SIAT Content Guide

Writing Principles

One way we develop content is by being aware of our voice and our tone. This section explains the difference between voice and tone, and lays out the elements of each as they apply to SIAT.

What's the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you're out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you're in a meeting with your boss.

Your tone also changes depending on the emotional state of the person you're addressing. You wouldn't want to use the same tone of voice with someone who's scared or upset as you would with someone who's laughing.

Available in this section:

Voice

When we write for SIAT, we should be:

Tone

Our tone should change based on the contexts we are writing for. For example:

When writing for excited yet nervous prospective undergraduate student trying to understand what SIAT is. The writing's tone should stick to the facts, be supportive and encouraging, though cautious of overstating what SIAT offers.

For a frustrated undergraduate student trying to figure out the degree requirements. Writing should consider a clear and accessible structure — support scanning the content, succinct statements — that presents a consistent language to help the student locate the necessary information.

A prospective Ph.D. student weighing different graduate program options, including SIAT. There should be clear evidence and support for what SIAT can offer, that is respectful of the student's education level and time.

An employer trying to find new means of recruiting employees and is exploring SIAT. The tone will be efficient, energetic, and professional in providing the employer a clear 'pitch' for what SIAT can offer.

Grammar and Mechanics

Adhering to certain rules of grammar and mechanics helps us keep our writing clear and consistent. This section will lay out our style, which applies to all of our content unless otherwise noted in this guide. There is a lot of ground covered in this section, so below is a listing of all the pieces covered below:

Basics

Write for all readers. Some people will read every word you write. Others will just skim. Help everyone read better by grouping related ideas together and using descriptive headers and subheaders.

your message. Create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or the most important content, in sentences, paragraphs, sections, and pages.

Be concise. Use short words and sentences. Avoid unnecessary modifiers.

Be specific. Avoid vague language. Cut the fluff.

Be consistent. Stick to the copy patterns and style points outlined in this guide.

Our Name

When writing out our school's name, please make sure to use the full-name the first time it appears — see Abbreviations and acronyms for more — and use an ampersand (&) in the name:

In cases where the ampersand (&) is not permitted, please substitute 'and' in lowercase:

Please do not replace the ampersand (&) or 'and' with a plus sign (+) or other graphical element. This can suggest that the 'technology' in our name is an afterthought or not part of our primary focus, which it is not.

Abbreviations and acronyms

If there's a chance your reader won't recognize an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time you mention it. Then use the short version for all other references. If the abbreviation isn't clearly related to the full version, specify in parentheses.

Referring to degrees

When referring to degrees we offer or listing degrees a faculty or staff member holds, please use the following convention for shortening those degrees:

Active voice

Use active voice. Avoid passive voice.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to it.

Words like "was" and "by" may indicate that you're writing in passive voice. Scan for these words and rework sentences where they appear.

One exception is when you want to specifically emphasize the action over the subject. In some cases, this is fine.

Capitalization

We use a few different forms of capitalization. Title case capitalizes the first letter of every word except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Sentence case capitalizes the first letter of the first word.

When writing out an email address or website URL, use all lowercase.

Do not capitalize random words in the middle of sentences.

Contractions

Avoid them as we are aiming to write in a 'non-casual' voice.

Numbers

Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Otherwise, use the numeral. This includes ordinals, too.

Sometimes it feels weird to use "1" instead of "one." Just go with your gut. Other number guidelines:

Dates

Generally, spell out the day of the week and the month. Abbreviate only if space is an issue (such as in a tweet).

Decimals and fractions

Spell out fractions.

Use decimal points when a number can't be easily written out as a fraction, like 1.375 or 47.2.

Percentages

Use the % symbol instead of spelling out "percent."

Ranges and spans

Use a hyphen (-) to indicate a range or span of numbers.

Telephone numbers

Use dashes without spaces between numbers. Use a country code if your reader is in another country.

Time

Use numerals and am or pm, with no space in between. Do not use minutes for on-the-hour time.

Use a hyphen between times to indicate a time period.

People, Places, and Things

Guidelines within this category:

File extensions

When referring generally to a file extension type, use all uppercase without a period. Add a lowercase s to make plural.

When referring to a specific file, the filename should be lowercase:

Pronouns

If your subject's gender is unknown or irrelevant, use "they," "them," and "their" as a singular pronoun. Use "he/him/his" and "she/her/her" pronouns as appropriate. Do not use "one" as a pronoun.

Quotes

When quoting someone in a blog post or other publication, use the present tense.

Names and titles

The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.

Capitalize the names of committees and the word "committee".

Capitalize individual job titles when referencing to a specific role. Do not capitalize when referring to the role in general terms.

Do not refer to someone as a "unicorn," "rockstar," or "wizard" unless they literally are one.

Schools

The first time you mention a school, college, or university in a piece of writing, refer to it by its full official name. On all other mentions, use its more common abbreviation.

Provinces, cities, and countries

Spell out all city and province names. Do not abbreviate city names.

URLs and websites

Capitalize the names of websites and web publications. Do not italicize.

Avoid spelling out URLs, but when you need to, leave off the http://www.

Slang and jargon

Write in plain English. If you need to use a technical term, briefly define it so everyone can understand.

Text formatting

Use italics to indicate the title of a long work (like a book, movie, or album) or to emphasize a word.

Do not use underline formatting, and do not use any combination of italic, bold, caps, and underline.

Left-align text, never center or right-aligned.

Leave one space between sentences, never 2.

Citations

Citations should be formatted using APA style. A complete overview of APA formatting is available at the SFU library website.

Write positively

Use positive language rather than negative language. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like "can't," "do not," etc.

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