Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Communications Tip: Political Capitalization

As if politics weren’t tricky enough, figuring out when to capitalize political terms can be a challenge! Is it ‘President’ or ‘president’? ‘Democrat’ or ‘democrat’? Read on for a summary review of when ‘to capitalize or not to capitalize’!

Capitalize when used as a title preceding a name.

  • Example: President Obama is traveling to India this week.
Capitalize when referring to a specific president even without using the name.
  • Example: What do you think of the President's healthcare plan?
Use lowercase when referring generally to the office.
  • Example: The Constitution says the president must be a natural born citizen of the United States.
Similar to the president rule, capitalize when referring to a specific administration, whether you name it explicitly or not.
  • Example: Interior Secretary James Watt was a member of the Reagan Administration.
  • Example: Environmentalists criticized the Administration for appointing Watt.
Use lowercase when referring generally to an administration.
  • Example: The requirements of an act are implemented by the administration in power.
ALWAYS capitalize when referring to the US Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Example: The mid-term elections dramatically altered the composition of Congress.
Use lowercase when ‘congressional’ is used as an adjective . . .
  • Example: That hearing is an abuse of congressional powers!
. . . UNLESS the usage is part of a proper name.
  • Example: The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the power to review all new federal regulations issued by government agencies.

Congressional Titles (representative/senator/congressman)
Capitalize when using the term as a title followed by a name.
  • Example: Last week, Senator Reid defeated Sharron Angle in the 2010 mid-term elections.
Otherwise, use lowercase.
  • Example: The senator from California supported the climate change bill.
  • Example: Contrary to the President’s wishes, the senator voted against the bill.
Political Parties
Capitalize when referring to a political party or member of a political party; also capitalize the word "party" if used.
  • Example: Barbara Boxer is a running for re-election as a Democrat.
  • Example: The Natural Resources Defense Council’s position is similar to the Democratic Party platform on this issue.
Use lowercase for a general political philosophy or principles.
  • Example: He is democratic in his thinking.
A clever example from WikiAnswers sums it up as follows:
  • A Democrat is someone who belongs to the Democratic Party; a democrat is someone who believes in democracy. Democrats (big D) are democrats, but not all democrats (small D) are Democrats—some of them are Republicans!

ALWAYS capitalize when referring to a specific agency, whether it is explicitly named or not.

  • Example: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) implements the civilian space program.
  • Example: The Agency also conducts aeronautics and aerospace research.
Use lowercase if referring to agencies in general.
  • Example: Generally, policy implementation is an agency responsibility.

Directions/Parts of the country
Capitalize when referring to a place name.

  • Example: Heidi is from West Virginia.

Use lowercase when talking about a general direction.

  • Example: To find the bike locker, head towards the north side of Bren Hall.

Where this can get tricky is when parts of a country are referred to by a direction, e.g., the Southwest. In this case, if the term refers to a specific geographic area as an entity, you should capitalize it. In contrast, if you are just using the term to describe a portion of the country that lies in a westerly (or other) direction, use lowercase.

  • Example: Buffalo used to roam freely across the Great Plains of the American West.
    vs. Buffalo used to roam freely across large parts of the western United States.
  • Example: Representatives from western states are generally opposed to an increase in grazing fees on federal lands.
  • Example: The Northeast is known for its vibrant display of fall foliage.

Hope that helps with any political capitalization confusion! As always, please feel free to contact the Communications Center with any questions. Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Communications Tip: Simplifying Scientific Language

Technical terms can make communication more efficient when a group understands the meaning, but they may create barriers when interacting with laypeople or researchers outside of your field. Using jargon can make your message unintelligible, or even worse, make you seem insincere.

Adjusting your style of communication is an important part of considering your audience. Remember that one word may be interpreted in a multitude of ways by different people. For example, a landscape ecologist might define a “landscape” as a mosaic that is heterogeneous with respect to at least one factor, due to effects of patterns and processes (Turner, Gardner & O’Neill, 2001; Urban, O’Neill, and Shugart, Jr., 1987). Members of the public might think of “lawns” or “landscaping” when they hear the same word. There are also many popular press references to religious, political, and socio-economic “landscapes.”

