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Birkbeck Style Guide

This style guide provides guidance and support for all staff who work with words and have to convey information to people outside of Birkbeck, both online and in print.

The guide includes practical tips on how to write well and how to write for the web, as well as the nitty-gritty of grammar and punctuation. 

The ultimate aims of this style guide are twofold: to develop a consistent, recognisable and welcoming tone and style across Birkbeck's publications; and to make staff feel guided and supported when they are writing. 

For help on tone of voice, read our guidelines

Help, advice and guidance 

  • If you can't find something in this style guide, or you would like help with creating content for the web or print, please contact one of Birkbeck's content editors: 
  • Dictionaries: there are a number of reputable UK dictionaries available in print and online, including the Oxford English Dictionary, the Cambridge English Dictionary and the Chambers Dictionary. 
  • Spellchecking: Microsoft Word and other Office software come with inbuilt spellchecking tools. Those editing web pages might consider using Grammarly, a free online tool. 

How to write well for a general audience 

  • Academic writing is usually produced for a specific audience of informed readers or specialists, whereas general writing is aimed at a far larger, more diverse audience, including prospective and current students, colleagues, external partners and the public. 
  • So, it's important that writing produced for Birkbeck's many audiences is simple, clear and comprehensible. 
  • Our writing should be readily understandable: we are an open, welcoming university, with a mission to make education and knowledge accessible to the many. 
  • Here are some tips for writing well for a general audience: 
    • Grammar, punctuation and spelling: Polished writing, free of spelling mistakes or errors of grammar and punctuation, is easy to read, sounds authoritative and instils confidence. Our online and print publications should adhere to the highest standards of writing. If you need help or are unsure, it's useful to ask somebody else to read and check your writing. 
    • Intelligent language and well-constructed sentences: Use well-honed language that feels authentic to, and appropriate for, a world-class university. 
    • Tone of voice: Adopt an approachable and welcoming tone that is also confident and authoritative. Get more help with tone of voice
    • Be direct: Use pronouns such as 'you', 'your' and 'yours', and 'we', 'our' and 'ours', rather than less warm terms like 'student' and 'students'. 
    • Use the active voice: In a sentence written in the active voice, a person performs the action of the verb. The passive voice can sound formal, vague and weak, whereas the active voice sounds clear, engaging and direct. If you're unsure, the Microsoft Word spellcheck can highlight passive sentences for you. 
      • Active voice: 'The professor gave the lecture'; 'We'll reply as soon as we can'; 'We've read your application'. 
      • Passive voice: 'The lecture was given by the professor'; 'Your letter will be replied to in due course'; 'Your application was received'. 
    • Avoid using humour, slang or colloquial language: Birkbeck's audience is international and some forms of humour don't travel well.
    • Avoid doubtful, discouraging or negative language: While we shouldn't make false promises, we should try to avoid language that might put people off or make them doubt our reputation (e.g. words such as 'should', 'could', 'might' or 'aim to'). 
    • Cliché, jargon and 'university speak': Try to write in plain English that is straightforward, clear and understandable to non-experts. Technical or academic language is sometimes necessary, but readers favour more accessible, everyday language. Rather than make broad, unsubstantiated claims, or fall back on tired concepts and words, try to use facts, examples or stories to convey Birkbeck's reputation, quality and achievements. 

