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Usage A to Z

abbreviations and acronyms

Abbreviations should be capitalised. Abbreviations formed by using the first initials of separate words should not have any full stops between the letters:

  • DARD , US , UK , PDF

Make an abbreviation plural by adding an s. An apostrophe should not be used, for example:

  • Correct: MLAs
  • Incorrect: MLA's

Spell out unfamiliar abbreviations at first mention, with the abbreviation immediately following in brackets, for example:

  • Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)

Thereafter, you may use the abbreviation only. However it is highly recommended that you avoid the use of too many abbreviations within your text. They can make it look technical and off-putting to the average reader. Abbreviations can also cause accessibility problems.

am/pm

Use small capitals and no full stops. Have a space between the number and the am/pm.

  • 7 am
  • 9 pm
  • 12 noon

ampersand ( & )

Not to be used in general text unless referring to a company or brand where it is used as a convention.

  • Ernst & Young

apostrophe

Apostrophes are not to be used in plural words.

  • Correct: 1990s
  • Incorrect: 1990's

A very common misuse of the apostrophe is with "its" and "it's." Remember, when "it is" or "it has" is shortened, it becomes "it's." When you say-"its sales declined"-do not use an apostrophe.

articles (the, a, an)

Use "an" before words that begin with a vowel sound and words that begin with a silent h:

  • an employee
  • an honorary degree

Where the h is pronounced use "a":

  • a heavy burden

billion

For people or things, spell out billion. For money use bn. Leave a space after the figure.

  • £20 bn
  • 1 billion people

bold

Avoid using too much bold within body text - text that is not a heading or summary. Use for emphasis only. The exception is for press releases which use bold within the body of the release for ministerial quotes) Also, because many websites don't use underline for their links, some people may think bolded text is a link and try to click on it.

Bold may be used in instructional text. For example, if you are providing information on how to subscribe and unsubscribe to an email newsletter:

  • To subscribe , please .
  • To unsubscribe , please .

buttons

Capitalise the first word only.

When referring to the name of a button, use the capitalisation style that is used on the keyboard:

  • To delete text, press the Delete key.

capitals

Avoid overuse of capitals, as capitalised text is more difficult to read. For headings, only capitalise the first letter of the first word and other words that require capitalisation from a grammatical point of view.

click here

Do not use "click here". Instead, put the keywords into the link text. (Using "click here" causes accessibility problems; another reason not to use it.)

  • Incorrect: Click here for more information
  • Correct: Get more information on 2003 clean air study

collective nouns

Government is a collective noun. As a general rule, collective nouns are treated as being singular:

  • The government is (not the government are)
  • The company closed some of its offices (not the company closed some of their offices).

currencies

Use the symbol for a currency on the website :

  • £200 m, $200 m, €200 m

dates

The following conventions should be used for dates:

  • 21 May 2003
  • Monday, 21 May 2003
  • May 2003

Don't abbreviate dates.

decades

Depending on the context, decades may use numbers or text.

  • Seventies or 1970s

Remember not to use an apostrophe when writing the plural of a decade in numbers.

e.g., i.e., etc.

Avoid using e.g., i.e. Instead, use "for example" and "in other words". The use of etc. should also be avoided.

ellipsis ( ... )

Use three dots for the ellipsis, even when dealing with text left out between sentences. Always leave spaces between the ellipsis and the preceding and following text:

  • Prior to the passing of the Government of Ireland Act in 1920 ... it was widely agreed that reform was necessary.

e

The letter e has become very popular in relation to all things Internet. For a while, it seemed that every word in the English language required an e before it if it was to seem modern. It is recommended that you use words such as eGovernment and eBusiness sparingly.

The following is recommended:

  • Avoid the use of e words
  • If you are using e, do not use the dash and do not use a capital E. Incorrect: E-Business, e-Business, E-government. Correct: eGovernment Unit
  • Avoid beginning sentences with e words

email

One word - email

email addresses

Keep email addresses in lowercase. Always make them a link. The general rule is to spell out email addresses:

john.maguire@xyz.gov.uk not John Maguire

fewer, less

Use "fewer" when dealing with things that can be counted and with plural nouns. "Less" is used to refer to a degree or amount of effort - something measurable but not countable.

  • Fewer voters turned out to vote.
  • There was less of a welcome this time.

Internet, Net

Capitalise Internet (as there is only one). If you're writing for a young audience, you may use Net.

intranet

Lowercase (there are many intranets).

italics

Italics are difficult to read on a screen and should be used very sparingly for emphasis only.

its, it's

"Its" is the possessive form, "it's" is a contraction of 'it is' or 'it has'.

kilobyte

Abbreviate as KB. Leave a space between number:

  • 232 KB

links

Links are a navigation aid, not a graphic design feature. Adhere to the following:

  1. Underline all text-based links as this makes them stand out better as links.
  2. Use blue for an unclicked link and purple for a clicked link.
  3. If you must use other colours, make sure you stick to just two.
  4. When writing links, remember to use descriptive keywords, rather than phrases such as "click here".
Technical Note: The most important factors for constructing good links are:
  • consistency
  • easy to distinguish from normal text
  • visited links are easily distinguished from unvisited links
See also section 4.3 of the accessibility guidelines.

log on, logon

The verb is to "log on". Logon is the adjective and noun:

  • You will need to use your logon name when you want to log on to the members section of the website.

measurements

Measurements should be expressed as numbers. Leave a space between the numbers and the measurement unit. There is no full stop and no "s" in the plural:

  • 123 KB, 12 MB,

Capitalisation is important. For example, Mb means megabit, but MB means megabyte.

megabyte

Abbreviate as MB. Leave a space between number:

  • 12 MB

metadata

Metadata is the who, what, where, when and how of a particular piece of content. The principal function of metadata is to help people quickly find the content they are looking for.

