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Frequently Asked Questions About Pepperdine Literary Style

1. When do you capitalize someone's title? Use the example of someone like the current (2015) lieutenant governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

2. Do you place a comma after the next-to-last item in a series or not?

3. Do you place a comma after a short, introductory phrase when starting a sentence?

4. What numbers do we spell out?

5. Do the nouns "faculty" or "staff" take a singular or a plural verb?

6. Do titles of books or journals/magazines or websites go in italics or in quotes?

7. When do you use a semicolon versus a colon versus an em dash?

8. When do you capitalize the word "University" when it appears by itself in reference to Pepperdine University?

9. At the end of a quote, does the ending punctuation go inside or outside the close-quotation mark?

10. What abbreviations are OK to use?

11. Do we use periods when referencing degrees? (BS or B.S.; MBA or M.B.A.)

12. What words are capitalized in a headline or title or proper name? (especially, how are hyphenated words treated?)

 


 

1. When do you capitalize someone's title? Use the example of someone like the current (2015) lieutenant governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

Answer:

Capitalize according to the usual rules of grammar and punctuation in the standard situations:

  • The first word at the beginning of a sentence
  • In headlines (when the style choice is initial caps)
  • Lists where all similar titles are likewise capitalized
  • When it is used as a social title as part of the name, typically replacing the title holder's first name (similar to Mr./Ms./Dr./Prof.)
  • Address blocks and salutations on letters and envelopes

 

Examples:

Lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom is running for governor of California in 2018. [running text]

Statewide Marijuana Panel Led by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom [headline]

California Statewide Political Officials (2015) [roster/list]
     Jerry Brown, Governor
     Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor
     Kamala Harris, Attorney General
     Alex Padilla, Secretary of State
     Betty Yee, Controller
     John Chiang, Treasurer
     Dave Jones, Insurance Commissioner
     Tom Torlakson, Superintendent of Public Instruction

"... I also add that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, ever and always a friend to the environment, continues his work on the State Lands Commission ..." [title used as an courtesy honorific in a direct quote]

The Honorable Gavin Newsom [envelope and inside address]
Lieutenant Governor of California
State Capitol, Suite 114
Sacramento, CA 958114

Dear Mr. Newsom: [salutation]

 

Follow-up question:

So when do you NOT capitalize "lieutenant governor" when referencing Newsom?

One should otherwise lowercase "lieutenant governor" when used in running text, occurring before (restricted appositive usage) or after (apposition) Newsom's name, especially at first reference.

 

Examples:

Prior to his taking office in 2011, lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom had held two previous elected offices, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and mayor of San Francisco.

Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, held two previous elected offices in the state—member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and mayor of San Francisco.

 

Frequently asked follow-up to the follow-up question:

Why lowercase in these situations? Especially the former example?

These are examples of formal prose, written from an objective point of view. In good prose practice when introducing a person into the narrative, you give the subject's full name and full functional or professional title relevant to your premises in writing the story to inform the reader why they are appearing. "Gavin Newsom" is capitalized because it is his proper name. "Lieutenant governor" is being mentioned not as part of his name but as generic information as to what job or role he has. The term "lieutenant governor" is not a proper noun unto itself.

Once a subject's full name and role has been articulated, the writer need only use the subject's last name in subsequent reference to be clear. Reiterations of longer subsequent forms can be used for additional clarity or marketing or rhetorical emphasis, but those would be editorial choices, not style requirements.

Pepperdine University generally follows The Chicago Manual of Style, which is a minimalist, "down" style that makes sparing use of caps, punctuation, abbreviations, and other typographic elements. Writers who are accustomed to style guides that require capitalizing certain job titles (but not all) in some contexts (but not all) may have to adjust their habits in following this style convention. As such, down styling then eliminates many discretionary styling calls and generally makes for a faster read by a reader.

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2. Do you place a comma after the next-to-last item in a series or not?

Answer:

In a series of three or more elements, place a comma after the element preceding the conjunction.

 

Examples:

The colors of the American flag are red, white, and blue.
The available breakfast combos are ham and eggs, pancakes and sausage, or oatmeal and fruit.

 

Writing tip:

We frequently use this series-sentence construction:

The school currently offers A, B, and C, as well as D.

The part " ..., as well as D." is a rhetorical add-on to the basic series construction. When using it, set it off with a comma as presented. By using this construction, you call out element D giving it greater attention and emphasis—so save it for your best selling point.

 

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3. Do you place a comma after a short, introductory phrase when starting a sentence?

Short answer:

Introductory adverbial phrases: No, unless there is risk of ambiguity.
Introductory participial phrases: Yes, always.

 

Longer answer:

Adverbial phrases: Very short adverbial phrases do not need to be set off with commas, unless not doing so will lead to a misreading. The longer the phrase gets, and therefore starts to look like a dependent clause, you may need to add a comma.

 

Examples:

In 1996 he went to Notre Dame on a full-ride scholarship, eventually graduating in 2001.

After 9/11 many predicted a widespread avoidance of comedic irony, but the reverse happened.

On the other hand, Montoya realized nothing could be further from the truth.

Before marrying, his mother had advised him of the practical qualities he should seek in a wife.

In the City of Orange, Julius decided he would roll the dice and start over.

 

Writing tip:

When you systematically write clear, adverbial introductions (the first two examples above) without commas, you can then intentionally use the comma in that kind of construction to subtly signal to your reader that you are making a transition and/or breaking a pattern. Sparing use of commas in your writing, gives greater weight to the ones that DO occur. Overusing commas is the equivalent of a speaker pausing to say "uh" too many times.

 

Participial phrases: Regardless of length, always set off introductory participial phrases with a comma.

