A short writing style guide

When you write for your own channels, you need to feel confident you are using consistent and approved styles. This writing style guide is short and sweet – a practical tool for everyday use. Written by Matt Turner of Wooden Shed Publishing in Auckland.

Hands typing on a laptop


One to nine spelt out; 10 and above in arabics. Exceptions include:

  • Direct speech, where it is more usual to spell out simple numbers,
    e.g. ‘I painted it exactly fifty years ago’, but ‘I painted it in 1965’. 
  • Generalisms: ‘There must have been more than a thousand of them.’
  • Age: ‘She was forty-two when working on River Queen.’

Above all, though, aim for consistency.

No commas in four-digit numbers: 1400 people, NZ$1400
in the nineteenth century; a nineteenth-century perspective
the 1950s; the 1950s–60s; the 1950s and ’60s
she was in her fifties


Dates, calendar format, time, etc.

Day abbreviations: Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun
Month abbreviations: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
Date format: Saturday, 4 March 2015 / Sat 4 Mar 2015
25 Jul – 9 Nov (spaced en-dash for mixed compounds)
Sun 2 Aug 2–3 pm (closed en-dash for numeric spans)
10 am – 2 pm daily
The gallery closes at 5 pm



It is safest to assume that abbreviations will be unfamiliar to at least some of your readership. Spell terms/phrases out at the first usage and give the abbreviation in brackets after. For following usages, the abbreviation alone may be used. For example:

  • The land is managed by the Department of Conservation (DoC)
  • This land also belongs to DoC

Abbreviations do not have a terminal full stop (IRD, PhD, NZOM, Mr/Mrs) except where the terminal letter is missing (etc., col. plate, misc., abbrev.)



Use spaced measurements in main text and captions, e.g. 11 m, 252 cm.


Spelling and case

Use Old World spellings, e.g. colour, humour, –ise (not –ize), but retain original native spellings for proper nouns/bodies (World Trade Center).

Online words:

  • blog
  • email, e-book, e-card, e-journal
  • home page
  • internet
  • podcast
  • vlog
  • web, the
  • website
  • web page 


Initial Capitalisation

This is a much-contended style point. Some writers like to cap everything, others drop it all, many simply don’t know and mix them up. Ultimately, aim for consistency, but lower-case is preferred. For example: 

  • He telephoned the secretary of state.
  • The museum enjoys a government subsidy.
  • She was appointed director of the museum. 
  • Is this a job for the prime minister?
  • Rick Mason, chief executive of the Museum of Writing
  • Exceptions include positions of office in apposition, for instance ‘Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’, and
  • named chairs, e.g. ‘Jan Smith, Professor of Music at Kings’ College’.

Avoid using all-caps for emphasis, i.e. DON’T DO THIS. Simply use italics.



Italic type is used for:

  • artworks (Rodin’s The Thinker)
  • albums (Pet Sounds), but not songs or poems (‘Good Vibrations’, ‘High Country Weather’)
  • book titles and subtitles (but not short stories), and online publications
  • exhibition titles (His Own Steam: A Barry Brickell survey)
  • emphasis (I really love that word choice)
  • genus and species of plant and animal (Canis lupus) but not other taxa such as family or order (Canidae, Carnivora)


Bold type

Bold headings and subheadings (and various other rubric) can help give structure to a page of text. Refer graphic design style guide for use. Avoid using bold for mere emphasis; italics are preferable.


Te reo Maori language 

Te reo is presented in the same face as the surrounding text, i.e. if the context is set in roman, don’t set te reo words in italics. For instance, ‘they consulted the tangata whenua’ (people of the land)’.
For other notes on te reo usage, see http://www.maoridictionary.co.nz
Macron: apply macrons if known.




Use the single-stroke ellipsis key, to ensure the three dots remain together when lines reflow on readers’ screens.



Use the open-spaced en-dash – like this – to set off phrases/clauses. If writing for an American readership, use a closed-spaced em-dash—like this—instead.
Use the en-dash also for ranges, such as ‘painted during 1941–42’, and for instances where the dash stands in for the word ‘and’ or ‘to’, such as ‘the Wellington–Auckland express train’. Do not mix the en-dash with text. So, instead of ‘the performance ran from 2–3 pm’, use ‘the performance ran from 2 to 3 pm’.


Quote marks

Use quote marks for: 

  • Titles of short stories, poems and songs
  • Titles of articles in journals
  • Titles of chapters in books

Avoid the use of scare-quotes.


Quoted material

Use single quote marks for quoted material. Use double marks for quotes within quotes. The following examples show how complete quoted sentences are fully enclosed (a), but incomplete sentences are not (b):
a) ‘I really struggled,’ she admitted, ‘with the appalling smell of the canvas sizing.’
b) She struggled with the ‘appalling smell of the canvas sizing’.
c) ‘Is it true,’ I asked her, ‘that you hate the smell of this stuff? On your blog you call it “appalling”.’

Long quotes (more than 30–40 words) should have a line space above and below, and be indented in a block, with no quote marks. 

Retain the original spelling and punctuation in quoted material, even if it looks wrong. If you add your own interpolations within direct quotes, use square brackets. For instance, 

  • ‘I herd [sic] the sheep bleating in the meadow,’ or
  • ‘Luckily,’ wrote Strong, ‘Morris forgave his friend [i.e. Rossetti] in time.’ 



The possessive ‘s’ (e.g. Kate’s Pantry, Scout’s honour) is generally always added, even to names ending in ‘s’. So, ‘in Jesus’s name’ is correct, even though the terminal ‘s’ may not be pronounced in natural parlance. 
Omit the possessive ‘s’ from pluralised forms, such as ‘the Joneses’ donation’.

 This is a brief overview of key style points. For more details, a good comprehensive reference work is the Chicago Manual of Style. The 16th edition contains a section on digital media. 

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Grey Lynn
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E  studio (at) folio.nz

401A Richmond Road
Grey Lynn
Auckland 1021
New Zealand

P +64 9 275 444 502
E  studio (at) folio.nz

Folio | Content & Copywriting
401A Richmond Road

Grey Lynn
Auckland 1021
New Zealand

P +64 9 275 444 502
E  studio (at) folio.nz

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