Topics (A-Z)















Follow the International System of Units (SI) as a guide for units of measurement (see

Degree titles take the following form: BSc, MLitt, PhD.

Do not use full stops in these common abbreviations: eg, am, pm, op, no, cf, ie, ed, etc or after Mr, Mrs, Prof or Dr.

Spell out acronyms in full at first mentioned in text, for instance: Department of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). Also consider adding an acronym glossary to longer documents, especially for non-technical readers.


Use open punctuation in addresses:
University of Cambridge
The Old Schools
Trinity Lane
Cambridge CB2 1TN
General switchboard: (01223) 337733.

Bullet points

If you use a complete sentence to introduce the bulleted list, then end it with a full stop, not a colon.

  • It is important to start each point with a capital letter.
  • Remember to end each point with a full stop.
  • It may also be helpful to use single spacing between single line bullets and double spacing between bullets if longer (paragraph-like) lists are used.

When working with lists of points that are not full sentences:

  • Place the colon at end of sentence introducing the list
  • start points with lower case letters (because they are not complete sentences).

Capital letters

Use lower case as much as possible. There is a tendency for people to capitalise words unnecessarily just because they are deemed ‘important’. Resist this. Company names may feature unusual capitalisation (or lack of capitalisation), try to follow the company’s convention, even if it looks ridiculous.

Use sentence case in headlines: Teachers from state schools learn how Cambridge really works
(not “Teachers from State Schools Learn how Cambridge Really Works”)

In text use a capital first letter if the noun is specific: the Faculty of Education, but use lower case letters in general use: The University of Cambridge comprises a number of faculties.

The Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology (specific) comprises three departments (general). The Faculty (specific) includes the Department of Social Anthropology (specific). The Head of the Department of Social Anthropology (specific) is ... other departmental heads (general) have issued the following statement …

The University uses capital letter U, when referring to the University of Cambridge. When university is used in a general way, eg a place at university (meaning any university) the u should remain lower case.

The Cambridge Colleges use a capital C, even when referring to the Colleges in general. This differentiates the Colleges from further education colleges, for example, The Colleges admit students from many local schools and sixth-form colleges.

Capital letters are used for positions/job titles such as Senior Tutor, Admissions Tutor, and Director of Studies.

Degree titles use initial capitals, eg BA Honours in History. Single Honours, Joint Honours, etc also use initial capitals.

Initial capitals are also used for term names, eg Michaelmas Term (Oct–Dec), Lent Term (Jan–Mar) and Easter Term (April–June). May Week, which takes place in June, is also capitalised.

Qualifications should also be capitalised eg GCSEs in Mathematics, Chemistry and History.

Significant words in titles of books, magazines and newspapers take initial caps, and titles should be in italics. For the record, a, and, at, for, from, in, of, on, the, and to are not usually capitalised (except at the start of a title or following a colon). Only two UK periodicals use full italics in their titles: The Times and The Economist (in contrast to The Guardian or The Independent).

Titles of papers/journal articles should have initial capital letters eg This includes the paper “Historical Argument and Practice”.

Follow a colon in headlines with a lower case, not capital, letter.


Permission must be obtained to use any material (charts, illustrations, photos, illustrations, etc) that has not been originated by the author (this is usually done by submitting a written request, detailing the material and the context in which it will be used). Once permission has been confirmed then identify the source as an image caption or footnote text: Reproduced by permission of xx or © Photographer name.

Always source quotations: Professor Daniel Smith, Head of Divinity.

If something looks as if it could have been taken from another source, query the text or image (and it never hurts to cross-check via Google). If there is a substantial amount of someone else’s material used without credit (=not original), then question its value / avoid using it.

Country names

Use the English equivalent (Vienna, not Wien) and list any sequence of names in alphabetical order.

Dates and time (see also numbers, below)

  • Friday, 16 January 2004 (not 16th January)
  • 1890s, 1930s not 1890's, 1930's
  • 20th century not twentieth century (use 19th-century only for adjectives: Late 19th-century architecture saw an increase in heavy detailing. Leave th or st as roman, not superscript).

Use em-dashes (—), without spaces for times, dates and age ranges: Tue—Sun: 11.30am—5pm.

