Writing Style Guidelines for Printed and Online Materials

General Reference Manuals:

Rules of Thumb, A Guide for Writers by Silverman, Hughes and Wienbroer

The Pocket Handbook by Kirszner and Mandell

A Pocket Style Manual by Hacker

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Specific Reference Manual for Writing for Media:

Associated Press Stylebook

The reference manuals listed above provide helpful answers to most of the common questions writers have when they are composing correspondence, reports, and articles.  Each of these reference manuals has been adopted or recommended by one or more departments at Palomar College and therefore should be available in the bookstore.

The rules in these manuals will vary slightly, due to traditional or accepted standards of usage in different fields at different times. For example, news releases and newsletters should be written in accordance with the guidelines in the AP Stylebook. For other materials, another style manual may be preferred.  The basic principle is to be consistent within each document in applying guidelines which are appropriate to the document being written.

Preferred Grammatical Usage and Common Errors

Apostrophes have three uses:

  1. Use an apostrophe (‘) to show possession:
    1. John’s hat, students’ books. If the word is plural and already ends with s, just add an apostrophe.
  2. Use an apostrophe to show a contraction:
    1. We’re going, she’s coming.
  3. Use an apostrophe to show the plural form of a letter or number: A’s, 3’s.
  4. Do not use an apostrophe to show the plural form of a proper noun. (See “Plurals” below.)
  5. Do not use an apostrophe in a pronoun that is already in possessive form:
    1. Examples: his, hers, ours, theirs, yours, and its. (If you don’t mean it is, use its without the apostrophe.  See “Contractions.”)


  1. Basic rule: capitalize only when there is a reason to do so.
  2. Capitalize the names of people, localities, days of the week, and months.
  3. Capitalize public holidays, brand names, and the names of specific events.
    1. Examples: Fourth of July, Kleenex, Battle of Gettysburg.
  4. In titles, capitalize the first word, major words, and words of six or more letters.
  5. Capitalize Palomar, Palomar College, Palomar Community College District.
  6. Capitalize College or District or Governing Board when referring to Palomar College, the Palomar Community College District, or the Governing Board of the Palomar Community College District.
  7. Capitalize official building names and room names.
    1. Examples: Dome, Library, Room P-32, Governing Board Room.
  8. Capitalize titles of individuals only when the title precedes the name.*
  9. Capitalize full department and division names, but not individual subjects except when they come from names of countries: Department of History, Economics, and Political Science; faculty members teach history, English as a second language, Spanish, and economics.
  10. Do not capitalize seasons of the year or entire words.
  11. Do not capitalize entire names (or the correct spelling cannot be determined). Example: Donna DeYarman, not DONNA DEYARMAN.

*It may be necessary to capitalize certain words in legal documents that otherwise would not be capitalized.  Also, it may be necessary for personnel offices to capitalize position titles in job announcements, but in other written documents the position titles may not need to be capitalized.


  1. Except in newswriting, use a comma before the final “and” in a series. Use a comma and a space before but, and, so, yet, or, for, and nor when they connect two sentences (technically, two independent clauses) into one.
    1. Example: The bus was late, but Jeff was there on time.
  2. Use a comma after a long introductory part of a sentence.


  1. Use “it’s” only when the meaning is “it is” and not to show possession.
    1. Example: Don’t judge a book by its (not it’s) cover.
  2. Use “who’s” only when the meaning is “who is” and not to show possession.
    1. Examples: “Who’s there?”  but “Whose book is that?”


  1. If following AP style, spell out numbers below 10.
  2. If following Rules of Thumb, spell out any number that requires only one or two words; use numerals for numbers requiring three or more words.
  3. Spell out numbers that begin a sentence, or re-word the sentence if awkward.
  4. Use numerals in dates, page references, addresses, percentages, and money:
    1. May 3, 2003; page 2; 7,500 residents; 1140 W. Mission Road; $5.98.
  5. Spell out fractions, such as one-half.


