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Category: Writing & Media

Press Release Process

University Communications oversees the writing, editing, distribution and promotion of university-side news releases (as well as news tips and most op-eds). Communicators in this office do this in close coordination with schools, programs and units, and in accordance with the following guidelines.

Before You Write a Release
Ask yourself: Is this newsworthy to the public? Does it probe and/or answer questions about societal issues, policies, practices and science? If yes, then contact University Communications to talk about your release idea. Karl Bates and Robin Smith are your contacts for science releases; Steve Hartsoe, Greg Phillips and Eric Ferreri handle all other topics. (Note: The health system has its own news office for releases generated there.)

We will also talk about how to promote the faculty member’s work, including social media options. Incorporating video, graphics, photos or audio is a must, whenever possible, to ensure stronger pick up by media. We avoid the use of stock art. Our office will work with you to develop and produce these ideas.

For releases about research with a pending publication date, it’s important that you/we begin work on a release in advance of that date — the sooner the better. We want to have the release ready to send to reporters on the day the research publishes or even earlier, under embargo. This makes it timely for reporters and improves the chances for coverage.

Writing the News Release
Our news releases are primarily for the media, so Duke chooses to use a news style, with a compelling lede and headline, rather than starting by naming the unit, school, endowed professor, etc., like bad press releases often do. It’s crucial that it mostly follow AP style and read like a news story. In other words, no jargon, unfamiliar acronyms, unnecessary capitalizations, 30-word sentences, etc. Typically, 700-750 words is enough, though science releases sometimes need more words.

With news rooms so short-staffed, a well-written release that follows AP style has the advantage. Reporters don’t have to waste time trying to understand your release because it’s written for them – clear and compelling. They can also copy and paste portions into their stories if so desired, and a well-written release helps ensure respectability for Duke.

Headlines are bold, proper nouns and words with four letters or more capitalized. We use Verdana, 10 pt.

Format Example:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020

CONTACT: Eric Ferreri

In Trump Era, More Progressive Churches Get Politically Active

DURHAM, N.C. — The willingness of left-leaning religious congregations to engage in political activity has spiked in the Trump era, new research shows.

Before submitting to University Communications for editing, ask:
• Is my headline and lead paragraph both accurate AND strong enough to get a reporter or editor’s attention?
• Have I written an interesting release that delivers news and valuable information, insight or an interesting angle for reporters?

DURHAM, N.C. — Engineers at Duke University have devised a model that can predict the early mechanical behaviors and origins of an earthquake in multiple types of rock.

The model provides new insights into unobservable phenomena that take place miles beneath the Earth’s surface under incredible pressures and temperatures. It could help researchers better predict earthquakes — or even, at least theoretically, attempt to stop them.

The results appear online on Jan. 17 in the journal Nature Communications.

BURBANK, CA, February 12, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ — Experienced dentist in Burbank, Dr. Edward Joseph, is committed to providing only the most current, state-of-the-art dental procedures, materials, and equipment to his patients. With the introduction of the practice’s newest technology, CEREC, patients can receive a dental crown in just a single appointment.

Burbank CEREC 3D technology combines a camera, computer and computer-controlled milling machine to quickly create a detailed digitized mold of your damaged tooth. CEREC one-visit crowns are natural in appearance, compatible with other tissues in the mouth, anti-abrasive and plaque-resistant, making them a superior alternative to traditional crowns, which often require two or more visits. Restoring a single tooth with CEREC typically takes less than one hour with this Burbank family dentist.

(jargon, hyperbole, SEO-heavy)

Copy Flow
In nearly all cases, Duke stories that are written for the media come through University Communications for editing and distribution, regardless of what unit they started in. We edit for style and readability and will often try to improve the headline and lede for maximum effect.

Writers in the schools of medicine, engineering, environment, the natural sciences division of A&S and several of the institutes are edited by Karl Bates (research communications). Social science, non-research (including guest speakers) and occasional humanities releases are edited by Alison Jones, Steve Hartsoe, Eric Ferreri, Amanda Solliday or Greg Phillips. Distribution to the media comes from University Communications, except for Medicine, which does its own distribution.

Distribution and Beyond
Every release sent to us should be accompanied by the cover sheet (AKA blue sheet) that specifies which Cision lists to send to and what the multimedia assets are. It should also contain pre-written captions and tweets for editors to review, because these are so important to your story’s success.

University Communications maintains dozens of media lists in Cision of reporters at news outlets around the world. Each is targeted to segments of the media best suited for a particular topic, from domestic politics to health policy to video gaming. Let us know which lists are best-suited for your release. We do not use PR-Newswire or Newswise. Research releases also are posted to the EurekAlert! news service, in addition to distribution on Cision.

After we send the release, we either post it to Duke Today and/or our news site, or if it is posted on an academic unit’s site, we will link to the story there. Writers are encouraged to share their stories on social media channels, as well. Our office can help promote some releases through “Big Duke” Twitter, Instagram and Facebook sites, though posting to these university channels is very selective due to the volume of material to consider.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Steve Hartsoe (steve.hartsoe@duke.edu)
Karl Bates (karl.bates@duke.edu)

Covering Panel Discussions Effectively

by Eric Ferreri

Ever grapple with how best to write about a panel discussion featuring two or more scholars? Here’s a format employed successfully at University Communications that we think is adaptable for communicators across the university, particularly when covering school, institute or departmental events featuring multiple speakers.

