Editorial Style Guide

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(Laurie Smith-Frailey)

[ A ]

A’s (B’s, C’s, etc.)

  • She’s earned straight A’s so far at MIT.

a cappella

Means “without instrumental accompaniment.” A cappella is not italicized.

  • The Chorallaries of MIT, an a cappella group, launched in 1977 during Independent Activities Period.

a lot, alot, allot

If what you mean is a large number of people, use a lot. There is no such word as alot. If you mean to allocate, the correct spelling is: allot.

a while (noun phrase used as the object of a preposition); awhile (adv.)

A while means “a period of time”; awhile means “for some time.” The two are commonly confused, but here’s a memory aid: Awhile includes the word “for” in its definition, and thus “for” shouldn’t be added. If your meaning begs you to add the word “for,” it’s likely you need to use a while.

  • It rained for a while last night.
  • The old friends reminisced awhile about their days in Senior House.

a, an

The rules for using a or an are determined by pronunciation—i.e., use a before consonant sounds and an before vowel sounds.

  • She is an MIT student.
  • He received a B.S. in biology from Princeton.
  • It takes more than an hour to walk from one end of campus to the other.

academic years

The preferred style for classes is first-year student (as opposed to freshman), second-year student, third-year student, and fourth-year student. Sophomore, junior, and senior are acceptable alternatives for the latter three classes; however, freshman and freshmen are rapidly falling out of favor as “exclusive” (biased) terms, and therefore should be avoided … as should the shorthand term frosh.

Academic classes, such as junior and third-year student, are lowercased, but groupings that act as proper names—e.g., the Class of 2006 —should be capitalized.

  • She is a fourth-year student at MIT.
  • He is a member of the Class of 2007.
  • The Sophomore Class is conducting a survey of 100 juniors.

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accept, except

These are more commonly confused terms! The bottom line is, if you can use excluding as a synonym for what you have in mind, use except. See Troublesome pairs.

  • Jacob was ready to accept whatever punishment the review board doled out.
  • Everyone made it to the theater on time except [excluding] Genevieve.


Note two c’s and two m’s.


Preferred over acknowledgement—i.e., with no e between g and m.


Resource: The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage, state abbreviations list, pp. 336–337. (Note also the difference between “traditional" and “postal” abbreviations.)

In running text, all elements of an address, except the numbers 10 and up, should be spelled out. Do not abbreviate state names. Commas should follow addresses and cities, but should not separate states or provinces from their ZIP or postal codes. Use the nine-digit ZIP code whenever possible.

  • The Institute’s main address is 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139-4307.
  • Jane Smith visited Charleston, South Carolina, as part of the American Culture Program. While there, she stayed in a bed-and-breakfast at 12 North Elm Street.

advice (n.), advise (v.)

See Troublesome pairs.

advisor, advisory

Use advisor (not adviser) for MIT faculty and staff who work with students.

  • Sharon met with her advisor, Professor Gabaix.
  • He is an advisor for The Tech.

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affect (v.), effect (n. or v.)

See Troublesome pairs.

affirmative action (generic)

Note use of lowercase here. On the other hand, MIT is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity institution.

African American (no hyphen)

Okay to use, as is black.

all ready, already

See Troublesome pairs.

all right, alright

See Troublesome pairs.

all together, altogether

See Troublesome pairs.

allot, alot

See a lot.

alternate, alternative

See Troublesome pairs.

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alumna, alumnus (singular nouns); alumnae, alumni, alumni/ae (plural nouns)

Alumnus and alumna come from the Latin and refer to male (singular) and female (also singular) graduates of an institution, respectively. The plural of alumnus is alumni; the plural of alumna is alumnae.

To allude to a mixed group of male and female MIT graduates, use the more inclusive alumni/ae—not alumni. And please also stay away from alum or alums!

Alumni Association (MIT Alumni Association)

The previous entry on alumni/ae notwithstanding, the official name of MIT’s association of graduates is the MIT Alumni Association.

Alumni Fund

Ditto. Alumni Fund is the official name of MIT’s annual fund, not Alumni/ae Fund.

among, between, amid

See Troublesome pairs.

amount, number

See Troublesome pairs.

ampersand (&)

Use an ampersand only when it is part of a proper name.

  • Procter & Gamble
  • The Technology & Culture Forum at MIT
  • Choices are not always presented in black and white [not black & white].


The preferred variant of analogue. In computer science, it is the antonym of digital.

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Note no hyphen.

any body, anybody

See Troublesome pairs.

any more, anymore

See Troublesome pairs.

any one, anyone

See Troublesome pairs.

any way, anyway

See Troublesome pairs.


Although acceptable informally, anywhere is better.


Stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, and refers to a standard for assigning numerical values to Roman alphabet letters and typographic characters.


See a while.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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