Writing styles and formats

1. Whenever possible, always use active voice over passive voice in sentences. Active voice shows the subject doing the action.

Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., Jane loves Western.   

Red X indicating wrong usage (Avoid) Western is loved by Jane.

Passive voice is not incorrect; it’s just not the best way to phrase ideas within news stories or broad communication. Utilizing active voice can tighten writing and avoid awkward, vague or wordy sentences.             

2. Bullet lists must have simple and consistent formatting within a story. Punctuation use and capitalization will depend on the length and type of content. As a general rule, short lists don’t need punctuation or need not be capitalized. For standardization, use en dash for lists.

Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., Features of the new building include:

                       – a cafeteria
                       – a library
                       – a research lab

For longer copy, or those that could stand on their own as a sentence, capitalize the first letter of the first word of each bullet and use a period at the end of each line.

Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., The research aims to:

        – Reduce the risks of post-partum depression in new mothers.
        – Provide guidance on how to support new parents.
        – Update existing guidelines on post-partum care. 

3. Use commas to separate elements of a series but not before the final element preceded by “and,” “or” or “nor” – except when not putting a comma would cause confusion.

      Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., She bought eggs, bacon and bread.

The research team is investigating how the disease can progress overtime, what the symptoms are, who could get infected, and what the likelihood of survival is. 

4. Do not use courtesy titles such as Mr., Mrs., Miss and Ms. They should be avoided unless deemed culturally necessary for specific documents.  

5. Canadian currency is assumed in most cases. When clarity is required, use C$ preceding the figure. When referring to US currency, use US$ preceding the figure.

Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., C$30 million, US$20 million

As best practice, always convert foreign currencies to Canadian dollar equivalent and clarify with phrases like “the equivalent of C$200.”

Other commonly used currency codes, include CNY (China yuan renminbi), EUR (Euro) and GBP (British pounds). 

6. Cutlines/captions are treated as an independent element, with all names and references requiring first-use rules. Do not assume a reader will read both the story and the cutline. In photos with multiple people, identify individuals from top, then left to right. 

Photo source attribution must always follow a cutline, and enclosed in parentheses. Attribution should contain the name of the photographer, if applicable, followed by a forward slash and the name of the organization, if applicable. Follow this format regardless of whether the image is internally (Westerns Communications or faculty) or externally sourced (stock photos, submitted photos).

      Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g. Members of the judging committee include: (top, L-R) John Smith, Mary Chen, Rodrigo Diaz; (bottom, L-R) Muhammad Singh, Christine Martinez and Randy Stark. (Chris Summers/Western Communications)

For images submitted by a source but with unknown origin, attribution will follow this format: cutline (submitted photo)

      Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g. Dr. Muhammad Ali receiving the Order of Canada (submitted photo)

7. Datelines and placelines precede the lead in a story to tell readers where the writer is reporting from and where the story took place. Use placelines only for stories outside London, Ont., AND if a writer is reporting from that location.

In general, it should include the city/municipality and province/state, if it’s in Canada and in the U.S. For all other countries, the city/municipality is followed by the country.

Check Mark indicating correct usageE.g., SURREY, B.C. 
               IQUALUIT, Nunavut
               SYDNEY, Australia          

Follow the guidelines above, except for these well-known cities in Canada:


For a list of well-known U.S. cities that don’t require mention of state, refer to the CP Style Guide. 

Do not assume all readers are from London, Ont. Always include the province when referring to the city of London (i.e., London, Ont.).  

8. Avoid using gendered terms in alumni references. As best practice, use: alum or graduate, regardless of gender, for singular; alumni for plural

Alumni are referred to by full name, degree and graduation year, if applicable, on first reference, unless in the lede of the story, and by last name only in subsequent references. Program may be included, but not necessary.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Jane Smith, BA’85, MBA’00, is taking risks in her latest role as chair and CEO. In July 2009, Smith made the transition from president of the organization.

                  Jane Smith, BA’97 (English and writing studies), is open to talking about her new book.  

9. For consistency, always use en dash ( – )

Use en dashes in cases of mid-sentence lists that are separated by commas, or in instances when using a comma would be confusing.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., The new program is a cross-faculty collaboration – engineering, health sciences and education – aimed at increasing real-world skills.

                         The Smith sisters – Jane and Julia – both went to Western. 

10. Gender-neutral pronouns. In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her, they/them/their is acceptable as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun.

Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of singular “they” is unfamiliar to many readers. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.

Following CP Style, avoid using other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze. 

11. Use a hyphen when you join two words to form a compound modifier.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., First-year course; part-time studies; government-mandated budget cuts.

In general, a hyphen should not be used to join a prefix to a root/base except to avoid doubling a vowel, tripling a consonant, duplicating a prefix or when the context is confusing or to provide clarity.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., co-operation, co-operate; multidisciplinary; anti-inflammatory

Use a hyphen with the prefix ‘re’ where the word would otherwise be confusing.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., re-coiled the rope (as opposed to recoiled in horror)
           i   ire-covered a chair (as opposed to recovered from an illness). 

Never hyphenate -ly modifiers.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Internationally known researcher

Health care/health-care. Use hyphen when used as an adjective followed by a noun. No hyphen when standing alone as a noun.

       Check-Icon2.pngE.g., The health-care sector needs to be restructured.
                      Health care is among the topics discussed at a recent meeting.

Hyphenate: post-doctoral, post-graduate, post-secondary 

12. Use the Canadian spelling of the word – honours – in all instances except when used in the phrase ‘honorary degree(s),’ in which case the u is dropped.   

13. Use internship as a catch-all term used for external, general audiences, including media. Use covers all internships, co-ops and practicums.  

