GOV.AU Content Guide Punctuation and grammar

Use minimal punctuation.

Capitalisation

Capital letters are hard to read. Keep them to a minimum.

Use sentence case for most things (capitalise the first word).

Use title case for proper nouns (capitalise the principle words).

Example of

sentence case capitalisation

  • How to apply
  • Rules of engagement
  • Working at the Digital Transformation Agency

Headings and subheadings

Use sentence case for headings and subheadings.

In general, capitalise the first word only.

Example of

headings and subheadings

  • Business innovation incentives
  • Applying for a visa
  • Visiting Australia

Nouns

Use title case for proper nouns — for example, names of people, places or organisations).

Capitalise the principle words only, to distinguish them from common nouns or the generic meaning.

Example of

capitalising proper nouns

  • Jane Bloggs
  • United States of America
  • Digital Transformation Agency
  • The Department of the Environment and Energy is an Australian Government department.

People’s titles

Capitalise formal titles, unless using them as nouns or adjectives.

Capitalise specific references to the current prime minister but not when referring to a former prime minister.

Example of

capitalising people’s titles

  • the Minister for Communications … the Minister … ministers … ministerial
  • Minister Jane Bloggs, and then the Minister

Title contractions do not require punctuation.

Example of

title contractions

  • Ms
  • Mr
  • Mrs
  • Dr
  • Prof

Publications

Use title case for legislation, acts and other publications.

Department titles

Example of

capitalising department titles

The Department of Communications and Arts is an Australian Government department. The department’s office is in Canberra.

Apostrophes (')

Apostrophes can indicate possession.

Example of

of apostrophes for possession

  • Jess’s start-up (singular possession)
  • the girls’ start-up (plural possession)
  • a week’s time (singular)
  • in 2 weeks’ time (plural)

Use ’s for words that end in ’s’ to show possession if you pronounce the ’s’ (for example, personal names).

If you don’t pronounce the ’s’ just use an apostrophe.

Example of

apostrophe and possession

Dickens’s books — not Dickens’ books

Don’t use apostrophes for plural abbreviations or decades.

Example of

common misuses of apostrophes

  • CDs — not CD’s
  • 1980s — not 1980’s

Use apostrophes for substitutions of ‘is’, ‘us’ or ‘are’ and in other contractions.

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Full stops (.)

Do not use full stops after after email addresses that end sentences as they may be misread.

Use full stops for other kinds of hyperlinks that end sentences. The link text should form part of the sentence.

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Contractions

Use contractions to create a more conversational voice. But make sure the user can understand them.

Example of

contractions

  • it’s difficult (it is difficult)
  • who’s the right person? (who is the right person?)
  • let’s go (let us go)
  • you’re right (you are right)

Low-literacy users and people who speak languages other than English may find contractions difficult to understand.

Avoid less common colloquial contractions like ’you’d’.

Always consider the context.

Don’t use contractions where a user may misunderstand what they are being asked to do, for example on a form.

Follow guidance on readability.

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Hyphens (-)

Use hyphens when 2 or more words form an adjective.

Example of

using hyphens for adjectives

a first-class experience

Do not use hyphens when joining an adverb to a noun.

Example of

not using hyphens to join adverb to noun

highly intelligent — not highly-intelligent

Some nouns are also hyphenated. Check the Macquarie Dictionary.

Example of

hyphenated nouns

  • about-face
  • air-conditioning

Don’t hyphenate login or sign in.

Also read guidance on using sign in instead of log in.

Example of

punctuating sign in and log in

  • You need to use your sign in (noun) to sign in (verb) to the site.
  • You need to use your login (noun) to log in (verb) to the site.

Hyphens can change the meaning of a verb.

Example of

hyphen changing meaning of verb

The group is going to re-form (join up again) to reform (change) the policy.

Use a hyphen when the second word is ‘up’ or when the first and second words end and start with the same letter.

Example of

using hyphens with ‘up’

  • meet-up
  • call-up
  • re-engage
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Em dashes (—)

You can use an em dash with spaces to add a related idea to a sentence instead of creating a new sentence. Be careful the sentence does not become too long.

