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Best Practices and Standards (NEW VERSION)

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Writing guidelines

Writing style guide

The following style guidelines are taken from the Macquarie University style guide. See the PDF document below for more information.


Keep abbreviations clean and simple; do not use full stops. Some common abbreviations are:

  • eg
  • etc
  • ie
  • Dr


Keep the audience in mind when using acronyms. Where you use an acronym the audience would be unfamiliar with, spell out the full term on first reference eg Australian Research Council (ARC) on first reference, ARC thereafter.

Refer to Macquarie University as Macquarie University in the first instance, and then 'Macquarie' or 'the University' afterwards. You can use MQ for top-level navigation headings and left-hand navigation panels.


Keep capitals to a minimum. They should only be used at the start of a sentence and for proper nouns.


Use sentence case for headings (ie only the first word and proper nouns are capitalised). If you use a two-part headline, use an en dash as a separator, with no capital afterwards. Use the 'Heading' format in the Rich Text box to differentiate from body text and show hierarchy (see Accessibility).


Terminology relating to the internet is well recognised. Keep it simple and do not use hyphens. Eg email, ebook, web, website, internet (except at the beginning of a sentence, when you would capitalise the first letter).

Library terms

  • MultiSearch not multisearch
  • Interlibrary loan not ILL/Doc Supply
  • Research or Subject guide not LibGuide. Or simply use 'guide'


There are three acceptable forms of list: individual items, run-on sentences and full sentences. In each instance, entries or terms should appear in alphabetical order unless there is a clear market need otherwise, or they are steps in an ordered process. When listing single items without a sentence, no punctuation is necessary after the colon:

  • books
  • pens
  • paper

When using run-on sentences, remember to:

  • start each line with lower case
  • not put a comma or semicolon at the end of each line
  • check that each entry completes the sentence
  • end with a full stop.

However, sometimes using full sentences is the best option, as when each bullet point could stand
alone as its own sentence:

  • Use an initial capital at the start of each bullet point.
  • Use a full stop at the end of each bullet point.

Lists within a paragraph: Use commas to separate terms, with no punctuation after words such as ‘including’. Use a final serial comma (Oxford comma) only when the list contains more than one ‘and'.

  • The Bachelor of Commerce lets you choose from a range of areas including accounting, applied econometrics, decision science, economics, finance, human resources, international business, commercial law, public sector management, business information systems, marketing and business demographics.

Semicolons should be used to separate terms only when they contain commas.

  • The Bachelor of Arts allows you to study in a range of areas including anthropology; Chinese studies; modern history; media, culture and communication; and writing.


Use the following formats for numbers:

  • one through nine (except in tables, headings and design elements such as infographics)
  • 10 through 999,999
  • 3000, 30,000 and 300,000 (use the comma as a separator only in five-digit numbers and above)
  • Where possible, avoid starting a sentence with a number. Twenty-five people donated 25 books. 2014 was a good year for Macquarie. (Or rewrite the sentence.)


Apostrophes: Do not use in plurals such as CDs, apples, 1990s and FAQs.
If a word or name ends in ‘s’ do not repeat the ‘s’ after the apostrophe eg:

  • The Smiths’ car is nice.
  • The Joneses’ car is better.
  • Chris’ car is my favourite.

Note the difference between contractions and possessives:

  • it’s = it is, while its = possessive. Its’ is never acceptable.
  • you’re = you are, while your = possessive.
  • they’re = they are, while their = possessive, and there = statement of place.

Forward slash: When you use a forward slash, do not include spaces eg autumn/winter.

Hyphens: Try to keep hyphens to a minimum. General rules are listed below, but common instances are included in the list of commonly used words and phrases. Use a hyphen when a word contains a prefix with a double vowel except for common words, or where the prefix ends with ‘o’ eg:

  • pre-eminent
  • re-admission
  • coordinate (EXCEPTION: co-located)
  • macroeconomic

Be careful with words that have different meanings with and without hyphens, such as:

  • recover and re-cover
  • relay and re-lay
  • resign and re-sign

Compounds where an adverb ending with ‘ly’ precedes an adjective should not
be hyphenated eg:

  • highly regarded research
  • globally focused degree

Where compound adjectives precede a noun they should be hyphenated; when they follow the noun
they should not eg:

  • In this unit students develop decision-making skills.
  • In this unit students participate in exercises involving practical decision making.


  • Always use double quotation marks for direct speech.
  • Use single quotation marks within quotes where necessary.
  • Use single quotation marks when talking about a word or phrase – eg the letter ‘n’.
  • Use single quotation marks for article and other short publication titles.


Always use Australian spelling. If the word is not listed in the list of commonly used words and phrases, use the first listed spelling in the Macquarie Dictionary. However, in titles where American or British spelling has been used, retain the original eg:

  • United Nations Development Programme
  • World Health Organization

Often there is more than one correct spelling of a word. However, to ensure consistency across (and within) publications, it is important to use only one of the spellings. Use the first listed spelling in the Macquarie Dictionary if a word is not listed in Appendix 1 of the Macquarie University style guide document (see the Writing style guide tab).

Writing tips

  • Write clearly and simply.

  • Put the most important information at the top.

  • Avoid long paragraphs of content. Use lists.

  • Break up long lists. Lists with more than 7 items appear long and may not get read.

  • Focus on using an active voice rather than passive.

  • Avoid jargon. Use words the user will use.

Writing resources

The following resources were used to help compile the Macquarie university style guide and can provide more guidance if needed:

• The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage by Pam Peters
• The Elements of Style, 4th edn., by William Strunk Jr and EB White (aka Strunk and White)

In addition, the following links may be useful: