Option+Shift+Hyphen; PC: [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Num -]) to indicate an abrupt change of thought, set off a parenthetical phrase with more emphasis than commas or set off an appositive whenever a comma might be misread as a series comma.

  • In San Francisco, the cost of basic needs — food, clothing and housing — has risen during the past 20 years.
  • Consider the opportunities awaiting you at SF State — friends, intellectual growth and an extremely bright future.

Use en dashes (Mac: Option+Hyphen; PC: [Ctrl]+[Num -]) to replace the word “to” when it represents a duration of time. Do not use the en-dash when it is preceded by “from”; spell out “to” instead.

  • The physics class will be held 3 – 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The physics class will be held from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.


To avoid ambiguity, use the hyphen to connect compound modifiers (two or more words functioning together as an adjective before a noun).

  • small-business profits (rather than small business profits)
  • slow-moving van (rather than slow moving van)

Do not use a hyphen to connect “-ly” adverbs or the word “very” to the words they modify.

  • A slowly moving van tied up traffic on Holloway Avenue.
  • KSFS is a very good radio station.

Hyphenate part-time and full-time when used as adjectives and hyphenate any modifying words combined with “well” when preceding a noun.

  • The professor is a well-known candidate for the new full-time position.
  • She works part time.

Do not omit hyphens from words in a series.

  • The students received first-, second- and third-place prizes.

Use a hyphen with the prefixes all-, ex-, and self- and with the suffix -elect.

  • The University sponsors self-help projects in underserved areas.
  • His ex-girlfriend is president-elect of an all-undergraduate committee.

Do not hyphenate words beginning with the prefix non, except those containing a proper noun.

  • non-German, nontechnical, nonprofit

Do not place a hyphen between such prefixes as pre, semi, anti, co, sub and multi and nouns or adjectives, except proper nouns. (Exception: Hyphenate to avoid duplicated vowels or triple consonants.)

  • coauthored, bell-like, reapply, pro-American, pre-enroll, predentistry, subtotal

Quotation marks

Use single quotation marks for direct quotes inside headlines and within double quotation marks.

  • “Janet turned to me and said, ‘That is what SF State is all about,’” Yamamoto recalled.
  • Commencement speaker tells graduates to ‘shoot for the top’

Set quotation marks outside periods and commas and inside colons and semicolons. Quotation marks should be set inside of exclamation points and question marks that are not part of the quotation.

  • “Airplane!” is her favorite film.
  • Did you know that his favorite film is “Jaws”?
  • Bob’s favorite films are “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”; and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Place question marks and exclamation points inside quotation marks unless they apply to the sentence as a whole.

  • Who wrote “Gone with the Wind”?
  • He asked, “How long will this take?”

No quotation marks are necessary in interviews when the name of the speaker is given first or in reports of testimony when the words question and answer or Q and A are used.

  • Q: Who will benefit from the fee-waiver program?
  • A: Full-time faculty and staff.


Avoid Oxford commas when possible. Use a comma between the last two items in a series only when necessary to avoid confusion.

  • The flag is red, white and blue.
  • She likes pizza, cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • I nominate Bill, Ted or Larry.

Place a comma after digits signifying thousands: 1,150 students. Do not use commas when referring to temperature: 4600 degrees.

Introductory words or phrases such as i.e. and e.g. should be immediately preceded by a comma or semicolon and followed by a comma.

  • She loves to read nonfiction, e.g., reference books and how-to books.
  • He had one obvious flaw, i.e., his laziness.

Also see the entry on i.e./e.g. under Special Instructions and Troublesome Words.

When writing a date, place a comma between the day, if given, and the year, as well as after the year.

  • The meeting will be held Jan. 5 in ADM 154.
  • The meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 5, in ADM 154.
  • The meeting was held Monday, Jan. 5, 2014, in ADM 154.

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

  • October 1965
  • The building will be completed by spring 2023.

Place a comma before and after a state name if it’s used in conjunction with a city.

  • He grew up in Evansville, Indiana, but went to college in California.

Use a comma between two or more adjectives when each modify a noun separately.

  • Her student has become a strong, confident, independent woman.

Do not use commas between cumulative adjectives.

  • He wore two thin gold chains around his neck.

(“And” cannot be inserted between the adjectives “two,” “thin” and “gold,” and the order of the adjectives cannot be changed).


An ampersand (&) is fine in a college, department or program name as long as it is used consistently.

  • The College of Science & Engineering
  • The School of Theatre & Dance
  • The Department of Child & Adolescent Development

Do not use an ampersand in place of “and” in a sentence.

  • No: Come to the End of Year Celebration for food & fun!
  • Yes: Come to the End of Year Celebration for food and fun!



Use figures for numbers 10 or greater, including ordinal numbers. However, spell out the words million and billion, and do not use numerals for first, second, third, etc.

  • There are at least 10 good reasons to get an education.
  • She oversees a staff of nine.
  • There are approximately 83.3 million dogs in the United States.
  • He ended the race in tenth place.

Use figures for days of the month, omitting st, nd, rd and th.

  • I will be on vacation beginning Oct. 24.
  • I will return on Nov. 2.

Use figures for measurements (but spell out inches, feet, etc.).

  • 4 feet
  • 10 cubic centimeters

Rule change from previous style guide editions: Use % when discussing exact percentages.

  • After the article ran, donations to the program increased by 78%.

Use figures for ages.

  • The average student age is 24.
  • The student’s child is 3 years old.
  • That 14-year-old graduate student is a genius. 

