Writing house style guide

The house style guide establishes rules for language use, including punctuation, spelling and formatting, and aims to ensure consistency across University print and online publications.

Spelling and grammar

The guide is revised periodically to accommodate changes in conventions and usage. If your style query is not addressed in this guide, please contact marketing-team@bristol.ac.uk.

For common spelling and grammar queries, please see the Oxford English Dictionary. (University of Bristol staff and students can log in here.)

Writing about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Following the example of the WHO, our preference is to use all caps for 'COVID-19' (not 'Covid-19') and lower case for 'coronavirus'.

The first reference in content should be 'coronavirus (COVID-19)', to make sure that searches for either term will find the page. After that, either 'coronavirus' or 'COVID-19' may be used on their own.

The gov.uk website has a coronavirus style guide, which contains guidance on other common terms.

Dates and times

Dates

  • Use 28 February 2014, not 28.2.14, 28/02/14 or 28th February 2014.
  • Use 2000s or '00s, not 2000's, 00s or Noughties.
  • Use a slash between two years when referring to one academic year, and use a hyphen when referring to a period between two different years. Use the century detail in the second reference only if it differs from the first. For example: 1999/2000, but 2000/01 (not 2000/2001).
  • Do not hyphenate centuries such as '21st century' when used as a noun. Do hyphenate when used as an adjective: '21st-century literature'.
  • Use 'from August to September', not 'from August-September'.
  • Use 'between 1910 and 1930', not 'between 1910-30'.
  • A hyphen may be used to say 'from... to' or 'between... and' when brevity is important. Do not put spaces around the hyphen: 2-4 July, not 2 - 4 July.

Times

  • Times should be written as 4 am, 11 pm, etc. with a space before the 'pm', rather than 16:00 or 23:00.
  • When not a full hour, the hour and minute should be separated by a colon, not a full stop: 4:30 pm, not 4.30 pm.
  • Use 12 noon rather than 12 pm where possible to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid hyphens and en-dashes for time ranges where possible. Use 'to' instead: 1 pm to 3 pm.

Figures

Ages

  • Use '18th birthday', not 'eighteenth birthday'.
  • Ages as adjectives are hyphenated, such as in '18-year-old students'.
  • With age ranges, use '16- to 18-year-olds'.

Measurements

  • Write out the words 'miles' and 'metres' in full.

Money

  • In most cases, write monetary amounts as numerals: £4.21, £11, £12.50, £599.
  • If the value is ten or below, you can use words if preferred: 5 pounds or five pounds.
  • For amounts above a million, use £4 million.
  • Use £0.75 or 75 pence, not £0.75p.
  • Do not use '.00' for prices in whole pounds: £11, not £11.00.
  • Currency symbols should always come before the figure: $25, €25.

Numbers

  • When using numbers, it is usually easier for people to scan and read numerals (1, 2, 3) than words (one, two, three). Consider using numerals for all numbers where legibility of information is important.
  • Whole numbers (integers) between one and ten can be written out as words, especially if they start a new sentence or paragraph. Numbers 11 and above should always appear as numerals.
  • Numbers 1,000 and over should have a comma to denote the thousands, not a space.
  • Terms such as '200 million' should be used in text.
  • One billion is 1,000 million.
  • For ordinal numbers use first, second, third or 1st, 2nd, 3rd (do not use superscript), rather than firstly, secondly, thirdly.
  • Use 'more than' not 'over' when referring to a number, such as in 'students at Bristol come from more than 150 countries'.

Percentages

  • Use the percentage sign (%) rather than 'per cent', as this is more widely understood.
  • Try to use percentages rather than fractions.
  • Avoid mixing percentages and fractions, as this can be unclear.

Telephone numbers

  • Telephone numbers should be given in international format in external publications: +44 (0)117 928 7777.
  • Otherwise they should be presented as 0117 928 7777; 01272 633244.
  • There is usually no need to include a fax number.

Formatting

  • Use italics, not bold or underlining, where emphasis is needed in text.

