I automatically use the preposition on after the words focus or emphasis. However, I've recently come across several instances of them being followed by in, such as in the following examples:

She graduated with a degree in studio art, with a focus in printmaking.


He graduated with a degree in creative writing, with emphasis in fiction.

A quick Google search shows that this is common. I'm not entirely convinced however, and I can't seem to find anything to support the use of in in dictionaries or style guides. Any help?

  • I would go for "on" for both of these sentences. – JavaLatte Mar 8 '16 at 10:43
  • @Javababe No, it is conventional to use in to refer to one's academic concentration— a degree in civil engineering, a major in classical philology, a certificate in network security, a specialty in fiction writing. – choster Mar 8 '16 at 16:44
  • @choster: I stand corrected. – JavaLatte Mar 8 '16 at 16:47

She graduated with a degree in studio art, with a focus in printmaking.

This is an academic context. In this context, the preposition in is often used with the verb focus to describe a program's special emphasis.

As an example, have a look at these program listings from a Google search. Notice how they are all hits on academic websites:

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If you are using 'focus' as a 'verb', it takes the preposition 'on'.

OALD's entry for the verb 'focus' gives all examples of sentences with 'on'. However, as I see on other reference sites, I see that 'focus in' is also possible. But the context is different.

Say, if you are taking a snap, you may focus in to capture an object. It may serve as 'zoom in'. However, I'm not sure about this usage because your context is different.

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