The UT style guide aims to:
- help achieve consistency when writing in English on behalf of the UT or translating/editing UT-related texts;
- contribute to the professional feel of English-language UT communication.
Differently from Estonian, English has many (almost) equally acceptable "standards". Choosing and sticking to one convention leaves a better impression of the university's communication than an interchangeable use of different conventions.
The UT style guide does not intend to:
- replace grammar books or other reference materials, but refer to them as needed;
- regulate the language used for research publications. When writing academic articles, it is wise to follow the conventions of the particular journal (the style guide of the publisher);
- regulate the way UT members use English in their personal communication. Alternatives to the “UT preferences” are most often also correct, but all authors are encouraged to take care of consistency and avoid mixing the spelling and grammar conventions and variety-dependent choice of words in their writing.
Advice on reference materials
First of all, it pays off to use the spelling and grammar aids of your text processor (make sure you have chosen the intended variety of English) and writing assistants. Applications such as Grammarly have browser extensions and are also easy to use in MS Office.
If you are looking for a good freely accessible dictionary, thesaurus and grammar reference, try www.lexico.com. The European Commission's clear writing tips may help you get your message across clearly and quickly. Plenty of similar materials have been prepared by the Plain English campaign: see www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides/60-how-to-write-in-plain-english.html and www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides.html
Many UT-related terms have been listed on https://ut.ee/et/sisu/terminid. As the list is being updated, some entries may have become obsolete.
For the English names of UT units, see https://ut.ee/en/content/structure
Examples of style guides of other universities and institutions
- The name of the university is the University of Tartu (NOT Tartu University). The corresponding abbreviation is UT. In Estonian, Tartu Ülikool=TÜ. Note that the name of the university takes the definite article: "Studies at the University of Tartu" or "Students of the UT". The adjectival use is an exception: "Most UT employees have higher education".
- Abbreviations BA and MA refer to the degrees "Bachelor of Arts" and "Master of Arts", respectively, and cannot be used to speak about all bachelor's or master's degrees (or the respective curricula) in general, as would then exclude the degrees "Bachelor of Science" and "Master of Science". When in doubt about the correct abbreviation of a particular degree, see the curriculum information in the Study Information System.
- Opt for PhD as the abbreviation of the degree "Doctor of Philosophy", instead of "Ph.D."
- Use a full stop if the abbreviation consists only of the first part of a word (Prof.) or is created specifically for use in writing (fin. account holder).
- Do not use a full stop if an abbreviation consists of the first and last letters of a word: Dr, Mr, St
- When using Latin abbreviations (e.g., etc., cf.), use the full stop if Oxford does.
- Spell out "and" instead of using an ampersand (&).
British English spelling conventions are preferred in the UT (check www.lexico.com when in doubt):
- -our not -or: colour, favour
- -ce nouns, -se verbs: advice and advise
- -ogue preferred to -og: catalogue, dialogue
- study/degree/etc. programme, except for "computer program"
- anaesthetics, not anesthetics; haematology, not hematology, etc.
- in case of -ise and -ize, err on the side of -ise: analyse, not analyze (check lexico.com)
Contractions (we’ve, it's) are fine in less formal writing (guidelines, blog posts and similar web articles).
Do not use capital letters unless absolutely required. Editorial style guide of the University of Cambridge: “Use lower case as much as possible. There is a tendency for people to capitalise words unnecessarily just because they are deemed ‘important’. Resist this.“
- spring semester, not "Spring Semester": "Registration for courses of the spring semester 2019/2020 is now open."
- bachelor's degree, not "bachelor", not "bachelor degree". Use capital letter only in the official name of the degree: "She is enrolled in bachelor’s studies." vs "He holds Bachelor of Science in Gene Technology." The same applies to master's degrees and programmes (vs the official name of the degree as in "Master of Arts in Social Sciences")
- college/faculty/institute/department/office: capitalise only if it is part of the official name of the unit, not when simply referring to an institution/unit: "The Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Medicine is located in Biomedicum." vs "You can get the transcript from the dean’s office of your faculty."
