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Christian house-style

Grammar and punctuation guide


This house-style guide was produced by a UK Christian printing ministry for writers of books and magazines and is used by permission. It also aims to be international in scope. The BBC offers a detailed style guide for Journalistic Writing in PDF format. Although some applies specifically to writing for radio, there is the same need for clarity and brevity as on the Web.

Two primary style guides in US are Chicago Manual of Style for writers of books and other publications; and the AP Style Guide for journalists.

The London Times style guide covers best practice UK newspaper style.

A book giving definitive detailed style advice for Christian writers: Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.

William Strunk’s classic The Elements of Style is not a style guide in this sense, but rather a guide to clear writing.

Where suggested web usage varies from print, we have pointed this out with a red 'Web Comment'. You may wish to save this printer-friendly page on your hard-disk, or bookmark it.

Regional variations

Recommended English grammar is virtually the same throughout the English-speaking world. However other writing conventions vary, even within the same country. So there is no single 'right' way. It is more important that you are consistent and use a style which is widely acceptable and attractive.

Web comment

When writing for the Web, it is important to realise that your readership is inevitably international. It is therefore wise to avoid (or explain): You can help second-language readers to web-sites by offering online tranlators or even mouse-over tooltip definitions for with difficult words.

Why house style?

All book, magazine and newspaper publishers require their writers to use certain standards with regard to use of spelling, punctuation, capitals, etc., to ensure consistency in their use throughout the publication. This is called 'house style'. Following a house style helps a publication to be well-presented, easily readable, and with clear unambiguous meanings.

Different publications – and countries – will vary in what they regard as best style. This page explains accepted common usages, though others are equally valid.

If you are serious about writing, you will find these books and resources helpful:


Note, these links scroll you instantly to a new position lower down this same page. Acronyms | Apostrophes and possessive case | Bible | Brackets | Capital letters | Commas | Compass points | Contractions | Dates | Editing and revision | Etc | Geographic expressions | Hyphens | Inclusive language | Italics | Names | Numbers | Omission marks | Pagination | Paragraphs | Per cent | Quotations and brackets | Spelling | Subheadings | Time | Titles | Units of measurement | Word breaks | Web-related words | Web style | Online dictionaries and other links |

Acronyms and organizational titles

No full stops (periods):

Apostrophes and possessive case

An apostrophe is used:
  1. To show that a letter, or letters, have been omitted:

    Ever – e'er; it is – it's; cannot – can't.

  2. For possessive forms of nouns:

    a) For singular possessive nouns, use the apostrophe after the singular form:

    Bill's jacket, Tom Brown's schooldays, woman's dress, child's shoes.
    b) For plural possessive nouns, use the apostrophe after the plural form:

    Boys' coats; women's dresses; children's shoes.
    c) When a singular noun ends with s, it is acceptable to add 's to denote possession:

    St James's Park; Dickens's novels.
    However, we still favour in Jesus' name, not in Jesus's name, and many would miss the second s in those other situations too.

  3. An apostrophe should never be used with possessive pronouns such as his, hers, its, ours. A common mistake is to use an apostrophe with its meaning belonging to it. Correct usage is:

    It's (it is) well known that a dog will wag its tail when it sees its master.

  4. It is very tempting to add an apostrophe to make plural words which end in a vowel, such as banana and video, because somehow it doesn't look 'quite right' without one! It is also common to see the apostrophe used for plural words which are capital initials such as OHP, and for numbers such as '60s music'. This usage is always incorrect. Fight the 'aberrant apostrophe'! The only situation where an apostrophe is permitted is when the word would otherwise be meaningless or the sense completely changed. For instance, do's and don'ts.

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Bible versions

No full stops (periods) after the abbreviation, thus:

Scripture references

  1. Abbreviations should not be used when the reference forms part of the sentence.

  2. In evangelistic literature or websites, it may be wise to spell out in full since people may not be familiar with abbreviations. It may however also be useful instead to put the references as asterisked footnotes (because frequent references in the text look 'churchy'. It is also possible to explain the reference, for instance: A Christian leader called Paul wrote*, "If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong."

    *You can read this in the Bible's book called Romans, chaper 12, verse 17.

