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Grammar and punctuation

The rules and guidelines for punctuation and grammar on data.govt.nz - these aim to increase the accessibility, readability, and usability of information.

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Exclamation marks

We don’t use exclamation marks.

Colon and semi-colons

We don't use semi-colons or comma splices – we’ll write 2 sentences instead, or separate the clauses using a dash (with a space on either side).

Apostrophes

We generally don’t add an extra 's' after nouns or names ending in 's'. Exceptions are okay where the alternative reads more naturally.

For example:

  • 'The business’ work' – not 'the business’s work'.
  • 'Department of Internal Affairs’ address' – not 'Department of Internal Affairs’s address'.

We don’t use an apostrophe for dates, numbers, or plurals of abbreviations.

For example:

  • 1960s.
  • Boeing 767s.
  • TVs.

Bold

We rarely use bold – using too much will make it difficult for users to know which parts of your content they need to pay the most attention to. To emphasise words or phrases, we:

  • put key information at the start of sentences
  • use headings
  • use bullets.

Brackets

We limit the use of brackets and avoid using them in the middle of a sentence. Whenever we provide a link to a downloadable document or report, we use include details about the format and size in square brackets.

For example:

Capitals

We only use capitals for proper nouns, such as: 

  • names of people, places and things, including buildings and brands
  • specified committee, faculty, department, institute or school: Public Administration Select Committee
  • names of groups, directorates and organisations: Affordable Housing Action Group
  • titles of specific acts or bills: Human Rights Act (but ‘the act’ or ‘the bill’ at second mention)
  • names of specific schemes known to people: Right to Buy
  • names of wars: World War 1 and World War 2
  • job titles following the person's name
  • titles like Mr, Ms, Dr, the Duchess of Cambridge (the duchess at second mention)
  • titles of books: Content Design
  • header cells in tables: Yearly budget.

We use a capital letter for the Crown, and for Government and Parliament when referring to a specific government or sitting of the parliament in New Zealand. We use lower case for general references to government.

Generally, terms are not proper nouns, so should not be capitalised. Technical terms are not proper nouns. But if a word or term is branded as a distinct thing, treat it as a proper noun.

For example:

  • 'The Government introduced a new policy in 2020' – not 'The government introduced a new policy in 2020'.
  • 'Fiscal responsibility is important for good government' – not 'Fiscal responsibility is important for good Government'.
  • 'As a marathon runner, you'll get a medal and a massage' – not 'As a Marathon Runner, you'll get a medal and a massage'.
  • 'I'm running in the ASB Auckland Marathon and Half Marathon' – not 'I'm running in the ASB Auckland marathon and half marathon'.
  • 'We're running an open data project' – not 'We're running an Open Data Project'.
  • 'The Eden Project' – not 'The Eden project'.

Commas

We use the Oxford or serial comma only if it makes a list in a sentence clearer or easier to understand.

For example:

  • 'This includes things like the family home, cars, furniture, and money like superannuation and wages'.

Contractions

Contractions make text feel more conversational and friendly. They also make complex sentences easier to read – for native English speakers.

However, the punctuation can make sentences harder to read for some users. We rewrite sentences to avoid using contractions if it fits with the overall tone.

When we use them, we only use simple contractions:

  • you're
  • it's
  • can't
  • don't
  • isn't
  • there's
  • you'll
  • that's.

We don't use complex or potentially confusing contractions like:

  • should've, would've, they've
  • mustn't, aren't, couldn't, haven't
  • it'd, it'll.

We don't use any contractions on pages that are aimed at people who might not speak English well.

Dashes

We use a dash with a space on either side to separate thoughts in a sentence.

For example: 

  • Scans of documents – for example meetings minutes – aren’t machine readable.

We use a dash without spaces to:

  • show numerical ranges
  • separate proper nouns of equal value.

For example:

  • 10–12 items.
  • New Zealand–Australia group.

We don’t use a dash when we’re using the words 'between' and 'from'.

For example:

  • Aged from 10 to 15 years.
  • Between 8pm and 6am.

Headings

We use sentence case so only the first letter is upper case.

Headings in any content adhere to the proper structural order: H1 > H2 > H3 > H4 > H5.
For example, we don’t follow an H1 with an H3 or an H2 with an H4.

We never link headings.

Hyphens

We sometimes hyphenate words to make sure their meaning is clear.

For example:

  • '8 year old children' could mean children who are all aged 8, or 8 children who are 1 year old.
  • '8-year-old children' means children who are all aged 8.

Plurals

We don’t use brackets or '/s' to refer to something that could be either singular or plural. We use the plural instead, as this covers both possibilities.

For example:

  • ‘Send your completed documents to Stats NZ’ – not ‘Send your completed document(s) to Stats NZ’.

Quotation marks

We use double quotation marks for:

  • exact quotations
  • direct speech.

We use single quotation marks for:

  • technical terms (the first time it is used)
  • classification descriptors
  • title of documents or publications (see below).

Titles of documents or publications

We prefer to use sentence case for the titles of documents or publications. We use single quotations to separate document titles from their surrounding text, unless the title is a link.

For example:

  • 'The 'Community resource kit' will help you hold a discussion with your whānau, workmates or members of a community you’re part of'.

More information

Writing content for everyone
GOV.UK Verify and the government Design Standards
Contractions

Contact us

If you’d like more information, have a question, or want to provide feedback, email datalead@stats.govt.nz.

Content last reviewed 21 October 2020.

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