Branding Standards Guide

Ask the Editor

The Style Guide's Ask the Editor section provides answers to common style questions and clarification on usage nuances.

Why Can’t I Be an “Alum”?

Here at the Chancellor’s Office, you can refer to someone who has attended a school as an “alumna” or “alumnus,” but avoid “alum.” The terms “alum”/“alums” are shortened versions of the more standard words “alumna,” “alumnus,” “alumnae” and “alumni.” When writing content for the CSU, “alumni” is the preferred plural version.

Consequently, if you’re a woman, you can be an “alumna” or “alumnae” (plural); if you’re a man, “alumnus.” The plural for a group of men or a mixed group of men and women is “alumni.”

Is It Which or That?

Here’s a tip for determining whether to use “which or “that” in a sentence. A clause that starts with “which” is a nonrestrictive clause and is not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence. That means you can throw out the clause and not change the meaning of the sentence.

For example:

The CSU, which has 23 campuses, is indispensable to California's economic prosperity and diverse communities.

If you take out the clause (which has 23 campuses), the sentence’s core meaning has not changed:

The CSU is indispensable to California's economic prosperity and diverse communities.

On the other hand, if getting rid of the clause would change the meaning of the sentence, it is a restrictive clause and you need a “that.”

For example:

CSU campuses that offer Professional Science Master's programs are addressing job shortages in high-skilled, high-technology fields.

If you remove the clause (that offer Professional Science Master's programs), the sentence has lost its meaning. It now refers to all CSU campuses and not just the ones offering Professional Science Master's programs:

CSU campuses are addressing job shortages in high-skilled, high-technology fields.

Why Is It July 4 Not July 4th?

When writing out a date like July 4, it is always “July 4,” not July 4th.

This is a simple case of cardinal numbers versus ordinal numbers. A cardinal number is a quantity or amount like one, two, three and four. An ordinal number is a place in a series or order like first, second, third and fourth.

Dates are cardinal numbers; therefore, the date is July 4.

So why the confusion? Because when we speak we say “July fourth,” even though it is written as “July four.”

Is there an instance where 4th can be used when referring to the date? Yes, the "4th of July" or “fourth of July” is correct because you are placing it in a series of all the days in July.

One Space, Please

Is it correct to use one space or two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence?

One space is all it takes. Two is redundant and creates gaps in blocks of text.

So why do people double-space? It’s a carryover from the days of typewriters. Most typewriter fonts are monospaced, which means every character is the same width. Inserting two spaces after a period created a break, making it easier to read. However, most of today’s computer fonts are proportional, which means the characters are all different widths. Thus, adding an extra space does not improve readability, but often distracts from it.