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Words that are often capitalized but shouldn’t be (except at the beginning of a sentence or when they appear as part of a proper noun):

  • bachelor’s
  • campus
  • century
  • coach
  • credits
  • doctoral
  • faculty
  • fall
  • freshman
  • freshmen
  • junior
  • major
  • master’s
  • senior
  • sophomore
  • spring
  • winter



  • Elizabeth Brown, acting chair of the Department of Anthropology, spoke at the event.
  • As acting chair of the department, Elizabeth Brown reduced the number of departmental committees.
  • Awards were given out by acting Chair Elizabeth Brown.


Lowercase except as part of a proper noun:

  • Keith and Linda are alumni of Portland State University.
  • The Office of Alumni Relations is located in Simon Benson House.

See Words and Usage.

areas of study and specialization

Do not capitalize areas of study or specialization:

  • Jack is a music major.
  • Jennifer majored in physical education at Wabash College, but transferred to PSU to major in urban studies and planning.
  • Farhad is a professor of chemistry.
  • Jared is planning to take liberal arts classes.


  • Will majored in English and minored in French literature.

board, board of directors

Do not capitalize except in formal references:

  • The PSU Foundation Board of Directors chose a new president. After conferring for several hours, the board named Josefa Newell ...
  • Chris Nunez was named to the board of directors.


See degrees, certificates below.


This is the proper term for a department head at PSU. Do not use head, chairman, chairwoman, or chairperson.

city of Portland


  • An agreement was reached between Portland State University and the city of Portland.

class of

Lowercase, except when part of a formal name:

  • Peter Ford is a member of the class of 1968.
  • Juanita Escobar chaired the Class of 1980 Gift Campaign.

class standing


  • freshman 
  • sophomore
  • junior
  • senior


Lowercase except at the beginning of a sentence:

  • Mario Testa, coach, and Jeffrey Cepeda, president, addressed the boosters.
  • President Cepeda praised basketball coach Mario Testa.

college and university names

Generally avoid placing The before the name of a college or university. Some colleges and universities have added The to their names (The Ohio State University, The University of Alabama). Do not use The with the name of any institution in PSU publications, regardless of the institution’s preference:

  • Right: Tony is a graduate of Ohio State University.
  • Right: Charlie holds a doctorate from the University of Alabama.
  • Wrong: Tony is a graduate of The Ohio State University.

colleges, departments, schools, and offices

Capitalize the formal name of Portland State departments and offices:

  • Jack is walking to the Department of English.
  • Maria is in Millar Library.
  • The College of Urban and Public Affairs is located in the Urban Center.
  • The Department of Athletics is in the University Center Building.

But lowercase subsequent references:

  • The School of Business has a superb faculty. Established in 1960, the school is well known for...
  • The Office of Business Affairs is an excellent resource. The office is located in ...
  • Millar Library was remodeled in the early 1990s. Since then, the library has ...
  • The Department of Geology is located in Cramer Hall. The department has several faculty members.
  • The College of Urban and Public Affairs has established a national reputation. The college is located in the new Urban Center.

Capitalize informal references:

  • Stan Bronkowski is chair of the Geography Department.
  • Sandra Smith is dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
  • Donald Law is director of Business Affairs.
  • Mary Ruth works in the Athletics Department.
  • Faculty members from Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, and Political Science formed a weekend basketball league. (The references are to administrative units, not areas of study.)
  • The Psychology Department is hosting a careers night next week.

colleges, departments, and schools at other universities


  • The dean of the University of Missouri school of journalism will lecture at Portland State.
  • The new vice president was formally dean of the University of Massachusetts college of business.
  • Sue is a graduate of the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Larry is a professor at the Fuqua school of business at Duke University.
  • Larry is a professor at the business school at Duke University.


Lowercase except when referring to a specific PSU commencement:

  • The 2001 Commencement begins promptly at 10 a.m.
  • The PSU spring commencement is held in June and the summer commencement is held in August.
  • PSU President Jeffrey Cepeda was the speaker at the 1998 University of Oregon commencement.

committee, center, program

Lowercase unless it is a formal part of a name. Lowercase on second reference. Lowercase when referring to a committee, center, or program at another university. The administration section of the Faculty and Staff Directory and the current edition of the PSU Bulletin are your best sources for correct names of PSU offices and departments:

  • The Center for Urban Affairs is recognized nationally. The center is located ...
  • The center for deep ocean studies is one of the leading programs at Florida State University.
  • The search committee is meeting every day at noon.
  • Mats Hedstrom is director of the Environmental Sciences and Resources Ph.D. Program. The program is highly regarded.


