The USF Guide to Writing

Because USF is different from other universities, USF should sound different: fresh, clear, and concrete instead of stuffy, murky, and vague. 

But how, exactly, do we sound fresh, clear, and concrete? 

When you write any message, in any medium, to any audience, please follow these eight points.

1. Know Your One Point — and Pursue It.

Before you write anything, ask yourself what is your one point. Then pursue that one point.

NO:  At USF we are committed to providing students with a transformative education. I am writing to apprise our community of the visibility of unsettling social media messages that are in conflict with our vision and values of a progressive approach to educating diverse students. USF is a strong community.  [< This paragraph contains seven topics. Please pursue only one topic or point per paragraph — and please pursue only one overall point per written piece.] 

YES:  If you saw, last night, comments of hate on the USF Instagram page, know that we have now removed those comments. Here’s why.

2. In Your Subject Line, Don’t Speak About You. Speak to Me.

NO: A Message From Arts & Sciences

YES: London Breed MPA ’13 to Lead Symposium on Justice

3. In Each Opening Sentence, Don’t Speak About You. Speak to Me.

NO:  Our Jesuit roots run deep, and influence our approach to education. [< So? Where did this topic come from? Why are you speaking about yourself? What are Jesuit roots?]

YES: Mark your calendars for Sept. 26 at 2 p.m.: London Breed and Kamala Harris will talk about how to pursue justice in an age of injustice.

NO: I am glad to announce that Stephen Bates, Statistical Efficiency Coordinator, will discuss best practices for strategically and effectively using the LinkedIn platform.  [< So? Where did this topic come from? Why are you speaking about yourself? What is a “best practice”? What does “strategically” mean? What does “effectively” mean?]

YES: Is your LinkedIn page ready for the world?

4. In Every Sentence, Speak Human

When you write, please speak aloud. Would you say this aloud to a friend?

“I had a mission-driven weekend that provided me with an opportunity to engage with my diverse, resilient community.”   

NO: I would like to take this opportunity to inform our users that due to a hardware issue, our system is unfortunately not able to provide users with an optimal throughput solution at the present time. We are currently aware of the issue and are empathically aware that the lack of throughput may cause uncomfortable feelings of frustration among our valued users.

YES: One of our servers failed this morning, so we’re running at roughly 60 percent of our usual speed. We’re sorry about the slowness. We aim to have a new server up and running by 4 p.m. today.

5. Again: Speak to Me

Whenever possible, don’t speak about me, in third person. Speak to me, in second person.

NO: This world-class program is designed to provide students with an intentional education.

YES: This major makes you think.

6. Be Specific. (Use Words That I Can See, Hear, Smell, Touch, Taste, Count, or Measure.)

Vague words confuse. Concrete words help.

NO: A Coordination Specialist will be able to reach out soon. [< What does “reach out” mean? What does “be able to” mean? Reach out to whom? What does “soon” mean?]

YES: I’ll walk your paycheck to your desk next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

7. Write With Facts, Not Opinions

NO:  Welcome to our beautiful campus.

NO:  This terrible violence is horrific.

NO:  This transparent communication will allow a seamless transfer of factual information. 

[You can’t make our campus beautiful by calling it beautiful. You can’t turn an opinion into a fact by dressing it as a fact. So please don’t inject opinion adjectives — such as “beautiful” and “terrible” and “transparent” — upstream of nouns. The reader didn’t ask for your opinion.]

YES:  Welcome to our campus.

YES: This violence . . .

YES:  Here are the facts of the case:

8. Show Me. Don’t Tell Me.

Write with nouns and verbs. Nouns and verbs show. Adjectives and adverbs tell. If you show me, I’ll understand what you are saying. If you tell me, I’ll get confused — or I’ll resist.

NO: Our extraordinary staff is committed to centering experiential learning solutions. [< So? What does “extraordinary” mean? Who says that our staff is “extraordinary”? What does “experiential” mean? What is a “learning solution”?]

YES: At USF, you roll up your sleeves and learn by doing. In history class, for example, . . .

NO: We are a strong, mission-driven community that has been working together collaboratively to provide students with a unique experience that is intensely personalized and inclusively excellent. [< I’m sorry, but these words mean nothing.]

YES: We’ll leave the light on for you.

How Can You Apply Those Eight Points in Your Daily Work? Consider This Email.


