Email Style Guide

USF sends dozens of emails a week to internal and external audiences, making email one of the university’s primary communication methods. This style guide is intended to bring stylistic consistency to emails. It’s not meant to dictate a department’s tone or “voice,” but to establish standards for common email attributes like headlines and signatures, as well as to set forth basic rules for email-specific grammar and usage. It is to be used in conjunction with USF’s Editorial Style Guide. Note that, in most cases, USF follows Associated Press style. One notable exception is that USF uses the serial comma (see Editorial Style Guide).

These guidelines will not apply to every situation. When in doubt, consider the information below and use your best judgment.  A condensed style guide was created that you can print out and use for future reference. 

For general tips on how to write clearly and effectively, see the USF Writers’ Guide.

Acronyms / Abbreviations

For internal audiences, widely known university acronyms can be written without spelling the acronym out on first reference. For example, ASUSF does not need to be spelled out in weekly student newsletters. When in doubt, always spell out an acronym on first reference.

For external audiences spell out all uncommon acronyms on first reference, followed by the letters in parentheses (e.g. “The Office of Marketing Communications (OMC)”).

If space is a consideration, use your best judgment.

Spell out the names of the 50 U.S. states. In formal addresses, use postal code abbreviations.

Avoid using ampersands in complete sentences. Use the word “and” instead. It’s acceptable to use ampersands in headlines to save space, but not preferred.

The conference will address race and social class.

Campus Locations
Emails that promote events often include building and room names. If a building is mentioned in a full sentence, the full name of the building is preferred. For internal audiences, acronyms are acceptable. Avoid using acronyms (e.g. “LMM”) in full sentences. 

Floors: Spell out first to ninth and use figures starting with 10th when referring to floors in full sentences.

Composition titles
Italicize the names of books, magazines, journals, newspapers, television shows, movies, album titles, and plays. For lectures and articles use quotes, not italics: The professor published an article, “Study Habits of Highly Successful Students,” in a top scholarly journal.

There are several kinds of dashes, differing in length. There are hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. Each has its own use.

The em dash is most commonly used. It denotes a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure: He spent several hours carefully explaining the operation — an operation that would, he hoped, put an end to the resistance. Put a space on both sides of an em dash.

The principal use of the en dash is to connect continuing or inclusive numbers, such as dates, time, or reference numbers: The 2000–01 school year. The hyphen, not the en dash, is used between numbers that are not inclusive, such as telephone and social security numbers. The hyphen is also used in compound adjectives: Writing is a full-time job.

Use a comma before the year: Dec. 1, 2000. But December 2000 (no comma). Do not use the current year, unless it is necessary to avoid confusion. For information about an event, give the time, date, and location, in that order. Do not include the day of the week in web articles. Days of the week are acceptable in email communications. Also May to June not May–June, but May 20–25 and May 20 – June 25. Do not use “on” before a date or day of the week when its absence would not lead to confusion: The conference will be Dec. 1.

Departments and Offices
Some university departments and offices do not have formal names. In internal emails, it’s acceptable to use an informal or abbreviated name to refer to a university’s department or office (e.g. “Turn in all paperwork to Payroll by March 12.”).

Event names are capitalized and are not put in quotes or italicized. Museum exhibit titles are capitalized and italicized.

If you’re putting on a general event, like a welcome back reception, it is preferred to keep the event title lowercase. Reserve capitalization for specific events, like the 2016 Alumni Awards Gala. 

The fall welcome back reception will be hosted by the biology department.

Headlines and Subheads
Capitalization of headlines and subheads is preferred.

Capitalize words with four or more letters. Capitalize the first word and last word. Capitalize all other words except articles (a, an, the), coordinate conjunctions (and, or, for, nor), and short prepositions (e.g., in, to, of, at, by, up, off). Do not use italics.

All images should contain links as well as alt-tags.

Do not include full URLs in the text of a message. Instead create a hyperlink. Avoid using phrases like “click here.” Instead, add the hyperlink to the sentence itself.

Use title case to address readers in an email salutation.

Dear Campus Community,


A pre-header is a short message that appears alongside an email's subject line before the email is opened. The message (up to 150 characters) should clearly and succinctly support the content inside the email.

On Friday, Feb. 12, ITS will upgrade the software version of the voicemail system.

Serial Comma
Use the serial (also known as Oxford) comma in all cases.

Jane Smith has been a professor, provost, and dean.

Sincerely (or other valediction),
Sub-department if necessary

Do not include your department in the email signature if your email template already says the department.

Subject Lines
Subject lines should be catchy and informative. Avoid acronyms and jargon when targeting an external audience. It’s preferred to keep subjects lines 50 characters or fewer, with your most important information in the first 20 characters.

Only capitalize titles when they are used immediately before a name.

“Contact Vice Provost Sheila Jackson for more information,” said Tom Jones, the department’s program assistant.

Do not use underlines to emphasize a word or phrase — this can be confused for a link.

Capitalize the University of San Francisco. Use University of San Francisco on first reference in most instances. Use USF or the university (lowercase) on subsequent references. USF is acceptable for first reference on web pages and brochures where the university branding is prominent.

“University” is not capitalized unless it begins a sentence or is part of a proper noun, like the University of San Francisco.

Abbreviated, two-digit numeric years are preceded by an apostrophe: The summer of ’69. The apostrophe should turn away from the year, not toward it. A span of years written in numeric years and including the century contains no apostrophe: 1975–82. 

Do not use the current year in dates, unless it’s necessary to avoid confusion.