Words and punctuation

Writers' Style Guide


Where possible, avoid using full stops to indicate shortened forms of words. The preferred style is: Mr, Mrs, St, Rd, Mt, am, pm, snr and so on. Use full stops only to avoid confusion.

For metric symbols, use km for kilometre, g for gram, sq m for square metre and so on. The units tonne and litre should be spelt out.

Leave a space between the number and symbol, for example, 500 km.

Express all fractions as decimals, for example, 2.5 km not 2 1/2 km.

Aborigine/AboriginalUse Indigenous/Indigenous person.

When referring to numbers, do not use around when you mean about. Forget approximately and other fancy words. Use about. Numbers should be rounded out: About 900, not about 898. Use more than not over.

When referring to time, use at 7.00pm or about 7.00pm, not at about 7.00pm.

According toThis phrase can be seen as implying disbelief. For example: 'According to the North Korean Government, there is no famine.' Best to stick with said.

Avoid using acronyms: NALP, LBA, IAS, and so on. Readers deserve to see the words first, and then the acronym.

Use the full title in the first instance: Charles Darwin University, then the University, or CDU.

Except in the case of Charles Darwin University (the University) capitalise the proper name of the organisation but use lower case when using the generic term. For example: The Institute of Advanced Studies has begun a study into the breeding habits of crocodiles. The institute hopes the study will prove the link...

AlrightIt is alright to use alright.
AmidUse amid, not amidst.
AmongDo not use amongst. Similarly, use while not whilst.
Ampersand (&)Do not use unless it is part of an organisation's name. It is acceptable to use & in headings and on displays.
An or A?

An is used before words that begin with a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u). For example, an apple, an egg.

A is used before words pronounced with an initial consonant sound (letter other than a vowel). For example, a ball, a cat.

For words starting with an h sound followed by an unstressed first syllable, such as hotel, an is preferred, though it is regarded as optional.


Use the word both. For example: He has a reputation for arriving late and/or drunk.

This sentence becomes: He has a reputation for arriving late or drunk or both.


Apostrophes are used:

1. To indicate letters omitted in contractions of words: It's, don't, hasn't...

Such contractions are normally used only in direct quotations.

But plurals of figures are presented without apostrophes: in his 70s, Boeing 727s... Or for abbreviations such as MPs, QCs.

Words that have been shortened are also presented without apostrophes: phone, paper (as in newspaper).

2. To indicate the possessive case: The boy's ball (one boy); the boys' ball (more than one boy).

Watch out for the plural: the children's game or the women's courage.

For plural nouns ending in s, add the apostrophe only: The girls' spirit (more than one girl) or the footballers' win. (more than one footballer).

For singular nouns ending in s, add apostrophe s: the abyss's call (one abyss); the boss's smile (one boss).

With proper names ending in s, it becomes trickier. Usually pronunciation is a good guide: Tom Jones's voice; Howard Hughes's millions. Say the names before deciding.

When in doubt, rebuild the phrase instead of using an apostrophe: the disciples of Jesus; the teachings of Moses.

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