How to write well for the web 

  • Users never read every word on a page - they skim for important information and helpful links. (You're probably skim-reading this style guide right now.) Research shows that, on average, people read 20% of what's on a web page
  • So, your content has to be useful, concise and direct. 
  • Arrange content that is easy to browse and speaks directly to the user: use short sentences and paragraphs, use bullet points, and include helpful calls to action. Read more about creating relevant, embedded links on the Birkbeck website
  • How to plan online content: 
    • Who are you writing for? 
    • What do they need to know? 
    • What do you want the user to do? (click a link, make an application, sign up, download) 
    • Does this information already exist on the Birkbeck website? If yes, link to it, don't duplicate it. 
  • How to structure and write web content: 
    • Focus on the user: What the user wants is what matters, so keep their needs foremost when writing. 
    • Include a call to action: A call to action is an instruction to the user, often with a hyperlink, such as 'Read more', 'Find out more' 'Contact us', 'Apply now', 'Order a prospectus'. A clear call to action encourages the user to interact with the website and with Birkbeck more deeply. 
    • Get to the point: Tell users what they need to know ASAP. Avoid preamble and expository text and don't save key information until the end - put the most important information first. 
    • Keep it short: Write short sentences and paragraphs. Ideally, a sentence should contain one or two ideas and be no more than 25 words or three lines long. Aim for one to three sentences per paragraph. 
    • Break up text: Chop your content into short blocks of text. If you are copying printed text onto a web page, you should aim to reduce the extent by 50-75%. 
    • Make it easy to scan: Help users find the information they need by using: 
      • headings 
      • sub-headings 
      • bullet point lists. 
    • Be consistent: Use consistent language, tone and layout. 
    • Use plain, everyday language: Use words sparingly and precisely and try to avoid jargon or overly specialist, technical or academic language. Even academics and specialists prefer plain English when using the Web.  
    • Be direct: Use 'you' rather than 'students', and 'we' rather than 'Birkbeck' or 'the College'. 
    • Avoid caps and underlining: CAPITAL LETTERS suggest you are shouting and underlining suggests a link to another page. Use bold, but only if you really have to - you don't want to come across as bossy or impatient. 
    • Avoid duplication: Don't repeat (i.e. copy and paste) the same information across different pages. It's important for search engine optimisation (see below) that content is unique. 
    • Links: Never use the phrase 'Click here' for a link - write a full, descriptive sentence, such as 'Read more about our online course listings' or 'Download our undergraduate prospectus'. This is very important for software that reads web pages aloud for users with visual impairments. Read more about creating relevant, embedded links on the Birkbeck website
    • Check your writing: Check your spelling, punctuation and links, or ask somebody else to check your writing. 

Describing your course online 

  • Every course that Birkbeck offers can be found in our online prospectus
  • This is, by far, the most visited area of the entire Birkbeck website. 
  • Your course page is often the initial point of contact between a prospective student and Birkbeck. The average time spent on the homepage is just over one second but visitors spend on average three to four minutes on our course listings. 
  • The golden rules:  
    • write confidently and enthusiastically 
    • write in plain English 
    • don't use jargon or cliche 
    • keep your text short, simple and direct 
    • address your reader directly - 'you' and 'your' (not 'student') 
    • write in the active, not the passive voice 
    • check your spelling, grammar and punctuation 
    • make sure it's accurate - your course page must match an ASQ-approved programme spec
  • Here are some writing tips for two of the most important online prospectus fields: the Programme Overview and the Highlights field. 
  • Programme Overview field 
    • Really try to grab the reader's attention by emphasising what is interesting and exciting about your course. 
    • Focus on the positives: 
      • 'improve your skills' 
      • 'deepen your knowledge' 
      • 'change career' 
      • 'make yourself more employable' 
      • 'progress onto' 
      • 'build your confidence'. 
    • Write no more than four short paragraphs. 
    • Include important keywords.  
    • Avoid waffle, repetition and duplication - get straight to the point. 
    • Avoid vague words and phrases, like 'aim to', 'might', 'should', 'could', etc. 
    • Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. 
    • Use other fields, where appropriate - Teaching, Assessment, Course Structure, Careers and Employability, Entry Requirements, etc. 
    • Overused, vague and cliched words you may wish to avoid: 
      • 'develop' 
      • 'equip' (use 'learn' or 'discover') 
      • 'innovative' 
      • 'programme' (use 'course') 
      • 'unique'. 
  • Highlights field: 
    • There should be six bullet points at most, covering: 
      • what's great about your course 
      • top-level information about your school/department, with links  
      • research in your school/department, including relevant research centres, research projects and REF results, with links 
      • other external statements or rankings - THE, NNS, etc 
      • professional bodies that recognise this course 
      • specialist libraries and resources, with links. 

