Active Voice

Create dynamic and powerful writing by using active verbs instead of passive verbs. When the sentence is written in the active voice, the subject performs the action. When a sentence is written in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.


The verb contains a form of the verb “to be”:

  • Instead of: The budget was presented to the staff by the department head.
  • Use: The department head presented the budget to the staff.

The main verb is written in the past form.

  • Instead of: It was recommended that the policy be changed.
  • Use: Tom recommended that the policy be changed.

The sentence often has a “by” phrase:

  • Instead of: A study of the report was made by Jones.
  • Use: Jones studied the report.

Disadvantages of the passive:

  • It is wordy and roundabout.
  • It muddles the meaning and hides responsibility.
  • It is unnatural and dull.

But the passive is not always bad. It is appropriate when:

  • "Doer” is unknown.
    • The stadium was built in 1974.
  • “Doer” is unimportant.
    • Your books were shipped yesterday.
  • “Doer” is better left unsaid. Use tact.
    • Your invoice was written for the wrong amount.

Common Usage Errors


Always singular (e.g., Office of Admission, admission counselor, admission application).


Spelled “advisor,” not “adviser,” an exception to AP style.


  • Affect: a verb. Means “to influence, change or assume.”
    • The concert affected me emotionally. I affected an English accent for the play.
  • Effect: usually a noun. Means “a result or impression.” When used as a verb, it means “to bring about.”
    • Noun: The long-term effect will be decreased sales.
    • Verb:  It is essential that we effect a change.

Altogether/All Together

  • Altogether: means “entirely.”
    • He is altogether too lazy to get anything done.
  • All together: means “in a group”
    • The papers are all together in the folder I gave you.


  • Among: use when referring to more than two persons or things.
    • The prices are to be divided among the five players.
  • Between: use when referring to two persons or things.
    • There are distinct personality differences between Charlie and Sara.


  • Bad: use the adjective after the verb “feel” or “look” (not the adverb “badly”).
    • I feel bad about the misunderstanding.


When wide can be combined with another word and still be readable, we use it without a hyphen or break, as in campuswide event, statewide referendum, nationwide celebration or countrywide phenomenon. With university or company, however, we use a hyphen with the compound when it appears before whatever it modifies and an open compound when it appears after: “a university-wide survey and a survey that was university wide.” (See Words to Watch Out For.)


  • Capital: a city.
  • Capitol: a building.


Always singular when referring to the St. Edward’s University major and program.


  • Compose: means “to make up.”
  • Comprise: means “to include, contain, consist of.”
  • The parts compose the whole, and the whole comprises the parts.
    • Four work teams compose (make up) the department.
    • The department comprises (consists of) four work teams.

Different From

Things and people are different from, not different than, one another.

  • John’s car is different from Megan’s.

Each Other/One Another

Each other: use to refer to two persons or things.
– The two contestants were jealous of each other’s winnings.
One another: use to refer to more than two persons or things.
– The four partners congratulated one another.

Fiscal Year/FY

• Spell out and cap “Fiscal Year” on first reference and in later references when space permits. If pressed for space, especially in charts, use “FY”:
– Fiscal Year 2012
– FY 2012


Ensure: means “to make certain.”
– I want to ensure that this gets done.
Insure: means “to protect against loss.”
– I want to insure this bracelet for $1,000.
Assure: means “to give someone confidence.”
– I want to assure you that everything will be on time.


• Use “freshman” as a noun and as an adjective.
– I will be a freshman in the spring.
– The freshman class of 2011 is the largest yet.
• Use “freshmen” only as a noun.
– Incoming freshmen should sign up for classes by the deadline.

Fulbright Scholarship/Fulbright Student

Graduating college seniors in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program may be referred to as “Fulbright Students,” “Fulbright U.S. Students” or “Fulbrighters.” For consistency, we use “Fulbright Students” as the common description. See more details and guidelines about the Fulbright Program.