Our strategy sets aside the traditional, inverted-pyramid news story structure in favor of a quick-blast summary with a short, pithy introduction and quotations from each speaker. We’ve learned that doing this gives readers and journalists a fast, digestible idea of what’s being discussed. It’s tailored to the short-attention-span news consumer.

The story is divided into topics, so a reader can easily see what each speaker has to say on a given subject. This has been particularly popular among journalists we send this to; they often use the quotes verbatim in stories. Others seek the scholars out for follow-up stories. 

This isn’t the best structure for every story, but we’ve found it particularly effective when summarizing information quickly from multiple speakers. It does require good notetaking and/or transcription skills so be prepared with the right recording technology.

We’ve used this strategy effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which University Communications has hosted weekly media briefings featuring Duke experts on a variety of topics.

These briefings are held via Zoom, and to quickly report on and disseminate the discussions ourselves, we’ve turned to this very basic, very effective method of storytelling.

Here are a few examples:

Any questions? Drop me an email: eric.ferreri@duke.edu

Gift Announcement Policies

Development & News

Sharing news about the financial support Duke University receives from alumni and supporters is important. It helps acknowledge the generosity of Duke’s donors and promotes the people, programs, facilities and activities that donors support. University Communications’ policy supports the university’s fundraising efforts to the fullest extent possible, consistent with journalistic practices and sound news judgment.


To support the university’s fundraising objectives, University Communications, the Duke Health News Office and Duke University Development Marketing and Communications oversee the writing, editing, distribution and promotion of news releases about gifts and grants. They do this in close coordination with schools, programs and units, and in accordance with the following guidelines, which have been approved by the university’s senior leadership. These guidelines apply to content that appears in publications, social media, websites, e-mail communications and other communications that come from all Duke offices.

  1. Before a gift may be announced in any Duke communication, it must be recognized officially as a gift or pledge and entered appropriately in the university’s gift records system, DADD.
  2. Public announcement of a gift or grant must be approved in principle by the following individuals:
    • The vice president for alumni affairs and development (or his/her designee, Duke Development’s assistant vice president for marketing and communications)
    • The vice president for Duke Health development and alumni affairs (or his/her designee, Duke Health Development’s director of communications)
    • The vice president for public affairs and government relations (or his/her designee, the associate vice president for university communications)
    • The donor(s).

No announcement will be made without the consent of the aforementioned.

  1. University Communications, Duke Development Marketing and Communications or the Duke Health News Office will consider distributing a news release announcing any gift or grant that might be viewed by media outlets as newsworthy. Gifts are most likely to attract media interest if they are large in size (generally at least $1 million) and are associated with new or innovative programs or facilities or have a strong human interest angle and a compelling story. (See chart below for more specific instructions.)
  2. A news release or media announcement promoting a gift or grant must include the amount of money involved. A large gift may be newsworthy even if the donor prefers to remain anonymous, but no gift of unspecified amount is newsworthy.
  3. In general, if Duke has previously announced a $5 million+ gift from a donor to any area of the university, that gift should be mentioned again in a release about a new gift. If Duke has previously announced a gift in the $1-$5 million range, it may be appropriate to mention the earlier gift in a release about a new gift; appropriate development staff should be consulted.
  4. It is Duke policy not to disclose any information about specific gifts or donors, or their prior and/or cumulative giving to Duke, without the donor’s permission. Further, the university does not disclose terms, conditions or payment schedules for any gift or donor.
  5. Duke will respect the wishes of a donor who asks to remain anonymous or who prefers not to be quoted, but who has no objections to the release of other information about the gift.


The responsibility for preparing and managing gift announcements varies according to the level of gift:

Gift LevelAnnouncement Prepared ByReview Process Coordinated ByAnnouncement Attributed To
Less than $1 Million school or unit communicator school or unit communicator program directors or school dean  
$1 Million – $4.9 Million school or unit communicator Development M&C dean or administration-level official  
$5 Million and above Development M&C, UComms and/or Duke Health Development M&C, UComms and/or Duke Health university president
Gifts of any level spanning more than one school or unit Development M&C Development M&C variable

In all cases, the person preparing a gift announcement should coordinate with Development Marketing & Communications to:

  1. Confirm gift has been properly documented and there aren’t any unusual circumstances related to the gift announcement.
  2. Obtain internal approvals.
  3. Send draft to University Communications for review and editing.
  4. Only after steps 1-3 are completed, send draft to donor for approval and possible quotes. Any significant revisions at this point require review by University Communications.
  5. Identify photos or relevant images for use with the announcement.
  6. Develop distribution lists.
  7. Determine announcement timing.

No release or gift announcement will appear in official Duke channels (Duke Today, Duke Magazine, etc.), online or in social media until the steps outlined above have been confirmed.

The university president has final authority and responsibility for determining the official dissemination of all news from Duke University. The president has delegated that authority to the vice president for public affairs and government relations, who has in turn delegated to the head of University Communications day-to-day responsibility for ensuring the accuracy, timeliness, completeness and professionalism of communications with the news media.

Contact Duke Development Marketing and Communications for additional information or clarification about gift announcement practices.

