Appropriate language

Writers' Style Guide

Avoid vulgarities and discriminatory language. Omit anything that could be considered offensive to any section of the community including ethnic or religious groups. Respect the feelings of minorities.

ApproximatelyUse about. Short, plain words are preferred.
As to whetherUse whether.
As yetUse yet.
At present/presentlyWrite now instead of at present, at the present time, presently, currently, at the current time. Or simply leave out.
BetweenBetween 8.00am and 4.21pm, not between 8.00am to 4.21pm. Alternatively, use from 8.00am to 4.21pm, not from 8.00am-4.21pm.
BudgetGive this word an initial capital when writing of the Northern Territory Budget but in later references, use budget papers, budget allocations. Charles Darwin University budget should take an initial lower case.

Capitals of note:

  • Aboriginal
  • Bible
  • Central Australia
  • Dry Season
  • Equator, equatorial
  • Full Court
  • Indigenous (see Indigenous)
  • Liberal (a Liberal MP, but liberal views if it means not conservative)
  • President (for both a head of state and a company officer)
  • Red Centre
  • Southeast Asia
  • Top End (of the Northern Territory)
  • Tropic (of Capricorn, but the tropics)
  • United Nations, then UN
  • Wet Season

Do not capitalise air force, army (unless full title is used, Royal Australian Air Force, followed by RAAF or the air force). Use Defence as a shortened form of the Australian Defence Force.

Also, do not capitalise common names of species: barramundi, coral trout, etc. (see Italics).

CatholicNot Roman Catholic or RC.
Centred aroundThis is incorrect. Use centred on.
CertainlyUsed by some to intensify statements ― a bad mannerism. Put certainly in the bin with very.

To avoid sexist language, use the noun Chair when referring to a person presiding over a company board, committee, or meeting. For example: The Chair of the Bullo Health Committee Eric Manly says...

Avoid chairman and chairperson; one is regarded as sexist, the other is stilted.

Collective nounsA collective noun singular in form takes a singular verb: The university is, university employees are; The council is, council members are; The committee is, committee members are; The faculty is, faculty staff are...
ColloquialismMeans a slang word or phrase. Such terms are considered too casual for university publications.

Handy for clarifying or slowing down a sentence. Otherwise, use sparingly or leave out.

In a sentence listing names or items, use semi-colons to avoid confusion. For example: The group consisted of Ministry of Defence Secretary Bill Smith; President of United Toggles and Switches Fred Jones and his team of sales representatives; and Chief Executive of the Rockets and Warheads Corporation Enrico Ballistica.

CommenceUse start or begin. Short, sharp words make for crisper writing and easier comprehension.
Commonly misused words

Always use the correct word. Some are commonly misused:

Advise: To provide information or guidance.
Advice: Guidance given or received; a noun, not a verb.

Aggravate: To add to an existing problem or condition.
Irritate: To annoy or to vex.

Alternate: To switch between two or more options; every second one (adjective), for example, On alternate Sundays. Alternative: Different or other option; different from what is normally done, for example, Alternative power sources.

Compliment: To congratulate; an expression of praise.
Complement: To add to; that which completes; counterpart.

Criteria: A plural noun, meaning standards of judgment or criticism; established rules or principles for testing anything.
Criterion: The singular of criteria.

Its: Singular ownership where gender is non-existent or unknown, For example, The aircraft lowered its undercarriage.
It's: Abbreviated form of it is.

License: To grant permission or to authorise.
Licence: A certificate or formal permission to do something.

Media: Often, a means or instrument. The plural of medium. Strictly speaking, this word takes a plural verb: The news media are on the scene.
Medium: The singular of media.

Sporadic: Occasional, as in sporadic outbreaks.
Spasmodic: Intermittent, in the nature of a spasm: Spasmodic efforts.


Use compared with when pointing out a difference: Compared with Calcutta, Darwin is a very small city.

Compared to when things are being likened to each other: She compared his teeth to ivory.


When writing for the University, do not use contractions such as I'm, you're, isn't, aren't. They are considered too informal.

