Introduction to Writing for and About WMU

This style guide is offered to bring consistency to correspondence and print and electronic publications written for and about Western Michigan University. It addresses many of the more commonly asked questions about style and several of the more common errors. It is not a comprehensive guide, however, and more complete guides are recommended for questions not covered.

Two of the more commonly used comprehensive style guides are the Associated Press Stylebook, commonly called "AP style," and the Chicago Manual of Style, commonly called "Chicago style." Nearly all of the recommendations in Writing for and about WMU are consistent with AP style, which is the standard around which most university and web writing style guides are developed.

Many of the more common errors of style, grammar and punctuation relate to emphasis. What we have to say is very important, and we want to be certain the reader knows it is very important. To demonstrate importance or to emphasize our point, we often violate basic rules.

Common errors

Capitalizing Common Nouns
Underlining words to create emphasis
Placing words within quotation marks "to create emphasis"
Using bold face or italic type to create emphasis
Concluding sentences with more than one exclamation point!!!!

The use of these techniques creates print and electronic publications that are unattractive and difficult to read.

CAPITAL LETTERS and "quotation marks" should never be used for emphasis. Bold type, italic type, underlined words and exclamation points may be used for emphasis, but should be used sparingly. Never use more than one exclamation point to end a sentence.

Make your meaning clear and emphasize your most important points by organizing your writing. Identify the points you wish to make. What is the single, central theme or purpose of this correspondence or publication? What are the important supporting themes or points? Identifying what you want to say before you try to say it will always produce better communication.

Always try to write from the perspective of the reader. What is obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to your readers. When in doubt, it is better to err on the side of too much information.

Always use the full official names of offices, departments, programs and committees in your first reference. In subsequent references it is generally not necessary, and can be tedious, to repeat the complete name. Thus, your first reference might be to the “Department of Biological Sciences” and subsequent references might be made to "biological sciences" or "the department." Avoid using abbreviations, even on second reference. Use "the office" rather than the abbreviation for the office.

Introduce people to your readers (first reference) by their full names. On first reference, write "Dean Anne Cartwright," not "Dean Cartwright."

All communication is persuasion, and it is important that you think of it as persuasion. Otherwise, you have no idea what you are trying to achieve. You are writing to a person or to a group with the goal of altering behavior or attitudes. You want readers to attend an event, or to make a contribution, or to be more favorably disposed toward a particular action. Try to understand where your readers are now and guide them from where they are to where you want them to be.

Know your audience.Those things that might motivate a group of alumni probably won't motivate a group of prospective students. The two have very different values, different levels of interest, and different experiences and knowledge. Successful communication begins with a clear understanding of the audience and an equally clear understanding of the attitude or behavior modification you hope to effect through that communication.