There are many opportunities in written communications to create inconsistencies of style. This not only makes your document look sloppy or unprofessional, it can also incense your boss, especially if your style choices contravene your organisation's preferred style.
Here are the answers to the 10 most frequent writing style questions we get asked. We have provided answers based on the most common style conventions used by Australian private and government organisations. However, if your organisation has a writing style guide, their preferences override the answers in this article.
1. When should I use words for numbers and when numerals?
Use words for numbers one to nine and numerals for all other numbers. However, never start a sentence with a numeral. Instead write the number as a word, or rephrase the sentence so that it doesn’t begin with a numeral.
Always use numerals for numbers that are accompanied by a symbol. Present percentages as a numeral followed by the % symbol (e.g. ‘In December, sales increased by 5%’.)
2. How should I write dates?
Write dates in full starting with the day, followed by the month and then the year (e.g. 8 November 2021, not November 8th, 2021).
Avoid abbreviating dates using a forward slash. Where space is limited, you may use an abbreviated form of the month (e.g. 8 Nov 2020 not 8/11/20).
3. How many spaces should I use after a full stop?
Use a single space after a full stop, question mark or colon.
4. Should I use one quotation mark or two?
Use single quotation marks (also known as inverted commas) to show direct speech or an unusual expression. Use double quotation marks to indicate a quote within a quote. For example, ‘The CEO reported “the business performed brilliantly” in the last quarter’, the Marketing Manager said.
Don’t italicise text within quotation marks.
5. How do I punctuate lists?
Always introduce a bulleted list with a colon, never a semicolon (;) or a colon and dash (:-). Use open punctuation. Open punctuation means there is no punctuation mark at the end of each bulleted item except for the last item, which concludes with a full stop. Do not write the word ‘and’ at the end of the second-last bullet point.
If a bulleted item contains complete sentences, punctuate as normal.
6. Should I use capital letters at the beginning of each bullet point in a list?
Use lower case for the first letter of the first word in each bullet point, unless it is a proper noun (the name of a person, specific place or thing).
7. Should I indent bulleted lists or subheadings?
No. Block all text to the left.
8. When can I use acronyms?
Minimise use of acronyms wherever possible. If you mention a term once or twice only in the document, do not use an acronym.
Acronyms are formed from letters of other words (usually the first letter of each word). Write the term in full the first time you use it and place the shortened form in parentheses immediately afterwards (e.g. expression of interest (EOI) and Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)).
(In case you're wondering: National Immunisation Program, fly in fly out, subject matter expert or small to medium enterprise, and Therapeutic Goods Administration).
9. Can I use underlining?
Only use underlining to indicate a hyperlink. Do not underline headings or important words. Instead, use different bolded font sizes for headings and bold to emphasise a word.
10. Is it OK to use e.g. and the & symbol?
Don’t substitute the word ‘and’ with the ampersand (&) symbol unless it forms part of a name or title (e.g. S&P 500).
You may use e.g. inside brackets or when space is limited (e.g. in tables, illustrations, notes and captions).
If your organisation has a writing style guide, always follow their preferences regardless of whether or not you agree with them. If you are unable to find the answer to your question in your organisation’s style guide, or your organisation doesn’t have a writing style guide, follow the guidelines in the Australian Style Manual. Paying attention to consistency and style will help elevate your writing to a more professional, high-quality level and is worth the effort.
Need help developing a style guide for your organisation? Contact us today on 02 9238 6638 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover image: Hermès Paris handbags are considered some of the best quality, most stylish accessories in the world. They are also the world's most expensive handbag.