Writing Effective Op-Eds

Do you have an interesting opinion to share? If you can express it clearly and persuasively in an op-ed article, you may reach millions of people, sway hearts, change minds and perhaps even reshape public policy. In the process, you may also earn recognition for yourself and your institution, all for less effort than it takes to write a professional journal article.

Duke University’s Office of News and Communications (ONC) has a strong record of placing op-ed articles in many of the nation’s leading news outlets. It has developed these guidelines to help you write an article that newspapers, websites or others may accept for publication. ONC also offers a number of services to help faculty members, students and other members of the Duke community write and place their articles.

Here are the guidelines:

Track the news and jump at opportunities. Timing is essential. When an issue is dominating the news — whether it’s a war, a stock market panic or just the latest controversy on a reality TV show — that’s what readers want to read and op-ed editors want to publish. Whenever possible, link your issue explicitly to something happening in the news. If you’re a researcher studying cancer, for instance, start off by discussing the celebrity who died yesterday. Or, look ahead to a holiday or anniversary a week from now that will provide a fresh news peg (and enable editors to plan the story in advance).

Limit the article to 750 words. Shorter is even better. Some academic authors insist they need more room to explain their argument. Unfortunately, newspapers have limited space to offer, and editors generally won’t take the time to cut a long article down to size.

Make a single point — well. You cannot solve all of the world’s problems in 750 words. Be satisfied with making a single point clearly and persuasively. If you cannot explain your message in a sentence or two, you’re trying to cover too much.

Put your main point on top. You’re not writing for Science, The Quarterly Journal of Economics or other academic publications that typically wait until the final paragraphs to reveal their punchlines. Op-ed articles do the opposite. You have no more than 10 seconds to hook a busy reader, which means you shouldn’t “clear your throat” with a witticism or historical aside. Just get to the point and convince the reader that it’s worth his or her valuable time to continue.

Tell readers why they should care. Put yourself in the place of the busy person looking at your article. At the end of every few paragraphs, ask out loud: “So what? Who cares?” You need to answer these questions. Will your suggestions help reduce readers’ taxes? Protect them from disease? Make their children happier? Explain why. Appeals to self-interest usually are more effective than abstract punditry.

Offer specific recommendations. An op-ed is not a news story that simply describes a situation; it is your opinion about how to improve matters. Don’t be satisfied, as you might be in a classroom, with mere analysis. In an op-ed article you need to offer recommendations. How exactly should your state protect its environment, or the White House change its foreign policy or parents choose healthier foods for their children? You’ll need to do more than call for “more research!” or suggest that opposing parties work out their differences.

Showing is better than discussing. You may remember the Pentagon’s overpriced toilet seat that became a symbol of profligate federal spending. You probably don’t recall the total Pentagon budget for that year (or for that matter, for the current year). That’s because we humans remember colorful details better than dry facts. When writing an op-ed article, therefore, look for great examples that will bring your argument to life.

Embrace your personal voice. The best of these examples will come from your own experience. Academics tend to avoid first-person exposition in professional journals, which rarely begin with phrases like “You won’t believe what I found when I was working in my lab last month.” When it comes to op-eds, however, you should embrace your own voice whenever possible. If you are a physician, describe the plight of one of your patients, and then tell us how this made you feel personally. If you’ve worked with poor families, tell a story about one of them to help argue your point. In other words, come down from Mt. Olympus and share details that will reveal your humanity. In so doing, your words will ring truer and the reader will care more about what you are saying. If you are a student or someone else without a fancy degree or title, your personal voice becomes even more important.

Play up your personal connection to the readers. Daily newspapers in many cities are struggling to survive. As they compete with national publications, television, blogs and others, they are playing up their local roots and coverage. Op-ed editors at these papers increasingly prefer authors who live locally or have other local connections. If you’re submitting an article to your local paper, this will work in your favor. If you’re submitting it in a city where you once lived or worked, be sure to mention this in your cover note and byline. Likewise, if you’re writing for a publication that serves a particular profession, ethnic group or other cohort, let them know how you connect personally to their audience.

Use short sentences and paragraphs. Look at some op-ed articles and count the number of words per sentence. You’ll probably find the sentences to be quite short. You should use the same style, relying mainly on simple declarative sentences. Cut long paragraphs into two or more shorter ones.

Avoid jargon. If a technical detail is not essential to your argument, don’t use it. When in doubt, leave it out. Simple language doesn’t mean simple thinking; it means you are being considerate of readers who lack your expertise and are sitting half-awake at their breakfast table or computer screen.

Use the active voice. Don’t write: “It is hoped that [or: One would hope that] the government will …” Instead, say “I hope the government will …” Active voice is nearly always better than passive voice. It’s easier to read, and it leaves no doubt about who is doing the hoping, recommending or other action.

Avoid tedious rebuttals. If you’ve written your article in response to an earlier piece that made your blood boil, avoid the temptation to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal. It makes you look petty. It’s likely that readers didn’t see the earlier article and, if they did, they’ve probably forgotten it. So, just take a deep breath, mention the earlier article once and argue your own case. If you really need to rebut the article, forego an op-ed article and instead write a letter to the editor, which is more appropriate for this purpose.

Acknowledge the other side. People writing op-ed articles sometimes make the mistake of piling on one reason after another why they’re right and their opponents are wrong, if not idiots. They’d probably appear more credible, and almost certainly more humble and appealing, if they took a moment to acknowledge the ways in which their opponents are right. When you see experienced op-ed authors saying “to be sure,” that’s what they’re doing.