Lowercase except when referring to a specific PSU convocation ceremony:

  • Vice President Jennifer Walsh will speak at the 2001 Convocation.
  • PSU convocations are usually held in Hoffmann Hall.

course titles

Capitalize formal names of courses, but do not place in quotation marks or italics:

  • Julie registered for Russian Cultural and Intellectual History, but couldn’t get into the geography course she wanted, Water Resource Management.
  • Students are required to complete Eng 105 Introduction to Drama and Bi 101, 102, 103 General Biology.

Check the PSU Bulletin for correct course prefixes.


Lowercase except directly before a name:

  • The president named Dean Anthony Genovese to lead the search committee.
  • The pay increases were made possible by the diligent work of Deans Tony Laller and Joanne Backhurst.
  • Lee Jackson, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, played the role of Willie Loman.
  • Brian is on the dean’s list.
  • He is dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts.
  • The dean, Lee Jackson, spoke to the alumni.

degrees, certificates, minors

Capitalize abbreviations (B.A., M.S., M.B.A., Ph.D., etc.) and use periods. Capitalize complete names of degrees but do not capitalize when degrees are referred to informally:

  • Sam has an M.B.A. from Portland State.
  • Sam has a Master of Business Administration from Portland State
  • Sam has a master’s in business administration from Portland State.
  • Linda is working toward a master’s in history.
  • Linda is working toward a Master of Arts in history.
  • Linda is working toward an M.A. in history.
  • John just received his B.A., and he wants to pursue a law degree.
  • John just received his Bachelor of Arts, and he wants to pursue a law degree.
  • Susan received a Master of Public Administration in 1987.
  • Susan received a master’s degree in 1987.
  • Susan received a master’s in public administration in 1987.
  • Carlos is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in civil engineering.
  • Carlos is pursuing a doctoral degree.
  • Carlos is pursuing a doctorate through the Department of Civil Engineering.
  • Carlos is pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering.
  • Capitalize the full names of certificates offered through Portland State:
  • Gary is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Gerontology.
  • Gary is pursuing a certificate in gerontology.
  • Gary is a student in the gerontology certificate program.

Lowercase minors:

  • Lucy will graduate with a bachelor’s in chemistry and a minor in history.
  • Lucy will graduate with a Bachelor of Science and a minor in athletic training.

In most cases academic degrees following a name are best reserved for very formal contexts such as lists of individuals that appear in invitations, programs, and citations:

  • Robert Banka, M.B.A.
  • Harriet Nelson, Ph.D.
  • Latisha Tuttle, M.S.W.
  • DeMarr Ford, J.D.

In alumni listings, such as those that appear in Portland State Magazine, academic degrees are written without periods:

  • Suzanne LeBeuf MBA ’88 (received BA at another institution but earned her M.B.A. at PSU)
  • David Barringer ’85, PhD ’90 (earned his bachelor’s and Ph.D. at PSU)
  • Karen McIntyre ’90, MBA ’92, PhD ’95 (earned all degrees at PSU).

Do not mix degrees earned at PSU with degrees earned at other institutions. If Jason Jones earned a B.A. in 1991 from PSU and an M.D. in 1997 from University of Washington, list him as Jason Jones ’91 or Jason Jones, MD. Never include the two-numeral class year construction with degrees earned from other institutions.

See Punctuation and Symbols.

Departments of, Offices of, Universities of

Capitalize departments and offices when placed before the formal names of several PSU departments. The same holds for universities:

  • Representatives from the Departments of English, Computer Science, and Biology met last week to discuss ways of improving the quality of coffee sold on campus.
  • Among the institutions represented were Portland State and the Universities of Minnesota, Vermont, and Iowa.

Division I

The athletic classification in which PSU plays. It takes a Roman numeral.