Keep your audience in mind when crafting your writing or presentation. What do you want them to know about your research, and how can they apply what they have learned to a problem or decision? Also choose your language carefully so that your important points are clear.

"Effective scientific prose is accurate, clear, economical, fluent, and graceful" (Council of Biology Editors, 1994, 101).

Here are some tips to help you simplify scientific language:

1) Rather than using technical terminology, use simpler synonyms. Also be careful of words from a thesaurus that can make your communication awkward and unclear.

do rather than accomplish, perform
part rather than component
begin rather than commence, initiate
cause rather than effectuate
measure rather than quantify
use rather than utilization
lessen the impact of rather than mitigate

2) If you must use jargon, be explicit about it. Give context and clarification for acronyms or other terms that you use.


To evaluate the effect of stresses on hydrologic systems, researchers often use topologic simulation models. These models can help them to predict the fate and transport of pollutants under various conditions.


To evaluate the effect of stresses on watersheds and river basins, including changes in the amount of precipitation or ground-water extraction rates, researchers often use simulation models based on local topography and other watershed characteristics. These models can help them to predict where pollutants will travel under various conditions.

3) Wordy phrases may also inhibit understanding. Where possible, stick to using simple, phrases that accurately convey the meaning you intended.

fewer rather than a decreased number of
because rather than accounted for by the fact
we observed rather than it was observed in the course of experiments
we do not know rather than we have insufficient knowledge
to rather than in order to
agreement rather than unanimity of opinion

4) It may be effective to use short stories or analogies. If you use this technique, be sure that your analogy is straightforward and that your audience will relate to it. Consider the following example from Stephen Schneider of Stanford University (Schwartz, 2006). If you were asked to justify a policy that mandates large energy use reductions based on a minimal increase in the likelihood of catastrophic climate change, what would be an effective method? Schneider recommended drawing a parallel with fire insurance. Many homeowners invest in fire insurance although only a fraction will actually experience a home fire.

5) Consult someone outside of your field to assess the clarity of your paper or presentation.

One again, all of us at the Communications Center would like to wish you a wonderful summer!


Council of Biology Editors, Style Manual Committee. (1994). Scientific style and format: the CBE manual for authors, editors, and publishers. 6th ed. Reston, VA: Council of Biology [Science] Editors.

Gale, C. Be clear: communicating research to lay audiences. Retrieved from

Miller, O. (2010). How to simplify your presentation without dumbing it down. Retrieved from

Schwartz, M. (2006). Scholars learn to communicate plainly the science of climate change. Stanford Report. Stanford: Stanford University. Retrieved from

Turner, M.G., Gardner, R.H., & O’Neill, R.V. (2001). Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process. New York: Springer Science and Business Media, Inc.

Urban, D.L., O’Neill, R.V., & Shugart, Jr., H.H. (1987). Landscape ecology: a hierarchical perspective can help scientists understand spatial pattern. Bioscience, 37(2): 119-127.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Communications Tip: Editing Checklist

Last year, our ESM 437 class compiled a quick reference checklist for general editing, an ideal resource as you finish final papers and prepare for internships, new jobs, or a relaxing summer. Feel free to adapt our list to your next writing effort.

Here is an editing checklist to get you started. Let us know if we're missing anything and we'll add it to future iterations.
--Matches expectations of task
--Clear objective/thesis statement
--Compelling introduction and conclusion
--Demonstrates flow/logical order
--Makes relevant and appropriate recommendations
--Easy to find critical points
--Addresses significance: answers “so what?”
--Supportive and well-integrated evidence
--Assumptions are explicit

--Overall clarity
--Cohesion/ connectivity between paragraphs
--Appropriate scope
--Precise language
--Avoid redundancy
--Sentence/word variation
--Audience-appropriate evidence (e.g., statistics, observations, examples);
useful charts/tables/visuals, where applicable
--Tense/verb agreement

Thank you to our ESM 437 students for their contributions!
--Monica Bulger

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - How to Hyphenate

Student writers often confuse the hyphen and dash. A hyphen is a short line (-) used to join words; it occurs on most keyboards as an actual key. A dash is a longer line (—) used to set off or separate phrases; it does NOT occur on most keyboards as an actual key. A dash can be automatically generated in Microsoft Word, however, by typing two hyphens between words like this: A dash--generated with two hyphens--is a useful writing tool. (After you use “space bar” to move away from the word following the double hyphens, MS Word will automatically change it into a dash.) If you are using a word processing program that does not automatically convert double hyphens to a dash, then it is acceptable to use the two hyphens in place of the dash.