Bullet points

Where bullet points comprise a list of single words or short statements, there is no need to punctuate the list (except for a full stop at the end). For example:

A positive working environment is defined by the following characteristics:

  • teamwork
  • creativity
  • trust
  • opportunities for career development
  • a sense of loyalty.

Where bullet points comprise longer statements that are not discrete sentences, you can do the same, or punctuate with semi-colons. For example:

On the bright side:

  • two thirds of survey respondents felt proud to work for the University;
  • two thirds felt a strong sense of loyalty to their faculty or division;
  • three quarters felt they were encouraged to use their initiative;
  • two thirds felt there was equal access to training and development opportunities.

Where bullet points comprise discrete sentences, punctuate with full stops. For example:

The key findings of the survey are as follows:

  • The most popular reason for choosing the University is its academic reputation.
  • Nearly 90 per cent of the respondents feel they have chosen the right course or programme.
  • More than 75 per cent of respondents are satisfied with the facilities provided (such as office and laboratory space and computers).

Whichever type of list you use, introduce it with a colon and end with a full stop.

Capitals

Job titles

  • Capitalise initial letter of official or statutory job titles: the Vice-Chancellor; Jo Bloggs, Professor of Medicine.
  • Do not capitalise initial letter of generic job titles. For example:
    • He works as a doctor in Bristol.
    • She is an engineer for a multinational engineering consultancy.

Organisations and teams

  • Do capitalise 'University of Bristol' and 'the University' (when referring to the University of Bristol). For example:
    • The University of Bristol is one of several universities in the South West.
    • The University has a reputation for groundbreaking research.
  • Do not capitalise 'university' when referring to universities in general.
  • Capitalise specific departments, faculties and schools when using their full name: Department of Classics, Faculty of Arts, School of Biological Sciences.
  • Do not capitalise the words department, faculty or school when not using their full name.
  • Capitalise official names of Professional Services offices, teams and departments. For example:
    • Student Funding Office
    • Global Opportunities team
    • Library Services
    • Directorate of External Relations.
  • Do not capitalise the generic words team, department or directorate where this does not form part of the official name.
  • Capitalise Bristol City Council; Doctoral Training Partnerships; Centre(s) for Doctoral Training; and specific research councils such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
  • Do not capitalise generic categories of bodies, such as research councils, councils and higher education institutions.

Courses and degrees

  • Do not capitalise degree types such as single honours degree, joint honours degree, honorary degree, master's degree or bachelor's degree. Use capital letters only when writing out in full: Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science.
  • Do not capitalise degree classifications such as first class honours degree, first class degree, second class degree, upper second class degree or lower second class degree (capital letters may be used for official or ceremonial purposes).
  • Capitalise undergraduate and postgraduate course/programme titles, but not generic subject areas (except when referring to language courses, including English). For example:
    • The first year of MSci Chemical Physics gives you a comprehensive grounding in chemistry, physics and mathematics.
    • She studies medicine at a leading university.
    • I am interested in studying French and English at degree level.
  • Capitalise official unit titles. For example:
    • You will take units including Organic Chemistry.
    • Unit choices include Women’s Writing in Post-war Spain.
  • Do not capitalise generic subject content such as 'you will learn the principles of organic chemistry'.
  • See also degrees and other qualifications.

Other

  • autumn, winter, spring, summer
  • city (of Bristol), but the City (of London) when referring to the financial centre of London
  • Clearing and Adjustment (when referring to UCAS processes)
  • COVID-19 (may also be referred to as coronavirus)
  • COVID-secure
  • earth, when used as a common noun referring to soil or land or when preceded by 'the' (use 'Earth' only when referring to the name of the planet)
  • the government
  • higher education
  • home students; international students
  • the UK parliament

Headings

  • Our house style for headings and subheadings is sentence case. This is an initial capital followed by all lower case (unless a proper noun appears in the heading). This includes left-hand navigation bars on the web.

Titles of works

  • For books, journals, television programmes, films, plays, newspapers and magazines: use title case (where all words are capitalised except prepositions, conjunctions and articles) and write in italics:
    • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick.
  • For lectures, research projects, chapters and academic papers: use sentence case (where the first word and any names are capitalised). These titles should also be given single quotes when used in prose, to differentiate them from the rest of the text:
    • He wrote an essay entitled 'The figure of the mother in the plays of Shakespeare'.

