NTNU English Style Guide

These recommendations are designed to help those who write English texts for physical publication or for material for the NTNU website, including web pages, newspaper articles, blogs and other material. The guide was compiled by the NTNU Communication Division.

Please send any comments to stewart.clark@ntnu.no and/or nancy.bazilchuk@ntnu.no

Contents


Abbreviations, acronyms

  • An abbreviation is formed from the initial letters in a name and is read letter-by-letter, like NTNU or SME. As ‘N' and ‘S' are pronounced as vowels ‘enn' and ‘ess', always use ‘an' before NTNU and SME.
  • An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words and is pronounced as a word such as NATO and SINTEF, both these words take ‘a' in front as the first letter of the word is pronounced as a consonant. 
  • Abbreviations that end with the final letter of the word do not have a stop in British  English (examples Mr and Dr).
  • Abbreviations of degrees: MSc and PhD are the correct spellings in British English (without stops), otherwise follow the spellings used in the UHR Termbase.
  • Abbreviations of names of institutions: use the Norwegian abbreviation NTNU. There is no English version of the abbreviation. Apply this to other Norwegian institutions. This follows the practice in the UN and elsewhere where institutions often mix their English names with an abbreviation/acronym that is from French or German. An example of this is Système International d'Unites, which in English is called the International System of Units, and the abbreviation SI is used in all languages.
  • It may be difficult for non-Norwegians to understand Norwegian abbreviations/-acronyms like "KD", "NRK" and "LO/NHO". In a website or presentation, it is best to use these with care. There is even another university called NTNU in Taiwan, so do not overuse NTNU. (See innsida ‘Nytt infomateriell og logo med ansiktsløftning' 1 July 2010). See Institution names, Spelling.

 

Apostrophe "s", plural "s"

  • Apostrophes are one of the ways to indicate the possessive form. An apostrophe is placed before an "s" for nouns that do not end in "s" (example: Finland's) and after the "s" with nouns ending in "s" (examples: students' agreement, the Smiths' agreement).
  • Possessives after abbreviations/acronyms are written as follows: "UNESCO's findings…"
  • The possessive form of numbers, as in "a 1990's model", is not to be confused with the plural form of a number. Plurals have an "s" without an apostrophe (examples: "in the 1990s", "research developments in the 2020s and 2030s").
  • Plurals of abbreviations/acronyms are written without an apostrophe: "PCs, CDs", but single letters often have an apostrophe: "Cross your t's and dot your i's".

Article use with our English name
Note that Norwegian University of Science and Technology is the official name in English. Only insert ‘the' in front of the name in running text.

British English
British English (BE) as used by the Oxford University Press has been selected as the norm for NTNU's website and publications from NTNU Info. This is mainly reflected in the spelling, but some terms need attention. See Spelling

When referring to NTNU, call it a university not a school. The British English term faculty refers only to the academic unit (Faculty of Medicine), but in American English it also means academic staff: "the faculty have just received a pay rise".


Capitalization

When there is an alternative, avoid capitalization in headlines on the web or in newspaper articles (example: Upset professor reports police)

Capitalize:

  • Structural words such as figure and table when they are followed by a number or letter.
  • trade names, product names, the names of companies, institutes, universities, associations. See Institution names.
  • proper nouns for specific institutions (example: European Commission)
  • proper nouns for specific location (example: North America)
  • titles placed next to a name (example: Professor Alan Smith). Note that both elements in a title are capitalized (example: Associate Professor Alan Smith).

See the NTNU titles http://www.ntnu.edu/english-matters/english-titles
Note there is a difference between these official titles based on the name of the position and the descriptive title. Both are in use.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends the following regarding the title of a work such as a PhD or master's thesis:
Capitalize the first and last words of the title and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, and so on).

Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor), and prepositions, regardless of length, unless they are the first or last word of the title.
    
