General Guidance for Punctuation for the Web on the University of Maine System Website

The University of Maine System website follows the Associated Press Online Stylebook External Site). Because the University of Maine System is an institution of higher learning and an institution that prioritizes accessible web content, consistency and accuracy are important. Please review your web content for errors in style, spelling and grammar.

Guidelines about punctuation can be found below.


Types of punctuation

  • Apostrophe
  • Brackets
  • Colon
  • Comma
  • Dash
  • Ellipses
  • Exclamation point
  • Hyphen
  • Parenthesis
  • Periods
  • Question mark
  • Quotation marks
  • Semicolon

Punctuation guidelines

Possessives: 

  • Plural nouns not ending in S: Add ’s
    • Example: “the alumni organization’s newsletter”
  • Plural nouns ending in S: Add only an apostrophe
    • Example: “The professors’ requests”
  • Nouns plural in form but singular in meaning: Add only an apostrophe
    • Example: “The physics’ rules”
  • Singular nouns not ending in S: Add ’s
    • Example: “the Chancellor’s message”

Compound Words:

  • Applying the rules above, add an apostrophe or ‘s to the word closest to the object possessed.
    • Example: “the Vice Chancellor’s remarks,” “the Vice Chancellors’ remarks”

Descriptive Names:

  • Some governmental, university, corporate and institutional organizations with a descriptive word in their name use an apostrophe while others do not. Follow the institution’s practice.

Omitted Letters (Contractions):

  • Contractions are considered colloquialisms and are not always easily identifiable to every reader. The University of Maine System style guide requests that contractions with omitted letters not be used unless in a direct quotation.
    • Example: Do not use “don’t” in place of “do not,” “I’ve” for “I have” or “aren’t” for “are not”.

Do not use brackets ( [ ] ) on the University of Maine System website except for when building shortcode.

Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence.
Example: “The Chancellor said this: The campuses are working together.” Or, “There were two competing priorities: time and availability.”