Acronyms and initialisms

  • Try to avoid acronyms, initialisms or abbreviations where they are uncommon, unnecessary or only used once. Some readers may not understand them, and they can be hard for screen readers to process. For example, FAQs should be written as 'frequently asked questions'. 
  • If you need to use an acronym, initialism or abbreviation, write out the term or phrase in full the first time it is used in a piece of writing: School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS). Afterwards, you can use the acronym on its own.

International

Foreign words and spellings

  • Avoid using Latin phrases or abbreviations where possible, as these are not easily understood by some readers. For example:
    • Use 'for example' instead of 'eg'
    • Use 'that is' instead of 'ie'
    • Use 'note' instead of 'nb'
    • Use 'per year' instead of 'per annum'
    • Avoid using 'etc'.
  • If commonly used Latin words are needed in technical writing, they should be in plain type: de facto, pro rata.
  • Italicise foreign words unless they are proper nouns. Do not put foreign words in quotation marks.
  • Avoid American spellings. Use '-ise' rather than '-ize' endings (recognise, liaise, organise). For spellings in general, please refer to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Places

  • The UK (or Britain) refers to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Great Britain refers to England, Wales and Scotland.
  • Use the US (not USA or America) for the place. The adjective can be US or American.
  • Use south-west England, the South West, or the West Country.

Online

Internet terminology

  • dotcom (not dot.com)
  • e-learning
  • ebook
  • email
  • homepage
  • internet, intranet
  • online
  • program (computer)
  • webpage
  • website

Email and website addresses

  • Insert a full stop at the end of an email address if it forms part of a sentence.
  • Write email addresses and web addresses all in lower case.
  • For University web addresses, the word bristol should appear in full unless a word precedes it: bristol.ac.uk or iris.bris.ac.uk.
  • In most cases, it is acceptable to leave out the www. at the beginning of the bristol.ac.uk URL.
  • Do not omit www. from the beginning of external website addresses (unless the original address does not include it).
  • Always check links to external website addresses.

People

  • Where possible use 'they' rather than 'he or she'. Refer to our LGBT+ writing guide for further advice on pronouns.
  • Refer to an ethnic group by its accurate name if appropriate, such as Afro-Caribbean. 'Black and minority ethnic groups' is an accepted term.
  • Avoid using the terms 'the disabled', 'the unemployed', 'blacks'. Use instead 'unemployed people', 'disabled people', 'people of colour', etc.
  • To improve inclusivity, when writing to or referring to parents, guardians or carers, use 'parents and carers' or 'parents/carers' rather than just 'parents' or 'parents and guardians'.
  • Always try to use inclusive and sensitive language when writing about people or groups. This guide to writing about people gives some useful advice.

Alumni

  • Alumni is the plural; alumna is a single female graduate; alumnus is a single male graduate. Alumnae can be used for a group of female graduates.

References to alumni should be standardised as follows:

  • Forename(s) Surname (degree graduation year, next degree graduation year, etc). For example:
    • Jane Smith (BSc 1960)
    • Joe Bloggs (BA 1972, PhD 1976).
  • In cases where the person has not completed a degree, use Forename(s) Surname (subject start year-year left). For example:
    • Jane Smith (English 1972-73).
  • A full reference to all alumni affiliations, such as subject studied or hall and society associations, can be included in certain circumstances such as obituaries.

Names

  • Use first name in full if available; if not, Mr J Bloggs, Dr F Rabbit (no full stop after initial).
  • In the case of people whose name(s) have changed, there is an option to use the previous name in brackets preceded by 'née' for women whose names have changed once only, and 'formerly' for women whose names have changed more than once and for men. For example:
    • For a woman with a single name change: Jane Smith (née Jones)
    • For a woman with more than one name change: Janet Smythe (née Jonas, formerly Buggins)
    • For a man with a name change: Samuel Hindley-Briggs (formerly Briggs).