  3. Use arabic numerals for book numbers.

  4. Punctuation should be: colon after the chapter; comma between single verses or a dash between verses which form a passage; semi-colon between references:

    Gal. 4:5-8; 2 Corinthians 3:10,11.

  5. Unless the scripture reference forms part of the sentence e.g. 'In Romans 6:5 we read ...', it is better to put the references in brackets:

    Everyone is familiar with the title, 'city of David' (2 Sam.6:12).
    Note the full stop (period) comes after the closing bracket, not after the verse itself.

  6. It is important that Bible verses are quoted accurately from the text rather than relying on memory.

  7. The version(s) used should be stated on the imprint page of books, and online, strictly in a footnote somewhere on a website. E.g. "All biblical quotations are from the ... version unless otherwise stated." Note that almost all Bibles give a very broad permission for quoting without permission – usually 1000 or 2000 individual verses so long as these do not consistitute an entire chapter. Websites can also link to specific verses within Gospelcom’s Bible Gateway.

Books of the Bible

When used, abbreviations should be as follows, or an alternative consistent system of which there are several:

Old Testament Gen.  Ex.  Lev.  Num.  Deut.  Jos.  Jud.  Ruth  1 Sam.  2 Sam.  1 Kgs.  2 Kgs.  Chr.  2 Chr.  Ezra  Neh.  Est.  Job  Ps.  Prov.  Ecc.  Song  Isa.  Jer.  Lam.  Ezek.  Dan.  Hos.  Joel  Amos  Obad.  Jon.  Mic.  Nah.  Hab.  Zeph.  Hag.  Zech.  Mal.

New Testament

Mt.  Mk.  Lk.  Jn.  Acts  Rom.  1 Cor.  2 Cor.  Gal.  Eph.  Phil.  Col.  1 Thes.  2 Thes.  1 Tim.  2 Tim.  Tit.  Phm.  Heb.  Jas.  1 Pet.  2 Pet.  1 Jn.  2 Jn.  3 Jn.  Jude  Rev.

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Capital (upper-case) letters

Avoid unnecessary use of capitals. A general rule is that capitalisation makes a word more specific and limited in its reference: contrast a Christian scientist and a Christian Scientist. Consistency is important. Capitalization usage has changed over the years. In old books and publications we still see excessive use of capitals in ways that seem fussy and outmoded. In the 50s, children were still taught to capitalize the names of the seasons, for example. Check this useful guide to capitalization.

Capitals should be used:

  1. After a full stop (period) and after an exclamation or question mark that ends a sentence.

  2. For the first word in direct speech:

    He asked, "Where is it?"

  3. For the first letter of each line of poetry, hymns and songs.

  4. After a colon which introduces a quotation.

  5. For the name of any member of the Trinity:

    God the Father, Son of Righteousness.

  6. Pronouns referring to Deity:

    He, Him, His, You, Your, Thou, Thine, Them, Their, Me, My, Mine.
    Note: use lower case for who, whose, whom.
    (Note: there is a modern trend to use lower case letters for pronouns referring to God. Many modern Bible translations follow this style, as did the first King James bibles. If such capitalized pronouns occur frequently in text, they reduce ease and speed of reading. They may also seem very 'churchy' and 'religious' if used in evangelistic material. Avoid them in evangelistic writing, even if preferred in material aimed at Christians. Consistency in the form used within a single document is essential. )

  7. For the Bible and the Scriptures, but not biblical or scriptural.

  8. For the four Gospels when referring to the books: the Gospel of John. Use lower case for the gospel used in the context of good news: Jesus tells us to preach the gospel.

    Similarly: God has given us His Word (the Bible); but God has given us His word (as in promise).

  9. For the Cross when referring to Calvary:
    Use lower case for 'my cross'.
    Also use lower case for the name of God; the blood of the Lamb; the divine nature.

  10. Use a capital for Satan, but lower case for satanic, heaven, hell, the devil.

  11. For Christian when used as a noun, and also as an adjective:

    I am a Christian.
    That was a Christian act.

  12. For the Church when referring to a particular body of people:

    It may be the business of the Church to be involved in politics.
    He is a member of the Baptist Church.
    Use lower case when referring to the church as a building.

  13. For Protestant and Catholic.
    However use lower case for 'catholic' in the sense of universal.
    Use lower case for 'evangelical', 'charismatic' and 'reformed' unless referring to specific churches or groups.

  14. For personification, i.e. giving human qualities to inanimate or abstract things:

    O Death, where is thy Sting?
    Welcome to thee, Sleep.

  15. Names of people and places:

    Norman Grubb, Manchester, London Bridge.

  16. Titles and office holders:

    Vice-President, Sir John Smith; Sending Base Leader, Joe Bloggs.
    Use lower case for non-specific office holders:

    All sending base leaders should be men of vision.

  17. Associations and societies:

    Bankers' Institute, Operation Mobilisation, (the) Church, (the) State, (the) Press, (the) Government, (the) Mission.

  18. Names of historical events and periods: Middle Ages, Battle of Trafalgar.

  19. For Mother, Father, Aunt, et cetera, when used in direct speech or referring to a particular person:

    Today Aunt Ethel said, "May I bring Tom home tonight, Mother?"
    Otherwise use lower case:

    My mother went to town.

Web comment

On the Web, readability tests show that people find longer headings easier to read if not completely in capitals. Although North American practice is frequently to capitalize the first letter of each word in a heading, in fact this also breaks up reading flow too, and this style has been largely abandoned in UK.

Readability tests show that a drop capital at the start of a feature draws the eye in and makes it more likely that the piece will be read – see our page on clear copywriting. Although 'drop' capitals are not easy to do on the Web, a larger first capital on a page or section can give a pleasant appearance. You can vary their size, color, even font, in order to achieve an interesting appearance. For this paragraph, style sheets have been used to create a larger initial capital has been combined with a 'serif' font, even though the rest of the page is in 'sans serif' font. You can also enclose the initial capital in <big> tags for a similar effect. Here is the CSS code.

Style Sheets also allow us to create real drop capitals visible in the latest browsers. Personally, I feel they do not work well on-screen, and feel that an upper-case letter looks best on-screen when it rises above the line rather than dropping below it.

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  1. After each adjective in a series of two or more:

    He was a tall, dark, thin man.

  2. To separate contrasted words or ideas:

    We rule by love, not by force.

  3. To alter, or make clear, the meaning of a sentence:
    The chair that is near the door is for sale (pointing out one chair from the others).
    The chair, that is near the door, is for sale. (there is only one chair, and it is near the door).

  4. To separate quotations from the rest of the sentence:

    He said, "I will come."

  5. To separate nouns which refer to the same person or thing:
    Tom, the piper's son, stole a pig.

  6. To separate the person addressed, with direct speech:

    "I see, gentlemen, that you understand."

  7. Between the name of a person and his title or degree.
    Charles Jones, MD.

There is a happy medium here. Too few commas can leave meaning in doubt. Too many commas breaks up the flow and readability of a sentence. In some cases, good writers will disagree, sometimes violently! Read Eats, Shoots & Leaves for clearer – and amusing – understanding of commas and other punctuation.

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Compass points

Full stop after individual points: N., S., E., W., but if two or more are used together, the full stop should only come after the last one: NE., SSW.

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Avoid contractions such as don't, hasn't and I've except in speech and informal writing.

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  1. Omit 'st' and 'th' after numeral of the day, with no commas between day, month and year:

    11 February 1997, 1 January 2001.

  2. UK usage uses the order: day, month, year. US usage is month, day, year.

  3. Abbreviations, when necessary, for days and months are as follows:

    Sun. Mon. Tue. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat.
    Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.

  4. The current trend is to use 19th century, rather than nineteenth century, except at the beginning of a sentence when the number should be spelt out.

  5. AD should precede the year and BC follow the year:
    AD 250 and 250 BC.

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Editing and revision

Editing and revision are essential to the writing process, though frequently overlooked. Professional writers see them as vital – how much more should the rest of us. Few magazines or publishing houses will have time to critique or edit a manuscript. A likely outcome is rejection of the written work.

It is essential to know how to revise and edit your own work, and to submit your writing to the critical eye of another writer. And to be humble enough to receive suggested alterations!

In revising and editing, aim to:

All writers should invest in a book about editing and revision – for instance Getting the Words Right: How to Rewrite, Edit & Revise (Theodore A. Rees Cheney, a Writer's Digest Book). Christian writer/trainer Beverly Caruso commends it: "This deals with what is probably the weakest area in most Christian writing."

