Grammar and punctuation
An alphabetised list of best practice and rules for punctuation and grammar on public sector websites.
For detailed advice about abbreviations, see:
NZ or New Zealand
Both NZ and New Zealand are OK. When using NZ, it's ‘an NZ law’ not ‘a NZ law’. This is because NZ is pronounced with a vowel sound — ‘en zed’.
Abstract nouns (nominalisations)
Abstract nouns are nouns formed from verbs.
They often end in: -ion, -ment, -al, -age, -ing, -ance, -ant, -dom -ence, -ity, -ism.
Use the verb rather than the abstract noun.
- ‘provide’ instead of ‘make provision for’
- ‘apply’ instead of ‘make an application to’
- ‘consider’ instead of ‘give due consideration to’.
List of alternatives for abstract nouns:
Only use an ampersand (&) if it’s part of a brand name.
For detailed advice about ampersands, see:
You do not need to add an extra ‘s’ after nouns or names ending in ‘s’. Exceptions are okay where the alternative reads more naturally.
No extra ‘s’ for plural nouns:
‘The businesses’ share prices have risen’ — not ‘the businesses’s share prices have risen’
‘Department of Internal Affairs’ address’ — not ‘Department of Internal Affairs’s address’.
Extra ‘s’ for singular nouns :
‘The business’ share prices have risen’ — not ‘the business’s share prices have risen’.
Limit the use of brackets and avoid using them in the middle of a sentence.
Use capitals for proper nouns. Brand names are capitalised.
Use the brand’s own style for joining words in their name together.
- Community Services Card
- Family Court
- NZ Super, rather than NZ Superannuation
- Student Allowance
- SuperGold Card — caps and 2 words, not 3
- Total Mobility scheme — lower case s
- Veteran’s Pension
- Veteran SuperGold Card
- Work and Income, not WINZ
- Working for Families Tax Credits
The Readability Guidelines on capital letters cover the following topics:
- Capitalising whole words or phrases.
- When to use sentence case.
- Proper nouns — when it is ok to capitalise, for example titles of specific acts or bills.
Use the Oxford or serial comma only if it makes a list in a sentence easier to understand.
This includes things like the family home, cars, furniture, and money like superannuation and wages.
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.
For detailed advice about contractions, see:
You can use an em dash to separate 2 thoughts in a sentence. Avoid using an em dash to put a separate thought in the middle of a sentence.
Do: Your application may be denied — you will not get a refund if it is.
Do not: Your application — which you complete online — may be denied.
For detailed advice about en dashes, see:
Do not use exclamation marks.
For detailed advice about hyphens, see:
Use % — not ‘percent’ or ‘per cent’.
Do not use brackets or ‘/s’ to refer to something that could be either singular or plural, like ‘Send your completed document(s) to Inland Revenue’.
Instead, use the plural, as this covers both possibilities: ‘Send your completed documents to Inland Revenue’.
Use ‘curly’ quotation marks — not 'straight' quotation marks.
Curly quotation marks are easier to understand because the opening and closing marks look different.
Use single quotation marks for:
- short quotations
- direct speech
- titles of documents or publications — do not use italics to show words are part of a title.
Use double quotation marks for:
- a quote within a quote — for example, ‘The customer told us, “That was useful”, which was good to hear.’
When to use single or double quotation marks may depend on your organisation's style. If you normally use double quotation marks for speech, then use single quotation marks for a quote within speech.
Referring to part of a web page
The location of an object can only be described if it’s in the main body of content on a web page.
Be specific when describing the location of an object. An object could be a:
- picture, or
- anything else that can be described on a web page.
For example, ‘choose one of the links below.’
Avoid semi-colons or comma splices. Instead, write 2 sentences , or separate the clauses using an em dash with a space on either side.
Titles of documents or publications
Use sentence case for the titles of documents or publications. Use single quotation marks to separate document titles from their surrounding text unless the title is a link.
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