Good: an adjective.
– Sally got a good grade on her paper.
Well: usually used as an adverb.
– They did the job as well as they could.
Well: may be used as an adjective to refer to the state of someone’s health.
– She doesn’t feel well today.

Into/In to

Into: a preposition. It indicates entry, insertion or transformation.
– She jumped into the pool. (entry)
– She dropped her books into the box. (insertion)
– She puts her faith into action through service. (transformation)
In to: a combination of the adverb “in” + the preposition “to.” Often part of phrasal verbs or is used to mean “in order to.”
– She gave in to his demands.
– She went in to get out of the rain.


It’s: the contraction of it is.
– It’s my coat.
Its: the possessive form.
– What is its name?


Lay: means “to put” or “to place” and requires an object.
– Lay the papers on the table.
Lie: means “to recline, rest, or stay.”
– He is lying on the floor.

Like/Such as/As

Like: use to compare with nouns and pronouns.
– Right: “Jim blocks like a pro.”
– Wrong: “He worshipped pros like Joe Namath and Refrigerator Perry.” [in this example, there’s nothing to compare]
Such as: use as a synonym of “for example.”
– He worshipped pros such as Joe Namath and Refrigerator Perry.
As: use when comparing with phrases and clauses that contain a verb.
– Jim blocks the linebacker as he should.

Merit and Need Awards

• Alone: merit-based awards, need-based awards,
• Together: merit- and need-based awards.

Over/More Than

Over: refers to spatial relationships.
– The plane flew over the city.
More than: use with figures.
– There were more than 1,000 fans in the crowd.

Percent %

For marketing, editorial and academic copy, always use the % sign in headlines, subheads and body copy when paired with a numeral (example: Unemployment dropped to 3.5%). 

Spell out “percent” in casual use or when not paired with a number (example: He has a zero percent chance of winning).


Use “RSVP by ...” or “Please reply by ...” but never “Please RSVP by.”


University style no longer uses “scholar award.” Use “scholarship” instead.

Sign-up/Sign up

  • Noun: sign-up
  • Adjective: sign-up
  • Verb: sign up

– I can’t wait to sign up for the Residence Hall Sign-Up to complete my sign-up activities.
(See Words to Watch Out For.)


Not “t-shirt” – capitalize the T.


That: tends to restrict the reader’s thought and direct it the way you want it to go.
– The lawnmower that is in the garage needs sharpening. (We have more than one lawnmower, and the one in the garage needs sharpening.)
Which: a nonrestrictive term that introduces a nonessential clause set off with commas.
– The lawnmower, which is in the garage, needs sharpening.
– Our lawnmower needs sharpening: it’s in the garage.

United States

• “United States” and “U.S.” are used as a noun.
– At colleges located outside the United States ...
– At colleges located outside the U.S. ...
• Use “U.S.” as an adjective.
– At U.S. colleges ...
• In headlines, use “US” or “U.S.”
• Use “USA” (no periods) for the abbreviated form of United States of America.


Avoid using the term “unique” as a descriptor — nothing is. Opt instead for terms such as individual, uncommon, special, rare, etc.


• When presenting a URL in a callout, if possible, set up on two lines, with the URL on a dedicated line and bolded. Do not bold the period that follows the url.
– Apply today for Spring 2015 admission at
• Whenever possible, try not to split the URL between lines. If you must, insert the line break between punctuation within the address.


• Use “upon” and “on” interchangeably to indicate position in contact with the top surface of an object, such as a table.
– The book was placed on/upon the table.
• Use “on” for all other instances.
– The light is on. She arrived on time.


Who: use whenever “he, she, they, I, or we” could be substituted in the “who” clause.
– Who is arranging the conference call? (He is arranging the conference call.)
Whom: use whenever “him, her, them, me, or us” could be substituted as the object of the verb or as the object of a preposition in the “whom” clause.
– The man to whom I was referring was Bob. (I was referring to him.)


Whose: the possessive form of “who.”
– Whose car is it? (It is hers.)
Who’s: a contraction that means “who is” or “who has.”
– Who’s the owner of that car? Who’s had the most sleep?