Language Usage Guide

General Guidelines

SUNY Geneseo's Language Usage Guide is designed to ensure consistency, clarity, and accuracy for the college’s print and online publications by providing tips on common grammatical errors and SUNY Geneseo-specific terms. Grounded in academically regarded sources such as The Chicago Manual of Style, the guide also reflects the college’s history, the style guidelines of peer universities, and best practices for web accessibility.

A Word About Tone

The goal of all communication is to be clear. Because the Office of College Communications and Marketing most often works on materials geared to a general audience, that’s how we approach questions of style. We want to be clear, concise, intelligent, confident, and at times, personal. We try to avoid sounding stilted, authoritarian, and institutional.

  1. A
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  10. L
  11. M
  12. N
  13. P
  14. R
  15. S
  16. T
  17. W
  18. Z


Academic Degrees
Use "PhD", "EdD", or "JD" as post-nominal initials for academic doctorates rather than "Dr.", which we reserve for medical degree holders. Omit the periods in abbreviations for academic degrees (such as "BA" or "BS").

  • SUNY Geneseo offers MSEd and MS in accounting graduate-level degrees. 
  • "Master's degree" and "bachelor's degree" are written in the possessive.
  • "Bachelor of XXX" and "master of XXX" are not possessive and do not include "degree."
  • Only language majors are capitalized, i.e., bachelor of arts in English; master of arts in history.

Degrees are usually NOT listed after a person's name. Include them only if the person is a lecturer, adjunct professor, or staff professional for whom a degree level cannot be assumed or if it is an unusual degree that is relevant to the story.

  • Lecturer Jane Smith, PhD, will teach Irrelevant Theorems this fall.
  • Assistant professor of economics John Brown, JD, will assist the legal affairs committee.


Academic Titles
Provide an individual's primary academic title on the first mention of their name. Secondary titles, such as "director," or "advisor" can be provided on subsequent mentions if relevant to the piece. Lecturers and adjunct faculty members should be identified with their official titles. Titles are capitalized only when directly preceding a person's name and when they don’t contain a field of expertise or other modifiers between the title and their name. Note that a person is a professor of a subject, but a lecturer in a subject.

  • Associate Professor John Doe joined SUNY Geneseo's anthropology department in 2008.
  • Associate professor of anthropology John Doe joined SUNY Geneseo's faculty in 2008.
  • Richard Roe, a professor of English, is on sabbatical this fall.
  • Lecturer James Lastname is also the college's ESOL program coordinator.

SUNY distinguished titles replace a professor’s or professional staff member’s former title. SUNY does not have a specific style for distinguished titles and recommends that their treatment be consistent with house style. Therefore, distinguished titles follow the same style rules as titles above. 

  • Distinguished Teaching Professor William Brown has an office in Sturges Hall.
  • Distinguished teaching professor of history William Brown has an office in Sturges Hall.
  • William Brown, distinguished teaching professor of history, has an office in Sturges Hall.

Rotating endowed or supported professorships do not replace a professor’s position title.


Use numbers to denote the age of an individual.


Alma mater
Alma mater is written in lower case except at the beginning of a sentence.



  • Alum/alums: single and plural gender neutral
  • Alumnus: one male
  • Alumna: one female
  • Alumnae: More than one female 
  • Alumni: more than one male, or group of people of where gender has not been specified.


Alumni class year designations
SUNY Geneseo graduates are designated by appending a 2-digit year designation after the first mention of their full name. There should be no comma separating the name and year but do include an apostrophe to indicate the year has been truncated.

  • Sally Smith '11

Recipients of master's degrees are noted with the appropriate degree abbreviations (MSEd or MS).

  • Elizabeth Brown '19 MS

Parents of alumni are noted with a P preceding their child’s graduation year.

  • Anne Peterson P’19
  • James Jones ‘00, P’19 [undergrad degree and parent]

If a graduate has earned multiple degrees from Geneseo, include both years and the graduate degree abbreviation.

