Style Guidebook: Writing

The College serves diverse audiences, from prospective students to established researchers, and has adopted a series of different writing styles to match. Our writing standards are designed to show professionalism and consistency, leading to more popular and respected content.

What does writing "style" mean?

When it comes to guidelines for writing, style refers to how words are used throughout a work. Grammar, punctuation, and phrasing are important not only for the type of audience a piece is written for, but how professional and appropriate the final piece is.

For example, these sentences are very informative for scientists and researchers, but may be difficult for the general public:

“Two continuous 13-year simulations were conducted using (1) ERA-Interim reanalysis and (2) ERA-Interim reanalysis plus a climate perturbation for the RCP8.5 scenario. The simulations adequately reproduce the observed precipitation diurnal cycle, indicating that they capture organized and propagating convection that most climate models cannot adequately represent.” (Rasmussen, K.L., Prein, A.F., Rasmussen, R.M. et al. Clim Dyn (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-4000-7, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

For the public, reinterpretation of science-heavy phrasing can help make the ideas more understandable to a larger audience. At the same time, simplifying the text would not work for researchers:

“Typical climate models only resolve to about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) – not nearly the detail available in the new dataset. Included in the new data are finer-scale cloud processes than have been available in previous climate models. Using the dataset and collaborating with NCAR researchers, Rasmussen led analysis of detailed climate simulations. The first control simulation included weather patterns from 2000-2013. The second simulation overlaid that same weather data with a “pseudo global warming” technique using an accepted scenario that assumes a 2- to 3-degree increase in average temperature, and a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide.” (Manning, Anne; Dec. 15, 2017; “Warmer, wetter climate could mean stronger, more intense storms”, source.colostate.edu)

Our Default Writing Style

Writing styles change based on the audience, but it is expected that all communications will generally follow the same style that Colorado State University uses for public communication. The CSU style allows us to set default styles for things like grammar conventions, punctuation, time designations, University branding and other capitalization, abbreviations, and so on.

No matter what tone and voice we use for our communications, we want our writing to support our efforts in the best ways possible. By having a default writing style, we are able to promote a professional environment consistent with our vision and mission.

Creative Services has created an excellent reference guide at creativeservices.colostate.edu/style-guide.

“Adhering to a style promotes credibility, consistency, professionalism and clarity.”

Anne Manning
Communications Coordinator
Department of Public Relations
Colorado State University

Writing for search engine optimization (SEO)

We always want to improve our ranking in Google and across the web, to help us promote our vision and mission. The ways in which we write our content become crucial to improving our rankings, as Google works more and more towards page readability as the most important aspect of communications.

The College websites play an important role with different audiences, a balancing act of gaining both scientific and research traffic while promoting the benefits of the College. But whether that traffic is from a Google search or through Google Scholar, the algorithms behind those searches are still looking for the right content. A well written page, whether for the public or a more technical crowd, can help us to rank our pages higher.

That said, it is important to write for the audience first, and secondarily for a search engine. We want visitors to our pages to find the information they need in a professional and consistent manner, something that Google is already taking into account. Adding the correct phrases or keywords, while important, comes second.

Quick Tips:

  • Start your paragraph with the most important sentence, and stay relevant. The last sentence should wrap up the paragraph, and lead to the next.
  • Sentences containing more than 20 words are lengthy, try to limit them.
  • Giant blocks of text are unreadable for most users, so limit the length and number of sentences in each paragraph.
  • Limit words that are difficult to read. Reading from a screen is hard for everyone.
  • Don’t slow the reader down with too much jargon. Jargon comes pretty easily in an education and engineering organization.

Content Guidelines

As an organization dedicated to research and higher education, it is important that any content that we produce is accurate and truthful. No matter how large or small an inaccuracy might be, it is important for the credibility of the College and the University to always promote fair, honest, and truthful information.

If an inaccuracy is found, it is important to correct it as soon as possible. If a correction cannot be made, or if the facts are unclear, the content should be fully removed until factual information can be reposted.

Tickets for content errors can be submitted through the Help Desk on the Web Operations page.

Supporting the Values of the College

Writers for any of the College's platforms should always keep in mind the mission, vision, and values for which the College stands:

  • Excellence
  • Inclusiveness
  • Collaboration and Respect
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Passion
  • Integrity
  • Transparency and Accountability

University Brand Standards for Writing

The College adheres to the branding standards set forth by the University, including writing standards. The Writers Style Guide from Creative Services helps with consistency for things like academic degrees, using punctuation correctly, numbers and dates, and other writing forms.