Example of

em dash

Focus on user needs — not government needs.

How to type an em dash:

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En dashes (–)

Don’t use en dashes (–).

Use spaced em dashes ( — ) instead of en dashes (–) to break up sentences.

Use ‘to’ in time and date ranges — not hyphens or en dashes.

Example of

using words not en dashes for ranges

  • We are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
  • The conference runs 29 to 31 July 2017.
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eg, ie, etc and nb

Avoid the Latin abbreviations eg, ie, etc (et cetera) and nb.

Don’t use italics for Latin.

Use ‘for example’ instead of ’eg’.

If space is limited, for example in a table, you can use ’eg’.

Only do this if your users can understand it (sometimes screen readers won’t read it correctly).

Avoid using ‘that is’ or ‘meaning’ as an alternative to ’ie’. Rewrite and restructure your content instead.

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Exclamation marks (!)

Don’t use exclamation marks. The modern government tone is calm and understated.

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Ampersands (&)

Don’t use an ampersand in a sentence, except if it is part of an organisation’s name.

Limit the use of ampersands in headings, subheadings, navigation labels or graphics.

Use ‘&’ only where the word ‘and’ makes it harder for the user to understand or scan the content.

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Colons (:)

Use a colon to lead into a bullet point list after a sentence fragment.

You can use a colon in a sentence fragment — but bullet point lists are easier to read.

Example of

using a colon in a sentence fragment

We are considering: green solutions, cultural festivals, crowdsourcing funds, conferences and bush-regeneration programs.

We are considering:

  • green solutions
  • cultural festivals
  • crowdsourcing funds
  • conferences
  • bush-regeneration programs
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Semicolons (;)

Avoid using semicolons. Use shorter sentences, em dashes or bullet point lists instead.

Example of

alternatives to semicolons

Like this:

We help make public services simple, clear and fast.

Not this:

We want to help to make public services simple and clear; we also want to help make them fast.

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Commas (,)

Use commas minimally.

Commas increase clarity because they bring in a natural pause. But too many commas are a sign a sentence should be shorter, or needs to be changed into a bullet point list.

Example of

using commas

Like this:

Cabinet discussed the proposal, then we issued a media release.

Not this:

The proposal, which was discussed in Cabinet, prompted a media release by us.

Avoid Oxford commas

Restructure content to avoid sentences that need Oxford commas (a comma before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a sentence).

Example of

not using an Oxford comma

Like this:

We share stories from our user research to identify:

  • positives
  • negatives
  • opportunities and quick improvements
  • themes

Not like this

We share stories from our user research to identify positives, negatives, opportunities and quick improvements, and themes.

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Gerunds (-ings)

Avoid using gerunds (-ings) where possible, for more concise language.

Example of

avoiding gerunds

Like this:

The system uses data that can be easily updated.

Not this:

The system requires using data that can be easily updated.

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Ellipses ( ... )

Use ellipses after text when deliberately leaving something out — for example in the middle of a long quote.

Example of

referencing a PDF

Full quotation: ‘Today, after user research, we analysed the results.’

With ellipsis: ‘Today … we analysed the results.’

Use a space on either side of the ellipsis except when it’s followed by a question mark.

Example of

referencing a PDF

‘Today we will analyse …?’

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Quotation marks (‘ ’ and “ ”)

Use single quotation marks when quoting a person or a source.

Example of

single quotation marks

  • The manager said, ‘Balancing work and home life is an important part of our organisation’s success.’
  • The report concluded, ‘Focus on user needs.’

Use double quotation marks for a quote within a quote.

Example of

double quotation marks

The team leader said, ‘We need to follow the director’s advice that “balancing work and home life is an important part of our organisation’s success” in order to build good services.’

Punctuating unusual or colloquial expressions

Use single quote marks to enclose and emphasise an unusual or colloquial expression.

Example of

colloquial or unusual expression

They refer to it as ‘Create Once, Publish Enthusiastically’.

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At symbols (@)

Use the ’@’ symbol in email addresses and social media handles only.

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