Metadata has three core functions:

  1. To help people navigate quickly and easily to the content they need. This is achieved through the development of an intuitive classification for your content. Make sure that the words you choose for your classification will be clearly understood by your target audience.
  2. To help people to quickly find the content they need by providing them an effective search process. Critical metadata here is title and description. (See: metatag.)
  3. To help people to quickly decide if they have found the right content. When someone arrives at a new webpage, they have certain questions they want answered quickly. These questions might include: Is this up-to-date? Who wrote it? What are the key points? Metadata in the form of date, author, heading, summary, should answer these questions, where appropriate.
Technical Note: See also section 6.1 of the accessibility guidelines.

million

Spell out million for people or things. Use m after currency:

  • 10 million people
  • £5 m

numbers

As a rule, spell out numbers up to and including nine. Numbers over nine should be given as figures:

  • There are five major issues to understand.
  • Almost 40 members voted against.

If, in the same sentence, a mix of numbers above and below nine appear, use figures:

  • It is expected that 7 of the 20 members will abstain.

Avoid starting a sentence with a figure. Either rephrase it or spell it out (even if it's over nine).

The spelling-out-below-10 rule does not apply to, figures containing decimals, dates and clock time, numbers with percent, units of measurement, sums of money, degrees of temperature, and building numbers. In these situations, always use figures.

Thousands are normally in digits, millions in words. Spell out million for people or things. Use m where money is involved. Use commas in four-digit numbers and upwards:

  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 10 million people
  • £10 m

offline

One word - offline

online

One word - online

parentheses and punctuation

If the parentheses enclose a full sentence, place the full stop or question mark for that sentence inside the parentheses:

  • The new Dublin-Belfast motorway takes an hour off the commute time between the two cities. (The Drogheda bypass is where most of the time is saved.)

When it is not a full sentence within the parentheses, the period or question mark should be left outside:

  • The chairperson agreed with the motion put forward (as did most of the other members).

percentage

Spell out percent for both web and email text:

  • 20 percent

phone, fax numbers

Telephone and fax numbers should be published as follows:

  • Local: 028 4444 3333
  • International: +44 (0)28 4444 3333

plug-in

Use a dash - plug-in

quotation marks

Put quoted text into double quotation marks. For quotes within quotes, use single quotation marks.

  • "We are very happy to be here tonight, and as our chairperson says, 'honoured and excited', by your staunch support."

Always use a comma before a direct quotation:

  • Then he said, "We have achieved much but there is much more to do."

Closing quotation marks should come after the full stop and before other punctuation:

  • "The Council", Mr Brown said, "can now deal with all energy issues and ensure that the consumer has a stronger voice."

In continuous quoted material that is more than one paragraph long, place opening quotation marks at the beginning of each of the paragraphs, but place closing quotes at the end of the last paragraph only.

quotations

Avoid using special formatting, such as bold or italics, for quotations (except in press releases). Italics are hard to read on a screen and bold looks like shouting.

Avoid altering quotations. As a rule, always reproduce exactly the wording, spelling, capitalisation, and internal punctuation of the original. The following are exceptions to the rule:

  1. Change quotation marks if required-from single to double and vice versa.
  2. Commas or full stops outside/inside the closing quotation mark may be moved if required.
  3. Change the initial letter to a capital or lowercase letter.
  4. Omit the final full stop or change it to a comma as required.
  5. Omit part of the quote by using the ellipsis ( ... ).
  6. Correct obvious typographical errors in modern works (preserve idiosyncrasy of spelling in older works).

sentence spacing

Use a single space between sentences.

sexist language

Be careful in the use of "he" when referring to people in general. The use of he/she looks stilted, so it should be avoided as well. The best approach is to write in the second person or in the plural:

  • We are here to serve your needs, so please get in touch.

spam

Unsolicited, mass distributed email.

titles

Don't use full stops with titles:

  • Correct: Mr Jones, Mrs Brown, Ms O'Neill
  • Incorrect: Mr. Jones, Mrs. Brown, Ms. O'Neill

trademarks

Avoid the use of trademark symbols in body text, as it makes the text more difficult to read on a screen. Place such information in the legal section of the website, with a link to it at the bottom of the page.

underline

Never use underlining except for links.

webpage

One word - webpage

website

One word - website

World Wide Web, the Web

Capitalise World Wide Web. Use Web for short. Capitalise when referring to the noun:

  • The Web

Lowercase when using as an adjective:

  • web content management