  • African American (no hyphen)
  • Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Chicano
  • Hispanic (Latino and Latina are preferred.)
  • Latina
  • Latino
  • Native American
  • Pacific islander

Do not capitalize ethnic designations that are based on color.

Faculty Senate

Capitalize when referring to the PSU Faculty Senate. Lowercase when referring to the faculty senates of other universities:

  • The Faculty Senate met on Monday. The senate decided ...
  • The PSU Faculty Senate and the University of Oregon faculty senate met in joint session last week.

fall term, winter term, spring term

Do not capitalize. Do not use semester. Do not use quarter, unless you are distinguishing between a quarter schedule and a semester schedule:

  • The course is taught during fall term.

See Summer Session below.

federal, federal government

Lowercase, except when referring to the architectural style or to a proper noun:

  • Federal Housing Administration.
  • Federal Work-Study

Lowercase except when using as a proper noun. Note the hyphen:

  • Harold is a work-study student.
  • Lucy qualifies for financial aid through the Federal Work-Study Program.



  • The speaker is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

geographic directions and regions

Lowercase north, east, south, and west when referring to points on the compass:

  • Cramer Hall is south of Lincoln Hall.
  • Walk east from campus and you’ll eventually reach the Willamette River.

Capitalize when referring to specific and well-recognized geographic regions or to a particular region’s culture, people, or history:

  • Bill really enjoys living in the West after all those years in the East.
  • I just love these dark and gloomy Pacific Northwest winters!
  • Amy is flying to the East Coast on Saturday.
  • I like the weather in Southern California.
  • I prefer the lifestyle in the south of France.
  • Andy is going to the coast this weekend.
  • Andy is going to the Oregon Coast this weekend.
  • Judy speaks with a Southern accent. (Referring to a region’s culture, people, or history.)
  • Atlanta is a southern city. (Referring to a direction.)

hyphenated compounds

When capitalization is called for, always capitalize the first element. Capitalize the second element if it is a noun or a proper adjective or if it has equal force or value of the first element:

  • The Role of School-Community Relations in the Urban Setting.
  • The Height-Weight Factor in Stabilizing Widgets.
  • The English-speaking People.
  • The Twenty-first Annual Meeting of the Socialist Union.

See also Punctuation and Symbols.


Lowercase the grade; do not italicize or quote:

  • Dan received an incomplete in history.



  • After the meeting, interim Vice President Scott Preston met with members of the faculty.
  • Scott Preston, interim vice president for Finance and Administration, addressed the alumni group.

military branches

Capitalize U.S. forces, lowercase foreign forces, unless you are using the complete and proper name of a foreign military branch:

  • Louise is an officer in the U.S. Navy. She has served in the Navy for more than 20 years.
  • Jack is a pilot in the New Zealand air force.


  • Jack is a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

mission statement


  • The Portland State University mission statement was adopted in 1990.


See ethnicities above.

Oregon Legislature, Oregon House of Representatives, Oregon Senate, the legislature, the state legislature

Lowercase on second reference:

  • The Oregon Legislature passed the bill. Then the legislature adjourned for the day.
  • Formally, the Oregon Legislature is the Oregon Legislative Assembly.


Lowercase except when referring to the official PSU new student orientation program:

  • Greetings from Orientation!
  • PSU offers several orientation sessions during summer.
  • pass/no pass

Lowercase the grade; do not italicize or quote:

  • Can I take this course for pass/no pass?

peer mentor



Like most titles, place after an individual’s name. Capitalize and abbreviate professor on first reference when used as a formal title. Drop on subsequent references. Note that Prof. can be used for professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. If it is necessary to identify a professor by rank, place the title after the name and spell out:

  • Prof. John Jones was the keynote speaker. Jones’s speech, “The Big Lie: Old Ironsides Was Really Built of Wood,” was greeted with a standing ovation.
  • John Jones, associate professor, was the keynote speaker at the 25th annual conference of the New England Society of Naval Historians.

See also Names and Titles.


See ethnicities above.


Capitalize when referring to the period in European history. Otherwise use lower case:

  • Sam is a true renaissance man.


Lowercase fall, winter, spring, summer.

state government


state of Oregon


Summer Session

Note the capitalization. At PSU, it is not summer term.