  1. Proper nouns: add “s” or “es.”  Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural.
    1. Examples: Simpsons, Smiths, Joneses; not Simpson’s, Smith’s, Jones’;  unless you want to show possession, as in Smiths’ house.
  2. Numbers and letters: use an apostrophe to show plurals, as with 4’s and F’s.
  3. The word data is the plural form of datum.  Therefore, the data are (not is) . . .
  4. The word media is the plural form of medium.  Therefore, the media are (not is) . .
  5. The plural form of alumnus (male) is alumni. The plural form of alumna (female) is alumnae.
    1. Use alumni for a group with males and females.
  6. Criteria is the plural form of criterion.  Therefore, the criteria are (not is)
  7. To determine whether to start a sentence with “There is” or “There are,” look or think ahead to determine whether the subject is singular or plural.
    1. There is a major problem with this essay.
    2. There are several problems with this essay.
  8. Common nouns: check a standard dictionary when in doubt.

Quotation Marks:

  1. Use quotation marks around someone’s exact words only.
  2. After a quotation, a period or comma goes inside the quotation marks.
  3. If the sentence continues after a quotation followed by a semicolon, the  semicolon goes outside the quotation marks.  Example: Huck Finn said, “It’s lovely to live on a raft”; however, the raft drifted him into trouble.
  4. Do not use quotation marks around slang. Either use the word without quotation marks or find a better word.
  5. For quotations within a quotation, use single quotation marks.

Spelling and Word Usage:

  1. When referring to the Howard Brubeck Theatre, spell it that way. Use “theatre” and not “theater.”  It’s a tradition at Palomar to do so.
  2. Use “and” instead of “&.”  Use “&” only when it is part of a formal name.
  3. Use “/” sparingly, as in his/her.   The slash means “or,” not “and.”
  4. Affect, the verb, means to change or influence.
  5. Effect, the noun, is the result, the consequence.
  6. Effect, the verb, means to bring about, as to effect change.  Not used often.
  7. A lot is always supposed to be written as two words.
  8. Already is one word, but all right is always two words.  Do not use alright.
  9. Appraise means to evaluate, as to appraise a house’s value.
  10. Apprise means to inform, to make someone aware of a situation.
  11. Lay or laying means to put something down. I lay the book on the table. A hen lays eggs. The bricklayer is laying bricks.
  12. Lie or lying means to recline or to remain at rest. The book lies on the table. Students are lying on the beach.
  13. Where it becomes confusing:
    1. The past tense of lie is lay.  Yesterday the book lay on the table all day.
    2. The past tense of lay is laid.  Yesterday he laid the book on the table.
  14. Use fewer when there are countable items; use less when not countable.
    1. We had fewer students last year with less confusion, less water.
  15. Use number when there are countable items; use amount when not countable.
    1. A large number of students attended; the amount of noise was great.
  16. Stationary means fixed, not moving; stationery means envelopes and paper.
  17. If something or someone is unique, it is different from any other.  Thus it is incorrect and illogical to use the terms more unique or less unique.
  18. Like is a preposition or a verb, depending on its usage.  It is not a conjunction.
    1. It looks as though (not like) he studied all night.  It seemed like daytime.
    2. Do you like college?  Avoid: “I like really enjoy college.”  (Take the like out.)
  19. Valuable describes something with value, even great value.  Invaluable describes something or someone with such great value that it cannot be measured. Thus the opposite of valuable is not valuable, rather than invaluable.

