Editorial Guidelines

The Office of Public Affairs at Mississippi State University follows the Associated Press Stylebook, which is updated annually. This style guide documents preferences for exceptions to AP style, reinforces recent changes or topics frequently questioned, and clarifies special uses unique to this institution, subject matter and audiences. See www.apstylebook.com

Additional House Style Guidelines:

  • Mississippi State University should be mentioned within the first three paragraphs of the story.
  • When possible, if there is an affiliation with a college or department, include that somewhere in the story.
  • Group quotes together by source when possible. Avoid volleying back and forth between two quoted sources to increase readability.
  • Quotes begin new paragraphs.
  • Leads (also ledes) are usually one sentence of 30 words or less.
  • Cutlines follow AP style guidelines as much as possible.
  • For security, when identifying minors, give only as much information as is needed for the story. For example, avoid giving name, age, school, grade, hometown, county and 4-H club. Check for photo releases when photos include children.  
  • When including MSU students, identify by year in school, major and hometown. Include major, if applicable. a) Include a student’s middle initial, if applicable.
  • At student’s request, his or her middle name may be used in place of his or her first name on first reference. Based on his or her preference, you may include a student’s nickname on first reference.
    • Mary Beth Jones –>Mary B. Jones (If student prefers first and middle names, include both on first reference.)
    • John Doe Smith –>Doe Smith (If student prefers middle name)
    • Matthew C. “Matt” Robinson (If student goes by a nickname)
    • Robert Daniel Andrews –>Robert D. “Danny” Andrews

Editor’s note: The Office of Public Affairs will revise and update this style guide. To submit or discuss potential revisions or additions to the style guide, please contact Allison Matthews at amatthews@opa.msstate.edu or Carl Smith at csmith@opa.msstate.edu.


abbreviations and acronyms. A few universally recognized abbreviations are acceptable or required in some circumstances. (See AP Stylebook.) Some others are acceptable depending on the context. But in general, avoid alphabet soup. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader would not quickly recognize. Always spell out on first reference--some well known MSU abbreviations include CAVS, NSPARC, ORED, SSRC.

academic degrees. Avoid an abbreviation and use a phrase such as: John Jones, who has a doctoral degree in psychology. (Prefer doctoral degree instead of doctorate). Use an apostrophe in bachelor's degree, a master's, etc., but there is no possessive in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. Also: an associate degree (no possessive). Bachelor of Science in management (lowercase the program). Capitalize when using the full, proper name of the degree. Lowercase when using a shortened, informal description of the degree.

academic centers and institutes. Capitalize the formal name of the center: the Coastal Research and Extension Center. Do not capitalize “center” when used informally on second reference: the Verona center or The center is…

academic departments. Capitalize the formal name of departments, such as the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion (with or without “Mississippi State University” immediately preceding it). But lowercase “food science, nutrition and health promotion department.” Spell out “and” in department names: “Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion,” not “Food Science, Nutrition & Health Promotion.” AP’s entry reads: Use lowercase except for words that are proper nouns or adjectives: the history department, the English department, or when department is part of the official and formal name: University of Connecticut Department of Economics. MSU is varying from AP Style on this, opting to capitalize Department of History, for example. Second reference may be history department. Also see department names.

accent marks. Do not use any diacritical or accent marks unless part of a proper name.

advisor. Instead of the AP Style preference for adviser.

addresses. Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd. and St. only when used with a numbered address: 233 Lee Blvd. All similar words (alley, drive, road, terrace) always are spelled out.

afterward. Not afterwards.

African American. Hyphenate when using as a modifier, but not in the name of the program African American Studies.

ag economist. Spell out agricultural economist.

alumnus, alumni, alumna, alumnae. Use alumnus (alumni in the plural) when referring to a man who has attended a school. Use alumna (alumnae in the plural) for similar references to a woman. Use alumni when referring to a group of men and women.

a.m., p.m. Lowercase, with periods.

and. Spell out in all references. College of Arts and Sciences, not College of Arts & Sciences. An exception to this is the AP style rule that allows ampersand (&) when it is part of a company’s formal name, such as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

Android smartphone.

annual. An event cannot be described as annual unless it has been held in at least two successive years. Do not use the term first annual. Instead, note that sponsors plan to hold an event annually.

assistant professor, associate professor. Use specific titles to distinguish the titleholder from a full professor.  Cap titles before names, lowercase titles after names, unless the title itself is a proper name, such as the Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. Chair in Civil Engineering. OPA prefers long titles to come after the name.

athletic director. Or director of athletics.

attribution. Typically goes after the first complete sentence of a quote. Avoid burying the attribution. Use past tense. Use “said” unless writing specifically for a magazine assignment. Do not use “according to” unless quoting from a written source, such as an outside press release, or a book or magazine. Do not say someone “stated.” Said is preferred. Observed, noted, explained or emphasized may be used sparingly. Never use “says” because the source has already “said” whatever is in his or her quote.

award. Capitalize award only when part of a proper name of a specific award.

book titles and chapters. See composition titles.