Do not capitalize:

  • the names of methods (apart from the proper noun part), (examples: pattern recognition, Boolean value)
  • terms that refer to a general direction or a general location (Example: northeast areas)


Contractions

In research and academic writing, it is always recommended to avoid contractions. Examples of contractions include: aren't, don't, isn't, wasn't, can't, weren't, weren't, wouldn't, doesn't, hasn't, haven't and couldn't. Apart from cannot, these are written in two words.

On informal parts of the NTNU web or when reporting dialogue, contractions are to be used as this gives a lighter tone. Also use them in newspaper articles from NTNU Info. However, contractions are inappropriate on official slides or in a letter or column written by Rector in a magazine such as Gemini.



Currency units

  • ISO currency codes (USD, EUR, NOK etc.) are recommended as they are exact. The symbol $ can refer to numerous currencies. The ISO codes are to be written before the numerical value (example: USD 15 million). Note that the various Oxford dictionaries use the Norwegian spelling krone (plural kroner). Also the currency euro is not capitalized except in initial position.
  • The use of "k" for "kilo" and "m" for "million" before an ISO currency code (such as MUSD) may be confusing. Use either USD 25 m or USD 25 million.


Dates

  • The recommended format for dates is to write the month in letters with the day before the month (example: 2 December 2011)
  • For all-digit dates, the ISO format is recommended (ISO 8601). The model is 2011-12-02 (CCYY-MM-DD).
  • Misunderstandings may result from writing dates otherwise. Dates written such as 2/12/11 or 2.12.11 are ambiguous: Most Americans will understand this as February 12, 2011 while many Europeans will read it as 2 December 2011.  


Equations

  • Equations are prose and should be punctuated as such. It is common for an equation to function as a clause or sentence: variables and parameters are nouns; the equal sign is equivalent to the verb "is". Operators serve as conjunctions.
  • Do not embed equations in a line of text: every equation goes on its own line.
  • Identify each of the variables and parameters by name when they first appear.
  • There are several ways to use equations with text. The first is simply to refer to the equation number in a sentence; the equation is a separate sentence. For example:
    The voltage, V, and current, I, in a resistor are related by Eq. 3.

      V = I R     (3) 

  • It is also possible to include the equation in the sentence, for example.  The power, P, dissipated in any two-terminal device is given by P = I V                  (4) 
    where I is the current in the device and V is the voltage across the device.

    For the special case of a resistor, the relation between voltage and current, Eq. 3, can be used to express the power as a function of only voltage:P = V2/R.               (5)

    Notice the stop at the end of Eq. 5, since it is the end of a sentence.

Exclamation mark 

All style guides in English agree that exclamation marks should be avoided in formal and academic English. "These should not be used in scholarly writing" (Modern Humanities Research Association Style Book, 1995). NTNU's Web Style Guide also supports this position.

However, there are times when an exclamation mark may be used to stress a forceful utterance that gives a warning or indicates astonishment and surprise: "Note that cyanide gas can cause severe poisoning. Always avoid inhaling the gas!"
 


Figures

  • Put the captions under/on the side of figures.
  • Reference to figures is to be "Figure 2" or "Fig. 2", not both formats in the same report or work.
  • Try to avoid overusing the verb "show". English is a rich language, use it.


Formal or informal English

  • Many terms have two forms such as programme of study or informally study programme. Examination is also more formal than exam.
  • Informal English is more conversational than formal English. Informal English may address the reader directly: "You should read the English language style guide," whereas formal English does not: "All employees should read the English language style guide."
  • Formal English uses more formal words for certain concepts: obtained rather than got, such as rather than like. But take care that you do not make your text overly bureaucratic or wordy.
  • Formal English avoids the use of slang words or idiomatic expressions: "He lost a ton of money" is informal; "He lost a great deal of money" expresses the same idea in a more formal way. Idiomatic expressions can be particularly problematic because they are culturally based and may not make sense to non-native speakers of English, or to speakers of another form of English. British English and American English are full of expressions that are meaningless to people from outside of those cultures. 
  • Formal/academic English generally does not use contractions ("it is" instead of "it's". See Contractions.



Hyphenation


Institution names
Use the English names of institutions referred to. If the name occurs several times insert the standard abbreviation after the first use of the name and use it in the text that follows. Example: "he worked at the University of Oslo (UiO)".  Do not overuse abbreviations. See Abbreviations.
    