[In the email below, please note the adjectives. Note the opinions. Note the flaws in logic. Note the words that add nothing. Note the sentences that say nothing. Please ask what is the point of this message, and ask how soon the author reaches that point.]

Message From Excellence in Operations Working Group
Dear Beloved USF Community,
Our Jesuit roots influence our progressive approach to educating students of every religion (or no religion). We are committed to providing an inclusive academic environment dedicated to creating a more just and humane world.
I am writing to follow up on the August 12, 2020, email from the Excellence in Operations Working Group; that email announced the University's establishment of a center dedicated to ethical innovation and hospitable inclusion consistent with the University’s Mission and Vision 2028. The purpose of this notification is to provide you with more details on the center.
The University of San Francisco is committed to a transformative Jesuit education in an innovative, world-class city. In keeping with this mission, I am excited to be able to announce an important new initiative within the School of Institutional Excellence — the Center of Hospitality and Inclusive Excellence.
Located in Fromm Hall, the Center is a mission-driven initiative that is designed to encourage groundbreaking scholarship, high-quality methodologically rigorous research, and world-class curricula that address ongoing issues and opportunities in critical diversity and excellence.
S.H. Lodge is a graduate of UC Irvine. The senior director of the Center, she is a talented and strategic executive with an impressive track record in the hospitality space, with numerous innovations that involve multiple stakeholder groups. In the Center of Hospitality and Inclusive Excellence, scholars and students interrogate the intersectional agency of lived experience.
From excellence in academics to ongoing visibility on hospitality issues, the Center is able to provide students with compelling, engaging pedagogical content. The Center’s dedicated staff and the University’s diverse faculty will collaborate strategically and effectively to facilitate intensely personalized education through innovative learning.


[In the email below, please note the nouns, verbs, facts, and examples.]
New Center on Campus Treats Hospitality as an Academic Discipline
Dear USF Community,
Can a cinnamon bun start a war? Can an omelet end it?
Yes, says S.H. Lodge. She’s the director of the Center of Hospitality Studies, a new program that treats hospitality as an academic subject, worthy of study and ready to be applied to the world. 
The center, launched last month by the School of Management, supports the study of hospitality in all its forms: tea with a colleague, a power lunch among executives, the bonding of nations in times of crisis.
“We’re taking a radical view of hospitality — a Jesuit view of hospitality as a path to peace,” says Lodge. “Hospitality is a form of welcome, and welcome is a form of inclusion, and inclusion can turn enemies into friends.”
To advance the study of hospitality as diplomacy, the center holds symposia and gives grants to scholars who do research and develop curricula on hospitality. Already, the center has awarded grants for these projects:
“How Fresh Eggs Ended the Crimean War” by Sojourner Pierce, professor of history.
“Home-Cooked Justice: Martin Luther King, Georgia Gilmore, and the Food That Fueled the Civil Rights Movement” by Wendy Wasserman, professor of sociology.
“Kale, not Coke: Clean Food as an Act of Resistance” by Chris Williams, professor of nursing.
S.H. Lodge knows hospitality. Before she joined the School of Management faculty five years ago, she spent three years cooking at Brenda’s Meat & Three on Divisadero Street, just a mile from campus. She says she welcomes research proposals from all USF faculty.
“Stop by my office in Fromm Hall and pitch me your project,” she says. Her office door is open every weekday from 3 to 4 p.m. “I’ll serve you iced tea, hot tea, coffee, or milk and cookies — your choice.”


The USF Guide to Grammar

It’s true: some people judge you for your grammar. And they’ll think poorly of USF if they read poor grammar from USF. So, for the sake of your credibility and for the sake of USF, please use clean grammar.

NO: The dog wagged it’s tail.

YES: The dog wagged its tail.

NO: Send the document to Jennifer and I.

YES: Send the document to Jennifer and me.

NO: We have six apple’s in this basket.

YES: We have six apples in this basket.

NO: Who’s jacket is it?

YES: Whose jacket is it?

NO: I work their.

YES: I work there.

NO: Their digging in the community garden.

YES: They’re digging in the community garden.

NO: That land is there’s, not ours.

YES: That land is theirs, not ours.

NO: That land is their’s, not ours.

YES: That land is theirs, not ours.

NO: Thanks for you’re help.

YES: Thanks for your help.

NO: We pull weeds everyday.

YES: We pull weeds every day.

NO: Thanks, see you at the recital.

YES: Thanks. See you at the recital.

NO: Thanks again and see you at the recital.

YES: Thanks again. See you at the recital.