The branding guidelines for the College fill in gaps not mentioned in the University's policies, or are otherwise specific to the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering.

Copyrighted Material

We follow University policies for copyrights and content. For more information about copyright rules, visit the External Relations Copyright Guidelines page here.

Inappropriate Content

Creating content for the College requires a respect for others and adherence to the standards listed in both College and University policies. Misuse of this content policy is subject to immediate loss of access to College publishing platforms.

We do not allow the publishing on any of our platforms of indecent, obscene, threatening, or profane content.

All content must be free from discrimination or harassment based on race, age, creed, color, religion, national origin or ancestry, sex, gender, disability, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Content cannot misrepresent your affiliation with the College, University, another user, person, or entity, or is otherwise fraudulent or misleading.

A Note on code and Other Background Content

Some content, such as keywords and descriptions for SEO, are not as readily seen by the public. But all content generated by a webpage is public information, even if it does not appear visually on the page. Google searches, social media posts, and anyone viewing the source code of a webpage can see the information normally hidden from the viewer.

When creating page descriptions, keywords, or any other information that could be found by a user, it is important to continue to follow the standards suggested by this guidebook. No inappropriate or inaccurate content is allowed in SEO content.

Proper Title: Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering

Consistently and correctly use the college’s name, Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering, to ensure professionalism, credibility, and integrity.

Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering

With content that may mention the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering several times, it is acceptable to use the capitalized word “College” after the first instance of the full name. It is only used to specifically replace the full title, not in a general discussion of a college.

The College adheres to University policy in using capitalized versions of both “College” and “University” in specific situations. Read those brand standards in the University Writers Style Guide here.

Some examples of incorrect name usage:

  • COE
  • SCOE
  • WSJCOE
  • College of Engineering
  • Scott College of Engineering
  • Walter Scott, Jr, College of Engineering
  • Walter Scott, Jr., College of Engineering

Writing style Guidelines

The style examples listed below are based partially on CSU style and partially on best practices for web design and search engine optimization. It is not a fully inclusive list, and if you have questions please contact us.

Grammar and Spelling

All content, regardless of audience, should be checked for proper spelling and grammar multiple times prior to being made public. All content page should be visually reviewed, including text, images, and designs.

Our grammar and punctuation choices are based on the CSU style guide and the branding standards set forth in this guidebook.

Editing

No matter who you are or what content you write, all communications from the College require a separate editor. It is not something to take personally, and is not meant in a bad way, but rather to help the writer reach the best content possible.

The editor is often a supervisor or other staff member, not necessarily a member of the Communications team. It is the editor's job to review any content being released, prior to final editing by the Communications team.

The Communications team performs final reviews of pages and documents for a number of issues, including branding, spelling and grammar, visual and design review, and adherence to standards.

College/University name duplication

Visitors to our websites know that they are on sites associated with both Colorado State University and the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. We do not need to remind them constantly throughout, such as saying "Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University." Keep descriptions short and to the point, especially when affiliations are clear.

Writing for Header Tags & Headlines

Headlines are what keep visitors reading, and should be thoughtfully considered. Heading text should be no more than 7-10 words, consistent and concise, and be relevant to the content coming in the next section.

While the CSS formatting of our pages dictates capitalization for our header tags, headline text should continue to be written based on CSU style guidelines. In most cases, headlines are to be written like standard sentences, with an initial capital letter only. Capital letters for names and acronyms are acceptable.

  • Incorrect: The Scott Bioengineering Building Will Be Under Construction This Week
  • Correct: The Scott Bioengineering Building will be under construction this week

Ideally there should be a header for every 3-5 paragraphs of text, or 300-400 words, depending on the content. Refer to the Design page of the style guidebook for proper usage of header tags.

Acronyms

As familiar as we in the College are with various acronyms, like NSF or NIST, those outside of the College might not be. A high school student might not know what NIST is, or a civil engineer might not be familiar with BMES.

We try to avoid acronyms where possible, preferring to list the entire name instead. That sometimes is not possible, and we also use the standard adaptation of writing out the entire name on the first instance, followed by the acronym in parentheses. After the first listing, the acronym is acceptable.

For example, the first instance should read, "National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)," and then "NIST" for other mentions.