FIU News & Communications Style Guide

The purpose of a style guide is to ensure that multiple contributors create content in a clear and cohesive way that reflects an overall brand.

The FIU News & Communications style guide should help writers in turning out consistent, easy-to-read, grammatically correct compositions. The guide aims to serve as a launching pad for sharing stories that will resonate with readers and not as a straightjacket on creativity.

The living document shared here will be amended and expanded as needed, and writers’ comments and suggestions are welcome.

How to use this guide

The FIU News & Communications style guide is a complement to the Associated Press Stylebook, which remains the standard resource for writers contributing to FIU News & Communications publications. The FIU style guide addresses a small fraction of the topics covered by AP.

If the topic you seek is not addressed here, refer and defer to AP style. If you still have a question, please share it here so that the item can be considered and added to the content below. Discussion and debate are encouraged as language is living and style constantly evolving. Just as AP regularly makes changes, so too will FIU News & Communications make updates to meet the needs of writers and readers.

An item is specifically covered in this guide for one of three reasons:

  • It is not addressed by AP.
  • FIU News and Communications’ style around the subject differs from standard AP style.
  • The topic arises frequently and has specific resonance for readers of FIU News & Communications publications, and so the style established by AP is reiterated as a reminder.

A

A and An (before the university name)
A Florida International University student
An FIU student

Abbreviations and acronyms
When possible, avoid abbreviations and acronyms the reader would not quickly recognize. As an exception to AP, spell out abbreviations and acronyms on first reference and follow (if and only if you plan to reference it again the story) 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, such NASA, NSF, NIH, EPA.

Academic degrees
Use an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree, a master’s, etc., but there is no apostrophe in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. (Note the full, formal degree name is capitalized.)

Note that “associate degree” is an exception to the above and never takes an apostrophe. Additionally, while you can say a bachelor’s degree in biology or a master’s in political science, associate degree cannot be followed by a subject as such as degree is only general.

  • Do not use periods with most abbreviated academic degrees — BA/BS, MA/MS, BFA/MFA, MPH, MPA, MBA, MD etc. — with the exception of Ph.D. and a few other “Doctor of ___” degrees, such as Ed.D. (Note, however, the Doctor of Physical Therapy is abbreviated as DPT and takes no periods.)
  • Do not use a possessive pronoun (his, her, their) in front of a degree. Incorrect: Roary earned his bachelor’s degree in the 1970s and his master’s in the 1980s. Correct: Roary earned a bachelor’s degree in the 1970s and a master’s in the 1980s.

Academic centers, colleges, departments, divisions, institutes, programs and schools
Capitalize when the formal name is used (College of Arts, Sciences & Education; Department of Biological Sciences; Division of Student Affairs) but not in informal usage (biology department, student affairs). Avoid capitalizing second references to “the center,” “the college,” “the institute,” “the university,” etc. as these are common nouns and should not be uppercase.

Academic titles (professors)
Professors with a Ph.D. are not referred to as “Dr.” Only those who hold medical degrees (M.D.) will be referred to as “Dr.” and then only on first reference with his/her full name: Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, fought Ebola in Africa. Upon returning home, Marty said the situation in many countries on the continent had started to improve.

When referring to an individual who teaches a course, the term “professor” with a lowercase “p” (and not followed by a name) is used (An FIU professor has developed a course that uses robots to teach creative writing.) If using the term as part of a formal title that precedes a person’s full name, confirm the individual’s official standing: instructor, lecturer, adjunct professor, teaching professor, research professor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor. Generally, only the last three would be used as titles before a name. Assistant Professor Joe Garcia is teaching a course about creating a community on Mars. versus Joe Garcia, a lecturer in physics, is teaching a course about creating a community on Mars.

To confirm someone’s title/university rank, ask the individual or consult the university phonebook.

Accent marks
In someone’s name, use the accent mark if the individual generally does so. (Dean Tomás R. Guilarte, the MauriceA. Ferré Institutefor Civic Leadership). Most everyday words can leave off the accent mark, but the writer is free to make the decision either way: entree vs . entrée, cafe vs. café, decor vs. décor, etc.

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

Advisor
Preferred at FIU over adviser.

Alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae
An alumnus is one male graduate.
An alumna is one female graduate.
Alumni is the plural noun for a group of male graduates or a mix of male and female graduates.
Alumnae is the plural noun for a group of exclusively female graduates. 
Always wrong: He/she is an alumni of FIU.
Discouraged: “Alum” or “Alums” (use graduate/graduates instead)

Alumni grad year references
This approach is not set in stone but encouraged when it makes sense in a story: When referencing an FIU graduate on first mention, use the individual’s full name followed by, for bachelor’s degrees, an apostrophe and the two-digit year of graduation ( ’97). For graduate degrees, include the abbreviation for the degree followed by an apostrophe and the two-digit year of graduation (MBA ’00, MPH ’17, MFA ’21). For multiple degrees, use a comma between the degree years. (Roary Panther ’74, MBA ’89, Ph.D. ’02). Note that no comma should be inserted between the name and graduation year.

Ampersands
Do not use ampersands in paragraph copy in place of “and.” Use the symbol only when referencing an entity that typically uses it. The College of Arts, Sciences & Education has launched a new program.

B

Boards (Board of Trustees, Advisory Board, Board of Governors)
The terms “board of trustees,” “advisory board,” and similar entities should be lowercase when not part of a formal name. The alumna is a member of the board of trustees of Panther Bank.

Capitalize such terms when part of a formal name: the FIU Board of Trustees, the BBC Provost’s Advisory Board

In a break with AP, on second reference to an FIU board, the term will retain capitalization even when not preceded by “FIU” or the name of another FIU entity. ( The alumna continued to advise the FIU president even after her term on the Board of Trustees ended.) The same applies to the “Board of Governors” when it refers to the governing body of the Florida SUS, even if the words “Florida” or “SUS” do not precede the term. The Board of Governors ranked FIU No. 1 among the state’s 12 institutions of higher education. (“BOG” is an accepted second reference.) Never capitalize “board” when the word stands alone, even when it refers to an FIU entity.

Building names on campus
The somewhat obtuse and much-abbreviated names of FIU’s earliest buildings have led to widespread use of acronyms for several of the original campus constructions. PC (instead of Primera Casa or, as it was later renamed, Charles Perry Building) is acceptable in print as are DM, VH and OE. You may also use acronyms for buildings that are not so much named as they are numbered: ACH1, ACH2, etc. at MMC. GC (formally the Ernest R. Graham University Center) can be abbreviated or referenced as the Graham Center in most cases. Most buildings named after people (Steven and Dorothea Green Library) can be referenced with the last name alone (Green Library). In most cases, all other buildings should be referenced using the full name (Parkview Hall, Ryder Business Building). 

Building rooms/locations
The word “room” need not be capitalized when referring to a location. The GC Pit, or simply “the Pit,” should be capitalized. GC ballrooms should be lowercased.

C

Campuses
FIU has two campuses: Modesto A. Maidique Campus (MMC) in Southwest Miami-Dade County and Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC) in North Miami (sometimes referred to as a branch campus). No other university location (Engineering Center, Miami Beach Urban Studios, FIU at I-75, etc.) can be referenced as a “campus” per our accrediting body.

Captions
Whenever possible, name all individuals in a photograph and use appropriate identifiers (center, left to right, L-R, in blue-and-gold cap, etc.) as needed for clarity. For photos of large groups, be sensitive when drawing attention to only one or two individuals by explaining, generally, who else is pictured: “President Kenneth A. Jessell, center, and Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Bejar, far left, stand with international students participating in a summer research conference at FIU.”

City names
Most city names in Florida do not need to be followed by a state name as our readership will generally understand the location: Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, etc. When referencing smaller Florida cities or ones that share a name with others outside of the state, use of Florida might be helpful: Gulf Breeze, Florida; Milton, Florida; Leesburg, Florida.

Most U.S. cities outside of Florida should be followed by a state name: Our alumna moved to Boulder, Colorado, after earning a degree in geology.

U.S. dateline cities are widely known cities that do not need to be followed by a state name. The 30 cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington

International dateline cities are globally known cities that do not need to be followed by a province/state or country name. The list of 49 includes Beijing, Havana, London, Madrid, Sao Paulo, among others. Find the complete list online.

Colon
When used to introduce a sentence, what follows should begin with uppercase. The alumna made a second fateful decision in hopes of empowering others: She wrote a book about her journey. When used to introduce a phrase or series of items, what follows should begin with lowercase. The alumna made a second fateful decision in hopes of empowering others: to write a book about her journey. He unloaded three items in his new dorm room: a toothbrush, a bag of clothing and a $2,500 laptop

Composition titles
A reminder of the AP rule: Put quotation marks around the names of all works such as books, computer and video game titles, operas, plays, poem, albums, songs, radio and TV programs, podcasts, lectures, speeches, works of art—but not holy books (Bible, Quran, etc.) or reference books (almanacs, dictionaries, etc.) Les Standiford is the author of numerous books, among them “Last Train to Paradise” and “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” Students in the club bond over their shared love of “Game of Thrones.” FIU students gathered for a live campus shot in front of GC as the “Today” show anchors interviewed Jessell about the university’s research activities.

