The apostrophe can be used to indicate possession (eg: Sarah’s desk, meaning the desk belongs to Sarah). For singular names and nouns ending in S, add an apostrophe followed by a second S (eg: the boss’s office). For plural names and nouns ending in S, only use the apostrophe (eg: the passengers’ right to seek compensation). Do not add an apostrophe when referring to something that belongs to it (eg: The dog has been out in the rain and its paws are muddy.).
It can also be used for contractions (eg: don’t, meaning ‘do not’) or when you can replace the apostrophe with ‘of’ (eg: I gave in my two weeks’ notice today).
Note that some place names have an apostrophe and some don’t (eg: King’s Cross station, University of St Andrews, St Michaels’ Street, etc).
Do not use an apostrophe before the S to make a plural for words like CVs, MPs, etc.
Round brackets should be used to add extra information, explanations, translations, etc (eg: The University of Oxford (which was established in 1096) is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.). Include full stops, quotation marks, etc before the closing bracket only if they complete a sentence (eg: The bus arrived at 12:05pm. (It was five minutes late.)).
Square brackets should only be used by editors to add corrections, references, translations, and other comments (eg: She wrote, ‘They made there [sic] beds’.).
Don’t punctuate bulleted items that form a list. If, however, the bullet points complete a sentence with preceding text, add a full stop at the end of the last item.
If the bulleted items form a complete sentence in their own right, add a semicolon at the end of each point, ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of the penultimate point, and a full stop at the end of the last one.
Colons and Semicolons
Colons should be used to introduce a sub-clause in a sentence (eg: My two favourite singers are both Australian: Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue).
Semicolons, on the other hand, link two parts of a sentence together that do not logically depend on each other and which each can stand alone as grammatically correct sentences (eg: The best job is the one you enjoy; the worst job is the one you hate).
Below are various examples of how and when to correctly use commas in a sentence:
He asked John, his friend, to give him a lift to town.
John, who is a friend of Michael’s, gave him a lift to town.
Michael needed to go to town, and his friend John gave him a lift.
John has a big, red car.
However, John’s wife has a white car.
Please note that we generally do not use the Oxford comma. Do not insert a comma before and at the end of a sequence of items in a sentence, unless one of the items includes another and, as shown below:
Michael had to go to the bank, the post office and the library.
Michael sent Christmas cards to Miranda, Derek and Meredith, and Nathan.
Dashes and Hyphens
Avoid the m-dash (—) at all times.
Use the n-dash (–) in place of commas or round brackets (eg: His name – if I remember correctly – is John, with spaces); to link two parts of a sentence (eg: Michael needed to go to town – John gave him a lift, with spaces); to link concepts or a range of numbers (eg: The salary for the post is £40,000–£45,000, no spaces); or to specify the names of joint authors, etc (eg: Lennon–McCartney compositions, no spaces).
Use the hyphen (-) in an adjectival phrase before a noun (eg: an up-to-date list); in an adjectival phrase containing a verb particle (eg: an ear-splitting shriek); and with prefixes before a proper name, number, or date (eg: in mid-September).
An ellipsis is usually used to show that some text is missing (eg: the car that was reported stolen… belonged to Mr John Doe). The ellipsis in the example might have simply replaced ‘on 7 September in the Surrey area.’
Ellipses can also be used as a pause for comic or dramatic effect in a sentence; in place of omitted text at the end of a sentence; or when trailing off in speech or thought. Ellipses should not be followed by a full stop or a comma; exclamation and question marks, however, should be added if required (eg: Are you…?)
Full Stops, Exclamation Marks and Question Marks
Full stops, exclamation marks and question marks should end every sentence, where appropriate – do not add more than one punctuation mark at any time (eg: Hello!!!). Make sure to include them when they form part of a title (eg: ‘Where Is the Love?’ was a No 1 hit for the Black Eyed Peas in 2003).
Use single quotation marks for direct speech or a quote (eg: ‘A Bill will be introduced to ensure that children can be adopted by new families without delay,’ the Queen said in her speech at this year’s State Opening of Parliament.).
Use double quotation marks for direct speech or a quote within direct speech or a quote (eg: ‘I have never been to Edinburgh,’ he said, ‘but I have heard it being described as “the Athens of the North”.’).
Aim to use quotes sparingly – they should make up a maximum of 20 per cent of your article.
Weights and Measures
We use the metric system for weights and measures; exceptions are the mile and the pint. Below are some common weights and measures, and their abbreviations:
Millimetre or mm
Centimetre or cm
Metre or m
Mile (always write out in full)
Mile per hour or mph
Square or sq as in square metre or m2
Gram or g
Kilogram or kg
Metric ton or t
Pint (always write out in full)
When using imperial units, make sure you provide a conversion in the metric system.