Titles and forms of address

  • When using the title 'Lord' or 'Lady', never use forenames. For example:
    • 'Lady Merrison', not 'Lady Maureen Merrison'
    • 'Lord Sainsbury', not 'Lord David Sainsbury'.
  • When using the title 'Sir', use the full name in the first instance: 'Sir David Attenborough'. Subsequently, use the forename: 'Sir David' (not 'Sir Attenborough').
  • Always write 'Professor' out in full (not, for example, 'Prof O'Brien').

Punctuation

  • Try not to use 'eg', 'etc' and 'ie' (see International). If you do need to use these abbreviations to save space, they should contain no full stops, but should be preceded by a comma (unless in brackets).
  • Use semi-colons for listing items when one or more individual items contain commas. For example:
    • The University has many historic buildings, including: the Wills Memorial Building; several halls of residence, such as Goldney Hall and Wills Hall; and the Victoria Rooms.
  • Use p42 for a single page number reference, or pp2-3 when referring to multiple pages. In continuous prose use 'the article appeared on page five', 'the Vice-Chancellor referred to pages 60-62 of the annual report'. Use a hyphen between number ranges.
  • Use exclamation marks sparingly where emphasis is required. Usage may vary depending on medium/platform and audience.

Apostrophes

  • For singular possessive nouns, add apostrophe + s:
    • The University's Accommodation Office helps students find a place to live.
  • For plural possessive nouns, add an apostrophe:
    • The University is committed to its students' wellbeing.
  • For nouns already ending in s, use the apostrophe-only style:
    • Mr Jones' book was well received.
  • Other examples include:
    • four years' study
    • one year's study
    • one day's leave.
  • Simple contractions such as you'll, we'll, it's and you're may be used in most situations.
  • Try to avoid complex or conditional contractions such as should've, might've and they'd, as these can be hard for some readers to understand.
  • If possible, try to avoid negative contractions such as shouldn't, don't and can't, as these can be hard for some readers to understand.

Brackets

  • Use round brackets (or parentheses) for most purposes, including brackets within brackets. Use square brackets when making an insert of your own in a quote (to indicate that they are your words, not those of the speaker).
  • Where a sentence is entirely in parenthesis, the full stop comes inside the second bracket.
  • If content in brackets is in the middle of a sentence, place surrounding punctuation after the brackets. For example:
    • He has a law degree (which he gained as a mature student), but his real passion is for history.

Commas

  • Use commas around non-defining relative clauses (clauses that add extra information to the whole of the main clause). For example:
    • Sir Winston Churchill, who became Chancellor of the University in 1929, died in 1965.
    • Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, gave the keynote speech at the conference.
    • Christina Pantazis, Head of the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice and co-editor of the book, said: 'If the government is to succeed with its objectives, then reliable and valid research on poverty and social exclusion is needed.'
  • 'for example' and 'that is' should be followed by a comma.
  • Generally, do not use the Oxford comma (a comma before the final item in a list), unless its omission would cause confusion. For example, you should use an Oxford comma in the following sentence:
    • You can study English, Theatre, and Film and Television.

Dashes

  • Try to avoid using dashes for parenthesis where commas or brackets could be used instead. Dashes are not as easily read by screen reader software.
  • If you need to use a dash, use an en-dash (or en-rule). Do not use a hyphen or em-dash. To type an en-dash in Word, use Ctrl + - (on the numeric keypad) or Alt + 0150 (on any keypad). Word will also auto-correct hyphens to en-dashes in some circumstances.

Full stops

  • Use one space after full stops in sentences.
  • Include a full stop at the end of introductions to articles.
  • Do not use a full stop at the end of a caption, unless it contains one or more complete sentences.

Hyphens

  • Two words used as an adjective are usually hyphenated when they come before a noun: long-awaited publication, first-year student, four-year course. However, this does not apply when the first word is an adverb: recently published research.
  • Two words combined as a noun, or as an adjective after a noun, are usually not hyphenated: 'You will study chemistry in the first year'; 'The book is up to date'.
  • In general, minimise the use of hyphens. Use them only where it is established convention to do so (see below for examples) or where omission would result in ambiguity or confusion.