D

Dash and Hyphen
Em dash (—) is the long dash and the only one recognized by AP style. Use it to separate extra information or mark a break in a sentence or, in some cases, add a quote. Use a space before and after the em dash. On his fourth try — the previous two attempts having gone awry and terrorized spectators — the so-called archery master finally landed a bullseye. Be conscious of not overusing the dash as in some cases commas may well do the job.

Days, months, years
Days of the week should be fully written out in stories. Months of the year are fully written out when standing alone or combined only with a year. When a month is combined with a date, the following are abbreviated: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec. Jan. 2 was the coldest day of the year. His birthday is Sept. 8. 

Per AP style, an ordinal number should never be used in a date. Incorrect: She was born on May 31st. Correct: She was born on May 31.

When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set of the year with commas. FIU opened its doors to 5,667 students on September 14, 1972, the largest opening enrollment in U.S. collegiate history.

When a phrase refers to a month and day within the current year, do not include the year. If the reference is to a past or future year, include the year and set it off with commas.

F

Foreign words/Spanish words
Unless a foreign word has been accepted into the English language — consider, for example, the commonly used “bon voyage” and “café latte” — it should be italicized.

Spanish words that have entered common English usage in South Florida (although perhaps not everywhere else) — cafecito and abuelos, for example — can be used without italics, per the writer’s discretion.

FIU
Never takes periods (nor any other abbreviated form); should be used on first reference for FIU News & Communications publications.

G

Gender pronouns
Longstanding gender pronoun usage (he/she, him/her) applies except in cases where a nonbinary individual wishes to be referenced as “they/them,” which AP style recognizes. (Note that there is also some Title IX guidance on this issue.) It is up to the writer to make appropriate inquiries of the source to get this correct. When using they/them to refer to a single individual in a story, the writer might wish to make it clear that the person prefers such pronouns to aid readers in understanding the reference. New graduate Chris Smith, who prefers the pronouns they/them, said their mother had a critical influence on their decision to puruse a degree.

H

Headlines:

  • Capitalize only the first word in the headline and proper nouns.
  • Avoid phrases as headline by including a verb whenever possible.
  • Follow general headline guidelines: use present tense as appropriate; keep it short; all numbers are presented as digits (never written out).

Health care
Always written as two words, whether used as an adjective or a noun.

Hispanic, Latin, Latinx
“Hispanic” as an adjective that refers to people of Latin American/Spanish heritage is the word of choice for use in FIU publications, but “Latin,” “Latinx,” “Latino” and “Latina” can be used when a source states such a preference.

Hurricanes/tropical storms
Pay attention to how the National Weather Service references a weather event, making sure not to confuse watches with warnings, for example. Capitalize “hurricane,” “tropical storm,” “typhoon” when used as part of a name full name. Puerto Rico suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. It was the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded.

Hyphens (-) are used to connect two or more words to form a single word or concept. Roary is a well-known celebrity on campus.

I

Images
Include with most posts; where an image might not be necessary (or even expected), such as with a universitywide memo or a strictly informational piece with little actual storytelling (such as a campus traffic update), forego imagery in the story but include a homepage preview image by selecting a generic campus photo or, if appropriate, the university logo.

Immigration
In writing about illegal immigration, use the term “illegal” only to refer to an action, not a person: “illegal immigration” but not “illegal immigrant.” For the latter, AP suggests writing that a person is “living in the country illegally” or “living in the country without legal permission.” AP discourages use of “alien,” “an illegal/ illegals” or “undocumented,” although the last is often used by media outlets and would seem a fair compromise.

For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, use “temporary resident status.”

Individuals who would benefit from the never-passed DREAM (which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act or from DACA are often referred to as “Dreamers.” The term is acceptable, per AP guidelines, but should be used in quotations marks and sparingly. (It is suggested that the story explain the term as referencing primarily students/youth brought to the country illegally as minors.)

L

Latin, Latinx
see Hispanic, Latin, Latinx

Links
Limit linking, generally, to university web sites or reputable reference sites, such as ones maintained by government agencies. Avoid linking to a commercial websites unless there is a strong interest to do so, such as in stories about available tickets for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (a university fundraiser) or mention of an alumna’s recently published book, which is available on Amazon (and where a full description of the work can be read, thereby adding context to your original story). Wikipedia is generally an accepted source to which to link as are professional journals.

