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Writing Style Guide

Boise State University’s Office of Communications and Marketing follows Associated Press guidelines in publications and websites except where indicated in The Basics, as well as the following writing guide. Direct style questions about topics not included in the guide to the Office of Communications and Marketing at (208) 426-1577 or

To order a desk copy of the “AP Stylebook,” visit

Frequent Writing Style Questions and Tips

Academic and Administrative Titles

  • Lowercase formal titles when they’re after a name: Alicia Estey, vice president for finance and administration, will speak.
  • Uppercase formal titles when they’re before a name: College of Arts and Sciences Dean Leslie Durham will attend the conference.
  • Do not capitalize occupational titles and job descriptions.
  • We break from AP style and capitalize professor titles when they are before a name.
  • Capitalize named and endowed chairs and professorships, even when they fall after a name: Stephanie “Sam” Martin, the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs, will speak at the conference.
  • Drop titles and first names on subsequent reference.
  • Dr.: Use only for a medical doctor. An exception: President Tromp prefers a “Dr.” title.

Academic Degrees

  • Lowercase degrees if spelled out: bachelor of arts, master of science, doctorate, doctor of education. Use an apostrophe in the short form: bachelor’s degree, master’s degree.
  • Capitalize the degree when it includes a subject: Master of Arts in Communication.
  • In stories, use bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s rather than BA or BS; master’s degree or master’s rather than MA or MS; doctoral degree or doctorate rather than Ph. D. or Ed., law degree rather than JD.
  • Exceptions: MBA, MFA.
  • Use associate degree, not associate’s.

Academic Programs

  • Lowercase except for formal program names. Example: She is studying chemistry, accounting, and pursuing a Google Career Certificate.

Acronyms and Initialisms

  • Avoid using acronyms whenever possible
  • Exceptions: In some cases (CEO, GPA, NASA, U.S., NAACP, STEM, LGBTQIA+) acronyms are more well known than their long-form and are fine to use. Noting time zones as acronyms is also acceptable.
  • Avoid acronyms in parentheses after a first reference.
  • Never use an acronym in a headline. 
  • Never start a sentence with an acronym. 


  • Use alum for an individual graduate, regardless of gender.
  • Use alumni for the plural form, regardless of gender.

Boise State University

  • Do not use BSU.
  • Boise State vs. Boise State University: Depends on audience and context. Use your best judgment.


  • Do not capitalize “university” except when it’s part of an official name. Boise State University is Idaho’s metropolitan university.
  • College: Lowercase except when you use a college’s full name: Boise State is home to a number of colleges including the College of Arts and Sciences.


  • Capitalize when referring to the official May or December ceremony. Lowercase in general reference: Boise State’s Spring Commencement will take place in ExtraMile Arena. The university holds commencement ceremonies twice a year.

Course Titles

  • Capitalize official course titles in text with no quotation marks.
  • Example: This fall he is enrolled in Synchronic Methods in Anthropology.

Dates and Events

  • Follow this order for events listings: Time, date, place.
  • Do not include year unless it’s necessary for clarity.
  • Do not use “st,” “nd,” or rd.” The event is Sept. 1 on the Quad.
  • Use a comma after dates included with years. Boise Junior College opened on Sept. 6, 1932, at St. Margaret’s Hall.
  • Time notation examples: 10 a.m./10:15 a.m.
  • Write out noon rather than 12 p.m.
  • Abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec.
  • If you refer to a month without an exact date, write it in full. Example: The dorms open in January, but she can’t move in until Jan. 15.


  • Use death, die. Don’t use euphemisms like ‘passed on’ or ‘passed away’ except in a direct quote.
  • Headlines can be difficult when you’re writing about someone’s death. A couple of possibilities: Boise State community remembers Joe Smith or Jane Smith leaves a legacy of …


  • Uppercase when using the formal title, as in the Department of History.
  • Lowercase when used informally. Example: Students in the chemistry department sponsored the project.

Directions and Regions

  • Lowercase north, east, southwest, etc. The event will take place on the east side of the stadium.
  • Capitalize when you’re talking about a region: Southwest Idaho lies directly north of Nevada. Southwest Idaho is one region in the West.


  • Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to the story you’re telling.
  • Ask sources how they would like to be described. 

Exclamation Points

  • Don’t use them.


