NYU’s Writing Style

An editorial style guide helps us keep our communications clear and consistent across multiple departments by outlining standards for grammar, capitalization, comma usage, and more.

NYU has an extensive editorial guide; the following are some of the most common editorial issues that will arise when creating communications. For issues and word preferences not covered here, please defer to The Chicago Manual of Style Online and Merriam-Webster.

General Guidance

Capitalization

In general, avoid unnecessary capitalization. Capitalize nouns that uniquely identify a particular person, place, or thing. When in doubt, use lowercase.

Commas

Use the serial comma.

Degrees

Degrees (PhD, MBA) are spelled without periods.

Gender Neutrality

When referring to people or a group of people in general, always strive to achieve gender neutrality. Doing so often requires rewording. Consult Chicago 5.255 for nine methods (NYU community members can access The Chicago Manual of Style Online through NYU Libraries). Also refer to the Pronouns subsection of the editorial guide.

Common gender-neutral alternatives:

  • first year, not freshmen
  • upper-level students, not upperclassmen
  • chair or chairperson, not chairman

Numbers

Spell out numbers zero to nine (including first through ninth). But express percentages, ages, ratios, floor numbers, and distances in figures (3 percent, 9 years old, 6th floor, 4 miles). Spell out the word “percent” in running text. Spell out any number that begins a sentence.

NYU Campuses

NYU’s degree-granting campuses abroad should always be styled as: NYU [campus name spelled out here]: NYU Abu Dhabi (not NYU AD or NYUAD); NYU Shanghai (not NYU SH or NYUSH); the same goes for NYU academic centers and locations: NYU Accra; NYU Berlin; NYU Paris.

Plural Forms

Proper names form the plural by adding “s” and “es”:

  • There are five Toms in the class.
  • The Joneses just arrived.

Possessive proper nouns only receive an apostrophe:

  • Emrys’ acting professor encouraged him to study clown techniques.
  • Meyers’ Class of 2020 has the highest average salary of any NYU school.

Pronouns

Pronouns are how a person wants to be referred to in the third person. Correctly using pronouns sets a tone of respect and allyship among individuals of all gender identities and expressions. Referring to someone with the wrong pronouns may make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, or alienated.

Always refer to an individual by their disclosed pronouns. A person’s pronouns are not apparent by looking at them or learning their name(s). If a person’s pronouns are unspecified, then using the words they, them, their, and themselves is acceptable in running text.

Refer to the Pronouns subsection of the editorial guide for more guidance.

Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin

As a general rule, do not use hyphens in compounds expressing geography or nationality (refer to Chicago 7.89 and Chicago 8.39) unless the first term is a prefix, between is implied, or otherwise requested.

  • African American, not African-American
  • Filipino American, not Filipino-American
  • US-Canada border, not US Canada border

Here is a list of the most common racial and ethnic identities, but remember to always use the term(s) disclosed by the group or the individual:

  • African American; Black (Note: Never use “Black” as a singular noun; as a plural noun, never use it alone [i.e., Blacks] but as a modifier [i.e., Black people])
  • Alaska Native
  • Asian; Asian American; Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI); Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic; Latin(a/o); Latinx; Latine
  • Native; Indigenous
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color)
  • People of color/students of color

Titles

Italicize titles of books, magazines, movies, television series, plays, podcasts, video games, museum exhibitions, and works of art (paintings, drawings, photographs, statues).

Use quotation marks for individual short stories, poems, television episodes, and podcast episodes.

Word Preferences

  • 3D
  • 24/7
  • adviser
  • all right
  • Arabian Gulf (preferred by NYU Abu Dhabi) or Persian Gulf
  • Black (history, identity, culture); black (color, etc.)
  • cafe (no accent)
  • Capstone Project, but Capstone thesis (NYU Abu Dhabi)
  • change-maker (noun)
  • cleantech
  • Commencement (when referring to the ceremony); commencement (adjective: commencement exercises, commencement proceedings)
  • Core Curriculum (capitalize for NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai when specified)
  • coursework
  • COVID-19 or coronavirus
  • dual degree (noun), dual-degree (adjective), dual degree (adjective, WEB-SPECIFIC)
  • email
  • emirate, Emirati
  • fieldwork
  • first-year (adjective)
  • Handshake (for NYU’s campus in New York City)
  • Handshake Abu Dhabi
  • Handshake Shanghai
  • health care (noun); health-care (adjective)
  • Indigenous (history, identity, culture); indigenous (plants, products)
  • internet
  • January Term; J Term, not JTerm, J-Term, or J-term
  • LGBTQ+
  • New York City, not New York (when referring to the university locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn)
  • NYU’s campus in New York City (or Washington Square campus or location, Greenwich Village campus or location, or Downtown Brooklyn campus or location), not NYU New York
  • NYU’s expansive global network; a university with an expansive global network, not Global Network University or GNU
  • OK, not okay
  • policymaker, policymaking
  • prehealth
  • prelaw
  • premed[ical]
  • preprofessional
  • résumé
  • SoHo (New York City neighborhood)
  • start-up
  • study abroad/study away (noun and adjective)
  • Summer Session(s)
  • theatre
  • United States (noun); US (adjective)
  • University (capitalize when referring to NYU), university-wide, university-level, university administration (lowercase when used as an adjective)
  • Wi-Fi

Voice and Tone Considerations

What follows are some tips and examples that illustrate how you can use our voice and tone to create readable, clear, and concise content.

Do

  • Think about the appropriate tone for your audience.
  • Consider the right length and tone for the channel.
  • Use common words when possible.
  • Be direct.
  • Define key terms and acronyms.
  • Create logical transitions from idea to idea.

Don’t

  • Overuse institutional jargon, undefined acronyms, colloquialisms, or slang (these can be helpful and appropriate in some situations, but use them mindfully).
  • Choose complicated or uncommon language when there is a simpler alternative, unless it’s necessary.
  • Let sentences or paragraphs get too long.
  • Neglect to tailor your content for each channel and audience.

Communicating Clearly

Readability

NYU has a huge international population, and our content reaches people from many countries and backgrounds. Something to consider: using common words, being direct, and defining key terms will produce content that is widely understood.

Clarity

Communicating large amounts of complicated information to our community is necessary but challenging. Find a balance of specificity and generality. What are the details your audience actually needs to know? Too much information can cause just as much confusion as too little.

Length

We interact with people who are constantly overloaded with information. Even when communicating something complicated, less is usually more. Best practice for emails, for example, is to keep them to around 200 words. It’s a challenge to be so concise, but shorter content will help your message get through.