A general modern style guide


  • No Oxford commas
  • No full point between upper-case abbreviations or acronyms: UN USA UNESCO EU
  • No full points: Mr Mrs Ms Dr St Jr Ltd Revd Mme eds nos fols, units of measure
  • Full points: vol. no. fol. p. pp. ed. ibid. e.g. i.e. et al. etc. (Bodleian’s rule: if the full word ends in the same letter as the abbreviation, no point is needed.)
  • Single quote marks throughout – double only when needed for a quote within a quote
  • Quotes of more than three or four lines should be set out as a block, without quote marks
  • Avoid use of quote marks for ‘certain phrases’ where possible
  • Ellipses: always the ellipsis character (…). Never three dots. No space beforehand; one space after except where the ellipsis is at the start of a quote/sentence
  • URLs: avoid http:// or https:// unless absolutely necessary; no trailing slash
  • Lists: full stop after the last point for short items or sentence fragments; capital letters at the start and full stops after each item if in complete sentences; no semicolons or commas at the ends
  • Personal names use initials with full points but no spaces between initials: John F. Kennedy, W.V.O. Quine, B.F. Skinner.

Capitals, hyphens, emphasis

  • No unnecessary capitalisation including initial caps (e.g. managing director not Managing Direc­tor; the US president, but President Obama)
  • Use italics for emphasis (only where necessary) and not capitals
  • Books, films, radio and TV programmes in italics; story/short poem/painting titles in single quotes
  • Italics for foreign phrases unless in common use; avoid accents in common words such as cafe, decor, facade
  • Standard title case: lower case for prepositions, articles and conjunctions
  • Parenthesis: brackets, commas or spaced en-dashes, never hyphens
  • Em-dashes only at the end of interrupted dialogue
  • Avoid hyphens for compound nouns used as adjectives (cast iron fence) but use them for other compound adjectives (black-and-white stripes, well-known formula, problem-solving attitude, five-year-old child) but only if attributive rather than predicative (i.e. This well-known formula… but The formula was well known.), and avoid long, clumsy strings of hyphens if possible (unless whimsical); never used for -ly adverbial phrases (beautifully written prose)
  • If in doubt, consult premium.oxforddictionaries.com or New Oxford Style Manual
  • Bold should only be used for headings/subheadings; underline should never be used
  • Avoid capitalising The for newspaper titles, names etc: ‘It was in the Illustrated London News; the pub was called the Red Lion’ unless referring to The Times (special case) or of course at the start of a sentence.


  • Fiction: one to a hundred in words, figures thereafter
  • Non-fiction: one to ten in words, figures thereafter
  • Exceptions: 9 out of 10, 1 in 3, £5, £5 million, 3pm, 12 km, room 9
  • 28 per cent in long-form text, but 8% in tables/figures
  • Series use en-dashes: ages 11–15, pp. 23–4
  • Dates thus: 5 November 2011; use the/ordinals only when unavoidable (‘see you on the 12th’)
  • 1950s (never with an apostrophe).


  • UK spelling, including -ise/-yse endings and -c- nouns (licence) with -s- verbs (license)
  • Learnt/learned etc should be consistent one way or the other
  • Possessive ‘s’: follow Bodleian rule of s’s when there is an s sound, or s’ for a z sound, except St James’s