14. Italicize the titles of books, journals, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, proceedings, collections, theses, dissertations, plays, movies, television shows, operas, oratorios, paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works of art. 

Italicize words and phrases that are not part of the English language or a foreign language translation of an English word or phrase.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., She graduated magna cum laude 10 years ago.

Italicize Indigenous translations, phrases and words.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., The course was initially hosted by Jacobs’ community on Walpole Island First Nation (Bkejwanong), located southwest of Wallaceburg.  

15. When writing measurements, The Canadian Press suggests using the metric system for most measurements, although it stresses clarity as key to the decision. Much of that clarity is at the writer’s discretion taking audience into consideration.

In most cases, when an imperial figure must be used, it should be accompanied by its metric equivalent. If exact measurements are not required, round figure to the nearest whole number.

Do not change quotations to reflect style, simply refer to metric in parentheses.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., “The float was nearly 100-feet (30-metres) tall,” said John Smith. “No wonder it couldn’t clear that underpass.”

Among the exceptions are more conventional references, such as personal height and weight, two-by-fours, quarter-inch screws, etc.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Smith, who was a six-foot, 250-pound linebacker for the 1948 Mustangs football team, never fully embraced the change of coaches and transferred the next season.

Speed and distance are expressed in kilometres/hour and kilometres.

Red X indicating wrong usage Do not mix imperial and metric measurements when possible. 

16. When referencing issues of mental health, do not describe an individual as ‘mentally ill’ unless pertinent to a story and diagnosis is properly sourced, or it is part of a quote. When used, identify the source for the diagnosis.

Everyone has mental health; mental illness is a term that refers only to diagnosed mental health issues.

Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illnesses and should be used whenever possible:

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents.

                         She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents.

Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as ‘afflicted with,’ ‘suffers from’ or ‘victim of.’

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., He has obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

17. Use Mustangs in reference to athletes and athletic teams, but not for general student population. Avoid using Mustang when referring to a single athlete.  

18. Always write the first and last name of a person on first reference. Use last name only on succeeding reference, unless first name is needed for clarity (for instance, quoting multiple members of a family with the same last name).

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Dave and Laura Smith are both Western students. Laura is graduating this year.  

19. As a rule, spell out numbers between zero and nine, use numerals for 10 and higher.

Always spell out a number that begins a sentence. If the number is large or would be cumbersome to spell out, reword the sentence so the number doesn’t appear at the beginning. The goal is readability.

Use numerals for the following: ages, days of the month, degrees of temperature, dimensions, house numerals, percentages, proportions, scores, serial numbers, speeds, sums of money, time of day, votes and years.

Use “to’ when writing a range of numbers. Avoid using hyphen.

      Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 15 to 20 / five to six grams of sugar

When writing in digits, use comma to separate figures in blocks of three digits.

      Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 1,000; 500,000

Use period for decimal marks

      Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 67.5 per cent; 3.2 points 

20. Per cent is spelled with two words, not percent. Always use figures and decimals, avoid spelling out numbers and fractions unless necessary for clarity.

      Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 1 per cent, 2.5 per cent, 0.6 per cent, 30 per cent, a third of a per cent

      Red X indicating wrong usage Do not use the % symbol in stories.  

21. By definition, a PhD student is someone who is enrolled in doctoral coursework and working toward their degree. A PhD candidate is someone who has completed all course requirements and exams but has not completed their thesis or dissertation.

When identifying a source as a PhD candidate or PhD student, bear in mind the above definition, and use the term that applies. 

22. In Western News stories, do not distinguish between assistant professors, associate professors and full professors unless it is relevant to the story. Refer to all types as ‘professor,’ with the exception of professor emeritus, in which case, use the full designation.

Never abbreviate as prof., except when used in headlines or for social media posts.  

23. Double quotation marks should be used only in cases of direct quotations no matter the length.

Single quotation marks should be used in cases of colloquial and emphasis.

Use single quotations in headlines to use a phrase from a direct quote.   

24. Although ‘social distancing’ and ‘physical distancing’ have been used interchangeably during the COVID-19 pandemic, the preference is to use ‘physical distancing.’  

25. Use Celsius when referencing temperatures, unless in quotation or necessary for scientific explanation (e.g., Kelvin). In most cases, when an imperial figure must be used, it should be accompanied by its metric equivalent. Write C following the number and a space.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Western researchers braved 130 F (54 C) heat to get the necessary research. 

26. Tense in stories may be past or present. In general, use past tense when quoting sources for stories that have a news element.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., Smith announced the new plan in a press conference. “This is our new path forward,” he said.

For longer, feature articles, present tense may be used.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g. She pauses as she heads out the door. “See you soon,” she yells as she continues to walk away.  

27. Write all information in time, day/date, location

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., The meeting has been moved to 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 11, in University College 2130.

Do not use suffixes -st, -nd, -rd, -th. Instead, spell out when possible.

       Check-Icon2.pngE.g. They placed first in the finals. (not: They placed 1st in the finals.)

When writing time, use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 5 p.m.; 10:30 a.m.

When writing a span of time, separate them with “to”. Avoid using hyphen.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

28. When referencing Western students in stories, it is best practice to use this format on first reference: full name, year and program, affiliated institution.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., “This is amazing research,” said John Smith, a first-year health sciences student at Brescia University College. 

29. Use year only when referring to one other than the current year.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., The group first met on April 5, 2009. They have accomplished little since that date. At a Sept. 13 meeting, they hope to get back on track.

For consistency, use “to” when writing a range of years. Do not use hyphen to separate the first and last years. Write both years in full.

Check-Icon2.pngE.g., He worked at Western from 2001 to 2008. 

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