Now that we’re clear on that point, let’s focus on the hyphen. If you are looking for infallible rules for when to use the hyphen, you are out of luck: its use is constantly evolving! The following uses, however, are generally agreed upon, with a few exceptions here and there.

~Main Uses~

1. To join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun (a.k.a., a compound modifier)

Asbestos is a well-known carcinogen.
Look online for up-to-date images of the oil spill.
Predictions from large-scale global climate models can be a valuable resource for city planners.

Note: When the adjective follows the noun, the words are NOT hyphenated.

The carcinogenic properties of asbestos are well known.
The images of the oil spill are up to date.
Predictions from global climate model can be a valuable resource for city planners in spite of the models' large scale.
[In these cases, "well known," “up to date,” and "large scale" follow the nouns they're modifying, so they are not hyphenated.]

2. To join compound numbers under one hundred and fractions

Examples: thirty-five, fifty-two or five-eighths

Hyphens are usually not used with numbers greater than one hundred, unless they occur within the greater number:

Example: one hundred twenty-one

Note: While hyphens are used to write out numbers when required, it is acceptable in most cases to write numbers that are greater than ten numerically (e.g., 12 instead of twelve).

3. To avoid confusion or awkward combinations of letters

re-sign a purchase order (vs. resign from a job)
re-creation of the compound (vs. parks and recreation)
re-enter the facility (vs. “reenter”)

4. To avoid ambiguities

a little-used car vs. a little used-car
third-world environmental degradation vs. third world environmental degradation

5. To join certain prefixes and suffixes to words

Examples: Use a hyphen with the prefixes ex-, self-, all-, half-, semi-, quasi-, non-, post-, and neo-.




Example: Use a hyphen with the suffix –elect.


Example: Use a hyphen between a prefix and a capitalized word or acronym.

pre-NEPA regulation

Example: Use a hyphen and with figures or letters.



Note: In all of the above cases, there are NO SPACES on either side of the hyphen.

6. To split words between lines when using a justified text format.

Whenever possible, keep a word that isn’t hyphenated together, but when it does get broken at the end of a line, make the break only between syllables or where a word is already hyphenated.

Examples: en-vi-ron-ment-al-ist, warm-ing, plan-ning, or mass-produced

Note: Never put a single letter at the beginning or end of a line and never put two-letter suffixes at the beginning of a new line.


extremely (Do not separate to leave “ly” beginning a new line.)

avail-a-ble (Separate only on either side of the a; do not leave the initial “a” at the end of a line.)

~Suspended Hyphens~

Suspended hyphens (a.k.a., “dangling” or “hanging” hyphens) are used in series of related compound words separated by “and” “or” or “to.” In these cases, the hyphen acts as a kind of place holder.


The first- and second-year MESM students are brilliant.

The proposed logging site is full of two- and three-hundred-year-old trees.

~Hyphen MYTHS~

1. The hyphen as a separator

The hyphen’s main purpose is to join words, but people still sometimes use it INCORRECTLY as a “separator,” frequently in place of a comma.


Once you’ve run the model-add it to your GIS display. (Incorrect)

Once you’ve run the model, add it to your GIS display. (Correct)

Other “separators” that are more appropriate include the period (hyphens can be an indicator of run-on sentences), the colon, the semicolon, or the dash (visit the Communication Center’s blog posts for more information on each of these “separators.”)

2. The hyphen as a delimiter.

Another common mis-use of the hyphen is to delineate internal or parenthetical phrases.