The following should always be hyphenated:

  • A-levels, AS-levels
  • best-practice initiative
  • blue-collar, white-collar (adjective)
  • cost-effective (adjective)
  • decision-making
  • director-general
  • first-year (adjective)
  • five-year-old, etc (both noun and adjective)
  • full-time (adjective); full-timers (but 'works full time')
  • government-funded
  • high-risk (adjective)
  • HIV-positive
  • in-house
  • long-term (adjective)
  • micro-organism
  • mid- (such as mid-1993)
  • non-
  • part-time (adjective); part-timers (but 'works part time')
  • performance-related pay
  • policy-making (as an adjective only)
  • post-
  • pre-
  • re-examine
  • self-catered; self-catering
  • Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellor.

The following should always be one word:

  • childcare
  • cooperate (but co-operative as a noun, such as housing co-operative)
  • coordinate
  • coursework
  • deregulation
  • extracurricular
  • fieldwork
  • filmmaking
  • firefighters, firefighting
  • groundbreaking
  • healthcare
  • helpdesk
  • longstanding
  • microchip; microcomputer
  • microeconomics; macroeconomics
  • multinational
  • multiskilled, multiskilling
  • offline
  • ongoing
  • online
  • overrepresentation
  • policymaking, policymaker (noun)
  • postdoctoral
  • postgraduate
  • reorganise
  • shopfloor
  • shortlist
  • startup (but hyphenate when used as an adjective, such as start-up enterprises)
  • subcommittee (but sub-subcommittee)
  • subsection (but sub-subsection)
  • subparagraph
  • taxpayer
  • teamwork, teamworker, teamworking
  • uprating
  • underrepresentation
  • webpage
  • website
  • wellbeing
  • workplace, worksite
  • worldwide.

The following should always be two words:

  • offer holder
  • pro rata
  • skill set
  • under way.

Do not hyphenate:

  • early 1990s, late 1990s
  • one third, three quarters.

For other spellings, please refer to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Quotes

  • Use single quotes, and double quotes within single quotes.
  • If a quote comprises a whole sentence, use a full stop before the closing quote.
  • If a quote does not comprise a whole sentence, do not use a full stop within the quotes. Punctuation of the larger sentence (commas, dashes or full stops) should come after the final quote mark. For example:
    • The Vice-Chancellor noted that Professor Jo Bloggs has had a 'long and distinguished career'.
    • Professor Jo Bloggs has had a 'long and distinguished career', according to the Vice-Chancellor.
  • Direct quotes from individuals that comprise a full sentence or sentences should be preceded by a colon. For example:
    • Professor Jo Bloggs said: 'This is a great day for the University.'

University terminology

Accolades and rankings

The titles of commonly used rankings should be formatted as follows:

  • QS World University Rankings 2021
  • THE World University Rankings 2021 (or Times Higher Education)
  • THE analysis of REF 2014 (or Times Higher Education)
  • Guardian University Guide 2021
  • Complete University Guide 2021
  • Times Good University Guide 2021
  • High Fliers Research 2021
  • National Geographic Traveller 'Cool list' 2018.

You can find the latest rankings on the Rankings and reputation page.

Campus or precinct?

Refer to the 'campus' rather than the 'precinct' (although Bristol is not known as a 'campus university').

Please note that there are multiple campuses:

  • Clifton campus
  • Langford campus
  • Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.

Course or programme?

In general, use:

  • Undergraduate course (or degree)
  • Postgraduate programme (or degree)
  • International Foundation Programme.

'Course' is used in communications directed at prospective undergraduate students as this is consistent with UCAS and resonates more strongly with this audience. However, 'programme' is used for both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in certain relevant policies and in the programme catalogue.

Degrees

  • Master's degree and bachelor's degree take an apostrophe before the final 's'.
  • No hyphen is required in degree classifications: first class degree, lower second class degree.
  • For capitalisation of degree titles, see Courses and degrees.
  • Degree awards should be abbreviated as follows:
    • BA, BDS, BEng, BSc, BVSc, LLB, MB ChB, MArts, MEng, MLibArts, MSci
    • DEdPsy, DDS, EdD, EngD, LLM, MA, MD, MLitt, MMus, MPhil, MRes, MSc, MSc by research, PGCE, PhD.
  • Generally, the term 'graduation ceremony' is preferred, rather than 'degree ceremony' or 'degree congregation'.