Use two digits when representing a span of years within the same century: 2009–10, and four digits: 1892–1925 when spanning more than one century.

Dates are expressed as date/month/year 1 July 2013, or Monday, 1 July 2013 (note the comma following the day of the week).

Time is expressed following a 12-hour clock, using a full stop between the numbers and without full stops in am and pm: 12.45pm.


Cardinal points of a compass (north, south) are only capitalised if they are part of a title: North West Cambridge, Eastern Europe, North Wales, but not as part of general descriptions: western Canada, southern Scotland.

Email and web addresses

Email addresses and URLs should appear in lower case, not underlined, eg and Do not include http:// at the beginning, and do end with a full stop if the address appears at the end of a sentence.

Equal opportunities


  • deaf people, not the deaf
  • people with disabilities, not disabled people
  • wheelchair users, not people in wheelchairs
  • people with AIDS, not AIDS victims
  • elderly people, not the elderly or old people
  • ethnic minority group/community or minority ethnic group/community, not ethnic group/community.

The European Commission (EC) is the administrative body of the European Union (EU).
At present, there are 28 Member States in the EU (see

Figures and captions 

Reports should reference Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3 (longer documents may group by chapter: Figure 1.1, Figure 1.2, Figure 2.1, Figure 2.2, etc.). Use sentence case for captions.

Ensure that images used on the website are credited (and follow any conditions of use). Material covered by Creative Commons uses a number of different licences, all require attribution of the original author, including:

  • All Rights Reserved: Users may not copy, distribute or display images without obtaining permission, although you can link to the page on which it is displayed.
  • Attribution, No Derivatives: Users may not copy, distribute or display images without obtaining permission but you must not alter the image and need to credit the photographer.
  • Attribution, Share Alike: Users may copy, distribute, and display the image. It may also be altered as long as the result is then licensed under the same Creative Commons attribution (=Share Alike).
  • Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives:  Users may copy, distribute, and display the image but it may not be changed and you must credit the photographer.
  • Attribution Non-Commercial: Users may copy, publish, and distribute the image for non-commercial purposes. It may also be changed but must be used non-commercially and you must credit the photographer.
  • Attribution: Users may copy, publish, and distribute the image for any purpose (commercial/non-commercial). It may also be changed but you must credit the photographer.

Do seek guidance from the Creative Commons website, but here are some example citations:

Attributing the original work
"My Awesome Photo," © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

Attributing your derivative use of the work
This is a Finnish translation of "My Awesome Report" © 2009 by Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.  This Finnish translation is licensed under the same Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

File naming

If you intend the file to be downloadable online, please use lowercase letters, and substitute spaces with dashes: chart-showing-migration-of-birds.pdf


Headings, headlines and subheadings take an initial cap only (=sentence case).

Headlines and links

News headlines in magazines and web stories should use active verbs:

  • Cambridge Professor discovers new technique
  • New technique for cell extraction discovered.


The headline of a web page should always be the same as any links leading to it. Don’t call your page ‘Information for prospective students’ if the link to it is ‘How to apply’.

Keep headlines as short as possible.


When an adverb is used to qualify an adjective, if the adverb is not readily identifiable as an adverb, it should be hyphenated. For instance, in the phrase 'deep blue sea', 'deep' could be an adverb to indicate that the colour of the sea was both blue and of considerable depth. To demonstrate that 'deep' is being used to qualify the adjective 'blue', the phrase is hyphenated 'deep-blue sea'

Adverbs that end in 'ly' do not use hyphens eg slowly moving train, highly educated scholar

A hyphen is used to separate two vowels used together in a word when they are the same vowel, eg co-ordination, micro-organism, co-operate, but reappointed not re-appointed.

The following words should not be hyphenated:

  • biomedical
  • fundraising
  • online
  • website
  • email
  • multidisciplinary
  • spinouts
  • startups (in relation to companies)

Do hyphenate Co-ordinator, Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor.


Use italics for non-English words, book titles, films, talks, radio and TV programmes (eg Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, the BBC programme World in Action), sculpture, ships and titles of major musical works, but keep song titles in roman without quotes: Symphony No.5 in C minor, A Hard Day’s Night. Note, we do not use italics for festivals, such as Open Cambridge, Festival of Ideas and Open Cambridge.