But contractions may be used when directly quoting someone, since people speak this way. For example: 'I'm not sure I'm in favour of what you're proposing,' he said.

ContrastUse contrast with, not contrast to.
Cooperate/coordinate/coordinatorThe hyphens are left out.
Current/currentlyA current is in a river or ocean. Use presently if you must, but now is preferable.
Dates and times

This information should be precise and complete.

Dates: Spell out references to the month: Tuesday 12 June 2007 (not Tuesday, June 12, 2007)

Times: 9.00am, 6.55pm


Use dead or died. Write plainly without offending.

Note: In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society, the name of a dead person is not mentioned for at least a year after death. An image should not be shown unless the family involved gives approval (see Indigenous).

Different fromUse different from, not than or to. One thing differs from another. Or use unlike, other than.
DisinterestedThis word means unbiased or impartial. If someone is showing a lack of interest, he or she is uninterested.
Dot pointsDot points are used to break up information, so it is easier to read. This is an important point especially when writing for online publications.

Try to keep the dot points short, simple and clear of excessive punctuation. Where you can, introduce the list. This way it can be easily read as a whole sentence.

The rules for dot points are usually different for each publication, but at CDU the following examples should used.

The University will look at:

  • the type of courses required
  • who will teach them
  • how they can be offered to external students.

Sentence fragments:

University features:

  • individual attention for students
  • focus on quality
  • strong partnerships with international institutions.

The recommended style in using commas/semicolons/full stops calls for no punctuation until the last sentence - end the list with a full stop. The trend is not to use them at the end of the second to last dot point.

Don't use full stops in stand alone lists, which contain the type of material that does not lend itself to integration with other text.

CDU campuses:

  • Casuarina
  • Palmerston
  • Nhulunbuy
  • Katherine
  • Alice Springs

Due toMeans attributable to: The plane crash was due to engine failure. In adverbial phrases, loosely used for owing to or because of.

Singular in number. Use either of the two is, not either are. The same rule applies for neither.

Either belongs with or, neither belongs with nor.

ElectrocutionDeath by electric shock. One does not survive being electrocuted. A person who survives has received an electric shock; he or she has not been electrocuted.
EtcMeans and other things. Why not omit it? Any item important enough to call for etc deserves a mention. At the end of a list introduced by for example or such as, it is incorrect to use etc.
ExUse former.
Exclamation marks

Not to be used for emphasising simple statements: It was a great day. We went for a drive.

Use exclamation marks after true exclamations or orders: What a great day! Get the car out!

FacilityMeans a building or set of buildings designed for a specific purpose. A bland word. Whatever happened to computer labs, classrooms, auditoriums and office buildings?
FewerIt is correct to use fewer with numbers, less with quantities: Fewer people, fewer houses, but less sugar, less water.

From one to nine, spell out. After that, use numerals. For figures of five or more digits, use a comma: 2000 but 20,000. Spell out numbers which begin sentences: 'Nineteen students attended on the day.'

Exceptions to the rule include:

  • decimals and fractions: 0.5, 61/2
  • a phrase such as, 'Half the Charles Darwin University students...'
  • percentages and measurements are always expressed as numerals: 9 per cent, 5kg
  • millions and billions are spelt out: $7 million, 2.75 billion. Leave a gap between the figure and the word
  • it is acceptable to use the abbreviation in a headline. For example: 'Hospital to receive $20m...'
  • use 1950s, then 50s. In his 90s, not nineties.
Financial yearsWrite 2006-07 but 1999-2000 when changing centuries.
First/secondPreferred to firstly, secondly.
FocusedSpell it this way, not focussed.
FolkEquivalent to people. Folks is colloquial and should not be used.
FollowingIt is better to use after when that is what is meant.
Foreseeable futureBeware of this cliché. How far into the future can the prophets see?
FormattingSee Text formatting.
FulfilThere is no double-l in fulfil or fulfilment, but there is in fulfilled. Similarly, use enrol, enrolment but enrolled.
GirlFor any female over the age of 18, use the word woman.
GotMany regard this word as ugly. Often it is redundant, as in has got. Its use in advertising can be acceptable for particular effect.
HeadingsThese should appear in sentence case format, without a full stop. The initial letter of the first word should be capitalised. All remaining letters, except for proper nouns, should be in lower case.