Module or unit?

Use 'unit' rather than 'module' to refer to the building blocks that make up a course or programme.

Other qualifications

Qualifications should be formatted as follows:

  • A-level Mathematics, AS-level Physics, GCSE History
  • A*
  • International Baccalaureate diploma or IB diploma
  • Welsh Baccalaureate
  • Cambridge Pre-U
  • Scottish Highers, Advanced Highers, Highers
  • UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test, no longer UKCAT)
  • CertHE, Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip), Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert), Diploma in Dental Hygiene.

Semester or term?

'Term' is preferred. 'Semester' is more common in the US and some other overseas institutions, so can be used when referring to Study Abroad.

University buildings

  • Life Sciences Building
  • Queen's Building
  • Richmond Building
  • Merchant Venturers Building
  • Wills Memorial Building

University naming convention

  • The institution's name is the University of Bristol, not Bristol University (which was a university in California).
  • Use the form 'University of Bristol' in the first instance. Afterwards, it is acceptable to continue to refer to the University of Bristol, or to use 'Bristol' or 'the University'.

Words

  • Use 'an' before a silent 'h': an honorary degree. Use 'a' before an aspirated 'h': a historian. For abbreviations, be guided by pronunciation: an MSc; a BSc.
  • Try to avoid using idioms, jargon, or metaphorical language. These can be hard for some readers to understand, especially for those whose first language is not English. For example, instead of writing 'key points', use 'important information' or 'essential information'. The gov.uk website has a list of words to avoid and some useful alternatives.

Preferred spellings

  • Avoid using an ampersand (&) to replace 'and', unless it forms part of a formal name (Procter & Gamble, Marks & Spencer).
  • Use the following:
    • among not amongst
    • civilisation not civilization
    • judgement
    • medieval (not Medieval or Mediaeval)
    • while not whilst.

Singular and plural nouns

  • All organisations and institutions are singular, and should be referred to as 'it', not 'they'.
  • Nouns such as 'range', 'list' and 'variety' are singular and should be used with singular verbs such as 'is', not 'are': 'Our range of courses is diverse'.
  • Use a singular verb with 'data' (although it is technically a plural noun): 'The combined data informs our decisions'.

Words commonly misused

  • advice (noun), to advise (verb)
  • adviser (but advisory)
  • affect (verb = to have an effect on), also see effect
  • ageing
  • AIDS (not Aids)
  • autumn, spring, summer, winter
  • balloted (not ballotted)
  • benefited
  • budgeted
  • budget (company, etc) but the Budget (UK, each April)
  • café
  • competence (plural competences) = National Vocational Qualifications; functional skills
  • competency (plural competencies) = behavioural traits; functional and behavioural skills combined
  • complement (noun) = that which completes or fills up
  • compliment (noun) = expression of admiration
  • continual, continually = recurring frequently or regularly
  • continuous, continuously = happening non-stop without ceasing
  • crèche
  • criterion (singular); criteria (plural)
  • dependent (adjective); dependant (noun)
  • disinterested (adjective = impartial; not influenced by private feelings or considerations), also see uninterested
  • effect (noun = an outcome; verb = to bring about), also see affect
  • enquiry (informal); inquiry (formal)
  • farther (physical distance); further (metaphorical distance)
  • focused
  • forgo (to do without); forego (to go before)
  • forward = near or at the front
  • foreword = a preface
  • grams not grammes
  • Green Paper, White Paper
  • led (past tense of to lead), not lead
  • less (uncountable nouns); fewer (countable nouns)
  • licence (noun), to license (verb)
  • practice (noun), to practise (verb)
  • principal (adjective = main); principle (noun = concept, etc)
  • program (computer)
  • programme (an outline of proceedings/plan, etc)
  • supervisor
  • targeted not targetted
  • uninterested (adjective = not personally concerned; not taking an interest), also see disinterested

For other spellings, please refer to the Oxford English Dictionary.


Further resources

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Other writing resources

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