 
Proper names 

Norwegian proper names in English
Although some Norwegian proper names such as Haltenbanken and Sognefjorden may be understandable to many non-Nowegian speakers in this form, Halten Bank and Sogne Fjord are the recommended forms (with both words capitalized according to models in the New Oxford Dictionary of English). Problems arise when the generic part of the Norwegian proper name means nothing to most non-Norwegian speakers as in Nidelva, Gudbrandsdalen and Briksdalsbreen. The solution is to use Nidelva River, Gudbrandsdalen Valley and the Briksdalsbreen Glacier in English, even though they say the same thing twice to Norwegians. In running text, such redundancies can be avoided by rephrasing, such as: "the valley is called Gudbrandsdalen" and "the glacier to the left is Briksdalsbreen".

Other foreign proper names in English
With world languages like Spanish it is recommended to write just Rio Grande in English (not the Rio Grande River as rio means river) and the Sierra Nevada (not the Sierra Nevada Mountains as sierra means mountains. The same is true in French, write Mont Blanc not Mont Blanc Mountain.
 

 
Punctuation 


Comma use in lists
The Oxford comma (in AE, the Harvard comma) is the name given to the comma that should be inserted before 'and' in order to avoid ambiguity: Our fax machine has the following function messages: Error, Out of Paper, Repeat and Send, and Receive. (There are four functions.) Without the final comma, the fax might be understood as only having three functions, the last one being: Repeat and Send and Receive.


Quotation marks

It is recommended to use double quotation marks ("  ") to enclose a quotation, example: "Alex is expected to weaken to a tropical storm (on Thursday) and dissipate over Mexico by Friday," he said. Note that the comma separating the quotation from the attribution (he said) is enclosed by the quotation mark. But if the quotation ends the sentence, the full stop comes after the quotation mark, example: "Alex is expected to weaken to a tropical storm (on Thursday) and dissipate over Mexico by Friday".

Single quotation marks are used to enclose a word that is highlighted, example: Is using the word 'coconut' a criminal offence?


References to authors in text

It is recommended to use the Harvard system or "Name and year system". Here the reference is placed in round brackets with no comma between the author(s) and the year, example (Olsen 2008). If there are several references, use a comma to separate them, example (Olsen 2008, Smith 1999).
 


Sexist language

Terms that only refer to one sex are to be avoided when both could be meant. Thus ‘a student' and ‘a researcher' should be followed by ‘he or she' rather than ‘he'. One easy solution is to use the plural. Terms like the man in the street could be replaced by 'the average person'; manpower could be 'workforce', 'personnel' or 'human resources'.

Modern dictionaries suggest that unless you mean a male and only a male, businessman becomes 'business person', chairman becomes 'chair/chairperson', fireman becomes 'firefighter'.
 


Spacing

  • Do not use a double space at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Use a space before symbols like cm, m, km, %, °C, as in: 25 %, 300 °C. Do not split a value and its unit over two lines. Note that for angles the degree sign comes immediately after the number (62° N)
  • Use a space on each side of a dash when giving a range: 30 - 40 mm. Note that when giving a range in English, between and from should be followed by and or to, as in "between 2009 and 2012" or "from 55 °C to 85 °C", not a dash.



Spelling

  • British English (BE) has been selected as the norm for NTNU's website and publications from NTNU Info. As spelling changes slightly, a recent dictionary from the Oxford University Press is recommended. The Advanced Learner's Dictionary (2010 edition) and the Oxford  Dictionary of English (2010 edition) are standard references.

  • NTNU follows modern BE dictionaries and many publishers in the UK and uses the -ize/ -ization spelling when this is an alternative. The only exceptions are the 20 or so verbs that have -ise like advertise and supervise. When there is a ‘y', analyse is British English, analyze is American English. See British English.