An adverb, meaning with hope or in a hopeful manner. An example: We set out hopefully.

It does not mean, It is to be hoped that, or I hope that, although commonly used this way. Correct usage is preferred.


Some writers like to start sentences with this word when the meaning is nevertheless. Find another way or try moving the word. For example: At last, however, the ambulance arrived.

This word can mean to whatever extent or degree or whatever way: However difficult the task may be, there is no escaping it. However you look at it, we are bound to come out ahead.


The Macquarie Dictionary describes hyphens as the most variable detail of all in writing. It is easy to see why: the little blighters keep appearing then disappearing.

Compound nouns often move through three stages ― from two words, to hyphenated, to one word. So, all three forms can be in used at the one time, for example, death rate, death-rate, deathrate.

As well, there is a move away from hyphenated prefixes, for example: coordinate, cooperate, even reenter.

Which style to choose? For everyday publications, leave out hyphens wherever possible.

An exception: Compounds of two words used adjectivally before a noun. For example, five-year terms, a redhot poker, a Darwin-based firm. But write: Her firm is Darwin based.

IfThis word usually takes the conditional tense, that is were not was: If I were you, I would give up (rather than, If I was you...).

Always capitalise Indigenous when it refers to the original inhabitants of Australia ― as in Indigenous Australians and Indigenous communities.

It needs no capitals when used in a general sense to refer to the original inhabitants of other countries.

Indigenous is a generic reference covering all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and is the preferred term used by the University.

The word Indigenous is an adjective.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission advises the most precise and collective reference for Indigenous Australians is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recommends the term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as the preferred noun for an individual.

Important note: As a sign of respect in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society, the name of a dead person is often not mentioned for at least a year after the death. An image should not be shown unless the family involved gives approval.

These sensitive issues are sometimes negotiable. Check with the community, taking care not to mention the dead person's name when doing so. For further information, phone the Northern Land Council on 8920 5100, or the Land Council in your region: Central Land Council, Alice Springs on 8951 6211; Tiwi Land Council, Darwin on 8981 4898; or Anindilyakwa, Groote Eylandt on 8987 6638. They will either help or refer you to another agency or local community.

InferShould not be confused with imply. Infer means to deduce.
InitialsAlways use a person's first name, for example, Eric Wisdom, then Mr Wisdom or Eric throughout.
InternetUse upper case: Internet. Also see Web.
In order toFor brevity, use to.
In the final analysisAvoid this expression. It is exhausted.
In the near futureUse soon.

Italic type, in which letters slope to the right, follows a number of recognised conventions though none that is universally applicable. Rely on common sense. Italics are often used for:

1. Titles of books, movies and other artistic works. For example: The students saw Some Like It Hot as part of their film studies. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Old Man and the Sea.

2. Names of newspapers and periodicals: NT News, The Litchfield Times, Knowledge Territory. Note that if the article 'the' forms part of the title, it is italicised.

3. Names of ships, aircraft and other vehicles: Sea Spray, Southern Cross, Bluebird. However, this does not apply to the abbreviation HMAS preceding a name such as HMAS Brisbane. Nor does it apply to model or brand names, for example, a Holden station sedan, the Concorde aircraft.

4. Citation of Acts: Laws begin their lives as draft statutes or Bills before parliament and, if approved at all levels, become Acts. For official purposes, Bills are presented in roman type: Air Pilots Training Act 1982 (No. 50) (Cwlth). Acts appear in italics: Air Pilots Training Act 1982 (No. 50) (Cwlth); note that the number and jurisdiction ― (No. 50) (Cwlth) ― are in roman type.

But, for everyday university publications, give the title of an Act in italics. It is acceptable to omit the date: the Air Pilots Training Act.