  • Alexander Harris '00, '02 MSEd [undergrad and graduate degrees]
  • Alexander Harris ‘00, ‘02 MSEd, P’19 [undergrad, graduate, parent]

If a graduate has a graduate degree from another school, list that degree after their SUNY Geneseo class year. All SUNY Geneseo class affiliations appear next to the name; subsequent degrees after.

  • John Doe ‘67, PhD
  • James Jones ‘00, P’19, JD

For alumni couples or family members who share the same last name, be sure to include the class year for each person.

  • John '86 and Anne '86 Clark

When identifying a decade, do not include an apostrophe.

  • Rupert Giles graduated in the 1960s.

No class year designations are listed for non-graduates (do not list affiliated years as they imply graduation).

  • SUNY Geneseo alumni Linda Johnson ’77 and Kevin Miller will receive honorary degrees.


Alumni Event Names

  • Homecoming & Family Weekend + year (note: ampersand)
  • Great Knight + year (note: no ALL CAPS like GREAT Day)
  • Reunion + year (note: no season) 


The use of "and/or" in prose is discouraged. If possible, rewrite the sentence to avoid; use sparingly if not. 


Area Codes
Use hyphens, not parentheses, to ensure web accessibility: 585-245-5500.



Board of Directors
"Board of directors" is capitalized only when it is used with the official name, i.e., the Geneseo Foundation Board of Directors, otherwise it is not capitalized.


Bulleted Lists
The main rule for bulleted lists is consistency. These suggestions will help ensure that.

Pay attention to order. Decide if the list should be in an order of importance or chronology, for example.

Use a colon when a list is introduced with a complete sentence. If the lead-in sentence is a fragment, don’t use a colon or other punctuation.

Use standard capitalization and punctuation if bullet items are a complete sentence.

If bullet items are sentence fragments that complete the lead-in, capitalize the first word, or not—just be consistent—and punctuate as a complete sentence.

Don’t punctuate single words or incomplete fragments.

Don’t end each bullet with commas or semicolons.

Be mindful of parallelism when constructing lists, i.e., students must

  • read a book.
  • attend a lecture.
  • completion of paperwork.

Use numbered lists rather than bullets to indicate a series of steps or emphasize priorities.




See "President's Cabinet."


City Names
Major cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, London, and Chicago do not need their corresponding state or country identified.


The College
“State University of New York College at Geneseo” and “SUNY Geneseo” are acceptable formal and informal versions of the college's full name and should be used on the first mention of the College. "Geneseo" may be used internally or on subsequent mentions, using care to not introduce confusion between the College and the village.

Capitalize the noun "College" as a shorthand stand-alone to identify SUNY Geneseo for both internal and external use.

  • The College has a lovely campus.

Do NOT capitalize the adjective “college,” even when it refers to SUNY Geneseo specifically.

  • The interim VP will assist with college advancement.
  • INCORRECT: The incident was experienced by many members of the College community. 

Do NOT capitalize the possessive noun “the college’s,” even when it refers to SUNY Geneseo specifically. (Possessive nouns function as adjectives.)

  • The college’s campus is lovely.
  • INCORRECT: The matter has the full attention of the College's leadership. 

Do not capitalize “college” when referring to colleges generally.

  • For many students, college can be daunting.


Serial (Oxford) commas should be used to avoid introducing errors.

  • I became interested in history because of my parents, Professor Brown, and Andrew Jackson.
  • INCORRECT: I became interested in history because of my parents, Professor Brown and Andrew Jackson.


The formal title of commencement is “Commencement” followed by the year. It is capitalized only when used as a title.

  • Rehearsal for Commencement 2019 is at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 16.
  • INCORRECT: Attendance for Commencement was at capacity this year.


Course Listings
Use title case for the names of courses. Use quotation marks to identify figures of speech or a title. Refer to the entry on Titles if using titles of works in course listings.