Incorrect Example: Black carbon-unlike greenhouse gases-stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

This incorrectly hyphenated sentence is confusing, because people will read it as

Black carbon-unlike . . .

greenhouse gases-stays . . .

in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

…when what the writer really meant was

Black carbon . . .

unlike greenhouse gases . . .

stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

This sentence should be correctly written with dashes as follows:

Black carbon—unlike greenhouse gases—stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

~Confusion About Capitalization~

We often get asked whether to capitalize the word following a hyphen in a title. After consulting grammar books, checking journals, and asking editors, we discovered that there is no consensus on whether one practice is more correct than another.

Therefore, both of the following examples are correct:

Predictions from Large-scale Global Climate Models

Predictions from Large-Scale Global Climate Models

We generally prefer the second option, but will post feedback from faculty on this issue.


These tips should help you to correctly use the hyphen, but when in doubt, you can always check a dictionary or a good style reference—or make an appointment at the Communications Center!


Conrey, S. M., and Stolley, K. (2010). Hyphen Use. Retrieved from the Purdue Online Writing Lab

Hester, Z. (2010). The Hyphen. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2010). Hyphen. Retrieved from

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - Help Save the Endangered Semicolon!

Despite the many benefits it offers, the semicolon is often misunderstood—or even feared—and has become increasingly scarce in modern writing. In this installment of our Fearless Punctuation Series, we provide you with three easy ways that you can bring back the semicolon:

1) If you have two short stand-alone sentences that are related, or provide interesting contrast to one another, you may consider incorporating them into one sentence. Semicolons allow you to join independent clauses without using conjunctions (e.g., and, but, nor, yet).The following examples show instances when semicolons should, and should not, be used to connect clauses.

A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef. Park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about negative impacts on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined, as shown below.

A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef; park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about effects on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Combining the two statements using a semicolon shows that they are connected.

Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. These conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009)
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined by using a semicolon or a conjunction, as shown below.

Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, and these conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009).
--If a conjunction is used to connect two clauses, a comma should be used, rather than a semicolon.

Whole Foods Market offsets its total energy use through wind energy credits. All store locations have also discontinued the use of plastic grocery bags (Loftus, 2010).
--These two statements do not have an obvious connection. Eliminating plastic bags is not related to energy offsets, so it is best to leave these two sentences separate.

2) Semicolons can also help you to connect sentences with internal punctuation.

Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River. The primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--These two sentences are related, and the period breaks the relationship between the clauses. They can be combined using a semicolon, as shown below.

Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River; the primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--A semicolon is appropriate for connecting the two sentences. If a comma had been used, the sentence would have a comma splice error.

3) You may additionally use semicolons as super commas in your writing.

The United Nations operates offices throughout the globe, including in Nairobi, Kenya; Bankok, Thailand; Santiago, Chile; and Beirut, Lebanon.
--Use a semicolon if you are making a list of items separated with commas, such as locations, names, dates, or descriptions.

Note: If you are in doubt, reading aloud may help you to decide which punctuation is most appropriate.
Comma = brief pause
Semicolon = moderate pause
Period = full stop

A comical illustrated guide to semicolon usage is available at

Also, refer to Jane Straus’ online Blue Book of Grammer at


[ACOE] US Army Corps of Engineers. (2010). Kissimmee River Restoration. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

[AFP] Agence France-Presse. (2010). Great Barrier Reef oil spill hits renowned nature sanctuary. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Loftus, K. (2010). Our earth day commitment. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

van Mantgem, P.J., Stephenson, N.L., Byrne, J.C. Daniels, L.D., Franklin, J.F., Fule, P.Z., Harmon, M.E., Larson, A.J., Smith, J.M., Taylor, A.H. & Veblen, T.T. (2009). Widespread increase of tree mortality rates in the western United States. Science, 323, 521-524.
--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - The Collaborative Colon

For the next tip in our Fearless Punctuation Series, we reveal the hidden power of the colon to emphasize and elaborate. We encourage you to use the colon daringly, yet sparingly, to spice up your writing.