5. Scientific names of plants and animals: These are always italicised. For example: Eucalyptus, though abbreviations of 'variety' and 'species' are set in roman. Common names are in roman, for example, blue gum, barramundi.

6. Words and letters cited as such. For example: The term free fire zone is used to... Wherever I go, I find the words No Parking.

JuniorWrite Fred Fooley jnr.
Last/pastIt is correct to write in the past few days or in the past week unless you mean in the final few days or in the final week, which would then be last. Similarly, in the past month, in the past year, in the past decade are all correct.
LendA verb. The noun is loan.
LengthyUse long.

Often used wrongly for dramatic effect. It means in an exact or literal sense. For example: The storm literally blew people off their feet. (This means people were actually sent flying).

Do not confuse it with metaphorically or allegorically.

Majority ofFor brevity, use most. Use plain, brief words.
MeetDo not use meet with.

Adopt this style: $7 million, $2.75 million.

$7m is acceptable (but not preferred) in a headline.

Note the gap between the figure and the word. The same applies to billions.

NoneThis word is singular; it means not one and takes a singular verb. Write none is, not none are.
Northern TerritoryUse the full name: Northern Territory or Australia's Northern Territory in the first instance, then the Territory or the NT after that. Remember, overseas readers may not be fully acquainted with our part of the world.
NumbersSee Figures.
OngoingUsually superfluous.
OnlyShould be carefully positioned to avoid confusion. Place it as close as possible to the word it qualifies. For example: He drinks beer only on Saturdays (i.e. not on other days). He drinks only beer (and nothing else) on Saturdays. Only he drinks beer on Saturdays (i.e. he is the only one who...). In speech, where this word wanders, stress and intonation often eliminate any ambiguity.
-our/-orFor word endings, in most instances, our is correct. The exception is Labor when it refers to the Australian Labor Party.
OverUse more than 200, not over.
PerInstead of per tonne or per year, use $3 a tonne or 50,000 a year.
Per centThis is two words. Use numerals: 7 per cent. But percentage is one word.
PersonsThis is too formal. Use people. Instead of chairperson, use chair.
PluralsSee Apostrophes.
PossessSounds impressive, but use have or own.
PossessivesSee Apostrophes.

It is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. For example, Nobody knows where they are or even where they came from.

Trust your ear for sound. If it sounds right, do it.

PresentlyUse now. Can also mean, in a short while. For example: She will be with us presently. In this instance, use soon.
Press conferenceThese events are now called news or media conferences because of the presence of electronic media. Similarly, use news or media release rather than press release.
PrestigiousA pretentious word. Usually omit.
Prior toUse before. One word is usually better than two.
ProgramHas taken over from programme.
ProvidedUse provided not providing: We'll be okay provided we take enough food. Using the word if is usually better than using provided.
Quotes/quotation marks

In line with the trend toward minimal punctuation, use single quotation marks (once referred to as inverted commas). Double quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes.

It is appropriate to use said for straightforward, serious stories and says for the occasional lighter one, such as a personality profile.

Avoid long slabs of direct quotations; the reader can become lost or confused. Make sure the reader knows who is talking by providing attributives every now and then: Mrs Bloggs said, she said, and so on.

An example of our style:

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Helen Garnett, said the University would be involved with the project.

'We expect major developments in that area and we would like to be part of those developments,' Professor Garnett said.

'We have world-class expertise in this area and the company has already indicated its interest in using that expertise.

'However, we are determined to be highly competitive in this regard. Usually we're up there with the best of them.

"But, in the final analysis, we know it's the company's decision and we're prepared to abide by that.' Note that ongoing quotes in the same paragraph are allowed to run into each other when the person quoted is following a certain line of thinking.

When directly quoting someone, it is not necessary to close inverted commas at the end of every sentence. But you must close inverted commas at the very end of the direct quotation, as in the long quotation above.

At the end of a direct quote, the punctuation mark ― usually a comma or full stop ― is placed within the inverted commas, not outside them. For example: 'We're lost,' he said. 'We should try to follow a river or creek back to civilisation.'

