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The Conversation style guide

This style guide, composed by a range of Australian Conversation editors in the years since we launched, is not meant to be comprehensive. But we hope it offers a basic guide to some of our style quirks. We will also update it from time to time.

In Australia, we use The Economist style guide, single-spacing, British English for The Conversation Australia and UK, and American English for The Conversation US.

Capitalise the beginning of sentences but check titles. We limit initial capitals (apart from those marking the beginning of a sentence) to proper nouns – that is, nouns naming a particular person or thing – so we’d write “Jane Smith, the ABC’s managing director, ate a crumpet” or “John Smith, adjunct professor at ANU, went for a walk”. (As an aside, we don’t use titles such as Professor and Ms in analysis pieces – we do for news articles.)

No caps for “premier”, “prime minister”, “president”, “executive producer”, “artistic director”, “curator” and so on, because these are all common nouns. “Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, kicked off his budgie smugglers over there” or collectively “Previous popes have tripped on that rock” are all lower case.

When used as a form of address, a common noun is capped and becomes a title: President Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Pope Francis, Governor Chernov, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. But the queen, the pope etc.

Initials in people’s and companies’ names take points (with a space between initials and name, but not between initials). In general, follow the practice preferred by people, companies and organisations in writing their own names.

No caps for “government” – Australian government, federal government, state government and the government – and “federal” is lower case when not part of an official title – “at state and federal levels” and “the federal government funds cats on Roombas”. “Internet” is lowercase, even when you’re talking about the internet.

No caps for “first world war” or “second world war”, but abbreviations are WWI and WWII respectively.

Speaking of abbreviations, download speeds are in Mbps (not Mb/s) and Australia and the UK are metric, remember, so weight is in kg or tonnes – not lb or tons.

Use caps for our Sun, the Earth’s Moon and our Solar System, but other planets may have their own moons, and other stars their own star system.

For the Quran we follow AP style and use Quran instead of Koran. The Bible is capped.

Words after colons are lower case, including after product names in headings. So, Health Check: why is my snot green?

‘Single quotation marks’ in subheads

If you need to quote someone or something, you should always use double quotation marks in text – regardless of whether it’s a direct quote or non-quote text – and single in headlines, subheads and captions.

Be sure punctuation falls “outside quotation marks” for partial quotes, and the same applies “at the end of a sentence”. There are two exceptions to this, though. If the quoted text follows a colon: “then the full stop (or question mark or whatever) is inside.” If the full quote stands alone, then it also includes punctuation. “In that case, it looks like this.”

If you’re quoting more than a sentence, it can be nice to indent it. If you do that:

Capitalise. You don’t need to use quotation marks and if you omit some text […] stick an ellipsis in square brackets. Don’t forget punctuation – you don’t want to leave people hanging.

It’s nice to use lists. If you need dot points:

  • don’t capitalise
  • no punctuation after list items
  • except the final one.

For numbered lists, the rules are the same:

  1. don’t capitalise
  2. no punctuation after list items
  3. except the final one.

A bit of style

Portrait-oriented images usually look best on the left or right, while landscape orientations look best centred. Credit/Source without a full stop, CC BY

For dashes in sentences, use an en dash surrounded by spaces – check these guys out – not a hyphen. You can get an en dash on a Mac by holding down the option key, then hitting the dash key. Hyphens are for hyphenated words, such as a devil-may-care cat on a Roomba.

For ellipses, be sure there is a space … either side of the three dots, unless you’re denoting omitted text (see indented text above).

Italicise genus and species names – such as Homo sapiens – and foreign words such as laissez-faire. Not book names or journals, though.

When inserting links, don’t link punctuation such as “quotation marks” and full stops. If you are linking to something with an acronym, link the acronym rather than the full name, such as the Roomba Cat Appreciation Society (RCAS).

From letters to numbers and days

Spell out numbers from one to ten, and 11 upwards in digits. If you’re talking percentages, use the % symbol. Five, 5,000, 5 million.

In Australia and the UK, temperature is measured in Celsius – not Fahrenheit – and is denoted with ℃, which you can find on the special characters list (via the keyboard icon above): the weather was a balmy 30℃ today.

Money, honey? If the amount is from Australia, refer to it in A$, such as A$7 Medicare co-payment. Similarly, if it’s US dollars, they’re US$ – such as US$3 million worth of cats on Roombas. Do this throughout – sometimes one article will switch currencies multiple times.

Unless they’re postcodes, zip codes or years, numbers with four digits or more need commas. I watched 1,000 cat videos on YouTube in 2013.

If something is happening today, say “today” if the immediacy matters and we want to show we’re on the pace. Otherwise:

  • less than a week ago - in recent days

  • more than a week ago but less than a month - in recent weeks

  • more than a month but less than six months - in recent months

  • more than six months - it’s no longer recently.

Only give the date or day if it’s necessary to the story, such as “the November 24 election”. If you have to give more info, the order is day first (Tuesday), then month (November), then date (24), then year (2018): November 24 2018.

Capitalise when you are referring to Australian Indigenous people or another particular group of indigenous people. No need to capitalise when used as a broad term: “the plants are indigenous to the area”.

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