Typographical rules

Using upper and lower cases, digits and numbers, bold characters and italics obey to specific rules based on publishers’ usual guidelines.

The use of uppercase or capitals may be a problem in professional writings, on paper or on the screen. Putting them all over a text, without applying precise rules, is the same as saying that everything is important… and therefore that nothing is important. Too much uppercase defeats the purpose…

Uppercase letters or capitals are placed:

– in the first word of each sentence (and hence of each paragraph), after question marks, exclamation marks and ellipses when these marks finish a sentence;


* He then revealed what happened…

* What can we do? Your help would be most welcome.

* This is no longer possible! You must carry out this work as soon as possible.

– at the beginning of a quote after the opening quotation marks;

E.G.: “You are being dismissed for serious misconduct”, he told me.

– For some names used in an absolute sense;

E.G.: I worked for twenty-five years in the service of the State.

– for some unique institutions;

E.G.: the Court of Justice; the Constitutional Council.

– for cardinal points when they designate a specific region or block;

E.G.: Eastern Switzerland; North-South relations.

– the names of peoples (from a country, region, city) when they designate a person and are nouns.

E.G.: the Swiss; Valais; Genevans.

Lowercase letters are used:

– after a colon, within a sentence, after a semicolon;


* I have only one solution: sue.

* He was about to leave: he had only three weeks of work left.

– The names of days and months are in uppercase;

E.G.: Today is Monday, 13 January 2010.

– the names of administrative divisions, civil or military courts;

E.G.: the Creuse department, the Paris court of appeal, the 3rd military tribunal.

– function titles;

E.G.: the presiding judge of the Court.

– adjectives accompanying a geographical name (but uppercase in English);

E.G. : The Swiss Confederation, the Swiss Alps.

– proper nouns that become common nouns as product names;

Ex. : camembert cheese, gruyere.

Special case no. 1: saint names

– the saint word is uppercase when it refers to the original saint, i.e. the person;

E.G.: That day, Saint Denis’ mind was elsewhere…

– the saint word takes a capital and is preceded by a hyphen when this name is used to designate something other that the person: a city (Saint-Maurice en Valais), a place (Saint-Sulpice church), a feast day (Saint John fireworks)…

– if the saint name is used to designate a generic product, these are uppercase (a Saint-Emilion, a Saint-Nectaire)

– the abbreviation St is only used for the names of communes.

Special case No. 2: initials and acronyms

Initials and acronyms have one point in common: they refer to a formula, an expression by only indicating the first letters of each important word.

– Initials: 4 letters or less to be pronounced letter by letter (the TGV, VIP). The rule: each letter is capitalised, without points;

– Acronym: 4 or more letters that can be pronounced as a new word (Nasa…). The rule: a capital letter at the beginning, the rest in lowercase.

Download the EPFL’s list of initials and acronyms.

Special case No. 3: common abbreviations

a) Civility titles

– Mr = Mister (N.B.: Mssrs = plural of Mister);

– Ms = Miss ;

– Dr = Doctor;

– Pr = Professor.

b) Units of measure

– min = minute – h = hour;

– mm = millimeter; cm = centimetre; m – meter; km = kilometre;

– g = gramme – kg: kilo;

(C) Other abbreviations

– etc. – N.B.: etc… does not exist;

– N.B. = nota bene.

Download the Typographical Rules memo.


Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Only Ecole takes an uppercase initial. The name is not translated: only the French name is correct.


In general, if we are referring to a specific unit, the first word in the name is uppercase (the School of life sciences, the Mechanical engineering section). If we are talking about this unit in the generic sense (one of the faculties of the School), this will be lowercase.


When citing the title, for a conference for example, an uppercase letter is used out of politeness.

When speaking of professors in general, lowercase is used.

EPFL in the cantons

EPFL in Écublens or EPFL in Lausanne? The EPFL campus in Neuchâtel or Microcity?