The Plain English Campaign advice booklets are downloadable free. There are also many other worthwhile books about writing technique.

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The use of etc. should be kept to a minimum or not used at all unless statistics are being quoted. It may be better to use alternatives such as 'and so on' or 'and such like'.

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Geographical expressions

Use capitals only when naming the accepted title of an area or division:

The inhabitants of Northern Ireland ...
There is a tendency in southern England for people to ...

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Hyphens are used in the following cases:
  1. Compound adjectives which are used immediately before a noun:

    Well-known missionary; good-for-nothing waster; fear-stricken people.
    But: the missionary was well known; the people were fear stricken.

  2. To avoid mistaken meaning:

    An ill-educated fellow; an ill educated fellow; resign, re-sign; recount, re-count.

    Hyphens are often under-used for this purpose. Although you, the writer, understand how the words you have written relate together, your reader may not. For instance, a recent magazine headline was A paper free way. Was it a paper free-way? In fact, it referred to a paper-free way of doing things in an office.

  3. Where one syllable ends and the next begins with the same letter – to show that they should be pronounced separately:

    Co-operate; pre-eminent; co-ordinate.

  4. When numbers and fractions are spelled out:
    Two-thirds; four-fifths; twenty-three; forty-five.

  5. In titles, vice, ex and general should be separated from the main noun by a hyphen:

    Vice-President; Postmaster-General; Ex-Chairman.

  6. For compound words denoting relationship:

    Mother-in-law; sister-in-law; grand-daughter.
    Exceptions are grandfather, grandmother and grandson.

  7. To denote a common second element in all but last of a list:
    eight- to 11-year-olds; 11- to 15-year-olds.

  8. As a dash, which should be marked space hyphen space. (This will usually be converted to a dash by a printing press, using 'find and replace'.)

    The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.

Web comment

Printing houses use an 'em-length' or 'en-length' hyphen for dashes, sometimes with no space before or after, and sometimes with such spaces. (Our strong preference is to use such spaces, because it makes the meaning clearer, especially for international readers.)

On the Web, most people use space/hyphen/space for a dash, i.e. word – word. Some use space/double-hyphen/dash, i.e. word -- word. It is much better to code for a real longer 'dash'. The HTML coding for an 'n-dash' is &ndash; and for the longer 'm-dash': &mdash;. Use of these codes adds a professional appearance to any website.

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Inclusive language

It is difficult to set a house style for inclusive language, but writers should be consistent. It is recommended that the writer reads his/her/its/their work aloud to check on ease of reading!

Be aware however that attempting to avoid gender pronouns by using the plural they or their can be confusing, though it is common in spoken language and is increasingly used in serious writing too:

A writer should be careful to back up their work on a floppy disk.

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  1. Words in text should be emphasized with italics, not bold, underlining or capitals.

  2. Foreign words should be written in italics.

  3. Book titles, films, periodicals and other media titles, names of ships, should be printed in italics.

Web comment

Italics are not as readable on a monitor screen as normal print, because non-vertical lines tend to appear 'pixellated'. It is not recommended to use italics too much on a web page – certainly not for blocks of text. Consider using bold or emphasis tags instead (<b> or <em >) possibly in combination with the italic tag for emphasis of individual words. Italics work well for headings or subheadings.

Underlining should never be used on a web-page, because it makes it appear that the text underlined is a hyperlink.

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Rev.  Mr  Mrs  Dr
Omit the full stop after Mr, Mrs, Dr etc., because the omitted letters are those in the middle of the word and, strictly speaking, an apostrophe should be used. A full stop (period) should be used following Rev., however, since 'v' is not the final letter of Reverend.

Letters after name

1. No full stop or space:

2. No apostrophe for plurals:
MAs  BDs   MPs

Full stops (periods) should follow initials and the space between two or more initial letters should be omitted.

Mr C.T. Studd (the alternate common usage is Mr C T Studd)

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No full stop (period) needed after:
1st  2nd   3rd

Words or figures?