For publications with an entirely on-campus audience, write campus phone numbers as follows:

  • ext. 8-1111 (for numbers with the 338 prefix)
  • ext. 5-2222 (for numbers with the 405 prefix)

Spell out phone numbers and include area codes (in parentheses) in all publications with off-campus audiences. (Exceptions: Periods are acceptable in certain projects such as brochures as long as they are used consistently.)

  • For details, contact Evelyn Hooker at (415) 338-1111.
  • In a brochure: 415.338.1111

Use figures for hours of the day. (Exceptions: Spell out noon and midnight.)

  • The class begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m.
  • The class begins at noon and ends at 1:30.

Do not use :00 when citing the top of the hour.

  • 9 a.m., not 9:00 a.m.; 2 p.m., not 2:00 p.m.; etc.

Use figures for amounts of money with the word cents or with the dollar sign.

  • These days 10 cents will not even buy you a gumball.
  • My cup of coffee cost $3.

Do not begin a sentence with numerals. (Exception: Unless it is a numeral designating a calendar year.) Instead, supply a word or spell out the figures. Please note: Numbers less than 100 should be hyphenated when they consist of two words.

  • One thousand people attended the play.
  • Thirty-nine SF State students attended the play.
  • Two-thirds of those attending the play were SF State alumni.
  • 1776 was an important year in history


Web Style

Email is not hyphenated. It is also not capitalized (unless at the beginning of a sentence).

  • The professor prefers to be contacted via email.
  • Email addresses can be found in the staff directory.

When listing websites with URLs that include www. omit both http:// and the www.; if the URL does not include www. or is not easily recognizable as a website address, then use the full http:// address.

  • To visit us on the web, go to sfsu.edu.

Rule change from previous style guide editions: Do not capitalize internet or web.

The word website should be written as one word, not capitalized.

Online is not hyphenated.


Special Instructions and Troublesome Words

When writing about people who have attended SF State:

  • Alumnus is the singular masculine form. (He is an SF State alumnus.)
  • Alumna is the singular feminine form. (She is an SF State alumna.)
  • Alumnae is the plural feminine form. (Alex Borstein and Anne Rice are SF State alumnae.)
  • Alumni may serve as the plural for a group that is composed of men only or of both men and women; it should never be used to refer to an individual. (Lisa Cholodenko, Peter Casey and Glen Charles are SF State alumni.)
  • Alum and alums are acceptable abbreviations. (Peter Coyote is an alum, too; what great alums we have!)

Graduate refers only to someone who has earned a degree from SF State. Alumnus or alumna refers to anyone who attended for credit for a minimum of one semester.

When first mentioning an SF State alum, use the individual’s full name, then mention the kind of degree they received and the year they received it in parentheses.

  • Bing Jeffords (B.S., ’84) credits the University with his success.
  • The project was spearheaded by Clothing Expo founder Delores Watson (B.A., ’77; MBA, ’82).

If it is helpful or adds important context to be more specific, the field the degree was earned in can be cited, as well.

  • Annette Bening (B.A., Theatre Arts, ’80) is a four-time Academy Award nominee.

Do not substitute the word “teacher” or “teachers” when referring to faculty members.

Freshmen are first-year students. Freshman is the singular form and is used as an adjective.

  • Donna Brown, a freshman, attended the concert.
  • The freshman orientation session was held Saturday.
  • Many freshmen attended the workshop.

Do not identify individuals by race, religion or national origin unless such identifications provide essential context.

Fundraising is always one word with no hyphen.

  • We have been fundraising all summer.
  • The fundraising drive kicked off last September.

SF State begins with a vowel sound (the “eh” when the letter “s” is spoken aloud), therefore use the word “an” preceding it.

  • We were interviewing an SF State student to work in our office.

Muni, not MUNI

The San Francisco Municipal Railway is Muni, an abbreviated form of Municipal. It is not an acronym.

present/past tense

Completed actions should be described in past tense. (Exceptions: Use present tense in headlines and in quote attributions in SF State Magazine.)

  • In press release and story copy: KQED presented the award to SF State Professor of Biology Emil Corpo.
  • In a headline: KQED presents award to SF State professor
  • In SF State Magazine: “I love what this program has done for students,” she says.

who, which, that

Use who to refer to persons. Do not use which or that. Which introduces a clause that can be omitted without changing the meaning. Such clauses are always set off with commas. That introduces a clause that cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

  • He wondered how a man who ate so many sweets could stay as trim as Bob.
  • The team that scores the most points will go to the playoffs.
  • The fireplace, which was cracked near the top, was made of bricks.
  • Trees that lose their leaves are called deciduous.


Affect, as a verb, means to influence. Affect, as a noun, is best avoided. (It is occasionally used in psychology to describe an emotion, but there is no need for it in lay language). Effect, as a verb, means to cause. Effect, as a noun, means result.

  • The game will affect the standings.
  • He will effect many changes in the company.
  • The effects were overwhelming.
  • He miscalculated the effect of his actions.


i.e. is an abbreviation for id est, Latin for “that is” (to say). e.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia, “for the sake of example.” e.g. simply indicates an example; i.e. specifies and explains.

  • She loves to read nonfiction, e.g., reference books and how-to books.
  • He had one obvious flaw, i.e., his laziness.
  • I like citrus fruits, e.g., oranges and lemons.
  • I like citrus fruits, i.e., the juicy, edible fruits of tropical, usually thorny shrubs or trees. 


Use “theatre” unless the proper name of a venue is spelled “theater.”

  • Alumnus Daniel Sullivan is a theatre legend.
  • The Department of Theatre Arts sponsored the event.
  • Her play premiered at San Francisco’s Geary Theater in 2012