Avoid “click here” constructions. Instead, link from a descriptive phrase in your article. The university bookstore’s policy on returns explains how to request a refund. NOT: Click here to learn how to request a refund,

Location prepositions
Use “on” when no campus is specified. He lives and works on campus.
Use “at” when a campus is specified. He lives in the dorms at MMC.She works for Barnes & Noble at BBC.
Use “in” for cities, including Miami Beach and Key Biscayne and all other municipalities, even if the word “Island” is part of the name. The Wolfsonian-FIU is located in Miami Beach.

M

Majors
Lowercase majors (with the exception of languages): The student is a physics major. His friend is an English major.

N

Numbers
With a few exceptions, write out numbers one through nine; use figures for numbers above nine. Always write out numbers that start a sentence. Nineteen national merit scholars have accepted admission to FIU. Always use figures when referring to ages, even those below 10. Always use figures (not words) to reference numbers in headlines. 3 FIU students invited to address Congress

P

Percent
Per AP style (relatively new update), use the % symbol (and not the word “percent”) when paired with a number. Leave no space between the number and symbol. 

Phone numbers
Always include the area code and use hyphens: 305-348-2000

R

Race and ethnicity
Per AP: Capitalize “Black;” do not capitalize “white.” More on race-related coverage per AP. Ethnicities are always capitalized. Per AP: Do not hyphenate an individual’s heritage either as a noun or adjective. FIU has a majority Hispanic American student population.More on race-related coverage per AP.

Rankings
In university and program rankings, use the abbreviation “No.” (capitalized and with a period) in place of “number” or “#.” FIU is ranked No. 95 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.

S

Seasons/semesters
Winter, spring, summer, fall: Lowercase these words when referring to seasons or when followed by the word “semester;” capitalize these words when referring to a semester with a year but not including the word “semester.” South Florida temperatures in winter are pleasant. He took classes during the spring semester. The students are enrolling for Fall 2021.

Serial comma
FIU News does NOT use a serial comma before the word “and” except in cases where omitting such a comma could make a sentence confusing. Example of the latter: For breakfast today, the cafeteria served pancakes, bacon and eggs, and protein shakes.

State names
In keeping with AP style, spell out the full name of a U.S. state in all references within a story.

Always set off the state name with commas when it follows a city name. After earning a bachelor’s degree from FIU, the alumnus moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to attend graduate school.

T

That/Which/Who (pronouns that introduce clauses)
Use “that” for essential clauses that are important to the meaning of a sentence; the word is not preceded by a comma. The bridge collapse is a tragedy that we will never forget. Use “which” for nonessential clauses; the word is set off by commas. The new residence hall, which will house up to 100 students, is scheduled for completion in the summer.

Note that when talking about people, “who” is used in place of that/which, but the writer must decide if the clause it introduces it essential or nonessential, which will dictate if a comma is necessary. The student, who recently accepted admission to FIU, is hoping to graduate in three years. (nonessential clause) The student who wins the essay contest will receive a $100 prize. (essential clause)

Time date and place (TDP)
Not set in stone but widely accepted: Use "time, date, place" (TDP) to consistently order information about events. The Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work commencement ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20, in the Ocean Bank Convocation Center.

Time references
Follow AP rules: use periods in a.m. and p.m. Used sparingly, the following phrases are acceptable when a colloquial effect is desired:  o’clocknoonmidnight

Titles, job descriptions:
Capitalize proper titles used before an individual’s name: President Kenneth A. Jessell. Do not capitalize titles when they follow a name:  Kenneth A. Jessell, president of FIU. Job descriptions are not titles and so should not be capitalized: peer mentor Juan Garcia, resident assistant Lourdes Garcia, office manager John Doe.

U

University
Do not capitalize "university" unless you are spelling out the full university name (same goes for “department” “school” and “college”). More than 58,000 students attend the university. More than 58,000 students attend Florida International University.

W

Website
One word, lowercase (just as internet is lowercase)

-wide
Do not use a hyphen when adding -wide to the end of a word. (universitywide, nationwide, campuswide)

Y

Year, fiscal versus academic versus calendar
Be aware that FIU’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to the following June 30. A fiscal year is numbered by the year in which it ends. Academic years typically start in the fall semester and are referred to by two years (2020-2021). Calendar years begin in January and end in December. When reporting numbers, take care to refer to the correct type of year. (Financial information, such as grant numbers and research expenditures, for example, is typically reported by fiscal year. Graduation numbers are typically reported by calendar year. Student enrollment can be reported by academic year or by semester.)

Z

Zoom
Always capitalize when referring to the video-conferencing platform. Acceptable also as verb (but lowercase “zoom” when used to mean “to go speedily” or “to focus a camera or microscope”).