Make your ending a winner. As noted, you need a strong opening paragraph, or “lead,” to hook readers. When writing for the op-ed page, it’s also important to summarize your argument in a strong final paragraph. That’s because many casual readers scan the headline, skim the opening and then read the final paragraph and byline. In fact, one trick many columnists use is to conclude with a phrase or thought that appeared in the opening, thereby closing the circle.

Relax and have fun. Many authors, particularly academics, approach an op-ed article as an exercise in solemnity. Frankly, they’d improve their chances if they’d lighten up, have some fun and entertain the reader a bit. Newspaper editors despair of weighty articles — known in the trade as “thumb suckers” — and delight in an academic writer who chooses examples from “Entertainment Tonight” as well as from Eminent Authorities.

Don’t worry about the headline. The newspaper will write its own headline. You can suggest one, but don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Offer graphics. Until recently, newspaper op-ed pages rarely accepted graphics or photos to accompany op-ed article submissions. This tradition is now changing, especially as publications move online. If you have a terrific illustration, photo, video or other asset that might accompany your article, alert the editor when you send it.

How to submit an article. Almost all newspapers and commentary sites now post guidelines about how they prefer to receive op-ed submissions. In general, they provide an e-mail address where you can submit the article electronically, but check first. Always be sure to include your contact information, and say whether you have a photo of yourself available.

Where to submit the article. Here’s a wild guess: You’re hoping to publish your article in The New York Times, with The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal as backups. Well, welcome to the club. These and other national publications such as USA Today receive a staggering number of submissions, the overwhelming majority of which are rejected. You have a better shot at regional newspapers and, especially, at papers serving your own community. Web sites such as “Slate” and “The Huffington Post” are also gaining in importance. Regardless of where you send it, you’ll probably fare best with arguments that are provocative, humorous, personal or unexpected.

Media Training

Duke encourages its faculty members and others to share their expertise with a wide range of audiences. One way to do this is by engaging with news media.

University Communications is available to help faculty and others prepare for interviews and become a source for reporters. To inquire about media training, contact Steve Hartsoe (steve.hartsoe@duke.edu).


  • If a reporter calls/emails, what should you do? Information on how to prepare and participate in an interview are available here.
  • University Communications works with faculty (and students) on writing and submitting op-eds to local and national news organizations. Contact Eric Ferreri (eric.ferreri@duke.edu) for more information and to discuss an op-ed idea. Tips on writing an effective op-ed are viewable here.

If a Reporter Calls

The Duke University Communications team offers the following tips for print and broadcast interviews:

  • If you need help – ask. If you’ve received a call from a reporter and have any questions or concerns about how to respond, contact us at University Communications, dukenews@duke.edu.
  • Respond as soon as possible, but don’t feel rushed to talk. Remember that reporters’ deadlines are often measured in minutes; if you agree to be interviewed, you must respond quickly. If a reporter calls and you are caught off-guard or are preoccupied with another task, ask to call back so you can gather your thoughts.
  • Identify the reporter. If you agree to an interview, write down the reporter’s name, media outlet and contact information. If you have any doubts about the reporter’s identity or the outlet’s legitimacy, contact University Communications, dukenews@duke.edu.
  • Decide what you want to say. Many academics view their objective in an interview as avoiding saying anything foolish. That’s important, certainly, but you may not accomplish much with such a defensive approach. You should also view the interview as an opportunity to communicate what you want to say.

    Before you begin, decide what two or three key points you want to get across, and have both data and human examples ready to highlight each one. Find a way to make these points during the interview, even if the reporter doesn’t ask about them.
  • Provide background information. You can help the reporter – and minimize errors – by offering to provide background information on complex topics. This can include material from other sources.
  • Prepare for difficult questions. Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses to them. Never say, “No comment.” Instead, explain why you can’t or won’t answer the question.
  • Give simple, direct answers. Be brief. Reporters likely will use short quotes, clips or sound bites. Avoid jargon and explain the topic as simply as possible. It’s best to avoid flippant or joking comments that sound acceptable in conversation but might be taken out of context.
  • Nothing is “off the record.” Don’t say anything you don’t want to read in the newspaper or see on the evening news, even when the formal interview seems to have ended and you are just chatting with the reporter.
  • Ask questions. Although reporters are unlikely to let you review a story before it’s published or aired, they may let you verify specific information or quotes. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Give feedback. If a reporter makes a major mistake, call the publication and ask for a correction. If the mistake is minor, it may be better to let it go. If you have any questions about whether the issue should be pursued, contact University Communications.

    If you feel the story is well done, let the reporter know that, too.

Radio Interviews

Prepping for an audio interview? Here are some tips to help you sound your best.

  • Find a quiet place. The less background noise, the better. This helps ensure fewer distractions, and your message will come across more clearly.
  • Determine the context. Will the interview be live or recorded? If live, timing is more important. Your answers need to be brief and should stand alone. If the interview will be recorded, it’s OK to pause or return to earlier points for clarity.

    Will there be other guests? If so, take some time to prepare. Do a little background research about the other people who will take part in the discussion.
  • Ask about technical requirements beforehand. Does the station or show prefer a cell phone or a land line (if available)? If the interview is taking place over Zoom or Skype, would the interviewer appreciate a local recording on your cellphone or computer as a back-up?