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • "Denile" and Cleopatra's Reign
  • A Revisionist's Study of Othello


Dashes are versatile, but their proper usage can be confusing. There are three main styles of dashes:

  • Hyphens or “dashes” (-) are used to connect words to indicate a combined meaning, indicate a word splice at the end of a line, or in number groupings. Do not leave spaces between the character and the hyphen.
  • En dashes ( – ) are used to show a range of dates or other numbers: December 6–9. As with hyphens, do not leave spaces between the character and the en dash.
  • Em dashes ( — ), the longest of the dashes, are versatile—they replace commas, colons, semicolons, etc.—but use them sparingly. Avoid double hyphens (--) in their stead. As with hyphens and en dashes, do not leave spaces between the character and the em dash.


Dates [see also Times]
Names of months are always spelled out in text, whether alone or in dates.

  • Date with year: January 1, 2018
  • Date without year: January 1 (no “st”)
  • Date with the day: Tuesday, May 30, 2019
  • Date within a sentence: On May 4, 2018, I had my class. (comma after year)
  • Date range: May 17–22, 2019 (en dash, no spaces between numbers and dash)
  • For the web: No need to include the year if it is the same as the current year.


Department Names
The official name of any department is always capitalized, variations are not.

  • Department of Chemistry/chemistry department
  • Office of the Provost/provost's office
  • Department of English/English department
  • Office of Student Life/student life/student life office


Use a faculty member's professional title in professional communications, rather than the honorific "Dr.," to be as clear and accurate as possible. The professional title avoids imprecise and misleading communications by conveying a range of critical information: a tenured position, a terminal degree in the field, and a specific non-medical profession. "Dr." denotes a doctoral degree, not a position (unless in the medical field) and not a specific kind of doctorate (PhD, EdD, MD, JD, etc.). "Dr." may of course be used as an honorific in personal communications, both oral and written.


Not all retired faculty are emeriti; it's an honorary title. Check with the Department of Human Resources for a specific retired faculty member's designation. Always use the construction "professor emeritus" rather than "emeritus professor." The title should come after the name and in lowercase: John Doe, professor emeritus, or Jane Roe, associate professor emerita of education.

  • Emerita is female
  • Emeritus is male 
  • Emeriti is the plural
  • There is no gender-neutral variation


A collective noun conveying the idea of plurality takes a plural verb: The faculty were divided in their sentiments.

The Fund for Geneseo
Refer to the fund by its full name on the first mention, subsequent references of "the fund" should be in lower case.


The Geneseo Foundation
Refer to the foundation by the full name on the first mention, with subsequent references to "the foundation" made in lower case.


The Parents Fund
The Parents Fund is not possessive. Use full name of on the first mention, then "the fund" on subsequent mentions, being sure not to introduce confusion if making references to more than one fund in a single piece or article.


Geneseo Opportunities in Leadership Development
GOLD is an acronym. It is written in all capital letters with no periods. "GOLD" can be used on the first mention on internal communications; external communications should include the name of the program in full on the first mention with "(GOLD)" at the end of the name.


GREAT Day is an acronym. It is written in all capital letters with no periods. "GREAT Day" can be used on internal communications; external communications should include the full name of the event followed by the acronym: "Geneseo Recognizing Excellence, Achievement, and Talent Day (GREAT Day)."


Headline Capitalization 
Capitalize the following:

  • First and last words
  • All nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, after, since, until, that, etc.)
  • Prepositions of five or more letters (about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, beyond, during, inside, outside, through, throughout, toward, under)

Do NOT capitalize the following:

  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor)
  • The to in infinitives
  • The word as in any grammatical function
  • Prepositions of four or fewer letters (at, by, down, for, from, in, into, near, of, off, on, out, over, past, than, to, with) EXCEPT when used as an adjective or adverb (on in The On Button; down in Turn Down)

For a quick reference tool, visit Capitalize My Title. Be sure to select Chicago style.


Do not paste URLs (…) into your copy. Instead, hyperlink websites and email addresses.

