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Lumen/Guide: University Style Guide

How to write content in Guide, incorporating campus style standards, plain language, accessibility, and best practices.

Priorities for the 2024-2025 Guide (publishes June 1, 2024)

  1. Address case and cascading of headers.
  2. Align Guide's stylistic formatting, specifically boldface and italics, to match the guidelines in this KB.

Important for future Guide publications

  • Reduce the amount of words on a page (Plain Language) to minimize the cognitive load required to read Guide.

General style guidelines for Guide/Lumen Programs

These guidelines were developed to:

  1. Support the UW-Madison’s mission to provide a learning environment where all can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all;
  2. Serve students from diverse social, economic and ethnic backgrounds and to be sensitive and responsive to those groups which have been under-served by higher education; and
  3. Support the Digital Accessibility Policy.

Guide is a major publication of the University. As such it is imperative that we:

  1. Ensure our digital content is accessible; is the right thing to do and it’s our policy. 
  2. Align Guide with university brand strategies. 

We’ve highlighted below the priorities for Guide.

  1. Use inclusive language
  2. Use consistent punctuation
  3. Use capitalization appropriately
  4. Use simple text styling
  5. Write content that is easy to read
  6. Other ways we're making Guide more accessible
  7. Further reading

Inclusive language


Writing content in a way that is clear, neutral, and inclusive ensures the audience feels welcome and respected as a part of the UW–Madison community. Using inclusive language conveys sensitivity and respect. Writing out acronyms and using correct terminology ensures the reader knows what you mean.

Specific Guidelines and Examples

  • Acronyms: Write out the full name, with the acronym in parentheses. Do this on every tab, even if the acronym has been spelled out elsewhere on the same degree/major/certificate page. 

How-to Guides

Further Reading

Consistent punctuation


Consistent punctuation across Guide creates a cohesive experience for students and staff and underscores the authority of the publication. This also makes it easier for multiple editors to maintain consistency across pages. Finally, punctuation has some unique functional implications within Guide that need to be managed closely. The guidelines below emphasize functional uses of punctuation within Guide. General guidance on the preferred grammatical use of punctuation can be found in the further reading below.

Specific Guidelines and Examples

  • Parentheses and Brackets
    • Do not duplicate governed content that is found elsewhere in Guide in parentheses or brackets.
  • Periods (.)
    • Do not use periods in acronyms, including degrees.
      • Ex. BSE instead of B.S.E.
  • Lists and outlines
    • Use HTML lists, ordered or unordered, to improve the accessibility of your content.
    • Avoid using lists in paragraphs where there are more than three items in a list.
  • Footnotes 
    • Footnotes within the vendor's software are not accessible. Because of this, footnotes should be used extremely sparingly and generally not within Curriculum or Requirements in Lumen Programs. See the University Guidelines for Specific Tabs kb for more information.
    • If using footnotes, only use numbers and not Roman numerals or special characters.
  • Spacing and returns
    • White space is important to the readability of content visually and the underlying HTML markup is important for screen readers. 
    • Do not “soft return” (shift + enter) between lines. Instead, use the regular “enter” to maintain the structure of the content for accessibility.

UW-Madison list of degrees we offer/approved by UW-System

A table with short degree code, the name, and how it should be referred to in Guide.
SIS Degree Code Short Name Long Name (if different from the short name) How it should be referenced in Guide
AUD Doctor of Audiology   AuD
BA Bachelor of Arts   BA
BBA Bachelor of Business Admin Bachelor of Business Administration BBA
BFA Bachelor of Fine Arts   BFA
BLA Bachelor of Land Arch Bachelor of Landscape Architecture BLA
BLS Bachelor of Liberal Studies   BLS
BM Bachelor of Music   BM
BNS Bachelor of Naval Science   BNS
BS Bachelor of Science   BS
BSE Bachelor of Science-Education   BSE
BSN Bachelor of Science-Nursing   BSN
BSW Bachelor of Social Work   BSW
DMA Doctor of Musical Arts   DMA
DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice   DNP
DPT Doctor of Physical Therapy   DPT
DVM Doctor of Veterinary Medicine   DVM
EDS Educational Specialist   EdS
JD Doctor of Law (Juris Doctor)   JD
LLM Master of Laws   LLM
LLMI LLMI Legal Institutions   LLMI
MA Master of Arts   MA
MACC Master of Accountancy   MAcc
MBA Master of Business Admin Master of Business Administration MBA
MD Doctor of Medicine   MD
ME Master of Engineering   MEng
MFA Master of Fine Arts   MFA
MGCS Master of Genetic Counselor St Master of Genetic Counselor Studies MGCS
MIPA Master of Int'l Public Affairs Master of International Public Affairs MIPA
MM Master of Music   MM
MPA Master of Public Affairs   MPA
MPH Master of Public Health   MPH
MS Master of Science   MS
MSPA Master of Physician Asst Master of Physician Assistant MPA
MSW Master of Social Work   MSW
OTD Doctor of Occupational Therapy   OTD
PHARD Doctor of Pharmacy   PharmD
PHD Doctor of Philosophy   PhD
PMFS Master of Prof French Studies Master of Professional French Studies MFS
SJD Doctor of Juridical Science   SJD