This small lexicon tells you how the most common words in EPFL vocabulary are spelled. Did you know for example that the EPFL name is not translated and is always written Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne? – –


– AGEPoly

– Alumni

– The ArtLab

– auto-immune


– a Bachelor

– the Big Bang

– bio-engineering


– the campus

– the Biotech campus

– the Ecotox centre

– the EPF board

– CREApoly

– the CTI-Entrepreneurship


– the School = EPFL

– l’Esplanade

– the ETHZ


– School of computer and communication sciences


– GT-admin


– the Science-society interface

– the Internet

– IS-Academia




– a Master’s degree

– medtechs

– the MOOCS


– Neode, Neuchâtel scientific and technological park


– the EPFL Innovation Park

– the perovskite


– the Quartier Nord


– the Service Desk

– one spin-off, two spin-offs

– one startup, two startups

– the Swisstech Convention Center


– Tandem

– tenure track


– the Universe


– Vivapoly


– wi-fi (normally Wi-Fi)

The writing of digits and numbers can quickly prove to be complex, especially in an environment where these data abound… such as EPFL. The goal: remain legible by using simple writing rules to be applied in all texts.

Writing digits and numbers comes down to an alternative: should we write them in short form (Arabic numerals) or long form (spelled out with letters)? The rules to be applied are fairly simple and only one special case must be mentioned: telling time.

The following are written using Arabic numerals:

– numbers accompanying units of measurement;

E.G.: 3 km, 13 kg, 120°, 55 l.

– amounts;

E.G.: 85 euros; 1.5 million euros; 2.1 billion dollars.

– percentages;

E.G.: 70%.

– dates;

E.G.: 19 October 2001.

– times when they indicate a division of time and not a duration;

E.G.: the train left at 10:20 am

– the numbers of legal document sections, buildings, pages, etc.;

E.G.: Article 1 of the act; p.17; he lives 21, rue Jean-Jaurès.

Spelled out with letters:

– durations;

E.G.: The conference continued for four hours.

– quantities other than those which are expressed in units of measurement;

E.G.: There are two hundred candidates.

– ages;

E.G.: A thirty-four year old engineer.

But when simply stating his civil status, we would write: Jean Durand, 34 years old, residing…

N.B. : since numbers are more immediately understandable when written in Arabic numerals, they are increasingly written in this way (including ages) as soon as the number exceeds a certain threshold, ten or twenty for example.

The following are written using Roman numerals:

– centuries;

E.G.: At the beginning of the XXth century (20th century in English).

– Royal linage;

E.G.: Louis XIV.

– volumes, parts, acts, plates, booklets, etc.;

E.G.: volume IV of Diderot’s correspondence.

– the numbers of councils, congresses, fairs, Olympic Games, etc.;

E.G..: He was a delegate to the XXXth congress.

– numbers of armed forces and military regions.

E.G. : The IIIrd army.

Download typographical rules: digits and numbers

The use of bold characters and italics is rather limited on the web, in particular for reasons of legibility and referencing. The rules to harmonise usage are therefore few and easy to apply.

Transforming the appearance of the characters – by the use of italics, bold or even underlined words – is much more restricted on the web than on written media.

Using italics

Italics are virtually non-existent on the web because they make reading on the screen much more difficult. When used they are used in the same contexts as on paper media:

– the titles of works or newspapers.

E.G.: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Mertsluft, Le Temps.

N.B. : – Italics excludes quotes before and after these titles.

N.B.: when quoting, in addition to the title of a publication, that of an article

taken from it, the title of the article is not put in italics but rather between quotation marks.

E.G.: See the interview with Philippe Sollers in Revue des deux mondes

entitled “What taste means”.

– the names of vessels or aircraft.

E.G.: The Titanic.

– Latin words or little used foreign words.

E.G.: Status quo, the plat du jour, the algae Caulerpa Taxifolia

– music notes.

E.G: the tuning fork gives the la.

Note: the use of italics to indicate a quote is just a habit, it is not mandatory. It is not recommended either because it makes reading more difficult as explained previously.

OUR ADVICE: Limit the use of italics to titles of works, foreign words and Latin names.

Using bold characters

On a web page, their use is often reserved for titles, the teaser and subheads. These elements are integrated into a specific style sheet which already incorporates bold characters.

Bold characters are sometimes used within the texts… sometimes imprudently. A few remarks about this usage:

– there is nothing mandatory about it, no rule demands that some words be put in bold;

– writers who put words in bold in their texts say they “are putting what is important in bold”. This is an eminently subjective concept: what is important to you is not necessarily important to another writer or the reader…

– if you put too much bold, there is a risk the text will end up being “mottled\