  • Emphasis: The colon often can be effective when giving emphasis to a sentence.
    • Example: “She had only one focus: sustainability.”
  • Lists: It is acceptable to use a colon at the end of a sentence or phrase to introduce lists, tabulations, texts etc.
  • Listings: Use the colon in such listings as time elapsed (1:25:01.7), time of day (5:15 p.m.) and legal citations (Maine Code 2:193-602).
  • Placement with Quotation Marks: Colons go outside of quotation marks unless they are a part of the quote itself
  • Miscellaneous: Do not combine a dash and a colon
  • In a series: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in most simple series (i.e. do not use the Oxfored Comma)
    • Example: “The admissions, financial aid and marketing departments at the University of Maine at Presque Isle” or “Tax files from 2018, 2019 and 2020”
    • Exception: Include a final comma in a simple series if omitting the comma could make the meaning unclear or in a complex series of phrases.
  • Equal adjectives: Use commas to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank (if the commas could be replaced by the word “and” without changing the sentence, the adjectives are equal)
    • Example: “A considerate, kind gesture”
  • Before attribution: Use a comma instead of a period at the end of a quote or sentence that is followed by an attribution phrase
    • Example: ‘“We are almost ready to launch the new website,” the content manager said.’
      • Note: Do not use a comma if the quoted statement ends with a question mark or exclamation point
  • Separate similar words: Use a comma to separate duplicate words that otherwise would be confusing
  • Placement with quotes: Commas always go inside quotation marks
  • With dates: When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with a comma
    • Example: “Jan 21, 2022, is the target date”
  • Abrupt change: Use dashes to represent an abrupt change in thought within a sentence or an emphatic pause. Avoid overuse of dashes to set off phrases when commas would otherwise suffice.
    • Example: “Through the Chancellor’s visitation tour, he and his staff—often together—have stepped foot on each campus this fall.”
  • Series within a phrase: When a phrase that otherwise would be set off by commas contains a series of words that must be separated by commas, use the dash to set off the full phrase:
    • Example: “She listed the relevant campuses—University of Southern Maine, University of Maine at Augusta and University of Maine at Farmington—to the Vice Chancellor”
  • Attribution: Use a dash before an author’s or composer’s name at the end of a quotation
  • Spaces: Do not place a space on either side of a dash in all uses except sports agate summaries
  • Deletion: Use an ellipses to indicate the deletion of one more word in condensing of quotes, texts and referenced documents.
  • Incomplete thought: An ellipses may also be used to indicate a thought that the speaker or write does not complete
  • Avoid overuse: Use a comma after mild interjections. End mildly exclamatory sentences with a period.
  • Joining punctuation: Hyphens are used to join words. Use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words.
  • Be sparing: Parenthesis can be jarring to the reader and can lead to misinterpretation of content.
  • Punctuation: Place a period or end sentence punctuation mark outside a closing parenthesis if the material inside is not a sentence (such as this fragment). (An independent parenthetical sentence like this one requires end sentence punctuation before the closing parenthesis.)
  • Insertion in a proper name: Use parentheses if a state name or similar information is inserted without a proper name
    • Example: The Bangor (Maine) Daily News
  • End sentence punctuation: Periods are used for the following: as the end of a declarative sentence, the end of a mildly imperative sentence, end of some rhetorical questions, end of an indirect question.
  • Abbreviations and acronyms: Do not use uncommon abbreviations and acronyms on the University of Maine System website unless previously defined within the body text of the web page. Periods are used in front of titles such as Dr., Lt., Gov., Mr., Mrs., etc.
  • Initials: John F. Kennedy
  • Enumerations: Periods are placed after numbers or letters in enumerating elements of a summary:
    • Example: “1. Write the content. 2. Put the content on the WordPress content editor. 3. Publish the content.” or “A. Use proper punctuation. B. Write plain language. C. Link properly.”
  • Placement with quotation marks: Periods always go inside of quotation marks.
  • Spacing: Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.
  • End sentence punctuation: Use question marks to end a direct question.
  • Indirect questions: Do not use question marks to indicate the end of indirect questions.
    • Example: “He asked who took the class.”
  • Question and answer and/or frequently asked questions format: Do not use quotation marks and ensure that questions are written as direct questions.
    • Example below.
      Q: How many universities are in the University of Maine System?
      A: Six universities and a law school.
  • Quotation marks: Place the question mark on the inside or outside of quotation marks, depending on the meaning.
    • Examples: ‘Who wrote “Gone with the Wind”?’, ‘He asked, “How long will it take?”’
  • Miscellaneous: The question mark supersedes the comma that normally is used when supplying information for a quotation.
    • Example: ‘“Where is the professor?” she asked.’
  • Direct quotations: Use quotation marks to surround the exact words of a speaker or writer when written on a webpage.
  • Question and Answer: Quotation marks are not required in formats that identify questions and answers by Q: and A:.
  • Composition titles: See composition titles.
  • Unfamiliar terms and jargon: A word or words being introduced to readers for the first time may be placed within quotation marks upon first reference.
  • Quotes within quotes: Alternate between double quotation marks (“) and single marks (‘)
  • Placement with other punctuation: The period and comma always go within the quotation marks. The dash, semicolon, colon, question mark and exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only; they go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
  • General guidance: Use the semicolon to indicate a greater separation of thought and information than a comma can possibly convey but less than the separation that a period implies.
  • In a series: Use semicolons to clarify a series of elements when the elements are long or when individual segments contain material that also must be set off by commas.
    • Example: “The speakers include an expert in Physics, from the University of Maine; an expert in Nursing, from the University of Maine at Augusta; an expert in Law, from the University of Maine School of Law; and an expert in K-8 Education, from the University of Southern Maine.”
  • Linking independent clauses: Use a semicolon when a coordination conjunction such as “and,” “but” or “for” is not present.
    • Example: “The assignment was overdue; she gave the student an extension until tomorrow.”