Wall with text reading "U-rah-rah Wisconsin"

Brand Messaging

Staying on message with the UW–Madison brand goes beyond what we say — it’s also how we say it. Our set of tonal words serves as a launching pad for the voice and tone of the UW–Madison brand, while our editorial style guide ensures consistency and professionalism that reflect a world-class university.

Brand tonal words

Our brand tonal words capture the essence of UW–Madison’s brand platform in a powerful, relatable way. These words shouldn’t be used as a checklist; rather, they should be a point of reference as you work to align your messaging with the overall personality of the brand. Based on the nature and audience of your materials, there is flexibility to scale up some tonal elements over others.

We’re driven by discovery, and are always looking for what’s next rather than being satisfied with what has already been achieved.

  • In use: bold and prideful, but not pretentious
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni, internal, external

We’re never pompous or unnecessarily elevated. We are welcoming and inclusive to all ideas and all people.

  • In use: relatable, genuine, and authentic, but not self-deprecating
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni, internal, external

We have been doing things our own way for quite some time. Why stop now? Note, however, that unconventional does not mean unnecessarily frivolous or pointless. Our unconventionality always has a direction and point of view.

  • In use: creative, vivid, and witty, but not unprofessional or inappropriate
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni


We are driven to make change. That means looking at problems from different angles and welcoming options that differ from our own, all with the aim of making strides toward a better future.

  • In use: ambitious, forward-thinking, and achieving, but not boastful
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni, internal, external

We are a land-grant university that was founded on a purpose. We do not communicate with fluff or unnecessary language. Our communication is always driven and deliberate.

  • In use: active, concise, and clear; without fluff, jargon, or clichés
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni, internal, external

We work tirelessly toward our goals, not stopping until we’ve reached them. And when we do finally reach them, we set our sights a little farther down the line. We are always pushing toward the future, because we know that is how we can make it brighter.

  • In use: inspiring and engaging, but not hyperbolic
  • Audience scale up: students, prospectives, alumni


Every day, we work within our means and capabilities to achieve tangible success. Similarly, our tone should never sound too lofty or become separate from our concrete successes and goals.

  • In use: Curious, thoughtful, and intellectual, but not preachy or arrogant
  • Audience scale up: students, internal

Editorial style guide

The UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide is a central reference for terminology specific to UW–Madison as well as common points of style such as capitalization, abbreviation, and punctuation.

How to stay consistent

Choose a primary style guide as your foundation — either the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook

  • We generally recommend Chicago style. UW students, faculty, and staff can automatically access the online Chicago Manual of Style with a campus internet connection via a UW Libraries subscription. 

Use the UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide as a supplement to your primary style guide. It should override just a few points of style that help ensure consistent usage across campus and preserve brand recognition. 

Note that the UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide is largely based on Chicago style, with a few notable exceptions. 

  • These exceptions include numbers (we spell out zero to nine, then use numerals for 10 and above); em dashes (we use spaces on both sides); and abbreviating United States (we use periods: U.S.). 

Consult a dictionary for preferred spellings not found in the UW–Madison Editorial Style Guide or your primary style guide.

  • We recommend Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

Our name

First reference (especially for external audiences):

  • the University of Wisconsin–Madison (full, official name; note the en dash instead of a hyphen)
  • Capitalize The only as a formal title in a formal reference or when the phrase stands alone, such as in the headline of a program. Generally, however, lowercase the, especially when it appears within a sentence. (E.g., “Some 40,000 students attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison each year.”)

Acceptable second references:

  • UW–Madison (typically no the; e.g., “welcome to UW–Madison,” not “welcome to the UW–Madison”)
  • the UW (e.g., “welcome to the UW”)
  • university (lowercase as a standalone; e.g., “welcome to the university”)