Topics Specific to Palomar College


  1. General rule: avoid abbreviations, except for words that are always abbreviated.
    1. For example, do not use: dept., gov’t., w/o, Thurs., thru, or yr.
  2. Do not use “PC” for Palomar College.  “PC” has many other meanings.
  3. Spell out names the first time they appear in a document.  You may wish to put the abbreviation in parentheses after the name and use the abbreviation thereafter.
  4. Preferred abbreviations and official department or office titles:
    1. AIS: American Indian Studies
    2. ASG: Associated Student Government
    3. ASL: American Sign Language
    4. BOGW: Board of Governors Waiver (of enrollment fee)
    5. CalWORKs: California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids
    6. CCE/AFT: Council of Classified Employees/American Federation of Teachers (union of classified employees)
    7. CSIT: Computer Science and Information Technology (not IS; see below)
    8. DSP&S: Disabled Student Programs and Services
    9. EOP&S: Extended Opportunity Programs and Services
    10. ESL: English as a Second Language
    11. FTE: Full-Time Equivalent
    12. IGETC: Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum
    13. IS: Information Services
    14. MEChA: Movimiento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlan
    15. PACRA: Palomar College Retirees Association
    16. PAR: Phone and Register (telephone registration system)
    17. PFF: Palomar Faculty Federation (union of faculty members)
    18. PIC: Palomar Identification Card (PIC Card is redundant.)
    19. PIN: Personal Identification Number (PIN Number is redundant.)
    20. PAO: Public Affairs Office
    21. ROP: Regional Occupational Programs
    22. STARS: Student Testing, Advising, and Registration Services
    23. TAG: Transfer Admission Guarantee (to four-year institutions)
    24. TOEFL: Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (and title of a test)
    25. TRIO/SSS: A set of federally sponsored programs to help qualifying students achieve success. Originally there were three programs, hence the name TRIO.  SSS stands for Student Support Services, one of the three programs.


  1. Use Palomar, Palomar College, or Palomar Community College District.
  2. When referring to the district’s campus in San Marcos, it may be called the college campus or the San Marcos Campus.
  3. When referring to an individual education center, it may be called the “Palomar College (location) Center” or “the (location) Center.”
    1. Examples: Palomar College Escondido Center, or Escondido Center.
  4. Each vice president supervises an area.
  5. Each dean supervises a division.
  6. Each chairperson supervises a department.
  7. Directors and managers supervise programs or offices.
  8. The college logo contains the words, “Palomar College” and “Learning for Success” with a star and representation of a comet trail.  It is used on stationery and publications.
  9. The college word mark is the name “Palomar College” in Gill Sans typeface.
  10. The college seal is a six-sided emblem with the words “Palomar College” above a circle and “Founded 1946” below the circle, which contains a torch and an outline of San Diego County.  Its use is restricted to diplomas and a small number of other official documents.


  1. Full names and academic degrees of individuals are listed in the catalog.
  2. In directories and in most other publications, the preferred first or middle name and the last name are used, plus the title “Dr.” when applicable.
  3. Exceptions include letterhead and business cards where the highest degree, initials, and professional accreditation may also be listed.
  4. If “Dr.” is used, the appropriate suffix (Ed.D., Ph.D.) should not be used. Use one or the other to avoid redundancy.
  5. Governing Board members’ full names and highest degrees earned should be listed on official letterhead stationery and in major publications.
  6. Department heads are chairs or chairpersons, not chairmen or chairwomen.
  7. Palomar grants Associate in Arts or A.A. degrees, Certificates of Achievement, and Certificates of Proficiency.
  8. Titles of books, magazines, plays, newspapers, movies, and television programs should be underlined or italicized.  Underlining and italicizing are equivalent; use one or the other consistently.
  9. Put quotation marks around titles of shorter works, such as short stories, articles, poems, songs, and chapter titles.

Non-discrimination Statement

Should be included in all publications with external distribution.  Example: Palomar College offers equal educational and employment opportunities regardless of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, age, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability.

Logo or Word Mark

Should be printed on all publications with external distribution and on other materials representing the College to the public, including signs, banners, clothing, and vehicles.

Sample Descriptive Statement for Publications

The Palomar Community College District, is a single college district founded in 1946. The District covers 2,555 square miles. Palomar College is a public two-year community college. The Palomar campus is located in San Marcos, California, approximately 30 miles north of San Diego. Palomar enrolls approximately 25,000 full-time and part-time students. Residents of California are charged only $46 per unit.  At Palomar, students may choose from over 200 associate degree and certificate programs, complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, train for a career, or enjoy personal enrichment classes for lifelong learning.