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Guidance on Preparing Documents for the Secretary Style Guidelines for Official Correspondence Writing Basics Use of Specialized Terms, Abbreviations, and Acronyms On-line Writing Resources
Composition Frequently Misused Words Grammar Punctuation Style


Use an apostrophe and the letter s to form a possessive noun. Do not use 's to form the plural of an abbreviation or number.

We will issue many RFPs this year.

The size 10s and 12s are on the rack.

Some acronyms are inherently plural or may be either singular or plural. MIS may be singular (management information system) or plural (management information systems).

An MIS is being installed in the Office of the Director.

Several MIS are already installed elsewhere on campus.


In the past, it was the rule always to insert a comma (called the serial comma) before and or or in a series of more than two elements.

red, white, and green

from the South, from the North, or from the West

Some style manuals now sanction the omission of the serial comma.

red, white and green

from the South, from the North or from the West

If you opt to eliminate the serial comma, you must be consistent in that usage, except in certain cases where the serial comma is needed to avoid ambiguity.

Use a comma before the conjunction in a compound sentence but not in a sentence with a compound predicate.

He arrived early, but the party had already begun.

He arrived early but waited outside.

Place the comma inside any accompanying quotation marks.

"That is correct," he stated.

Items labeled "1," "2," and "3" are to be deleted.

Use a comma after a complete date and after the city and state in a sentence.

The first meeting will be held on April 3, 2003, in Bethesda.

The second meeting will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, next year.

Do not use a comma when only the month and year are given or when only a city or state is mentioned.

The first meeting will be held in April 2003 in Bethesda.

The second meeting will be held in Chicago in September.

The third meeting will be held in Utah in December

Use a comma before (and after) Jr., M.D., Ph.D., etc., but not before II, III, IV, etc.

John Jones, Jr., chaired the meeting.

Henry Jones III presented his findings.


In general, do not use a comma between two nouns that modify each other.

The musical comedy "Rio Rita" is sold out.

The meeting "Toxic Effects of Water" has been canceled.


Use an ellipsis (...) to indicate when words have been omitted within a quotation. To avoid any chance of having an ellipsis split between two lines by a word processor's automatic return feature, do not leave spaces between the three dots but do leave a space on each end of the ellipsis:

In his speech at Gettysburg, Lincoln said, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation ... dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

In general, words omitted in an ellipsis should be from within a single sentence, so that the sense of the original language is not lost.

If you are omitting words from the end of a quoted sentence, include the period, marking the end of the sentence, as a fourth dot in the ellipsis. In this case, do not leave a space before the ellipsis.

Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech begins, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation...."


Review the guidance on when to hyphenate compound words.

In text, no more than two successive lines should end with a hyphen; no more than three lines in a paragraph should end in a hyphen. Neither the first line of a paragraph nor the last line of a page should end in a hyphen. The easiest way to avoid problems with end-of-line hyphenation is to divide only hyphenated compounds; divide these only at the hyphen.


Use the period consistently in honorifics (Ms., Dr., etc.) and in academic degrees (Ph.D., M.D., etc.).

Align the periods (as well as colons) accompanying numerals in a list.

I. 8. 8:30

II. 9. 10:15

III. 10. 12:15

Quotation Marks

Always place quotation marks outside periods and commas. Placement of quotation marks with question marks and exclamation points depends on whether the question or emphasis is part of the quotation.

The lecturer asked, "Are there any questions?"

What do you mean, "almost accurate"?

Always place semicolons and colons outside quotation marks.

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Last updated: April 17, 2003