  1. Spell any number that starts a sentence.

  2. In magazine articles and statistical books, spell numbers one to ten, and use figures for 11 and over.

  3. In story-type books, spell numbers up to ninety-nine, and use figures for 100 and over.

  4. Where millions are a round number, spell it out, i.e. 98 million, not 98,000,000.

  5. Figures over one thousand carry a comma, i.e. 1,000 but not in dates: 1000 BC.

  6. Be consistant in using either fifties or 50s. It is incorrect to write 50's.

  7. When writing hyphenated numbers, avoid confusion by indicating all changes of units:

    45-7; 45-68; 146-58; 189-213.
    200-300 is clearer than 2-300.

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  1. In reference to pagination, use the following abbreviations: p. 3 for single pages and pp. 3-25 for more than one page.

  2. If a subject is continuous from one page to another use pp. 6-7, but if the subject is disconnected in the two pages use pp. 6,7.

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In print, headings, sub-headings and the first paragraph of an article should not be indented. Subsequent paragraphs and those following a sub-heading are indented.

Run-on headings which are part of a sentence should not be indented, e.g.:

The Forgotten World is the name given to The Dominion of Fiji by a missionary who worked there for several years.

Web comment

Paragraphs in printed magazines and books do not usually have a line-break between them, to save space. The new paragraph is identified by a two-character indentation. On the Web, it is much harder to read text on-screen, and following print practice in this way would give a mass of indigestible print. Paragraphs on a web-page should always be divided by the <P> tag, to create lots of 'white space'. Online paragraphs should also be short. Indeed, all web-writing should be lean and spare. Note how many more paragraph breaks are used on this page than would have been used in a printed version.

Bulleted (or numbered) lists – when appropriate – can be a great help to easy reading too, especially on the Web.

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Per cent

Except in statistics and tables, the % mark should be spelled out: 11 per cent, not 11 % or 11 percent.

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Omission marks

  1. To mark omitted words, three points ... (an 'ellipsis') should be used. If the three points are used at the end of an incomplete sentence, a full stop (period) should not be added:

    "If any man will do his will, he shall know ..."

  2. Where the sentence is complete, the closing stop (period) is printed close up, followed by a space and three points for omission:

    "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. ..."

Web comment

If you choose this usage with a space before the three points, use a non-breaking space (&nbsp;) rather than a plain space, to prevent the possibility of sentence splitting with only the three points on the second line. You can also code the three-point ellipsis in HTML as &#8230;. (Printing companies will insert a 'fixed space' in the text for the same reason.)

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Quotations and brackets

  1. Use double quotes for quoted words or passages, and single quotes for a quotation within a quotation:

    Tom announced, "I am going away."
    He asked, "What do the letters 'WEC' stand for?"
    Mary replied, "Susan phoned to say that David told her, 'Pick up the shopping this afternoon.'"

  2. Revert to double quotes if there is a third quotation within the second one. (Some styles work the other way round. Be consistent.)

  3. For long quotations or letters, the opening quotation mark is repeated at the beginning of each new paragraph, but the closing quotation mark should only appear at the end of the whole quotation (or after the signature in the case of a letter), and not at the end of each paragraph. Alternatively, the whole quotation may be indented, in which case quotation marks are not necessary.

  4. If a whole spoken/quoted sentence lies within the quotes, the punctuation (full stop/period or other) should be placed within. If a word or phrase alone lies within the quotes, the punctuation should be placed on the outside.

    Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Full stop/period within quotes.)

    "What a lovely day," she said, "But it's very hot!"

    Jesus said that He would make us "fishers of men". (Full stop/period after quotes.)

    John told me that he felt "yukky" and "wobbly".

    If you are repairing your car, use 'grade 2 gasket sealer'.

    This latter usage of the full stop/period after the quote marks (single or double) seems more logical and has completely replaced the older usage (of always placing the quote marks last) in UK. In US, both usages are still common.

  5. The same rule applies to brackets:

    The speaker added that the prospects had never been brighter (applause). (Full stop/period outside brackets.)

    The speaker added that the prospects had never been brighter. (There was loud applause.) (Full stop/period within brackets.)

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  1. Where there are alternative forms, consult Collins English Dictionary. People expect consistency within a text.
  2. Traditional UK spelling is to use -ise endings rather than -ize endings. US spelling is opposite, almost but not quite always. However UK spelling is increasingly following US usage on this.)
  3. Other preferred spellings are: Muslim, Mohammed and Qur'an.
Remember that a spell-checker will not pick up wrong grammar, punctuation and wrong use of apostrophes.