Note these recommended spellings:

  • centre
  • cooperation, but co-pilot (hyphen if second element is stressed)
  • e.g.
  • et al. (no stop after et)
  • etc. (do not use etc. after "such as". Never write "and etc.")
  • i.e.
  • licence (noun), license (verb)
  • per cent
  • practice (noun), practise (verb)
  • program (software), programme (research, education, TV)
  • tonne, or metric ton (1000 kg)


Tables

  • Captions are placed over tables
  • Refer to tables as "Tables" never "Tab."

Titles see Capitalization.
 


Tone

  • If you are writing alone, use "I", never "we".
  • If there are two or more authors there is no problem using "we".
  • "We" also means "the author and the reader" and is a good device to get reader involvement.

Units

SI units are to be used as these are the most widely accepted international symbols for units.

  • They are to be written in normal text (not italics) and remain unaltered in the plural (cm not cms)
  • They are to be written without a final stop (except for normal punctuation) and in lower case letters except in some (but not all situations) when the first letter is written in upper case if the name of the unit is derived from a proper name, as in C for Anders Celsius.
    ampere A
    degree Celsius °C
    kelvin K
    kilogram kg
    hertz  Hz
    metre m
    newton N
    second s

Web terminology

  • Web a widely used information system on the Internet that provides access to digital information. Documents are marked by hypertext and can be found by these links. The word Web is capitalized, as is Internet in English.
  • home page the introductory starting page for a website on the Internet where an individual or organization gives the structure and links to other web pages and websites.
  • web page one document or one address, which may contain many pages.
  • website a location on the Internet where many web pages are collected. Note the spelling.
  • portal a collection of links to various websites or web pages.
  • webmaster means a person responsible for a particular website on the Internet.

 

Word divisions

Dividing a word at the end of a line can make it difficult to read or be misleading (mass-age, rest-less). Thus try not to hyphenate or you end up with "the leg-end of Robin Hood". If divisions must be made, here are some guidelines:

  • Divide according to the origin and meaning of words: trans-port (not tran-sport), tele-phone (not te-lephone). Otherwise, follow the way a word is pronounced: Euro-pean, chil-dren, de-scribe, de-pend-ent, thou-sand. When a group of consonants forms one sound, do not split the group: fea-ther (not feat-her), laugh-able (not laug-hable), wash-able (not was-hable).
  • Avoid divisions that create two confusing words: re-adjust (not read-just), minis-ter (not mini-ster). Some divisions such as wo-men and fe-male may confuse your readers. If words already have a hyphen, only divide at the hyphen: pseudo-intellectual (not pseudo-intel-lectual), anti-American (not anti-Ameri-can).
  • Words ending with -ing are usually divided at the end of the stem: carry-ing, divid-ing, mov-ing. But, if there is a double consonant before -ing, carry the last consonant over (control-ling, puzz-ling). Dictionaries like the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary insert mid-positioned dots in the headwords to show how headwords can be divided.

Writing for the Web
Writing for the Web is unlike other types of writing, mainly because the Web is a unique tool with properties that are unlike any other information resource currently available.

In general, people find their way to a web page to:

  • find an answer a question, or
  • start a conversation.

People also tend not to read text-heavy main pages – instead, they scan the text until they find what they are looking for. As a result, the most well-written web pages are those that anticipate the needs of the users who have found their way to the page – in other words, know your audience.

Home pages or main web pages work best with limited text and lots of links. Organization is important, and lists with bullets can be helpful. Pictures are good, too.

Text-heavy web pages are appropriate at the lower levels of a website hierarchy, as the ultimate answer to a series of questions (links) that the user asks (or clicks on). 

Remember that the Web is just that: a non-linear network of information that should allow readers to move freely in many different directions to other web pages, depending upon their interests. Use links freely but logically and where appropriate. If you name a location, link to a map that shows that location. If you name a department, link to that department's web page. If you place the link at the end of a paragraph, readers are more likely to read the whole text before clicking on the link. If your text names a form to be filled in, create a link to the form.

Avoid the cardinal sin of web writing: creating web pages that are dead ends, with no live links.


Revised 2011-09-20.
Compiled by Nancy Bazilchuk and Stewart Clark, NTNU