Further Reading



Capitalization impacts the readability of your content. The proper mix of uppercase and lowercase letters helps ensure readers are able to parse words effectively. In the context of Guide, capitalization can also change the meaning of your content to refer to official titles or general references.

Specific Guidelines and Examples

  • Use sentence case for headings, capitalizing only the first word and proper nouns.
    • Do not use all caps in your headings or throughout your text.
    • NOTE: This is a change in the UW-Madison brand to be implemented in the June 2024 publication of Guide.
  • Capitalize departments and office names when used as a proper noun; otherwise use lowercase.
    • Ex. Department of Art History; art history department.
  • The following should be lowercase unless referring to the official designation or using at the beginning of a sentence.
    • Honors
      • Correct: “Students may apply to the honors program.” 
      • Incorrect: “Students may apply to the Honors Program.” 
    • General education designations, including communications A & B, quantitative reasoning A & B, ethnic studies

Further Reading

Simple text styling


Text styling provides an important navigational function within Guide. Utilizing consistent and cascading heading styling provides an outline of your content for users. Excessive and incorrect use of italics and boldface throughout your paragraph text lessens the utility and can be challenging to read and distracting, especially for users of screen readers.

Specific Guidelines and Examples

  • Cascading headers
    • Cascading headers means you utilize headings in a numerical order, i.e. utilize header 1, then header 2, then header 3, etc. Do not skip a heading, especially to select a header that you prefer the look of.
    • The page title is a Header 1.
    • All tabs must start with a header 2 duplicating the name of the tab. Some exclusions apply, see the University Guidelines for Specific Tabs kb or this Google Sheet.
  •  Bold
    • Reserve the use of bold text to provide visual emphasis, direct users to actively interact with a screen element, or press a keyboard key. (
    • Do not boldface headers
  • Italics
    • Only allowed for book titles or publications. Any other use is not allowed.

Further Reading


Cascading headers with text in between (Header 2, another Header 2, Header 3, Header 4, Header 5)

Writing content that is easy to read


Allows end users to quickly find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs. Too many words reduces the likelihood that users will fully read a page. Guide is heavily utilized by prospective, new, and continuing students and it’s important to write for these audiences as the primary consumer.

Specific Guidelines and Examples

  • Write for the web: expect users to skim and scan; only read about 18% of a page.
  • Don’t use jargon or technical terms. 
  • Place the main idea before exceptions or conditions.
  • Write short sentences.
  • Use plain language.

Basic Guidelines of Plain Language

  • Write for your audience
    • Organize the information
    • Choose your words carefully
    • Be concise
  • Use an active voice.
    • Bad: “The following information must be included in the application for it to be considered complete.”
    • Good: “You must include the following information in your application.”
  • For each message, consider the following questions: 
    • Who is the audience in each message? 
    • What do they need to do? 
    • Why is it important to them? 
    • How could you rewrite this message to address the individual members of your intended audience?
  • Omit unnecessary words (prepositions, redundancies, modifiers)
    • Example: “a number of” (bad) vs “several”, “few”, “many” (good); “Their claim was totally absurd.” (bad) vs “Their claim was absurd.” (good)

Further Reading

Other ways we’re making Guide more accessible 

  • Using Alt-text for photos that need additional context
    • The majority of photos (including all thumbnails) will have an alt-text value of null - “”
    • Photos that add value to the page and are not considered decorative, will have descriptive alt-text provided by the department or
    • school/college communications team. Examples follow:
      • Theatre certificate photo of students performing in a play will have descriptive alt text
      • Business major photo of students in a classroom will have null alt text
  • Coordinating the revision of tables with the vendor to be as accessible as possible.
  • Reducing the amount of text on a page - writing in plain language

Further reading

KeywordsGuide, style   Doc ID129928
OwnerMelissa S.GroupLumen and Guide
Created2023-07-25 09:19:02Updated2024-01-05 11:00:48
SitesLumen and Guide
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