Measurements (see also abbreviations, numbers and time)

Avoid leaving a space between number and unit of measurement (10km, not 10 km). Commonly used measurements include: cm, mm, km, g, l (litre), MB, GB, kHz, MHz, KB.


Companies, countries and institutions should all be singular (AstraZeneca believes that…Cambridge United is having a good season…). Data should also be treated as singular.


Numbers up to and including ten are spelt out in letters – one, two and so on.  Subsequent numbers are shown as numbers, 11, 12 and so on. When a sentence starts with a number, it should be spelt out:

  • Thirty bridges were constructed and 150 villages benefited.
  • A hundred acres of woodland were enclosed, protecting more than 1,000 trees
  • 30 bridges were constructed and 150 villages benefited.
  • 100 acres of woodland.

Spell out million, billion wherever possible: one million, preceded by a space. Use figures when working with currency: £1 million and when quoting specific amounts.  Avoid starting a sentence with a number, but if you must, then write as prose: Sixty-four students graduated, thirty-one were from outside of the UK. (Alt construction: In January 2013, 31 of the 64 students that graduated were from outside of the UK.) I disagree: I would write Sixty-four students graduates, of whom 31 were from outside the UK.

Note, in British English a billion used to be a million million (1,000,000,000,000) but is now aligned with the American billion (1,000,000,000). Numbers over a thousand should use a comma, eg 1,234 not 1234.

Fractions do not use a hyphen, eg two thirds, not two-thirds (but hyphenate if used as an adjective: a two-thirds majority).

Percentages – within text, per cent is always spelt out as two words, one per cent, 50 per cent; in tables or in graphs the % symbol can be used.

Page references are always the shortest admissible within the range. For example, pages 34–5 or 46–54 or 107–17 or 136–8

Numerical ranges

If working with a word-based description, then use from and to:

  • Children aged from 12 to 16.
  • Children aged from two to three.

Children aged 12–16 is also fine, but don’t mix use of the en dash with ‘to’ in the same sentence (avoid: Children aged from 12–16).

Use the 12-hour clock to express time: Lunch will be served at 12.45pm. Breakfast is available 7.00–10.30am.

Telephone numbers should be expressed on stationery as Tel: +44 (0)1223 123456. Internal numbers as (3)12345.

Names and initials

When referring to the Vice-Chancellor using his full title use: 
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, not University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

Full points are NOT used after initials eg Dr M P S Handley (with space between each initial).

There should not be a comma between a name and honorarium eg Dame Jane Goodall DBE.

When alphabetical lists of names are being given, follow a strict alphabetical order:

  • Mac appears before Mc de Sa,
  • du Plessis appears under D
  • Spanish names appear under the first surname, eg M Rangel Archila de Novais comes under Rangel.


Ensure one line space between paragraphs and do not indent the first line of a paragraph.

Keep paragraphs short, especially when writing for the Web. Bear in mind that large blocks of text put readers off.

Past continuous and past simple

Past continuous should be used when describing something that was in the process of happening and past simple used when describing something that happened:

  • I was sitting on the train when the phone rang.


  • I was sat on the train when the phone rang.


Percentages are spelt out, eg 6 per cent (6% in Research Horizons).


Drop initial capitals if referring to more than one heads of school (no s), deans of faculty (no s) as each head or dean is head of one school or dean of one faculty. This is in contrast when using someone’s job title: Head of Department, Professor Gerard Evan.
For the plural of Master, the apostrophe follows the s: Masters' regulations or Masters' degrees. For the singular of Master the apostrophe precedes the s: a master's degree in Computing Science.


Apostrophes indicate a missing letter or letters in an elision (where two or more words are run together), eg it’s (it is), aren’t (are not), I’ll (I will). They are also used for the possessive eg Tom’s lunch.  When a noun ends with an s and the final syllable is pronounced, the possessive s is added, eg Thomas’s lunch, Dr Huw Jones’s research, Octopus’s Garden. 

Commas (Oxford/Harvard) An Oxford comma is one used before an “and” at the end of a list and is used to avoid ambiguity:

  • The family meal was soup, fish and chips, and ice cream. 
  • The jumper is available in green, yellow, and black and white.,

A comma can also be used before an “and” when two statements are linked:

  • Charlie has been learning the clarinet for 12 years, and today he is an accomplished member of the local orchestra.