 

Examples:

Encouraged by success, they doubled down.

Struggling against prejudice, Jones decided a new strategy was required.

Cosponsored by the Pepperdine Hispanic Alumni Council, the event included panel sessions with business leaders.

Still smarting from last year's loss in the semifinals, the rebounder was determined he would not repeat his error.

 

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4. What numbers do we spell out?

Spell out zero to nine in running text.

Examples:

Pepperdine University comprises five schools.

The Straus Institute has been ranked as the number one program of its kind in the nation for 11 consecutive years.

Larry buys slacks with a 30-inch waist and 34-inch inseam.

The 2015 BMW 328d has been reported to have a cruising range of 675 miles.

 

Spell out numbers that begin a sentence, but because these tend to be awkward constructions, try to avoid such situations and recast the sentence to move the number out of the starting position.

Examples:

Avoid: Nineteen thirty-seven was marked by the founding of Pepperdine College.
Better: The year 1937 was marked by the founding of Pepperdine College.

Avoid: Two hundred and five candidates were accepted into the program.
Better: In all, 205 candidates were accepted into the program.

 

Spell out and hyphenate simple fractions.

Examples:

Passage of the measure requires approval by a two-thirds majority.

She had completed only one-half of the required course work.

The walking distance to the summit is three and one-quarter miles.

Cut to a thickness of one and one-half inches.

But: Cut to a thickness of one and a half inches.

 

 

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5. Do the nouns "faculty" or "staff" take a singular or a plural verb?

"Faculty" and "staff" are considered what are called "mass," "noncount," or "collective" nouns, indicating an indeterminate aggregation of of people or things. When used as the subject of the sentence, these will usually take the singular verb. However, when they are used in their collective sense, they may take either the singular or plural verb, depending if the writer wishes to emphasize the unity of a group or the sense of many individuals.

Examples:

The faculty always votes liberal on matters of increasing access to higher education.

The faculty are diverse, representing 20 nationalities and 30 language traditions.

The employee shuttle broke down so the staff was not there for the presentation.

The staff drive to campus from all parts of Southern California.

The majority has always been male.

The majority of the committee are persons of color.

[All of these can swing plural or singular; the strength of either can be amplified with additional verbiage, but to use a plural verb is to intentionally shift from the default state of singular reference and should be understood as such.]

 

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6. Do titles of books or journals/magazines or websites go in italics or in quotes?

Short answer:  Long works (book, magazine title) go into italics, short works (article, poem) go into quotes.

 

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7. When do you use a semicolon versus a colon versus an em dash?

Answer:

Use a semicolon (;) to connect two independent clauses that you want to connect more closely than leaving them as two separate sentences.

Use a colon (:) within a sentence to introduce a series of like elements.

Use an em dash (—) (a dash the length of a capital M) to set off a dependent clause or phrase that amplifies a point made in the main sentence.

 

Examples:

I win; you lose.

I win—third time so far.

I win it all: in brains, looks, and popularity.

He was an artist—thoroughly obsessed with how the elements would be perceived; she was more of a mechanic—concerned with how things were put together and how they worked.

Lee was fond of saying that inspiration had three essential ingredients: discomfort, dissatisfaction, and a deadline.

The wizened copyeditor warned the fundraiser that stale, cultural allusions to bygone artifacts—Man of La Mancha, Frigidaires, carbon paper—would sail right over the heads of her intended young readers.

The ancient Chinese emperors held their "Dragon Throne"; Korean monarchs are said to have had their "Phoenix Throne"; and the Japanese—they still have an emperor—continue to have a "Chrysanthemum Throne."

 

Writing tip:

There are, of course, many more uses of these punctuation tools and you will find many learned writer's resources that go into more detail and which will tell you that these above usages can all blur into one another. In our basic approach to expository prose, segregating your usage of these marks within these guidelines above will save you time in deciding which tool to reach for.

Warning: In writing persuasive copy, there is a STRONG tendency to set off benefits to a reader by using a lot em-dashed phrases for "em-phasis." Resist that temptation. When too many are used, it actually detracts from having a clear focus on your point.

 

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8. When do you capitalize the word "University" when it appears by itself in reference to Pepperdine University?

 

Answer:

Capitalize the word "university"when you use the construction "the University" as a subsequent reference for Pepperdine University; also capitalize it when used adjectivally in reference to Pepperdine University.

 

Examples: (please note lowercase usages in the first three examples)

Pepperdine is a university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence.

We intend that our university be a place where you will find more than job skills.

General education options at this university include a wider range of subjects related to service.

Employees of the University enjoy generous undergrad tuition benefits both for their dependents and themselves.

Personnel who drive wordmark-branded University vehicles on public roads are required to obey all traffic regulations.

 

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9. At the end of a quote, does the ending punctuation go inside or outside the close-quotation mark?

Short answer: Place ending punctuation [period, question mark, exclamation point] inside the close-quote.

 

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10. What abbreviations are OK to use?

Short answer:  When in doubt, spell it out. Abbreviations are existentially ambiguous, so avoid them whenever you can. Do NOT abbreviate state names (CA, AZ, NY) unless they appear in a table or mailing addresses; generally if you find the abbreviation in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, it's OK to use).

 

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11. Do we use periods when referencing degrees? (BS or B.S.; MBA or M.B.A.)

Short answer: No, do not use periods,do cap appropriately though [PhD, EdD, LLM, MDiv, etc.].

 

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12. What words are capitalized in a headline or title or proper name? (Especially, how are hyphenated words treated?)

Short answer: Lowercase prepositions less than five letters long and conjunctions; in hyphenated words, cap the second element if it would be capped standing on its own.

 

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