Public Affairs

Writing on behalf of Reed College

Communicating on behalf of Reed College involves using the institution's voice, which brings to life the values that define Reed: scholarly engagement, academic rigor, and creative invention. Because our words shape Reed's identity, we are called upon to approach writing and editing with care and consistency.

Editorial style guide

In general, Reed relies for spelling on Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and for editorial style on the Chicago Manual of Style. The library maintains a subscription to the online version of the Chicago Manual of Style, which students, faculty, and staff can access when using Reed’s on-campus network or Reed’s remote access proxy.

Common questions and mistakes

Public affairs maintains a comprehensive editorial style guide that Reed College staff and faculty should consult while writing or editing copy for internal and external audiences. The style guide aims to address concerns specific to the Reed community and promote consistency across college communications.

Highlighted below are some of the most comon questions public affairs receives and mistakes we see related to grammar, style, and usage.

Academic Disciplines
Use lowercase for academic subjects, majors and minors, and courses of study, except in cases that include a proper noun (e.g., American studies or English).

Correct: She majored in mathematics and minored in French.
Incorrect: She majored in Mathematics and minored in French.

Capitalize office, division, and department names only when the formal name is used (e.g. Reed College Office of Public Affairs; Division of History and Social Sciences; Department of Physics). Informal designations are preferred, and these should be set in lowercase (e.g., the public affairs office; the history and social sciences division; the physics department).

Correct: The event was sponsored by the Reed College Department of Anthropology.
Incorrect: The event was sponsored by the Anthropology Department.

Correct: The task force includes representatives from the community safety office, the student engagement office, and public affairs.
Incorrect: The task force includes representatives from Community Safety, Student Engagement, and Public Affairs.

Class years
Indicate class years with an apostrophe. Do not use straight single quotes.

Correct: Barbara Ehrenreich ’63
Incorrect: Barbara Ehrenreich '63

When listing a series of items, use a comma before the final conjunction. If any of the elements in the series contain commas, separate each element with semicolons.

Correct: Each Reed student completes distribution requirements, the junior qualifying exam, and the senior thesis.
Incorrect: Each Reed student completes distribution requirements, the junior qualifying exam and the senior thesis.

In running text, spell out the names of days and months. Use a comma before and after the year when including the day (e.g., The students arrived on Monday, July 26, 2022, for the conference and departed the following week . . .) but not when using only the month and year (e.g., He graduated in May 2018). Do not use the following date formats: 7/15/21; 7/15; or July 27th.

Correct: Applications are due by September 2, 2019.
Incorrect: Applications are due by 9/2/2019.

Correct: Commencement will take place on May 27, 2022.
Incorrect: Commencement will take place on May 27th, 2022.

En dashes
Use an en dash to signify numerical ranges or in the place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of the elements consists of an open compound (e.g., Scholarship recipients are eligible for $500–$750. She is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author). Do not use an en dash in the place of an em dash. To type an en dash, hold down the OPTION key and press the hyphen key.

Em dashes
Use an em dash to set off an amplifying or explanatory element, as an alternative to parentheses or commas, or in place of a colon (e.g., The influence of three impressionists—Monet, Sisley, and Degas—is obvious in her work. It was a revival of the most potent image in modern democracy—the revolutionary idea). To type an em dash, hold down the SHIFT and OPTION keys and press the hyphen key.

Use a hyphen to separate numbers that are not inclusive of a range and to form compound adjectives before a noun (e.g., Dial 503-313-1234 to reach her. In early spring, sweet-smelling cherry blossoms bloom on the trees in Eliot Circle). Do not use two hyphens in the place of an em dash.

Use a single space after a complete sentence—not two.

The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. are used in running text, headlines, and lists. Include a space between the numeral and the abbreviation (e.g., 6 p.m. not 6p.m.). When using from to indicate duration, follow it with to (e.g., from noon to 9 p.m. not from noon–9 p.m.}. Use noon instead of 12 p.m. Do not use 3:00pm, 3pm, 3 pm, or 3 PM.


Public affairs is available to assist campus offices and departments with copy development. In all cases, our recommendations are tailored to a project's specific audience and goals. To address common questions about the best practices of copywriting, public affairs has developed a list of basic guidelines.

Basic writing guidelines

Examples below are drawn from The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque.

Have empathy for your readers.
When you write for the college, the most important thing you can do is have empathy for your readers.

  • Always prioritize readability.
  • Keep sentences short, varied, and to one main idea.
  • Vary sentence length to avoid tedium.
  • Follow a long or "difficult" sentence with short and crisp sentences to give the reader a rest.
  • Keep list items parallel: the first word of each list item should begin with the same part of speech in the same form to provide clarity. When you keep list items parallel, readers are more likely to
    scan rather than skip your content;
    grasp your main points;
    remember what you say.

Avoid pretensions, gobbledygook, and euphemisms.

  • Most educated Americans prefer to read at or below the 10th grade level. Abandon the notion that big words sound more intelligent, more professional, and more serious. Instead of “initiate” and “terminate,” give your readers "begin" and "end." This helps to keep your prose—and their experience—less cluttered.

    Example of making the complex easy to understand:
    Financial exigencies made it necessary for the company to implement budgetary measures to minimize expenditures.
    The company had to cut costs.

Change long and difficult words to short and simple words.

  • Many of our most ancient words are one-syllable utterances. Such words tend to be concrete and emotive.

UX writing guidelines

Inclusive, accessible writing sends a signal to readers that they belong. Examples of good UX (user experience) writing guidelines below are drawn from Nick DiLallo's article, "How to write inclusive, accessible digital products."

Read your work aloud.
Reading aloud helps you hear the information in a new way, and you may notice errors or confusing statements that you didn’t notice before. In addition, reading your work aloud puts you in the reader's—or user's—position, which may help you to notice gaps in important information. 

Write clearly.
Prioritize clarity over creativity and cleverness: clarity helps your readers understand your content more quickly. Choose simple words and craft shorter sentences; explain acronyms users might not know; and use proper punctuation.

Convey meaning with order, phrasing, and punctuation. 
Many screen readers don’t recognize bold, italics, and colored text. Emphasize ideas and information with clear organization, concise phrasing, and correct punctuation rather than by applying typographical styles.  

Proofreading checklist

Before you submit your copy to your stakeholders, quickly review the following items.

Names—check the spelling of names of faculty, staff, students, and buildings.
Titles—check the titles of people and publications and style them correctly.
Numbers—ensure phone numbers, times, and dates are styled correctly.
Claims and percentages—confirm all facts with the Reed College Office of Institutional Research.