    If you’re participating frequently in radio or podcast interviews, it may be worth investing in an inexpensive microphone that can plug into your phone or computer to help improve audio quality (more info on microphone sources is available here).
  • Warm up. Have a glass of water before the interview and keep one on hand during the discussion. Honey and warm water can help keep your voice smooth. Avoid drinking milk before an interview.

    Before the interview begins, stretch out your lips and jaw. Take some deep breaths.
  • Assert key points. If the host or reporter doesn’t ask about an important point, find a way to include it in the discussion. An interview is not a deposition – you are an active participant in the interview and can guide the conversation.
  • Thank the host. In advance, think of a few words to say at the end of the interview, so you can exit gracefully and are not caught off-guard at the conclusion. If the segment is live, there may not be much time to end the discussion.

Duke Language Usage Guide


In general, Duke University follows The Associated Press Stylebook for stylistic issues pertaining to news releases and other information generated for news media and for news material distributed on the Web. When an issue is not covered in the stylebook, we rely on Webster’s New World Dictionary.

The discussion of grammar and usage is far from comprehensive, but some common errors have been highlighted. When in doubt, or when the example you’re seeking isn’t covered, we strongly recommend that you consult the guides mentioned above, as well as others, such as Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.”

In addition, Duke’s new Inclusive Language Guide offers guidance on language related to gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation and more. (Note: As this is a living document subject to revision, it is being shared with members of the Duke community here via shibboleth sign-in).

For general grammar and usage questions, there are also a number of helpful online dictionaries and usage guides, among them:

For questions or suggestions, contact Steve Hartsoe (steve.hartsoe@duke.edu)

Please note: Through the following examples, italics are used to highlight the word or phrase in question, and not to indicate that the word or phrase should be italicized.


Dr., M.D., other titles
These titles are capitalized and abbreviated before a name. Note: For stories not meant for media or Duke MarComms websites, Duke can deviate  from AP style for titles referring to medical doctors and those who hold doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.
On first mention you can use M.D. or Ph.D. (use last name only on subsequent references to the person):

Anthony Fauci, M.D.,  told Congress …

Fauci later clarified his comments ….

Angela King, M.D., and Natalie Lopez. M.D., attended …

Josh Jenkins, Ph.D., published his first book …

Jenkins graduated from Duke in 1993.

For media and MarComms:
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told Congress …

Josh Jenkins published his first book in 2007. He holds a doctorate in anthropology from Duke University.

Abbreviate the following (whether for MarComms/media or a Duke article) only before a full name:

Gov. Roy Cooper
Lt. Gov. Bruce Lee
Rep. David Price (D-NC)
Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC)
Sens. Mitt Romney and Charles Schumer …
and all military titles (Gen., Adm., Col., Maj., Capt., Pvt., Pfc., etc.)
Gen. George Patton said …
Patton served from …

Professor is never abbreviated and only capitalized if part of a title:
Joe Smith, the Eugene Jones Professor of Chemistry …

Speaking to students, chemistry professor Jane Doe …

United States and United Nations:

Spell out on first reference, then abbreviate U.S. and U.N. as nouns on second and subsequent references. Abbreviate always when used as adjectives.

The United States contribution to the U.N Climate Fund is larger than that of any other nation.

The U.S. ambassador said she will not protest the meeting at the United Nations. But a U.N. spokeswoman said …

Also, it’s OK to leave out periods in abbreviations in headlines and on social media:

Duke Study Finds US Losing Global Status

academic degrees bachelor of arts (B.A.) (a bachelor’s degree)
bachelor of divinity (B.D.) bachelor of laws (LL.B)
bachelor of science (B.S.)
doctor of law (J.D.)
doctor of laws (L.L.D.)
doctor of medicine (M.D.) doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.)
master of arts (M.A.) (a master’s degree)
master of public policy (M.P.P.)
master of science (M.S.)
academic departments

Academic departments are lowercase (the music department, the physics department) except when the subject in question is a proper noun (the English department, the German department).

Department names used in an official sense are uppercase (e.g., Duke’s Department of Chemistry, the Duke University Department of Music). The same is true for institutes, centers, schools, etc.

Also, note some schools use ampersands as part of their title:
Duke Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
Duke Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
(Not: department of psychology and neuroscience)

Other options:
The psychology department
A professor of psychology and neuroscience
A professor of psychiatry and behavioral science

academic titles

Capitalize titles before a name.
Duke University President Vincent E. Price

Trinity College Dean Gary Bennett

Lowercase after a name or when used alone:

Vincent E. Price, president of Duke University

Gary Bennett, dean of Trinity College

Exceptions are names of chaired professorships:

Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History William H. Chafe 

William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History

Avoid endowed titles for media:

Instead of William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History
Make it:
Duke history professor William Chafe …

Professor is never abbreviated and only capitalized if part of a endowed title:
Joe Smith, the Eugene Jones Professor of Chemistry, …

Speaking to students, chemistry professor Jane Doe …

For faculty with long/multiple titles and/or long/multiple affiliations, separate additional titles:

Political science professor Michael Munger, said …

Munger, also a professor of economics and public policy, will lead xxx

Doctor, M.D., Ph.D. — See Abbreviations section at top.

affect, effect

Affect, the noun, describes an emotion, and is used mainly in psychology. AP style says to avoid using “affect” as a noun.