Colons and semi-colons Use a colon before a list, a summary or a quote and to complete a statement of fact. Use a semi-colon to link two separate sentences that are closely connected and to separate points in a list that follows a colon and already contains commas. To illustrate how the semi-colon and colon can contribute to the sense of a sentence, here’s a nice example of correct usage from Sussex University.
Consider the two statements below. They have equal weight and may be unconnected.

  • Lisa is upset. Gus is having a nervous breakdown.

Now separate them by a semi-colon. They are now related or linked.

  • Lisa is upset; Gus is having a nervous breakdown.

Now substitute a colon:

  • Lisa is upset because Gus is having a nervous breakdown.
  • Lisa is upset: Gus is having a nervous breakdown.

Dashes Use shorter en-dashes (–) for dates such as 1995–96 and longer em-dashes (—) for terms of equal weight (the Franco—Prussian War) or to represent a pause in text.
Use single spaces after a full stop, not double spaces. (This is a throwback to the days of typewriters. All word processing packages automatically insert the correct amount of space with a single tap of the space bar.)

Double quotation marks are always used for direct quotes, unless there is a quote within a quote, in which case use single quote marks within double marks.

A full stop is used outside the quotation mark if the quote is only part of a sentence. (The scientists believed that there was a real need “to get out of the office and into the field”.)  It is placed inside the quotation mark if the quote is a complete sentence.
When you break a quote into two paragraphs, you omit the closing speech marks at the end of the first paragraph and start the second paragraph with opening speech marks. Here is an example. 
“…the rainforest was threatened by logging companies.
“However, the government is now taking action to halt illegal activities in this precious habitat...”
Single quotes signify unfamiliar words or phrases. They should not be used for words which are well understood, eg real life and GM. 

Do not use end punctuation to close a pull-out quote.

Hyphens are used in words beginning with prefixes such as co, de, pre, or re when two of the same vowels appear together (co-operate, re-emerge, de-escalate, pre-eminent) but not when the vowels are different (proactive, reorder). They are used to join two word adjectives in order to make the sense: (clear, deep-blue sea, 19th-century history). Ages are hyphenated when used as adjectives (six-year-old children). When an age range is being described, use hyphens as follows:

  • five- to six-year-old girls
  • 16- to 19-year-old students
  • 18- to-24-year-olds. 

Telephone numbers

  • For external audiences use: Tel: 01223 339397.
  • For internal audiences use: Tel: 39397.
  • For international audiences and on stationery use: Tel: +44 (0)1223 333308.

Time (see also measurement, number)

Use am and pm when referring to time in the body of text:  Opening hours are 11.30am to 5.30pm. (Note within listings, or where space is tight, am and pm may not be needed: Open Monday–Friday, 10–1 and 2–5, and Saturday 10–4.)  


When a male professor has been knighted he becomes Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton and when a female professor is knighted she becomes Professor Dame Louise Johnson.  Once the full name has been given, subsequent mentions in text and quotes should be Sir Nicholas and Dame Louise. (For info on job titles and degrees, see capital letters; for forms of address, see abbreviations.)


University of Cambridge is the official University title and should be used in all communications and publications. To facilitate a good writing style, the word “Cambridge” may well be a suitable substitute when faced with inconsistency. Cambridge University should be avoided (although it is still used in some names, eg Cambridge University Library).

When referring to the University alongside the University of Oxford the names should be written in full: the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge”. The term Oxbridge should be avoided.

The University should be referred to as a singular: use has, is, etc.

Who and whom

Who is used for the subject of a sentence and whom for the object of a sentence:

  • The girl who gave me the apple had fair hair. 
  • The girl to whom I gave the apple had fair hair.
  • The man who spoke to me was in a rush.
  • The man with whom I was speaking was in a rush.

Who, that and which

Who refers to people; that and which refer to groups or things. That is used for restrictive clauses, which for non-restrictive clauses.

Which almost always follows a comma or a dash. 

  • Restrictive example: Houses that are old need a lot of maintenance.
  • Non-restrictive example: Houses, which have to withstand the weather, need a lot of maintenance.