Quick rules for hyperlinks that improve accessibility:

  • Do not use “click here” language. Instead, link the descriptive word(s): The Health Center offers reproductive health care, in addition to our other services.
  • Avoid over-linking (as shown above ☺).
  • Provide links that go directly to the topic at hand.
  • Link only relevant words. Don’t link extra words—keep them short—and don’t link punctuation or spaces before or after a linked word or phrase.


Job Titles
As with academic titles, position titles such as "president" and "chair" are not capitalized if they follow an individual's name.

  • Peter Venkman, executive editor of Who You Gonna Call, will give the keynote at commencement.


Liberal Arts
"Liberal arts" and "liberal arts education" do not contain hyphens and are not capitalized.


Livingston CARES
Is written as shown above.





New York State / Upstate New York 
"State" is capitalized in "New York State." Although the word "state" is not always necessary, do include it when there may be confusion between New York State and New York City.

“Upstate New York” is capitalized because it refers to a region (such as the Midwest) rather than a direction (south).


Most common writing errors with numbers:

  • Numbers under 10 are written out in most cases (ages, dates, and addresses are some exceptions); 10 and greater are written in numeric form.
  • Do not use the "%" symbol in written prose. Instead use "percent" or "percentage." The symbol with the numeric value can be used outside of prose.
  • Spell out all numerical values if used at the beginning of a sentence.


When noting parents of current students or alumni, use "P" as a signifier before their child(ren)'s graduation year. Use commas to separate graduation years for multiple children

  • Laura Brown P'19
  • Richard Roe P'12, P'16


Parents Weekend
Parents Weekend (no apostrophe)


President's Cabinet

Capitalized when used as full, formal name. When "cabinet" is used alone, it is always lowercased.


Italicize proper names of journals, magazines, and newspapers.




Semesters are differentiated by the season by writing the term with initial caps followed by the year:

  • Fall 2019; Summer 2020


Never more than one space after all punctuation.


State Names 
Spell out state names in running text.

  • I live in Kansas, not Arkansas.

EXCEPTION for running text: When the state is preceded by a city, use the two-letter postal code abbreviation.

  • She lives in Rochester, NY, not Rochester, MN.

Use two-letter postal code abbreviations for photo captions, bibliographies, tables, lists, etc.


When writing about a student, include their name and their expected year of graduation abbreviated after their name. Majors, minors, and hometowns can also be included.

  • Jennifer Brown '16 doesn't know what to study in graduate school.

Do NOT include expected graduation year and the class year in the same sentence.

  • INCORRECT: Senior Elizabeth Smith ‘19 plays lacrosse.



Times [see also Dates]
Use a.m. and p.m.; always lower case, with periods.

Don’t use zeros for even hours: 3 p.m., NOT 3:00 p.m.

Use "noon" or "midnight" without numbers instead of 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.

Use “to” for a range of times in prose or running text when preceded by “from.”

  • The Geneseo Bookstore will be open during reunion weekend from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Use an en dash for all other time ranges. Do not use spaces with an en dash. Do not use a hyphen in place of an en dash. Do not use “from” when using an en dash to show a range of time.

  • Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • INCORRECT: Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • INCORRECT: Registration is from Monday–Thursday.

When a time range is just in the morning or just in the afternoon, use only one signifier: 3–4 p.m., NOT 3 p.m.–4 p.m. But include if an event goes from morning to afternoon: 9 a.m.–2 p.m.



  • Use italics for titles of long works including book titles, newspapers, journal titles, plays, albums, television shows, etc.
  • Use quotation marks for titles of short works including chapter titles, lecture titles, songs, article titles, television show episodes, etc. (e.g., Meat Loaf's classic album Bat out of Hell features the song "Bat out of Hell.")
  • Programs, events, and course titles are written in title case: Introduction to Anthropology, Homecoming & Family Weekend.



  • internet: lowercase
  • login as noun = one word; log in as verb = two words
  • web page: two words, lowercase
  • website: one word, lowercase
  • URLs: Do not use “http ://” or “www.” or other prefixes (CORRECT: Long URLs should be replaced by hyperlinks or shortened Bitly links (for web, social, or email) or by “go” links (for print).