Affect, the verb, means to influence.

His illness affected his grades.

Effect, the noun, means result or outcome.

His illness had an effect on his grades.

Effect, the verb, means to bring about, to create.

The department chair effected big changes.

alumnus, etc.

An alumnus is a male graduate, an alumna a female graduate. Alumni are both male graduates and female graduates combined. Alumnae are female graduates.
The same endings apply for emeritus, meaning a retired faculty member.

AP: If a gender-neutral term is desired, alum or alums is acceptable. (For more, see Duke’s Inclusive Language Guidelines.)

American Indians The AP Stylebook suggests that this usage is preferable to Native Americans, since the ancestors of American Indians migrated to North America from Asia.
among, between

Between introduces two items, among more than two:

The applicant had to decide among Duke, Harvard and Princeton.

The applicant had to choose between Duke and Princeton.

Pronouns following these prepositions are in the objective case. The choice was between us and them.


Avoid unnecessary capitals.


Proper nouns: James B. Duke

Proper names: Duke University, the Eno River, the South, Western states, the Bull City, the Triangle

On second references, follow:

Duke Margolis Institute for Health Policy

(2nd reference): Scholars at the center xxxx; or Scholars at the Margolis Institute published …

Titles (see Academic Titles, above, and Titles, below)

University, by itself, is never capitalized.

President Price described the university’s master plan.

Faculty is not capitalized unless it’s part of a proper name:

Duke Faculty Commons

The faculty agenda includes ….

carat, caret, karat A carat is a measure of weight of precious stones. A karat is a measure of the portion of pure gold in an alloy.
collective nouns  

Nouns and proper nouns denoting units (class, choir, committee, fraternity, orchestra, team, Duke, Microsoft) are singular and take singular verbs and pronouns.

The Arts & Sciences Council adjourned for the summer. It meets again in September.

However, team names, band names, etc. take plural verbs and pronouns.

The Beatles remain the world’s most influential band.

The Blue Devils won last night. They dominated on defense.

commas in a series  

MarComms style is to avoid Oxford commas.
Use a comma after each item in a series except before the conjunction (unless the last item includes a conjunction.)

Students eat lunch at the Cambridge Inn, the Alpine Atrium and the Perk.

compose, comprise  

In the passive voice, means to be made up of:Duke University is composed of nine schools.

Best used only in the active voice, and means to contain or include.Duke University comprises 10 schools.

compound nouns   When in doubt whether a noun is open (half note, half brother), closed (halfback, halftone), or hyphenated (half-moon, half-life), consult a dictionary. (Also see Prefixes, below.) Note: AP dropped hyphenations for compound proper nouns and adjectives. Some examples:

African American (no longer hyphenated)

Italian American (no longer hyphenated)


coal mining






French Canadian

full moon



headache, toothache

key of G-minor

key of B-flat

key of G-major
Latin American



near miss


notebook, textbook

one-half, one-eighth




quasi corporation


vice chairman

vice president

vice provost

dean’s list  

Always lowercase

He made the dean’s list three straight semesters.

disinterested, uninterested   Disinterested means impartial, uninterested means lacking in interest.
due to  

Due is an adjective that follows the verb to be or modifies a particular noun.

The cancellation was due to snow.

It should not be used in adverbial phrases to mean because of.

Incorrect: Due to snow, classes were canceled.Use: Because of snow, classes were canceled.

Duke’s units, official names  

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Divinity School

Duke University Health System (lowercase “health system” if on its own)
Duke Health is an umbrella term that refers to all of the component entities — Duke University Health System, Duke University School of Medicine, Duke University School of Nursing, etc.

Duke University Health System refers ONLY to the clinical entities — Duke University Hospital, Duke Raleigh Hospital, outpatient clinics and facilities, and physician practices.

The Fuqua School of Business

Graduate School

Nicholas School of the Environment

Pratt School of Engineering (or Duke Engineering)

Sanford School of Public Policy

Duke University School of Law or Duke Law

School of Medicine

School of Nursing

Undergraduate women who attended Duke between 1930 and 1972 were students in the Woman’s College, not the Women’s College.

See also: Schools and class years, below.

foreign words
and phrases
  Foreign words and phrases found in a standard English dictionary are not italicized:

dolce vita
fait accompli
mea culpa

Nouns that in German would be capitalized are in English lowercase:

doppelgänger or doppelganger, schadenfreude, weltschmerz.

full time, part time  

Hyphenate the adjective, not the noun.

Full-time employees work Monday-Friday.

Employees who work evenings are part time.

fundraising, fundraiser  

One word in all cases.

Duke Forward was a fundraising effort.

Fundraising is important to the university’s future.

handicap, disability   Do not use handicap or handicapped to describe someone. Instead refer to the person and their condition, using person-centered language such as a person with a disability
he or she, his or her  

Using he or she and his or her can be awkward. It is often simpler to make the noun plural.

Instead of:
A student gets good grades when he or she studies hard.

Students get good grades when they study hard.

historic, history  

When the h in these words is pronounced, the indefinite article should be a:

a historic moment
a history professor


This adverb means in a hopeful manner.