Capitalize formal titles used directly before a person’s name and lowercase titles used after a person’s name:

  • Harold White, professor of chemistry, chaired the meeting.
  • Marilyn Mayall is a professor of history.
  • To the surprise of everyone, Prof. John Balsam completed the marathon.
  • Harry Harrison, provost, was in Boston on personal business.
  • We were relieved when Vice President Horace Giamona was named chair of the committee.
  • With Prof. Donald Cannon in the hospital, it was left to President Jeffrey Cepeda to accept the honor.
  • Jeffrey Cepeda is president of Portland State.
  • Jeffrey Cepeda, president, and Jean Masterson, vice president, hosted the delegates.
  • Many of our presidents, including President Eisenhower, enjoyed playing golf.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Korea.

The notable exceptions are endowed professorships, endowed chairs, and special titles that have been bestowed on a very few individuals. These titles should be capitalized whether used before or after a name. As of winter 2001, they are:

Special titles:

  • Joseph C. Blumel, Distinguished Service Professor
  • Mark O. Hatfield, Distinguished Professor of Government

Endowed professorships:

  • H. Thomas Johnson, Ratzlaff Professor of Quality Management

Endowed chairs:

  • Gertrude Rempfer Chair in Physics
  • Swigert Chair in Information Systems Management
  • Fred G. Meyer Chair in Leadership

Do not capitalize “name” titles if the individual is not affiliated with Portland State:

  • The quest lecturer, Kenneth Jordan, is the John Graham professor of literature at the University of Michigan.
  • The president will represent PSU at the funeral of Henning Morthall, the Svensson professor of Scandinavian literature at Yale, who died last week from an overdose of lutefisk.

Do not capitalize descriptive titles even if they precede the name:

  • The brief was filed by attorney Jacqueline Simpson.
  • It was halfback Henry Johannson who scored the touchdown.
  • Sitting in the back of the concert hall was none other than pianist Sofia Nakamura.
  • I was honored to introduce the famous linguist Jo Ellen Barnes.
  • Did you know that psychology professor John Burke was at the game?

* Note that Burke’s official title is professor; thus Prof. John Burke is correct. His official title is not psychology professor; thus psychology professor John Burke is correct.

Place especially long titles after the name:

  • Ben Sims, vice president for University Relations, presided at the meeting.
  • Lauren Mendez, assistant to the president and director of University Development, was asked to mediate the dispute.

* Note that University Relations and University Development are capitalized because they are administrative units; president is not capitalized because it is an individual’s title, not an administrative unit.

Lowercase titles when they stand alone, but capitalize the office:

  • We were pleased to see the president attend the meeting.
  • After the lunch, the associate vice president for University Development gave a short talk.
  • When the president of the United States is ill, it’s usually big news.
  • The president, Bill Clinton, visited Portland State in 1995.
  • When Madeline Albright visited Korea, she was secretary of State.

Only in formal usage are titles capitalized after names. This would occur, for example, in a list of board or committee members that would appear on an invitation or program. This does not apply when names and titles are listed in a text format. Note special titles exceptions above.

Do not mix courtesy titles and degrees:

  • Right: Peter Lindstrand, M.D.
  • Wrong: Dr. Peter Lindstrand, M.D.

See also Names and Titles.

titles of works

Capitalize the first and last words, all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions (if, as, so, unless, although, when). Lowercase articles, coordinate conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, yet), and prepositions (see list below), regardless of length, unless they are the first or last word of the title. Lowercase to in infinitives.

Among the most common prepositions:

about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near ,of ,off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within, without


Legally trademarked words should be capitalized. At the same time, it is wise to avoid using trademarked words, such as Xerox, Realtor, and Post-It Notes, altogether. Many dictionaries include trademarked words and indicate whether they should be capitalized:

  • Right: All applicants must provide two photocopies of their application forms.
  • Wrong: All applicants must provide two xeroxed copies of their application forms.


When used alone, capitalize only when referring to Portland State University:

  • Portland State University was established in 1946 as Vanport Extension Center. The University is now located ...

University Studies

Capitalize the components of the program:

  • Freshman Inquiry
  • Sophomore Inquiry
  • Upper-Division Cluster
  • Senior Capstone

Web, World Wide Web


  • Tracy thinks surfing the World Wide Web is a hoot.

Web site 

Lowercase. Note two words.

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