Search engine optimisation (SEO) 

  • A search engine is anything that searches the World Wide Web for you. Google is the biggest and most famous search engine in the world: you type in a word, phrase or question and Google searches all of the Web for you, returning what it considers the best results for you. 
  • 'Search engine optimisation' (SEO) means changing the structure, content and layout of your web page to ensure that Google and other search engines return it in relation to relevant keywords in their Web search results. This means more people will see your website when they search Google and other search engines and may be more likely to click through to your website. 
  • 'Coming number one in Google' - i.e. being the first result returned for a search - is entirely determined by Google's algorithms. You can do a lot to improve your page and ensure your page is returned more highly for search, but coming first can never be guaranteed - your page is in competition with millions and millions of others. 
  • When you search Google, the search results page will include two types of result: organic and paid. Organic search results are what Google deems the most relevant results for your query, location and previous search history. Ranking highly in the organic results is the purpose of SEO. 
  • Paid search results are basically advertisements: a website pays Google for certain keywords, so their web pages show up prominently when someone searches for those keywords. Paid results are often visually different and sit above or to the right of organic results. 
  • How to optimise your content for search: 
    • Write well: write good-quality, user-focused content - don't  try to write for a search engine.
    • Create unique, rich content: as well as quality text, include videos and images where possible. 
    • Use clear, descriptive titles and headings: make sure that the URL or web address of the page, the page title and the main headings contain important keywords that relate to the topic(s) you are writing about. 
    • Tag audio-visual material: provide a transcript of video and audio content (a caption underneath and ALT tags), if possible, as this makes the content visible to search engines. 
    • Keywords: these are the words and synonyms people have searched for to find your course (see below). 
    • Links: include links to pages on high-quality, relevant websites. Check there are no broken links and remove documents that are out-of-date. Read our guidelines for unpublishing and removing out-of-date documents


  • These are words and phrases associated with your page. Ideally, people searching for those terms will be able to find your page. 
  • There are a number of tools you can use to research keywords and see which are the most popular and relevant. Firstly, you can just search Google, see who ranks highly for your specific keywords and then check their page to see how they've used those keywords in the title, headings and content. 
    • Another nifty tool is Google Trends, which is free and easy to use: you simply type in keywords or phrases and Trends will show you how popular they have been in search since 2004. You can also compare words and phrases against one another, to see which are more popular and which are increasing or declining in popularity. 
    • Another, more professional tool is Google Adwords - Keyword Planner, which shows you the most popular keywords and how much Google charges for each keyword for pay-per-click (i.e. the more popular a keyword, the more expensive it is). You will need a Google account. 
  • How to use keywords: 
    • Use keywords in the page title: make sure the most important keywords are in the title of your page. 
    • Use keywords in headings: make sure the headings and subheadings on your page also contain important keywords. 
    • Use keywords in context: don't randomly drop them into sentences or pointlessly pepper the text with them. Use them in the context of well-written, user-focused content. 
    • Use keywords near the top of the page: Google prioritises content from the top of the page down. 
    • Avoid over repeating keywords: use keywords at the top of the page and two or three times in the body of the page.  

House style 

These are the specific style rules, in alphabetical order, for writing digital and printed content at Birkbeck. 

Abbreviations, Acronyms, Contractions and initialisations 

  • An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word, which includes letters from the word, such as am, pm, cm and km. 
    • Common abbreviations we use at Birkbeck are BA/BSc (Bachelor of Arts/Science), LLB/LLM (Bachelor/Master of Laws) and MA/MSc (Master of Arts/Science). 
    • Abbreviations should be written with no full stops or spaces between the letters. 
  • An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from the first letters of other words, such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). 
    • Acronyms should be written in capital letters, with no full stops or spaces between the letters. 
    • If an acronym isn't widely known, spell it out in full the first time, with the acronym following in brackets - you can just refer to the acronym thereafter. 
  • A contraction is a shortened form of a word or a group of words, such as 'don't (do not)', 'you're (you are)', 'let's (let us)', 'we'd (we would like)' and 'can't (can not)'. 
    • Contractions are a more conversational mode of writing, so they are considered unsuitable for formal writing, such as essays and reports, but they are useful for writing online as they convey a relaxed, informal tone. 
  • An initialisation is formed from the first letters of other words, such as BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). At Birkbeck, we particularly use initialisations for the titles of research institutes and centres. 
    • Initialisations should be written in capital letters, with no full stops or spaces between the letters. 
    • If an initialisation isn't widely known, spell it out in full the first time, with the initialisation following in brackets (e.g. 'The Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities (BIH) was established to promote the humanities. The BIH is based in the School of Arts.'). 