The students waited hopefully for tickets.

It should not be used to mean it is hoped.

Instead of:
Hopefully, tickets would be available.
They hoped tickets would be available.

hurricanes   All hurricanes take an indefinite pronoun. Hurricane Fran hit Durham in 1996. It (not she) caused extensive flooding.

Compound modifiers before nouns are hyphenated.

The trustees approved a long-term strategic plan.

Compounds with very and with adverbs ending in –ly.

A D is a very low grade.

A D is not an easily forgotten grade.

Compound modifiers after the verb to be are hyphenated.

The strategic plan is to be a long-term document.


Impact is a noun.

The team’s losing record had an impact on attendance.

Its use as a verb meaning affect or influence is common, but should be avoided.

Instead of:
The team’s losing record impacted attendance.
The team’s losing record affected attendance.

imply, infer   Speakers and writers imply, listeners and readers infer.

Duke’s seven university-wide institutes serve as crucial incubators of innovations in research, pedagogy and civic engagement. Learn more about our University Institutes, Initiatives and Centers:

Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute
Duke Global Health Institute
Kenan Institute for Ethics
Duke-Margolis Institute for Health Policy
Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability
Social Science Research Institute

internet, web, etc.   The following capitalizations, spellings and hyphenations are recommended:
Duke Daily
Duke Today
e-reader (Kindle, Nook)
geotagging, geolocation
Google, Googling, Googled
iPad, iPhone, iPod 
to text, text message, texted, texting
X, (formerly Twitter) (n.), tweet (v., for now)
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP on second reference)
web, website
wiki, Wikipedia
YouTube (also, Duke’s channel on YouTube)
Iran, Iraq  

Iran is not an Arab nation. Its people are Persian, Azerbaijani, Kurdish and other ethnic groups.The principal language is Farsi, an Indo-European language, also known as Persian, that is written with Arabic characters. The majority of Iranians are Shiite Muslims, others are Sunni Muslims.

Iraq is an Arab nation. The principal language is Iraqi, a dialect of Arabic. Most Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, others are Sunni Muslims. The Kurds, Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Farsi, are a large minority in both countries.

italics, quotation marks  

In general, do not use italics or quotation marks for emphasis or to suggest irony or special usage:

Some students questioned whether the painting should be considered “art.”

In particular, do not use italics or quotation marks around clichés or figures of speech:

The tuition increase will have an impact on the university’s “bottom line.”

Nicknames are enclosed in quotation marks.

Harold “Spike” Yoh, former chairman of Duke’s Board of Trustees.

Kmart, Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard, Packard Bell, etc.   When in doubt about the spelling and punctuation of company names, check with the press relations department at corporate headquarters. Even official websites may contain errors.
lay, lie  

Lay (past tense: laid; past participle: laid; present participle: laying) is an action verb meaning to put or place; it takes a direct object.

The student lays down his pencil.

The student laid down his pencil.He has laid down his pencil.

He is laying down his pencil.

Lie (past tense: lay; past participle: lain; present participle: lying) means to be or stay at rest horizontally. It cannot take an object.

The pencil lies on the desk.

The pencil lay on the desk.

The pencil has lain on the desk.

The pencil is lying on the desk.

less, fewer  

In general, less refers to things that can be measured, fewer to things that can be counted.

The student had less free time, even though he took fewer classes.

like, as  

Like is a preposition that requires an object.

She plays defense like a pro.

As is a conjunction that introduces a clause.
She plays defense as the coach taught her.

local places  

Research Triangle Park, then RTP in subsequent references.

The Triangle, and eight-county region in the Piedmont of North Carolina consisting of  Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Orange, Person, Wake.

months, seasons  

Months are uppercase, seasons are lowercase. Abbreviate all months with a date except March, April, May, June, July.

May 15.

July 4.

Feb. 13.

Dec. 25.

It was the summer of 1975. We worked hard all winter.

Mohammed   Preferred over Muhammad, Mahomet or other spellings for the founder of Islam.
mount, mountains  

Mount is spelled out, mountain is capitalized as part of a proper name.

Mount Mitchell is in the Black Mountains.

mm, mph  

Do not use periods; abbreviate in all uses.

The White Lecture Hall has 16mm and 35mm film projectors. (Note: No space is used.)

The campus speed limit is 25 mph.


Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and above.

The department has 15 faculty and two administrative assistants.

She has a son, John, 7.
She has a 7-year-old son, John.

The photograph is 6 inches by 9 inches.
The sophomore is 6 feet 5. He is a 6-foot-5 sophomore.

AP says use % with no space after the figure, but spelling out “percent” is fine if preferred:
Only 4% of undergraduates do not return for their sophomore year. 

The Blue Devils won 84 percent of their home games. (add a space between the figure and percent).

The class starts at 9 a.m. (Not: 9:00 a.m. or 9 A.M.)
Try to avoid starting a sentence with a figure:
Seventy students enrolled in the class.

There are 70 students enrolled in the class.


Make sure that only modifies what you want it to modify.

He only studies on weekends means that on Saturday and Sunday he does nothing but study.

He studies only on weekends means that he doesn’t study Monday through Friday.


Singular nouns add an apostrophe and an s.

The team’s record.