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Certain types of writing can be greatly enhanced by the use of sub-headings. Not only do sub-headings break up the text into bite-sized portions, they give readers a sense of where they are going, and encourage them to continue. Sub-headings may be a very short enticing summary of the section, or a quotation from it, or (if appropriate) a witty comment. As you read books, magazines and newspapers, observe the use they make of sub-headings.

Web comment

Sub-headings are especially important on web-pages, because of the difficulty of reading text on a monitor. It is necessary to work much harder to keep readers' attention. See our guide to sub-headings and headlines.

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Use lower case and no full stops (periods) for am and pm, and close up to the time. Zeros should be used when tabulating times on the hour.

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Book titles, films, broadsheets, periodicals and other media titles should be printed in italics, not quotes:
e.g. New York Times, Fishing Magazine, the Jesus film, On Giants' Shoulders, Lord of the Rings, the Daily Mail, The Times.

Web comment

See note about online use of italics.

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Units of measurement

Internationally agreed abbreviations for units:

cm   centimetre
m   metre
g   gram
t   tonne
l   litre
s   second (of time)
min   minute (of time)
h   hour

These should be consistent, printed without full stops (periods), with no space between the numeral and unit, and remain unaltered in the plural form:

5cm, not 5cm., 5 cm, or 5 cms.

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Word breaks

Continuity in the flow of the written word is essential to communicating the message to the reader. However, the unavoidable splitting of words at the end of lines for the requirements of typography can impede this. Fluency of reading is the main consideration for the reader. When splitting a word, the pronunciation of the first part of the word should be recognisable and the second part in the succeeding line should be anticipated without causing confusion. For example, the meaning of 'pre-' and 'aching' would be grasped more quickly if the word break came after the 'h'.

Words of one syllable should not be divided, and the division of words should be kept to a minimum. Collins English Dictionary may be used for reference, but as a general guideline the following rules should be applied:

  1. Divide by syllables.
  2. A division which gives only two letters at the beginning of the second line is not permissible, and one which gives only two letters at the end of the first line is undesirable unless absolutely necessary.
  3. When dividing present participles, the 'ing' should be carried over:
    Read-ing; stand-ing.
    If the consonant is doubled, carry over the second one:
    Run-ning, swim-ming.
  4. Compound words should be divided into their natural elements:
    Railway-man, not rail-wayman; school-master, under-estimate.
  5. Break hyphenated words at the hyphen to avoid introducing a second hyphen:
    Counter-clockwise, not counter-clock-wise.
  6. Avoid divisions which might confuse or alter the meaning:
    Dis-cover, not disco-ver; re-adjust, not read-just; re-appear, not reap-pear.
  7. If possible a word break should not end a right-hand page.

Web comment

One good thing about the Web: it does not cut words in half. You can also prevent a browser from breaking a line between two or more words in a phrase by inserting a non-breaking space (&nbsp;) between them instead of an ordinary space. Consider using a non-breaking space after an upper-case 'I' so that it is not lost at the end of a line.

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Web-related words

The Web is so new, and there are many inconsistencies and alternate usages. No doubt, with time, single clear conventions may emerge. We have probably not even been consistent in this site. However, the following usages are preferred:

email; not e-mail, Email or E-mail
Web (as a noun); thus: the Web
Internet (as a noun): thus: the Internet
web (in other contexts) – adjective or compound noun
web-page; not webpage, web page or Web page
webmaster; not web-master, Webmaster or web master
internet; as adjective or compound noun
website; not web site, Web site, Website or web-site
As with other matters of style, the important thing is to be consistent. At present, we see a trend towards the creation of new single words out of separate words, via a hyphenated stage. Thus web page, web-page and webpage are all in use – it is likely that in several years time, webpage will become standard.

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Web style

Style on a web-page is different from the printed page. As you look at different websites, assess what seems most effective, uncluttered, readable – and why. Learn from the best. The Web is an informal young medium, and allows for more informality of style than would be common in printed publications.

Sans-serif fonts are much easier to read on a monitor than serif fonts. Verdana was specifically designed for computer monitors and is strongly recommended.

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Other online writing resources:

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