Punctuation & Capitalization

Rules for commas, capitals, and more

Our editorial style guide covers punctuation and capitalization at great length. Here are the main styles that apply to the web.

Apostrophes and quotes

Use curly quotation marks and apostrophes rather than straight.

Commas

Use the serial, or Harvard, comma in a list of three or more items.

red, white, and blue ribbons

When items in the series contain commas themselves, use semicolons between all items.

The letters in question are dated August 7, 1989; May 15, 1990; and January 4, 1991.

When they follow a person's name, qualifiers such as Ph.D. and C.P.A. are preceded by a comma. A second comma follows the qualifier in running copy.

The opening remarks by Valerie P. Jackson, M.D., set the tone for the conference.

However, qualifiers such as Jr., Sr., and III are not set off by commas.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Charles E. Dann III

Set off the name of a geographical unit with commas—on both sides—when it follows the name of a smaller geographical unit found within its borders.

Gnaw Bone, Indiana, is a small community.
not: Gnaw Bone, Indiana is a small community.

The same holds true for a year, if a day of the month precedes it.

March 1, 2013, is the priority date for fall 2013 admission.

Dashes

En dashes

Use an en dash in Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Use an en dash in year, day, hour, and page ranges, instead of a hyphen. En dashes should not have spaces on either side.

Em dashes

Em dashes are frequently used to set off parenthetical phrases, especially long or complex ones where something stronger than a comma is called for.

The building—one of our oldest—will be roofed.

Em dashes should not have spaces on either side.

Capitalization

As a general rule, official names are capitalized. Unofficial, informal, shortened, or generic names are not. This rule applies to names of offices, buildings, schools, departments, programs, centers, and so on.

The School of Philanthropy, the school
The Office of the Dean, the office, this office
The Schools of Nursing and Optometry, the nursing and optometry schools
The University Graduate School, the graduate school
The Department of Physics, the physics department, the department
The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, the program
The Center for English Language Training, the center

Capitalize official course titles, except for articles, prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions, whether or not the course number is used.

E 201 Introduction to Microeconomics
S 250 Graphic Design I
A new course, Basic Algebra for Finite Mathematics, is available.

Names of official policies such as Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity should be capitalized. If the concept, rather than the official name, is being discussed, lowercase is appropriate.

Departments are working to ensure equal opportunity.
The Office of Affirmative Action has moved.

Names of holidays and other recurring celebrations are usually capitalized. Names of seasons, academic periods, and one-time celebrations generally are not.

Thanksgiving, Commencement
But: winter 2013–2014, summer session II, summer term, spring semester, orientation, registration, Spring Break, the Glick Eye Institute dedication, the groundbreaking for the new institute

Personal titles immediately preceding a name are capitalized. Those following a name or set off by commas are not.

The latest discovery by Professor John Q. Doe…
John Q. Doe, associate professor of geography, has discovered…
A professor of geography at IU since 2015, Doe studies…

This rule applies not only to academic titles, but also to administrative titles.

Chancellor Terry L. Allison, the chancellor
Allison, who has been chancellor of Indiana University South Bend since 2013

An exception to this rule is a “named” title.

Ramesh Venkataraman is the Lawrence D. Glaubinger Professor of Business Administration at IU Bloomington.

Do not capitalize a qualifying word that precedes a capitalized title.

Today, staff members honored former Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Thomas Gieryn.