  • Try to avoid terms that imply a judgement about the worth of older people, such as 'the elderly', 'pensioners' and 'senior citizens'. 'Older people' is generally accepted. 


  • When referring to the Professional Services Department, capitalise (eg Alumni). When referring to students who have graduated from Birkbeck, it is usually easier to simply use 'graduates' or 'alumni'. 
  • Otherwise, remember that: 
    • 'alumnus' means one male graduate 
    • 'alumna' means one female graduate 
    • 'alumni' means a mixed or all-male group of graduates 
    • 'alumnae' means an all-female group of graduates.  


  • Only use an ampersand (&) if it is part of the formal title of a publication, organisation or company, or if you have limited space and can only fit in an ampersand. Otherwise, spell out the word 'and'.

Arcane language 

  • Avoid using out-of-date or uncommon words, especially 'amongst' and 'whilst' - use 'among' and 'while' instead. 

Article titles 

  • Capitalise the first letter of all words within the title, except articles (a/an/the), prepositions (to/on/for, etc) and conjunctions (but/and/or, etc). Article titles should be placed in single speech marks ('Victorian Stage Adaptations'), with any quotes within the title in double speech marks ('"May We Meet Again": Rereading the Dickensian Serial in the Digital Age'). 
  • For journal titles, capitalise the first letter of all words within the title, except articles (a/an/the), prepositions (to/on/for, etc) and conjunctions (but/and/or, etc). Journal titles should be italicised (Journal of Victorian Literature and Culture). 

Bibliographic referencing styles 

  • Many different bibliographic styles are used by scholars and students across Birkbeck:
    • the American Psychological Association (APA)
    • the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA)
    • the Modern Language Association (MLA)
    • Chicago
    • Harvard. 
  • Different subject areas usually endorse a particular style (e.g. MHRA style is the standard across many arts subjects, while Harvard is the standard across many social sciences). Check with your department which referencing system they recommend and follow the specific guidelines for that. Otherwise, see individual headings for details on how to reference books, chapters, journals, etc. 


  • Use bold to emphasise text, especially for a name, a call to action, a deadline date or another key piece of information, but use it sparingly. Bold is the primary form of emphasis for online writing. 

Book/journal/film/song titles 

  • Capitalise the first letter of all words within the title, except articles (a/an/the), prepositions (to/on/for, etc) and conjunctions (but/and/or, etc). 
  • Book and film titles should be italicised (Bleak House, Thelma and Louise) and songs should be placed in single speech marks ('Like a Prayer'). 


  • Use a minimum of capital letters, except for the titles of books and journals, chapter and article titles and qualifications. 
  • Birkbeck: capitalise College when referring to Birkbeck directly (e.g. the College was founded in 1823), but use lowercase when referring to Birkbeck indirectly (e.g. Birkbeck is a college of the University of London). 
  • Chapter titles: capitalise the first letter of all words within the title, except articles (a/an/the), prepositions (to/on/for, etc) and conjunctions (but/and/or, etc). Chapter titles should be placed in single speech marks ('Victorian Stage Adaptations'), with any quotes within the title in double speech marks ('"May We Meet Again": Rereading the Dickensian Serial in the Digital Age').
  • Emphasis: do not use CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis - use bold instead. 
  • Job titles: specific job titles at Birkbeck should be capitalised: Master; Programme Director; Programme Administrator. 
  • Level: when referring to a level of study, capitalise Level (e.g. 'You study two modules at Level Four'). 
  • Schools and departments: the title of a school or department should always be capitalised when written in full (e.g. Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication; School of Business, Economics and Informatics). 
    • If you are referring to a specific department or school in your text, you should capitalise Department and School (e.g. 'Academics in our School… 'Our Department is ...'), but don't capitalise for general or indirect references (e.g. 'Birkbeck has five schools in total'). 
    • When mixing references with our schools and primary and secondary schools, capitalise our schools (e.g. 'Birkbeck's Schools are working with a local primary school').
  • Subjects and degrees: do not use capital letters for subjects, other than when part of a formal degree title (e.g. If you want to study history at undergraduate level, our BA History is ideal). 
  • Year: when referring to a year of study, capitalise Year and use a numeral (eg 'You study four modules in Year 1'). 