When there is a quotation within a quotation, use double marks:

He said, 'She reckons I should concentrate on "keeping my cool".' Note the position of the full stop.

Would not and could not, etc, may be abbreviated to wouldn't and couldn't in direct quotes. People speak this way.

RefuteOften misused. Refute means to prove to be false. It does not mean to deny or reject.
RegionSay Katherine region, without the capital for region.
RumoursUse reports.
Said/saysUse said for serious stories and says for the occasional lighter one, such as a personality profile.
SeniorWrite Charles Henry Williams snr.
SeverelyUse badly damaged, not severely. However, someone may be severely punished.

In everyday speech, shall is seldom heard, yet both words have a place.

Shall expresses the speaker's belief about a future state or action: 'In five years, I shall be...'

Will expresses determination or consent: 'Before too long, I will tell her exactly...'. The word will has won the day; shall we leave it at that?

ShortlySoon is better.
Southeast AsiaWrite it this way ― without a hyphen.
SpeciesCommon names of species are not capitalised, for example, barramundi, coral trout, etc. Scientific names should be italicised, with a capital for the first word: Mimosa pigra. See Italics.

The use of Australian English, not American English, is recommended. The suffix our is preferred, not or. For example, colour, flavour. This traditional style of spelling ― harbour, neighbour ― survives at this stage in our publications. However, write the Australian Labor Party.

However, we do use the word program, not programme.

Use -ise not -ize for verbs, for example, harmonise, organise.

Use centre, kilometre, rather than center, kilometer.

For most other spellings, The Macquarie Dictionary is recommended.

St JohnThe St John Ambulance Brigade is correct, not St John's Ambulance Brigade. After the first mention, the brigade is preferred.
StatedA formal word: He stated that... Better to use said.
TelevisionChannel 7, Channel 9, SBS, etc. Avoid variants. Use Radio 8HA, Radio TOP-FM, ABC Radio, and so on. Note: The ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not Commission.
Text formatting

In general documents and reports, paragraphs are generally left justified.

Text is occasionally more effective when centred or right justified or fully justified, but this decision is usually better left to qualified designers. If centre formatting is used, keep the message tight.


For some reason, people who seldom say which will reach for this word when they write. Why? Perhaps which has a more formal ring to it. Still, both words do have a place.

The choice of that or which depends on whether the word appears in a defining or non-defining clause.

Either may be used in defining clauses: The town that/which they like to travel to...

In non-defining clauses ― those conveying incidental information ― only which may be used: The class, which was held under a shady tree, turned out to be...

A simple definition: that tells which one; which adds a fact.

Try leaving them out: The beach I like to go to...

Again, when quoting someone, that can often be left out. For example, She said, instead of She said that... Consider whether the sentence flows better and still makes sense without it.

TryUse try to, not try and. For example: Bill will try to win, not try and win ― unless he actually tried and won, in which case tried is superfluous.
TitlesSee Titles.
T-shirtWith a capital T, not Tee or tee.
Under wayUse two words, under way, not underway.
UniqueThis word cannot be modified. There are no degrees of uniqueness. Do not write most unique, quite unique, very unique. You are either unique or not. (A bit like 'a little bit pregnant').
UtiliseWrite use.
VeryAvoid this word. It usually adds little to an adverb or adjective. Similarly, avoid the word extremely. Instead, use a word strong in itself.
WebFor world wide web or web use lower case. Similarly, website and email. Also see Internet.
WhileOften used indiscriminately as a stand-in for and, but or although. The word while may be used as a substitute for although when it does not lead to ambiguity or absurdity but, strictly, it means during the time that. It is incorrect to write: While the desert air is hot, it can also be chilly. Try replacing while with a semi-colon: The desert air can be hot; it can also be chilly. Do not use whilst for while.

Who is used when it is the subject of a verb, whom when it is the object of a verb or preposition: The man who fishes on the jetty every night; The boy whom you just called.

The word whom is sinking from view, especially in questions: Who do you want to see?

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