- positions and titles: capitalise only when using as the formal title together with the name of the person, not when referring to the position in general. "Rector Toomas Asser" vs "The office reports to the vice rector for academic affairs", "The Rector’s Office comprises the rector, vice rectors, deans and area directors" vs "The Great Medal of the UT was awarded to Dean of the Faculty of Theology Toomas Tamm"
- internet, not Internet, when using it as a generic term: "I found it on the internet."
- euro as the currency is not capitalised: "The tuition fee is 2,000 euros per semester"
- cardinal points of a compass (north, south) are only capitalised if they are part of a title or place name: North Korea, South Carolina. Do not capitalise them as part of general descriptions: western Europe, eastern Estonia.
- headings and titles: sentence case (capitalising only the first word and proper nouns) is thought to be more easily readable than title case (capitalising all "content words"): "Dates of graduation ceremonies at faculties" vs "Dates of Graduation Ceremonies at Faculties". It is also easier to maintain consistency using sentence case as there is little agreement on which words should be capitalised in title case. Some sources draw the line depending on the status of the work and prefer title case for independent complete publications such as books (War and Peace) and sentence case for articles/lectures/etc. (Theories of developmental dyslexia: insights from a multiple case study of dyslexic adults). If you prefer to use different capitalisation for different levels (e.g. title case for 1st and 2nd-level headings and sentence case for lower levels), follow the same principles throughout the document.
- There is no need to capitalise "important" words in bylaws and agreements if it does not help to convey the meaning: "This agreement is made in two copies: one to the student and one to the university" is more easily readable than "This Agreement is made in two copies: one to the Student and one to the University".
As the majority of course titles in the UT Study Information System have been entered using title case, it is better to stick to that. For guidelines on which words to capitalise, see grammar.about.com/od/grammarfaq/f/capitalstitle.htm
Similarly, the UT has a tradition of using title case for the official titles of degree courses: master's curriculum in Software Engineering. However, if possible, do not capitalise areas of study, majors and minors: "Kevin is studying cybersecurity." or "The programme focuses on topics of financial accounting, microeconomics and statistics."
Numbers, dates and time
- Spell out numbers until ten, except when there are lots of figures in a paragraph (then prefer figures). The same applies to ordinal numbers: eighth vs 18th. Exception: if a sentence starts with a larger number, it is good to spell it out: “Fifty students were admitted to the new programme”.
- For large numbers, use a combination of a figure and a word: 7 billion inhabitants. Abbreviating large numbers (5m inhabitants, 12bn euros) is acceptable (especially in tables and figures), but make sure to format such abbreviations consistently throughout the text.
- When writing out fractions, do not use a hyphen in nouns ("if two thirds of council members are present"), but do hyphenate adjectives ("a two-thirds majority").
- Put a space between a number and a unit of measurement: 35 kg
- Do not put a space between the number and the percentage mark: 10%
- Use point as the decimal separator: 4.3
- Use the comma as the thousands separator: 80,999,765. Use commas in numbers over 1,000, before the hundred (9,500)
- Time: the 24-hour clock (16:30 not 4.30pm) is preferred. Use a colon between hours and minutes.
- Dates: the preferred format is 13 June 2021, not 13. June, June 13 or 13th June
- To indicate a period of time, use either the n-dash or from and to: Semester runs from September to February OR Semester runs September–February. There is no need for a space between the dash and the adjacent word/number when indicating ranges: 15 February–15 April.
- Do not use an apostrophe when writing decades: 1890s not 1890's
- Academic year 2021/22 is preferred to 2021–22
- It is advisable to group the digits of phone numbers using spaces. UT phone numbers are mostly presented as follows: +372 737 6113. If there is no reason to group the digits differently (e.g. the standard in the particular country), the same model can be applied to other phone numbers, as well, and group the digits by four starting from the end, separating country and regional codes by spaces.