Colons and semi-colons 

  • Colons (:) and semi-colons (;) can be confusing to use, so avoid them if you are unsure. 
  • A colon (:) is used in the following ways: 
    • to introduce a list of items in a sentence or as bullet points (e.g. 'Birkbeck has three departments in its School of Science: Biological Sciences; Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Psychological Sciences') 
    • between two independent parts of a sentence, in which the second part explains or illustrates the first - a good rule of thumb is to consider if the colon can be replaced by the word 'namely' (e.g. 'Birkbeck is a research-active university: 90% of our academics are active researchers')  
    • for emphasis at the end of a sentence, although you can also use a short dash or en-dash for this (e.g. 'That's why studying at Birkbeck is both intense and enjoyable - and why it transforms people's lives'). 
  • A semi-colon (;) is used in the following ways: 
    • to separate items in a list in a sentence (e.g. 'Birkbeck has three departments in its School of Science: Biological Sciences; Earth and Planetary Sciences; and Psychological Sciences') 
    • to connect closely related ideas in two independent parts of a sentence, where a comma would be too weak and a full stop would be too strong (e.g. 'Your fellow students will also understand the competing demands on your time; many will be going through the same thing') 
    • with a connecting word that links sentences, such as 'besides', 'however', 'otherwise', 'nevertheless', 'therefore' and 'thus' (e.g. 'Submission deadlines are very strict; however, you can apply for an extension') 
    • as a stronger division in a sentence that already contains a lot of commas. 


  • A comma (,) is used in the following ways: 
    • to separate the items in a list (e.g. 'You can study on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.') 
    • to mark out a part of a sentence that cannot stand alone, as it is an incomplete thought (e.g. 'Birkbeck Library, which is in the main building on Malet Street, is open every day during exam season.') 
    • before a connecting word that brings together two independent clauses in a sentence, such as 'but', 'for', 'or', 'nor', 'so', 'yet'  (e.g. 'This course doesn't have any formal entry requirements, but you will need to be fluent in English'). 
    • after a dependent clause that starts a sentence (e.g. 'Based on your previous educational experience or qualifications, you can start at the level that's right for you.')  
    • after using an adverb at the start of a sentence ('Finally, our new website has gone live.') 
  • Try to avoid using the Oxford or serial comma, which is a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before 'and' or 'or' (e.g. 'You can study on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday'). If the sentence is unclear without an Oxford or serial comma, then try rephrasing it, but use one if it adds clarity to a list or sentence (e.g. if any of the list items comprises two items - Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday). 

Course titles 

  • Course titles should be capitalised (e.g. BSc Structural Molecular Biology), but subjects shouldn't be capitalised in other contexts (e.g. Birkbeck has been teaching psychology since 1939). 
  • The word 'course' is preferable for an external, general audience, especially for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) purposes ('course' is far and away the most popular term used when people are looking for a university), whereas 'programme' should only be used for internal audiences. 


  • Full-time and part-time are always hyphenated. 
  • These are the three main types of hyphen
    • The short dash or hyphen (-) this is used for date ranges online (1990-99) and compound phrases (such as nineteenth-century history or part-time course). Please always use a short dash for hyphenation of all types online, including date ranges and sentence subclauses. 
    • The en dash (–) this is double the length of a short dash and it is used in printed publications for date ranges and in sentences for subclauses. 
    • The em dash (—) this is double the length of an en dash. Do not use this dash. Some bibliographic styles recommend duplicating it when it appears in primary sources - check with your department if you are unsure. 
  • Hyphenating adjectives and adverbs: in a compound phrase, it is useful to hyphenate a modifier (adjective or adverb) for clarity - e.g. part-time study, nineteenth-century history - but you should never hyphenate an adverb ending in -ly, as there is no risk of ambiguity or confusion - e.g. fully funded studentships. 


  • Dates: use the format: day/month/year, The name of the month and the year should always appear in full (e.g. 12 January 2017). Do not use 'th' 'rd' with dates, just the number and the month (e.g. 10 May). Do not use a comma after the day (e.g. Monday, 3 May). 

