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Writing Style

This is not a guide for writing academic papers; that we leave to our faculty and students. This is a guide for writing promotional materials intended for a larger audience, whether they are current students, potential students, parents, donors, alumni, or other groups.

When writing recruiting and fund-raising materials, it is important to remember your audience. Adopt a familiar and engaging style. Use first and second person (we and ours, you and yours) to create a personal connection. Language and grammar should be correct and clear but not necessarily formal. Avoid using jargon and passive voice. Avoid overly verbose terms and long-winded sentences. Have someone look over your work when you’re finished.

Focus on the Benefits

People naturally want to know what’s in it for them; make sure you answer that question. You may have one of the best departments in the country in a particular field, but what does that mean to the student who enrolls in your major? What benefit will accrue to the donor who contributes a big gift? What will a professional get out of your seminar or symposium?

Couch your offering in terms of what your audience wants. Don’t just list the features; explain the benefits. For example, a car may come with antilock brakes, air-conditioning, leather seats, and a powerful V8 engine, but you sell safety, comfort, luxury, and power. Similarly, small classes, professors with PhDs, and a variety of degrees are all features. How do those features translate into benefits? That is the question you must answer.


Jargon is the use of terminology that is understood only by certain groups. Academia is rife with jargon, and it has a purpose within its own circle. However, when used outside that circle, jargon serves only to cloud meaning. Write simply and clearly. Have someone else read your work (always a good idea) to identify confusing terms and phrases.

Editorial Style

As an institution of higher learning, we have a responsibility to use language correctly and consistently and to use it well. To ensure editorial consistency, we use three references (listed in order of authority): this style guide, the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, and the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. In all publications produced by the Department of University Publications, the university’s editorial style supersedes all other editorial styles.

Press releases or publications that are mainly directed toward publication in the media should follow the guidelines of the Associated Press and should go through the News and Communications Services.

The points that follow (see “East Carolina University Style Guide”), including exceptions and additions to Chicago style, are the ones most frequently encountered when preparing a publication. For a more thorough treatment, please refer directly to the Chicago manual. For a succinct guide to writing well, pick up a copy of Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.

Contact the editors of University Publications at 252-328-6037 if you have any questions regarding editorial style for your publications. The FAQ at the Chicago University Press Web site is also a good resource (