Editorial Style Guide

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(Laurie Smith-Frailey)

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Except when referring to the formal name of a building or entity, use lab instead of laboratory.

Latin words

Some foreign words in English text should be set in italics. For example, because few readers outside the MIT community are apt to know the meaning of Mens et Manus, MIT’s motto, it should be italicized. However, the commonly used Latin words below need not be.

Rule of thumb: If the word or phrase is found in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, do not italicize it. See foreign words and phrases.

Some commonly used (and confused) Latin words:

sing. masc.:



sing. fem.:



plural masc.:



plural fem.:




Latina (feminine), Latino (masculine)

lay, lie

See Troublesome pairs.

learning by doing

Not hyphenated.

lecturer in [subject]

  • John Appleton is a lecturer in mechanical engineering.

less, fewer

See Troublesome pairs.

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See addresses.


Hyphenate before level when it’s part of a compound.

  • undergraduate-level


This is the proper spelling!


The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage provides an excellent guide to style and punctuation for lists on pages 315–320. Here you will find detailed instructions on how to handle both run-in lists—where a series of short terms run in the text—and displayed lists, which are vertical lists of at least three items, usually either bulleted or numbered (or lettered).


LISTSERV is the name of trademarked commercial mailing list management software for a listserver, i.e., a program that maintains an Internet discussion group.


Do not use except as part of an e-mail address for a list that uses LISTSERV software (i.e., do not use “listserv list” for “mailing list”).

log in, log on (v.)

To enter a computer system.

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login, logon (n.)

Account or username used to gain access to a computer system.

long term (n. phrase), long-term (adj.)

Hyphenated when used as an adjective; otherwise, not.

  • Over the long term, she has built up quite a nest egg. (n. phrase)
  • Her long-term objective is to retire as soon as she turns 62. (adj.)

long-range (adj.), longtime (adj.)

There is no logical explanation for why the rule is inconsistent among adjectives. More often than not, a hyphen will be used, but it’s still safer to check the dictionary if you’re unsure whether or not to hyphenate a particular word. Some other examples of hyphenated adjectives:

  • long-drawn-out
  • long-lived
  • long-playing
  • long-suffering
  • long-winded

“look and feel”

When used in the sense of design, for example of a publication, put quotation marks around the phrase. Also, a singular verb form is appropriate in this case.

  • The “look and feel” of the new Web site is exactly what the committee had in mind.

lowercase (adj.)

One word.

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