There are several writing style guides in general use, but due to our considerable involvement with the news media, University Communications relies most heavily on Associated Press Style. Below, you'll find general rules based on AP Style that you may find useful in writing for the university. All of these are standard styles we use in MSU publications. 

Acronyms and initialisms

In most cases, acronyms and initialism use no periods: MSU, AYCSS, WWAMI, etc. For all but the most universally recognized acronyms or initialisms, spell out what they stand for on first use. Widely known initialisms (e.g. ROTC, NCAA) do not need to be spelled out.

Avoid defining an acronym or initialism in parentheses immediately after its expanded form is used. Too many parentheses can make a block of text become daunting for a reader. Instead, the preferred acronym or initialism can be used in a nearby sentence:

  • Non-preferred: The Vice President of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education (VPREDGE) has offices in Montana Hall. The VPREDGE oversees research by university staff and faculty.
  • Preferred: The Vice President of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education has offices in Montana Hall. The VPREDGE oversees research by university staff and faculty.

A general rule to keep in mind: If a reader needs the parenthetical arrangement to connect an initialism/acronym to what it stands for — that is to say, if it's not reasonly clear on its own — then you probably should not use that initialism/acronym.

Campus names

  • Montana State University (short form: MSU)
  • Montana State University Billings (short form: MSUB)
  • Montana State University–Northern (short form: MSUN)
  • Great Falls College Montana State University (short forms: Great Falls College MSU or GFC MSU)
  • Montana State University Extension
  • Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (short form: MAES)

The correct punctuation character to separate any instance of MSU and the city is not a hyphen (-) but rather an en-dash (–). Hyphens may be substituted in text rigidly aligning with Associated Press Style, as the AP does not distinguish between hyphens and dashes in copy.

Unless the communication is very informal, the short forms of campus names should be used only after the full name is first used in copy.

Do not add "–Bozeman" to refer to the flagship campus in Bozeman. It is simply Montana State University in all instances.

Class rank

Name of class rank should be lowercase.

  • He is a sophomore.

Course names

Names of a general discipline of courses should lowercase.

  • She is a junior studying mathematics. He's taking an introductory physics course.

But if the course has a formal title, capitalize it and do not use quotation marks around it.

  • Freshman year, I took History of American Pop Music from Eric Funk.

The titles of individual lectures within a course would be surrounded by quotation marks. 

Date ranges

In printed materials and where possible online, ranges of time or dates are set with en-dashes (–), not hyphens (-).

  • October–December
  • 7:30–8 p.m.
  • 3–5 years of age

Hyphens may be substituted in text rigidly aligning with Associated Press Style, as the AP does not distinguish between hyphens and dashes in copy.

Deans list

Lowercase in all uses, unless at the start of a sentence.

  • He is on the dean's list.
  • Dean's list students are recognized each semester.



The name of subject is lowercase, e.g. botany, economics. The exception are words that are, by themselves, proper nouns, like English or Japanese.

When referring to the full name of a degree, capitalize the words.

  • She earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry.
  • They hold a Master of Fine Arts.

Note that there are no apostrophes in those uses.


If not using the full name of a degree, lowercase words that are not proper nouns, as above.

  • He graduated last year with a bachelor's degree in soil science.
  • She earned her master's in English.
  • They finished their doctorates in the spring.


All references to honorary degrees should specify that the degree was honorary.

Department and office names

Capitalize the formal names of departments, standing committees, task forces, programs and offices. Lowercase other constructions (keep the capitalization on proper nouns, however, such as English or French).

  • Her appointment is in the Department of History and Philosophy. She stopped by the history department.
  • Check with the Office of the Registrar. The registrar's office is in charge.
  • The department is within the College of Agriculture. He's a student of the agriculture college.
  • She teaches in the Department of Chemistry. She teaches in the chemistry department. She teaches in chemistry.
  • She was a member of an inaugural cohort of the Hilleman Scholars Program. She is a Hilleman scholar.
  • He chairs the President's Task Force on Comma Usage.

Retain capitalization if it is clear from context that you are referring to a shortened form of a formal title.

  • Please feel free to stop by International Programs with any questions.
  • They work with the dean in Letters & Science.
  • The student had questions about their loans, so she was referred to Financial Aid.


Hyphens are joiners. They are commonly used to create compound modifiers, where two words combine to become an adjective for another noun or phrase, such as in first-year student and upper-division classes.

Not all compound modifiers require a hyphen, and many use cases can be debated either way. Use common sense and keep in mind common usage when deciding. If the hyphen will alleviate ambiguity, use it.

This guide recommends using hyphens in the following specific cases:

  • first-year classes (but classes taken in the first year)
  • four-year program
  • lower-division
  • upper-division

Do not use a hyphen if the first word in the phrase is an adverb (generally, words that end in -ly).

  • Recently appointed dean
  • Newly completed arena

Don't hyphenate

Hyphens are not necessary for most prefixes. Follow these rules:

  • Use a hyphen when the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows starts with the same vowel. Exceptions to this include cooperate, coordinate, preestablish, preeminent and preempt.
  • Use a hyphen if the word following the prefix is capitalized.
  • Use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes: sub-subparagraph.

If a hyphen will avoid confusing the reader, use it.

  • premedicine
  • preforestry
  • non-university (as opposed to nonuniversity)
  • preveterinary
  • non-Greek
  • nondegree


Generally, capitalize formal titles that are used immediately before a person's name.

  • President Cruzado
  • Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian.

Lowercase titles that are not used with a person's name or which are used after a person's name.

  • The director accepted the grant.
  • The department head announced the policy.
  • Waded Cruzado, president of MSU.

Formal titles explained

Formal titles denote a scope of authority.

  • Provost Reginald Random.
  • University Police Chief Stephanie Someone
  • Vice President for Student Success George Guy.
  • task force Chair Anne Anybody (but note that the task force name would be capitalized if used in full)

Other titles serve primarily as occupational descriptions. They are not capitalized when used directly before a person's name.

  • poet Joy Harjo (but Montana Poet Laureate Joy Harjo)
  • police officer Jane Smith (but police Capt. Jane Smith)
  • professor John Doe (but Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering John Doe)

In accordance with AP Style, we do not capitalize professor or the various ranks of professorship.


Use Dr. in the first reference before the name of an individual who holds a medical degree, including dentistry and veterinary medicine.

  • Dr. Jonas Salk.

For other doctorates, it is preferrable to use plain language to describe their expertise.

  • Maurice Hilleman, who held a doctorate in microbiology, developed the vaccine.

If needed, you may use Ph.D. or the appropriate abbreviation after a name as a reference for individuals who hold other doctoral degrees. Set that abbreviation off by commas.

  • Steven Hawking, Ph.D., delivered the lecture.

Note that including too many of these degree and certification abbreviations after names can lead to "alphabet soup," making text harder for readers to get through.


Informal references to the university are lowercase. 

  • The university was founded in 1893.

Updated: March 31, 2022