When referring to an abbreviation or acronym, use the appropriate article for the way the abbreviation is spoken, not spelled. Thus: an M.B.A., an M.S., an FBI agent. For more information, see the Chicago Manual.
Although people at Penn State refer to various units by acronyms in speech and internal publications (such as ARL for the Applied Research Laboratory), in University communicators should not use acronyms except for those commonly used both inside and outside the University community (such as NASA and the FBI). Use a short form of the name instead, such as the college or the institute. If an acronym must be used to spare readers confusion, spell out the full name on the first mention, with the acronym in parentheses following.
Acronyms are made plural by adding an s if there are no periods in the acronym (IOUs) and adding ’s if there are periods in the acronym (Ph.D.’s). See the Chicago Manual for more on the appropriate use of acronyms.
See the Chicago Manual for a guide to alphabetizing.
There is a difference between bring and take:
I will bring that suitcase here when I get it out of storage. I’ll take it with me when I leave for vacation.
I’m going to take a gift to the party. When we get there, it will be fun to see what others bring.
Use chair or chairperson, even if you know the gender of the person involved.
Comprise means include or encompass: The seminars may comprise undergraduate and graduate students, but the seminar is composed of students. The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole.
data is plural; datum is singular
A person with disabilities is preferred over a disabled person. Handicapped is often used in government publications, but should be avoided for general use.
Do not try to emphasize a word or idea through use of underlining, italics, or boldface type, or by capitalizing every letter in a word or the first letter of a word not a proper noun. Rather, emphasize through skillful use of language, such as putting the material to be emphasized at the beginning or end of the sentence.
When listing items following i.e. or e.g., do not include etc. Pick one or the other. Use a comma after i.e. or e.g. and before etc.
Pat packed what was needed for the picnic (e.g., a blanket, plates, silverware). Lynn spent all of her money on school supplies (notebooks, pens, folders, etc.).
ensure or insure
The dictionary says these two are synonymous with each other and with guarantee, assure, and secure. But only insure can be used with anything pertaining to insurance. It’s less confusing for readers to use ensure in noninsurance matters and insure for insurance.
faculty—plural or singular?
Faculty, like other collective nouns, is used with the singular form of a verb when considered one unit and the plural form of a verb when considered as a group of individuals.
The faculty insist that students be allowed to speak. The faculty includes distinguished scholars in many fields.
—Use less for a single, mass quantity and fewer for a quantifiable number:
The new building has less floor space, yet it contains no fewer than 100 classrooms.
—In some cases, even when a number is used, the meaning is single quantity. For example:
Lizette worked in our office for less than three years. (refers to a period of time, not individual years)
None of our professors earns less than $7,500 a year. (refers to a sum of money, not separate dollars)
A brief introduction in a publication (usually written by someone other than the author and used only in lengthy publications) is called a foreword—NOT a forward. It’s easy to remember if you think about what it is’a few words before the main text.
—Avoid all gender stereotyping, as in, Today’s secretary is a busy woman.
—Use chair or chairperson rather than chairman or chairwoman, even if you know the person’s gender. Some University entities still insist on using chairman or chairwoman; you may have to lobby for the neutral term at times.
—Use he or she, she or he, or, preferably, the gender-neutral plural they.
—Avoid terms such as maid service (make it housekeeping service); salesmanship (change to effective selling).
—When impossible to change, use the slash method, such as foreman/forewoman. (But why not supervisor?)
When referring to something that can be counted, use more than rather than over. However, this rule is gradually disappearing, so use your judgment.
More than 300 people attended (not Over 300 people attended).
But: Jason is over six feet tall.
The word quality should be qualified. To write that the college has built a quality program leaves open the question of degree of quality. For clarity, use high-quality as an adjective.
There is a difference between that and which. Use that for restrictive clauses (those that are essential to the sentence’s meaning). Use which for nonrestrictive clauses—those that, if removed, would not change the meaning of the sentence. Set off the nonrestrictive clause with commas. (If a sentence has two thats in it, and the reader may be confused, it’s OK to substitute a which for one of the thats.)
The book that she wanted was not in the library.
The books, which are on the kitchen table, are overdue at the library.
title or entitle
Entitle means to give title to; title means to provide a title for or call by a title:
The author entitled the book last week; the book, titled How to Write Well, is here.
Avoid using the term unique as a descriptor—nothing is. Opt instead for terms such as individual, uncommon, special, rare, etc.
As Theodore Bernstein wrote in The Careful Writer, an easy way to determine which to use is to turn a clause into a sentence. Who is a nominative and therefore would match she, for example, in usage terms. Whom would match her.
Alice, who had been with the company for thirty years, was eligible for retirement. [She (not Her) had been with the company for thirty years.]
Whom should I ask? [Should I ask her (not she)?]
See The Careful Writer for a detailed clarification of who/whom usage.