H.W. Fowler said that the colon “delivers the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words,” which is as apt a description as any! More specifically, colons introduce the part of a sentence that exemplifies, restates, elaborates, undermines, explains or balances the preceding statement. Most importantly, that ‘preceding statement’ must always be an independent clause capable of standing alone. Never use a colon after a sentence fragment.

~Main Uses~
A writer may use a colon after an independent clause to direct the reader’s attention to a list, an appositive, or a quotation.

The Bren School’s MESM core curriculum includes the following fall courses: Ecology of Managed Ecosystems, Earth Systems Science, Introduction to Environmental Policy Analysis, and Business and the Environment.

When examined in this way, climate change is a violation of nature: an appalling mistake.

Consider the words of P.J. O’Rourke: “The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.”

A colon may also be used between independent clauses if the second clause summarizes or explains the first.

The environmental assessment was correct: most of the habitat had been destroyed.
Note: When an independent clause follows a colon, it may begin with a lowercase or a capital letter.

~Other More Perfunctory Uses~
The colon is also used after a salutation in a formal greeting letter, to indicate hours and minutes, to show proportions, between a title and subtitle, and in certain conventions in bibliographic entries (volume: page number, city: publisher, etc.).

Dear Ms. Helfer:

9:30 a.m.

The standard ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus in marine systems is 16:1.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Boston: Bedford, 1999.

~Avoid Mis-use~
As mentioned above, a colon MUST be preceded by an independent clause.

Avoid using a colon between a verb and its object or complement.
Some important nutrients in aquatic systems are: phosphorus and nitrogen. (Incorrect)
Some important nutrients in aquatic systems are phosphorus and nitrogen. (Correct)

Avoid using a colon between a preposition and its object.
Particulate matter (PM10) pollution consists of: very small liquid and solid particles floating in the air. (Incorrect)
Particulate matter (PM10) pollution consists of very small liquid and solid particles floating in the air. (Correct)

Avoid using a colon after "such as," "including," or "for example."
The Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve is home to native plant species such as: Arctostaphylos purissima and Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis. (Incorrect)
The Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve is home to native plant species such as Arctostaphylos purissima and Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis. (Correct)

Hacker, D. 1999. A Writer’s Reference. Fourth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Jeantheau, M. 2010. Funny Environmental Quotes. Grinning Planet. Web.

Truss, L. 2003. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Gotham Books: New York City.

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

UCSB's Environmental Media Initiative

Environmental media has really taken off as a "hot topic" in the last few years and environmental media centers are springing up at campuses across the country. As an institution uniquely suited to this interdisciplinary field--with a tradition of excellence in both environmental science and media/communications studies--UCSB has instituted an Environmental Media Initiative (EMI).

The EMI is part of UCSB's Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television and New Media and brings together environmental scientists with film, media and communications scholars to collaborate on teaching, research and public programming. Some of their programs include:
  • Blue Horizons: a 9-week academic summer program focused on using media to communicate vital stories of the global ocean.
  • Green Screen: an environmental media production program that brings together students in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences to engage environmental issues in Santa Barbara through artistic production.
  • Digital Ocean: a virtual commons that connects people and provides them with resources to advance ocean sustainability and protect earth's ocean ecosystems.

Dr. Ron Rice recently provided the Bren community with an overview of the EMI program and made the following suggestions for ways that Bren students can engage with the EMI:

  • Take environmental media courses or apply to Blue Horizons
  • Investigate interdisciplinary funding opportunities through the EMI for graduate students: either full funding or quarter-time hourly work on EMI projects (talk to Bren Ph.D. student Julie Robinson)
  • Find a way to do a dual project with Bren/EMI as part of your classes or internships or on your own
  • For Bren MESM students, think about different ways to distribute your group project results, in addition to your paper report. Collaborate with EMI colleagues on short films, online media or other ideas.
  • Contingent upon funding, EMI hopes to complete a biannual survey on environmental knowledge and attitudes. This project could be a good opportunity for Bren students to get involved.

For more information, visit the EMI website or talk to Bren folks who are involved with EMI, like Steve Gaines, John Melack, or Ph.D. student Julie Robinson.

--Audrey Tresham