Bulldog. Capitalize when referring to an MSU Bulldog, even when MSU is implied, not stated. Other university nicknames also are capitalized, such as Maroon and White.

bulleted lists. A vertical list is best introduced by a complete grammatical sentence, followed by a colon. Items carry no closing punctuation unless they consist of complete sentences. If the items are numbered, a period follows the numeral and each item begins with a capital letter.
The em dash is preferred (see em dash)
—Betty Smith
—John Jackson
—Tom Ford

*Note: to make an em dash, type a letter or word followed by two dashes and another word. Do not include any spaces. Once the space after the second word is entered, the dashes will become an em dash.

C Spire.

capitalization. Capitalize titles only when they precede the person’s name. OPA prefers long titles to come after the name, in which case they are lowercase.

Capitol is the building. Capital is the city, money reference and letter case.

child care. AP style uses child care (2 words) in all cases.       

colleges and schools. Do not capitalize college or school as a stand-alone word. Use full, proper name on first reference. Named colleges may be shortened to last name only (dropping first names and initials) on subsequent references. After initial full, proper reference, may also shorten to informal references, such as the honors college or the accountancy school.
—College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
—School of Human Sciences.
—College of Architecture, Art and Design.
—College of Arts and Sciences.
—College of Business.
—Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy; may shorten to Adkerson School of Accountancy.
—College of Education.
—James Worth Bagley College of Engineering; may use Bagley College of Engineering.
—Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering; may shorten to Swalm School of Chemical Engineering.
—College of Forest Resources.
—College of Veterinary Medicine.
—Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College; may shorten to Shackouls Honors College.

company, companies. Use Co. or Cos. When a business uses either word at the end of its proper name: Ford Motor Co., American Broadcasting Cos.

composition titles (e.g., books, movies, plays, poems, songs). Put quotation marks around the names of all such works except the Bible and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material. (See AP Stylebook). Do not use italics.

continuing education units, continuing certification hours. Do not capitalize certification training programs. "CEU" and "CCH" are acceptable on second reference.

dashes. MSU-OPA prefers em-dash for lists, but may use dashes in story text.

dateline. When writing from the Starkville Campus, use STARKVILLE, Miss.

department names. Spell out the formal name of the department on first reference. Department of Communication. Lower case informal reference is fine later in the story (communication department). If the department is mentioned only in casual reference and is not a main focus of a story, or if part of many departments in a list, the informal lowercase reference is acceptable. Also see academic departments.

doctor. Within the body of the story, use “Dr.” for medical doctors and DVMs only, not for Ph.D.-level sources. Can be used to refer to someone in a quotation. May use “Dr.” in contact information, such as in a media advisory ore email correspondence with media that is not intended for print in AP Style.

DREC. Do not use this acronym. Delta Research and Extension Center may be referred to as “Delta center” or “Stoneville center” on second use.

DVM. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. The DVM is a professional degree, not a doctoral degree or doctorate.


em dash. The em dash is perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect.

email. Acceptable in all references.

endowed professor, endowed chair. These are distinct – not interchangeable – titles. Be sure to use the full, proper name when speaking of endowed positions.

Extension. Capitalize when referring to the Mississippi State University Extension Service (first reference) or personnel (Extension agent). On second reference, use Extension to refer to the agency. Do not capitalize when used in series with other land-grant missions (research, extension and academic programs).
She works at the Extension office in Oktibbeha County.
4-H is an Extension program.

Extension agent. Use constructions such as these in sentences: “Lowndes County Extension agent John Smith” or “John Smith, Lowndes County Extension agent.” Avoid cumbersome constructions such as “John Smith, Extension educator, Lowndes County,” except in lists where appropriate. Agent is compared to farmer John Smith….therefore, it is more of an occupational description than a title and is lowercase before a name, unlike a title.

Extension titles. In a news release about Extension activity, identifying the source as an Extension specialist is preferred over academic title. Both Extension title and academic title can be used, however, where appropriate. When necessary, spell out the joint appointment: an Extension fisheries specialist with research support from the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station.

farmers market. No apostrophe. A recent addition to AP style.

flash drive. Use USB flash drive, not jump drive or thumb drive. (AP)

fractions. Do not use autocorrected formatting. Use regular format, such as 1/2 and 3/4.

freshmen. Always a noun. Never used as an adjective. Always use freshman as an adjective, such as freshman orientation, freshman class.

gameday. One word.

health care.  AP style uses health care (two words) in all instances.