Degree titles

  • Master's and Bachelor's are capitalised when referring to a specific degree course (e.g. Our Master's in Computing) and lower-case for general references (our master's degrees). They both always have a possessive apostrophe (') before the s. 
  • Don't use full stops in degree acronyms (e.g. BA, not B.A.). 
  • When referring to a specific course type, use capitals (e.g. Foundation Degree in Management), but use lowercase when non-specific (e.g. 'our range of certificates of higher education'). 

Department and school titles

  • The title of a school or department (including Professional Services departments) should always be capitalised when written in full (e.g. External Relations, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, School of Business, Economics and Informatics). 
  • If you are referring to a specific department or school in your text, you should capitalise Department and School (e.g. 'Academics in our School… 'Our Department is ...'), but don't capitalise for general references (e.g. 'Birkbeck has five schools in total'). When mixing references with our schools and primary and secondary schools, capitalise our schools (e.g. 'Birkbeck's Schools are working with a local primary school').
  • Try to refer to your department and school using 'we', 'our' and 'us' to make your writing more friendly and engaging.

Ethnicity and cultural and religious difference 

  • Birkbeck is very proud of the ethnic and international diversity of its students and staff, which reflects London's status as a world city. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BME or BAME) people are a substantial proportion of our student population. 
  • People from ethnic, cultural and religious minorities in the UK should never be presented using stereotyped, discriminatory or judgmental language, or as exemptions from the norm. 
  • The term 'Black people' (with a capitalised B) generally refers either to people of African or Afro-Caribbean origin or heritage. If you need to refer to wider groups of people, use the term Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BME or BAME). 
  • Avoid using the terms 'immigrant(s)' or 'asylum seeker(s)', except in very specific circumstances (e.g. in relation to Birkbeck's Compass Project). Never use the terms 'non-white' and 'coloured'.  


  • Birkbeck is constantly striving for sex/gender equality and ours is an open, welcoming and inclusive community for everybody, no matter their sex/gender identity. 
  • We aim to embed gender equality across our newly developed web pages, as this forms a basic benchmark for our web content. 
  • Please try to demonstrate gender balance in the images you use - don't allow images of one gender to proliferate at the expense of another. 
  • Try to avoid using gender binary language, including 'she/he', 'her/him', 'hers/his'. 
  • Address the reader directly as 'you' and use the third person plural - 'they', 'their' and 'them' - even if you are writing in the third person singular (e.g. Every student must submit their coursework by the end of term)
  • Avoid using gender to modify nouns - 'female professor', 'male nurse' - and gender stereotypes, such as 'working mother' and 'housewife'. 
  • Avoid gender marking in job titles: actress, comedienne, hostess, manageress, stewardess (feminine forms) or fireman, chairman, policeman (masculine forms) - use, rather, actor, comedian, firefighter, chairperson, police officer, etc, regardless of the gender of the person. 
  • People with different, variant or fluid sex/gender identities should always be written about with sensitivity, tact and respect. 
  • Note the important differences between transvestite, transsexual, transgender and intersex people - don't use the terms interchangeably
  • Also be aware and respectful of non-binary pronouns and titles (e.g. Mx, hir). 


  • Italics should be used very sparingly; they are generally only used for book, journal and publication titles, or for non-English words and phrases that are not in common usage. 
  • Reading italics on screen is particularly tiring for eyes. If you wish to emphasise a word or phrase, use bold instead. 