  • Lowercase. Also fellowship, unless it’s part of an official title.

First Generation

  • When referring to someone who is the first in their family to receive a degree, write first generation as two words, no hyphen.

Gender Identity

  • Refer to gender or sexual orientation only when it’s relevant to your story. 
  • Ask sources for their preferred pronouns and how they would like to be described.


  • Write short, compelling headlines in an active voice. Close to 40% of our readers read our stories on their phones. We don’t want headlines that fill entire screens.
  • Use sentence case. Capitalize only the first letter of your headline and proper nouns.
  • Last names only in headlines.
  • Use single quotes for quotation marks (for example, for book titles in headlines)
  • Numbers up to nine are written out as words in most headlines


  • Use them to break up longer stories. Make them descriptive for screen readers.


  • Don’t use them. Screen readers can’t read them.

Legislative Titles

  • On first reference, use Gov., Rep. or Sen. before the name. 
  • Do not use legislative titles before a name on second reference unless they are part of a quotation.
  • Spell out and lowercase representative and senator in text.


  • Capitalize when referring to a state’s legislature and in subsequent specific references: the Idaho Legislature; the state Legislature.
  • Lowercase when used in a generic sense: The legislature is the law-making body of government.


  • Use a colon when introducing lists. 
  • Capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.


  • Lowercase except for majors that are proper nouns. Her major is computer science. He is an English major.


  • Write out numbers one through nine. Use numeric figures for numbers 10 and greater. 
  • Exceptions: ages and measurements. Her two daughters are 1 month old and 3 years old. He is 6 feet 2 inches tall.
  • Do not begin a sentence with a numeral.
  • Exception: You can begin a sentence with a year: 2009 was a banner year.


  • Use % when it’s with a number. Spell out otherwise. Example: Boise State’s in-state student population is 66%. The percentage of out-of-state students is growing.

Photo Captions

  • Use this format: Photographer name, Boise State Visual Services. 
  • Non-Boise State photos: Photo provided by + name.
  • If a photo has three or fewer people in it, you must name them.
  • Remember that photo captions can be storytelling elements. Use them to share good quotes or additional details for your story. 
  • Note: Don’t duplicate information in a caption and alt text since that would be redundant for some readers. If you have a caption that is telling a story or providing context but not describing the photo, use the alt text to provide a visual description of the image.

Quotation Marks

  • Use quotation marks for article titles, books, movies, presentations, titles of special events (art exhibits, touring displays).
  • Do not use quotation marks for the titles of periodicals and journals. Example: The journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment published her article, “The life cycle of a horsefly.”


  • Refer to race only when it’s relevant to the story you’re telling. If it is, remember that many racial terms, like other parts of our language, are actively evolving. 
  • Ask sources how they would like to be described.  

Black vs. African American: 

  • According to AP, both terms are acceptable in the U.S., but are not always interchangeable. Many Black Americans are of Caribbean descent, for example. 
  • Black is becoming a more popular, modern term denoting a shared identity and culture. 
  • Use the capitalized term Black as an adjective in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense: Black literature, Black studies. Note, the term “white” used in this way is not capitalized. 

American Indians vs. Native Americans:

  • According to AP, both are acceptable terms in general references when referring to two or more people in the U.S. of different tribal affiliations. 
  • For individuals, use the name of the tribe. He is a Navajo commissioner. She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. 
  • Some tribes and tribal nations use member; others use citizen. If in doubt, use citizen.  

Asian American: 

  • When possible, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person’s preference. Be as specific as possible. Instead of Asian American, for example, use Japanese American or Chinese American, etc. 


  •  Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican American.
  • Many prefer an inclusive term: Hispanic/LatinX


  • Lowercase except as part of a title. Each spring, students sponsor the popular Spring Fling event.


  • Spell out state names.
  • Omit “Idaho” when referring to cities within the state unless it’s in one of our publications with readers outside of Idaho.


  • Link websites to hyperlinks that are descriptive, concise and give the reader an expectation of the destination, i.e. avoid “click here,” “read more,” etc. Do not simply paste the URL into a story. Additionally, use unique text for each link and do not have multiple sites linked to the same text, i.e. hyperlinking “Boise State” to multiple URLs within the domain.
  • Example: The Boise State Webguide contains useful information on best practices for writing content using concepts of universal design and access.