H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center  – use this reference for South Farm. “, also known as South Farm,” may be added.

honorary degrees. All references to honorary degrees should specify that the degree was honorary. Do not use Dr. before the name of an individual whose only doctorate is honorary.

Incorporated. Abbreviate and capitalize as Inc. when used as a part of a corporate name. Do not set off with commas: Time Warner Inc. announced ...

Internet. A decentralized, worldwide network of computers that can communicate with each other. (See Web entry.)

iPhone. See smartphone.

italics. AP does not italicize words in news stories.

journal names and article titles. See composition titles.

land-grant or land-grant university.

magazine names. Capitalize the initial letters of the name but do not place it in quotes. Lowercase magazine unless it is part of the publication’s formal title: Harper’s Magazine, Time magazine.

Military titles. Capitalize a military rank when used as a formal title before an individual’s name. On first reference, use the appropriate title before the full name of a member of the military. In subsequent references, do not continue using the title before a name. Use only the last name. (See AP Stylebook for complete list of ranks and abbreviations.)

The Mill at Mississippi State Conference Center. Or The Mill at MSU.

Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. MAFES acceptable on second use.

Mississippi State University. May shorten to Mississippi State, when also referring to the “university” in the same sentence, paragraph or story. If using in a quote, capitalize State. For example, “I went to State in 1972.” State is unacceptable unless in a quote.

MSU-CVM. Avoid using abbreviations that are not universally recognized. Use “the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine” on second use or “MSU’s veterinary college.” Can use CVM in a direct quote.

MSU – Meridian. Use “MSU-Meridian” on second use. Do not use “MSU-M.”
months. Capitalize the names of months in all uses. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.

more than. is preferred with numerals: Their salaries went up more than $20 a week.

multiples of the same name. When quoting different sources with the same name, use the first and last name.

newspaper names and article titles. See composition titles.

North Farm. – see R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center.

over. generally refers to spatial relationships: The plane flew over the city.

parentheticals. Avoid using initials in parentheticals as abbreviations for words immediately preceding them, such as “U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID).”  Exceptions can be made in news releases targeting specific readers who know the entity primarily by its initials, such as “continuing education units (CEUs).” Exceptions should be rare. Instead, use example, or ACRONYM, such as “U.S. Agency of International Development, or USAID…”

photo credit. Remember to provide photo credit after a cutline whenever possible. (Photo by Russ Houston) (Photo submitted/Shade Global Inc.) (Photo by Russ Houston / © Mississippi State University). If the photo was submitted, use (Photo submitted).

plural of names that end in s. When names end in “s,” add an “es” to make plural.  Judge Frank J. Williams Frank and Virginia Williams The Williamses. 

program. Do not capitalize. African American Studies program, Gender Studies program, PGA Golf Management program.

R&E centers. On first reference, use the formal name: Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center at Biloxi. On second reference, use the location name followed by the word “center”: Verona center

roadrunners. One word.

R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center – use this reference for North Farm. “, also known as North Farm,” may be added.

scientific names (chemicals). Each has a chemical name, which describes its molecular makeup, an active ingredient name and a trade (product) name. All appear in regular type. For instance, Roundup is the branded trade name of the chemical compound N-(phosphononethyl) glycine, which has as its active ingredient glyphosate. In most cases, only the trade name is capitalized.

smartphone. Use smartphone, iPhone (IPhone if beginning a sentence) or Android smartphone.

South Farm. – see H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center.

titles. Cap titles before names, lowercase titles after names, unless the title itself is a proper name, such as the Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. Chair in Civil Engineering.

toward. not towards.

trademark symbols. Do not use them in news releases. Do not use TM, R, C, etc.

underway. One word in all uses. (Recent AP change.)

U.S. Use periods. Acceptable on first reference. In headlines, it’s US without periods.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA on second reference.

URL or Uniform Resource Locator. In stories where a website is important, list it at the end of the story. Use the full URL protocol: http://. Avoid burying long URLs inside of a sentence. Do not underline URLs. When the URL does not fit entirely on one line, break it into two or more lines without adding a hyphen or other punctuation mark or use a URL shortener, such as bit.ly.

Veterans Day

Web. Short form of World Wide Web, it is a service, or set of standards, that enables the publishing of multimedia documents on the Internet. The Web is not the same as the Internet, but is a subset; other applications, such as email, exist on the Internet. Also, website, webcam, webcast and webmaster. But as a short form and in terms with separate words, the Web, Web page and Web feed.

wide. No hyphen. Some examples: citywide, nationwide, statewide, industrywide, countrywide, worldwide

youth. Applicable to boys and girls from age 13 until 18th birthday. Use man or woman for individuals 18 and older. For 4-H stories, use 4-H Youth Development, but refer to participants as children, teens, young people, kids or 4-H’ers.