  • For a list of items in a sentence, use a colon to open the list and commas or semi-colons to separate each item on the list. Use commas if the list comprises single items (e.g. You can study a range of subjects: archaeology, classics, history, and international relations). Use semi-colons if the list comprises more complicated items (e.g. You can choose to wear: red and blue; green and yellow; pink; or pink, purple and orange.) 
  • Bullet points make it easy for a reader to locate important information and they are especially used to format and present information on a web page. Bullet points can be presented as a list, as full sentences or as incomplete sentences (fragments). Choose one of these styles and be consistent - don't use a mixture. 
    • Lists that are part of a sentence: don't capitalise any word in the list, don't use semicolons and use a full stop after the final bullet point e.g. Our department offers courses in: 
      • archaeology 
      • classics 
      • history.
    • Lists that are not part of a sentence: capitalise each word in the list and don't use full stops e.g. 
      • Central London 
      • Stratford 
      • Other 
    • Full sentences: capitalise the first word of, and use a full stop after, every bullet point e.g. 
      • We offer a range of free evenings and services, designed to help you in your application and transition to Birkbeck. 
      • Our monthly Get Started workshops cover finance, funding and loans, preparing for study, and making an application.
      • At our campus in Stratford, we offer a free advice and guidance service in partnership with the University of East London (UEL). 
    • Fragments: the text introducing the list of bullet points should end with a colon. Do not capitalise the first word of the bullet points, do not use punctuation (comma, semicolon) at the end of the fragments and use a full stop after the final bullet point e.g. At Open Evening, you can meet: 
      • lecturers and find out more about the courses they teach 
      • former students and hear how they advanced their careers 
      • special advisers to discuss fees and finance 
      • career specialist for advice on careers and employability. 


  • The titles of modules should be capitalised when referred to in full (e.g. You take Approaches to Language in your first term). 
  • The word modules itself is not capitalised and neither are the types of module (e.g. compulsory modules, core modules). Refer to option - rather than optional - modules (e.g. You can choose from a wide range of option modules).

Name of Birkbeck 

  • Our official title is 'Birkbeck, University of London'. 
  • Never refer to 'Birkbeck university' or 'the university of Birkbeck'. 
  • Please try not to refer to 'Birkbeck College', although you can refer to 'the College'. 
  • College is always capitalised (e.g. the College is pleased to announce…).  

Numbers (centuries, Roman numerals, percentages) 

  • Numbers one to nine should be written out in words (one, two, three, nine) while any numbers from 10 onwards should be written as numerals (10, 20, 47, 100, 1000). There are two main exceptions:
    • For design purposes and for reasons of space, it may sometimes be necessary to use numerals rather than spell out the number (e.g. our print prospectuses use numerals for the duration of our courses: 3-year full-time course, 2-year part-time course).
    • If the number is the first word in a sentence, it should always be written out.
  • In print, use an en dash for a number range (e.g. 10–12). Online, use a hyphen (e.g. 10-12). 
  • Academic years: Academic years should be expressed as '2020-21'. In print, use an en dash for a date range (e.g. 2020–21). Online, use a hyphen (e.g. 2020-21).
  • Centuries: The names of centuries should be written out in full and they should be hyphenated if used adjectively: eighteenth century (not 18th century or C18th) and eighteenth-century culture (adjectival use). For design purposes and for reasons of space, it may sometimes be necessary to use numerals rather than spell out numbers. 
  • Currency: These should always be written in numerals, preceded by the appropriate symbol. Render millions with m and billions with b (e.g. £15, $400m).
  • Decades: Do not use a possessive apostrophe before or after decades (e.g. 60s, not 60's or '60s). 
  • Eras: Different subjects have different conventions when it comes to using BC/AD (Before Christ/Anno Domini) or BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era), so you should use whichever is appropriate to your subject or your writing. 
  • Measurements: These should always be written in numerals, following by the appropriate symbol (e.g. 10cm, 500km), with no spaces between the number and symbol. 
  • Ordinals: Spell these out for numbers from one-nine (e.g. first, second, ninth) and then use numerals for ordinals over 10 (e.g. 10th, 50th, 73rd). 
  • Percentages: These should always be written in numerals, following by the percentage symbol (e.g. 10%, 99%), with no spaces between the number and symbol. 
  • Roman numerals: Avoid using Roman numerals (IV, VIII, X, C, M), unless they are part of the title of a publication or are used by a journal to differentiate between volumes. Please use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) wherever possible. 
  • Thousands: Do not use a comma unless there are five digits or more (e.g. 3000, 12,000).   

Page references 

  • Page references should be abbreviated to p (page) or pp (pages) and you should always use numerals. Page ranges should be separated by an en dash in print and a short dash/hyphen online (eg pp1–10 [in print] or pp1-10 [online]). 