The driver’s license.

appearance’ sake, conscience’ sake, goodness’ sake

The AP Stylebook lists as exceptions singular nouns ending in s and followed by words beginning with s:

the witness’ story, but the witness’s recollection
the hostess’ soirée, but the hostess’s party

Plural nouns add an apostrophe:

the students’ grades


Plural words used descriptively.
The Blue Devils coach

a writers guide

Names ending in s, add an apostrophe:

Charles’ dog

Jesus’ mother

Moses’ law

Achilles’ heel

Euripedes’ plays

For names ending in z and x, add an apostrophe and an s:

Berlioz’s opera

Marx’s writings

Xerox’s profits

prefixes   Most nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs formed with the following prefixes are closed (e.g., anteroom, neoclassical):
  ante (antediluvian)
anti (antihero)
bi (bisexual)
bio (biodiversity)
co (coauthor, cooperate)
counter (counteroffensive)
extra (extracurricular)
infra (infrastructure)
inter (intercollegiate)
intra (intrasquad)
macro (macroeconomics)
meta (metadata)
micro (micromanage)
mid (midcentury)(but: mid-Atlantic)
mini (minibus)
multi (multistory)
neo (neoclassical)
non (nonviolent, nonprofit)
over (overvalued)
post (postdoctoral)
pre (prearranged)
pro (proconsul) (but: pro-choice,
pro-life, pro-American)
proto (prototype)
pseudo (pseudoscience)
re (reunite, reexamine)
semi (semiannual, semiconductor)
socio (socioeconomic)
sub (substandard)
super (superego, superimpose)
supra (supraorbital)
trans (transoceanic)
ultra (ultraconservative)
un (unenthusiastic)
under (underfunded)

Use this form:

$5 million to $10 million, not $5-10 million

5,000 to 10,000, not 5-10,000

religions     Anglicanism (Anglican)
Baptist Church (Baptist)
Buddhism (Buddhist)
Catholicism (Catholic)
Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Scientist)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints (Mormon)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Hinduism (Hindu)
Islam (Muslim)
Judaism (Jew)
Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church)
Protestantism (Protestant)
Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Roman Catholicism (Roman Catholic)
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Shiism (Shiite)
Shintoism (Shintoist)
Sunnism (Sunni)
Taoism (Taoist)
United Methodist Church (Methodist)
religious holidays     Please use the following spellings:
Ash Wednesday
Christmas (and Christmastime)
Good Friday
Holy Week
Rosh Hashana
Yom Kippur

Abbreviate place names and the names of saints:

St. Paul, Minn.; St. John’s Newfoundland; St. Christopher

Saint John, New Brunswick;
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

schools and years  

For external use:

“Jones, a 1965 graduate of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke …

For internal use, preferably only when needed to identify several individuals by degree on first reference, it’s OK to use degree abbreviations and graduation year, set off by commas:

Jane Smith, B.A.’22, spent four years …
Will Clark, LL.D.’15, represented …
Brock Purdy, ‘T15, is getting married.

Scot, Scots, Scottish, Scotch   A Scot is a native of Scotland.
Scots are the people of Scotland.
Scottish modifies someone or something from Scotland.
Scotch is a type of whiskey.
When the two words are used together they are spelled Scotch whisky.
states, names of  

AP style in recent years changed guidelines for state names — do not abbreviate except in lists and political party affiliation:

She’s from Raleigh, North Carolina.

The winners are from:
Nashville, Tenn.
Santa Clara, Calif.
Durham, N.C.

The following states are never abbreviated:

Put a comma between the city and state name, and another comma after the state name, unless it ends a sentence:

Reynolds Price was born in Macon, North Carolina, and graduated from Duke in 1955.

State abbreviations are:

that, which  

That introduces clauses essential to the meaning of a sentence (and never set off by commas).

Duke is the university that James B. Duke founded.

Which introduces nonessential clauses (always set off by commas).

Duke University, which James B. Duke founded, is in Durham, N.C.

time element  

In external news releases, use the day of the week, not “today,” even if the event takes place the day the release is sent out:

President Vincent E. Price announced Wednesday …

titles of books, movies, plays, etc.  

Put quotation marks around the titles of books, movies, operas, plays, poems, songs, television programs and works of art. Capitalize the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.).

Lowercase definite and indefinite articles, coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor) and prepositions.

“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”

“It Happened One Night”


“The Marriage of Figaro”

“Death of a Salesman”


The Bible, the Koran, the Torah,

Reference books, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.

Encyclopedia Britannica

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Books, newspapers, journals, etc.

Names of newspapers, journals or magazines do not take quotation marks and are not italicized. (Note: “The” may or may not be part of a paper’s name. Check each publication to be sure. Websites are a good source.)

USA Today

The News & Observer

The New York Times



U.S. News (with a space) was formerly U.S.News & World Report (no space). Its website is www.usnews.com.


The following words are trademarks:

Ace Bandage



Scotch Tape

Seeing-Eye dog





Xerox (never used as a verb)

The following are generic:





pingpong (unless referring to the table tennis equipment made by Ping-Pong)


thermos (unless referring to the vacuum bottle made by Thermos)


(When in doubt, try typing the word into a search engine window. Trademarks often have websites, e.g., www.velcro.com.

who, whom  

Who refers to the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase.

The students who worked with tutors got high grades.

Whom refers to the object of a verb or preposition.

The students whom the tutors helped got high grades.

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