Do not use a hyphen in:
- compound nouns that have become recognisable concepts: email
- adjectival phrase following a noun: "He is studying full time" vs "He is a full-time student"
- job titles with "vice": vice rector for academic affairs
Prefer double quotation marks. Single quotation marks can be used for emphasised phrases or quotations within a quotation.
Position of the comma, full stop and quotation marks in direct speech: “Quote,” reporting clause. “Quote,” reporting clause, “quote continues.”
Use the en dash (–), not a hyphen, to show sequences or ranges: 1985–1989, pages 11–15, Tallinn–Tartu road. Note that there is no space before or after the en dash in such use.
When using the em dash (—) for parenthesis ("Chris—Cathy's brother—was also invited"), there is traditionally no space before or after the dash. According to John Seely's Oxford A–Z of Grammar & Punctuation, "the em dash is increasingly being replaced by an en dash with a space before and after it", so the use "Chris – Cathy's brother – was also invited" is also quite common. Whichever way you choose, try to be consistent.
If you need to use initials, punctuate them: T. Asser, not T Asser
In English, the punctuation in bulleted lists is not so strict, so it is not so important to end each bulleted line with a punctuation mark as long as the punctuation (or the lack of it) is consistent. Make sure that each entry follows logically and grammatically from the introductory sentence. For a good overview of writing and punctuating good vertical lists, see chapter 6 of Oxford Guide to Plain English
Prefer active verbs, including you/we instead of overusing generic passive voice.
Consider replacing long strings of words (often ending in -tion) with precise words that express the same meaning: "conducted an examination of the case" vs "examined the case", "must submit the application by 1 June" → "must apply by 1 June"
Prefer short alternatives to wordy expressions:
- 'if' rather than 'provided that'
- 'but' rather than 'however'
- 'let' rather than 'permit'
- 'use' rather than 'utilise'
- 'about' rather than 'approximately'
- 'set up' rather than 'establish'
- 'show' rather than 'demonstrate'
- 'help' rather than 'facilitate'
- 'documents' rather than 'documentation'
- 'help' rather than 'give some assistance'
- 'conclude' rather than 'come to the conclusion'
- 'if' rather than 'in the event that'
- 'by' rather than 'by means of'
- 'since' or 'as' rather than 'due to the fact that'
For more examples, consult a plain English glossary like www.plainenglish.co.uk/the-a-z-of-alternative-words.html
Avoid "shall" in legal writing. Some good reasons and alternatives: https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/conversational/shall-and-must/ and https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/conversational/use-must-to-indicate-requirements/
Place the euro sign—like the dollar sign ($) and the pound sign (£)—before the figure, unspaced (cf. in Estonian, after the figure, with a space): €500. When written out, place the word ’euro’ after the value in lower case; the plural is used for two or more units, and euro cents are separated with a point, not a comma: 1.50 euro, 14 euros.
- omit http:// unless the address contains no www (especially when writing for printed publications)
- avoid “click here”: link content words instead. Note that email spam filters tend to use “click here” as an indicator for spam
Using italics is not needed for foreign words that are sufficiently familiar and can be found in a general-language dictionary: alma mater, in vivo, ad hoc, vice versa, etc. See also www.enago.com/academy/should-you-italicize-latin-terms-in-scientific-writing.
There is no need to italicise widely used Latin abbreviations such as etc., e.g., et al. or ibid.
Titles of complete published works (books, plays, films, journals, magazines, etc.) should be italicised, titles of individual articles, songs, lectures, etc. are not italicised but in quotation marks.
It is okay to use plural to avoid his/her: “If students submit their assignments too late…” instead of “if a student submits his/her assignment…“(e.g. European Commission style guide)
Parts of documents:
When referring to parts of external documents (legislation), follow the usage of the referred document whenever possible. E.g. the Estonian Study Allowances and Study Loans Act has section 51, subsection 51 (2) and clause 51 (2) 2).
The structuring logic of UT bylaws varies, but “clause” the most common unit. E.g. Clause 135 of the Study Regulations.
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