Phone numbers 

  • Use spaces between the different parts of a phone number: international code, area code and phone number (eg 020 7380 3171). Bracket the 0 when including the international dialling code (eg +44 (0)20 7380 3171). Mobile numbers follow the same format (eg 07778 778 874). 
  • For non London phone numbers, do not split out the last six digits. (eg +44 (0)1223 734759)


  • Always spell out the word professor - don't use the contraction Prof. 
  • Capitalise professor when referring to a specific person (eg Professor Jones has written extensively on…), but use lowercase when using a generic reference (eg there are several professors working in this field). 

Quotation marks 

  • Use single quotations marks ('), not double (").  The only exceptions are: 
    • Birkbeck news stories that are directly quoting 
    • design purposes, where a double quotation mark may stand out more. 


  • Try to avoid using quotes as endorsements on our website, whether from a student, an academic or an expert - eg 'Our student Joe Bloggs said, "This course is fantastic and I recommend it to all my friends"'. 
  • Statements, stories and examples have a much stronger impact, and many quotes can be easily repurposed as such. 

School and department titles

  • The title of a school or department should always be capitalised when written in full (eg Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication; School of Business, Economics and Informatics). 
  • If you are referring to a specific department or school in your text, you should capitalise Department and School (eg 'Academics in our School… 'Our Department is ...'), but don't capitalise for general references (eg 'Birkbeck has five schools in total'). 

Sexual orientation

  • Birkbeck is proud of the diversity of its staff and student body and we welcome people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer to our community. 
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people should never be described using language that demeans, discriminates, stereotypes or sensationalises them. They should not be presented as abnormal, wrong, immoral, or as an illness or problem. 
  • Outside of scholarly or historical work, try to avoid the word 'homosexual', as this has fallen out of general usage and has negative connotations. 
  • Be aware of the different acronyms in use for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer community (LGBTQ+) and use the most appropriate in the context. 

Small caps

  • Do not use small caps, even for BC, AD, BCE and CE.


  • Use the suffixes -ise/-yse/-isation (not -ize/-yze/-ization), as this is common British usage. The only exception at Birkbeck is the Department of Organizational Psychology, which has adopted the -ization ending to reflect the subject's origins in the United States. 
  • Use 'programme' when referring to a course of study (although 'course' is preferable for a general audience) and 'program' to refer to a computer program.
  • Adviser, not advisor.
  • The following words should be spelt as one word, with no hyphen: 
    • ebook 
    • ejournal 
    • elibrary 
    • email 
    • helpdesk 
    • interlibrary 
    • lowercase 
    • uppercase. 

Split infinitives 

  • An infinitive is the simplest form of a verb (a doing/action word) with the word 'to' in front of it: 'to run', 'to laugh', 'to jump', 'to study', etc.
  • A split infinitive happens when you put an adverb (a word that modifies a verb and often ends in -ly), between 'to' and the verb, in order to modify the verb (eg 'To boldly go' is a split infinitive, whereas 'To go boldly' isn't).
  • Split infinitives are absolutely fine, especially if: 
    • changing the word order would substantially alter the meaning of the sentence 
    • they make the sentence easier or more elegant to read. 


  • Time: use the 12-hour clock, separate the numerals with a full stop and follow the numerals with am or pm, without full stops between the letters and no space between the numeral and the am/pm (e.g. The lecture starts at 11.30am).
  • When expressing time ranges, eliminate duplication and redundancy (e.g. 5-6.30pm, and not 5.00pm-6.30pm).
  • Year: when referring to a year of study, capitalise Year and use a numeral (e.g. 'In Year 1, you will study four modules'). 


  • Avoid underlining words or phrases for emphasis, especially online, as, for most users, this indicates a hyperlink to another page - use bold instead. 


  • 'Website' is one word, but 'web page' is two words. 
  • 'Web' should not be capitalised (eg 'when using the web')
  • Don't use 'http://www' when writing web addresses (eg, unless the address won't work without this prefix when typed into a browser. 
  • Use 'log in' as a verb and 'log-in' as an adjective and a noun (eg 'You should log in when prompted.' 'You need to complete a log-in form.') 
  • Use 'back up' as a verb and 'back-up' as an adjective and a noun (eg 'You need to regularly back up your work on a computer.' 'Follow the back-up instructions.')