Tone & Voice

Developing U-M’s voice in your communications

One of the best ways to ensure you’re representing the university’s voice is, ironically, to take U-M out of it. It sounds counterintuitive — but compelling, branded content is often not UM-focused. Rather, it emphasizes outcomes of all the good work going on across campus. The voice should be prescriptive — that is, directly addressing the needs of the audience. Why should they care?

Too UM-Centric

  • Our faculty includes…
  • We are a world leader in…
  • The University of Michigan has…

Prescriptive, Audience-Focused

  • You’ll enjoy all the benefits of…
  • You’re already thinking about what you can do…
  • Students will discover and be inspired…

Gender-Neutral Language

As the need for gender-neutral words has increased, many colleges and universities have begun changing the way they refer to current and former students.

“Alumni” and “Alums”

Many universities are now using the abbreviations “alum” and “alums” to designate all alumni regardless of gender.

University of Michigan units should follow their own best judgment, but in general, we recommend:

USE ALUM or ALUMS in cases where a gender-neutral word is needed or in more informal contexts, e.g., in communications to students or on social media.

USE ALUMNUS/A/I/AE in more formal or institutional uses, e.g. in magazines or annual reports, the standard Latin words should be used:

  • Alumnus: one male alum
  • Alumna: one female alum
  • Alumni: more than one male or male and female alums
  • Alumnae: more than one female alum


“Freshman/freshmen.” The University of Michigan recommends using “first-year student/first-year students” rather than “freshman/men.”

Sophomores, juniors and seniors may still be referred to by those labels.

“Undergraduate” and “graduate” may also still be used; however, “underclassman/men” “upperclassman/men” is problematic and should be avoided.

Also keep in mind that transfer and international students are an important part of our campus community, and as part of our efforts to be inclusive should be mentioned whenever possible and appropriate.