Spelling

Spelling errors detract from readability. Follow one dictionary for consistency and use it to check variable spellings.

Choose one dictionary for consistency

Government organisations should choose one dictionary of Australian English.

This manual recommends either:

  • the Australian concise Oxford dictionary (ACOD)
  • the Macquarie dictionary.

Use your organisation’s preferred dictionary as a spelling reference when you write. Spelling and word usage can change over time. Make sure you use an up-to-date edition that reflects current language usages.

Dictionaries include any variable spellings for words. Always use the first entry in the list. This helps to ensure words are spelt consistently in government content.

Only use an alternative spelling listed for a word if you have evidence it will meet a user need. Record decisions you make about alternative spellings in a style sheet.

The entry for a spelling can expand on changes to the basic form of a word. These changes show things like the plural, past tense, or the root from which a word is formed. These changes are called ‘inflections’ and ‘derivations’.

Dictionaries will also show hyphenation, when to use capital letters and how to write foreign words and phrases.

Specialist dictionaries

General dictionaries won’t meet all needs. Other dictionaries may have helpful features, for example:

  • more details on origins of words (etymologies)

  • clearer examples

  • word division for breaking words over lines of text

  • appendices.

Specialist dictionaries are essential for scientific or technical writing. The style sheet for the content should include specialist terms.

Dictionaries describe language usages

English is a global language. There are many regional varieties of written and spoken English. Dictionary spellings capture standard English words. Dictionaries also capture words and usages particular to varieties of English, including Australian English.

Dictionaries are descriptive not prescriptive. They describe how people actually use and spell English rather than prescribing rules for using English correctly. Dictionaries objectively record language for the people who speak it.

This is why dictionary entries include different meanings for each word and alternative spellings. The important thing is to use the word that matches the meaning you want to convey.

Most words have a single spelling. This can lead people to assume there is always a ‘correct spelling’. But spellings aren’t uniform or consistent around the world. Australian, British and American English share words that have the same meaning, but can be spelt differently.

Australian spellings generally follows British spellings, but there are exceptions. For Australian spellings, always use an Australian English dictionary.

In addition, style guides (like Style Manual) usually have guidance for their users about how to write specific terms and phrases.

Follow guidance in this manual

Style Manual has specific guidance about writing certain terms and phrases correctly.

Follow our guidance for:

There is also guidance related to spelling at punctuation and capitalisation.

Spelling in this manual

The spelling in this manual follows the sixth edition of the ACOD. This dictionary reflects Australian English usage.

Style Manual also recognises conventions and spellings particular to government content.

The spellings used by Australian Government organisations that follow the Macquarie dictionary might differ from those in this manual. This is perfectly acceptable – choose either of our recommended dictionaries (or a specialist dictionary) and follow it consistently.

Always follow our guidance for specific terms and phrases.

Users might notice that Style Manual departs from some spellings used in the sixth edition. For example, we now write ‘ement’ not ‘ment’ in acknowledgement, lodgement and judgement (but we use ‘judgment’ for legal material). This is consistent with current advice in Australian English dictionaries.

Release notes

The digital edition reflects contemporary spellings and Australian English usages.

Corpus data informs departures from the sixth edition. The primary set of corpora for Australian-specific data are those on English-Corpora.org. ‘News on the web’ and ‘Global Web-based English’ corpora enabled comparative analysis between Australian English usages and other varieties of English.

Checks through the Australian National Dictionary Centre also used data on Factiva and the Oxford National Corpus.

Subject matter experts across the Australian Public Service assisted with spellings that have a legislative basis.

The Content Guide recommended The Macquarie dictionary. It did not mention the Australian concise Oxford dictionary or any other alternative. It gave advice on setting spellcheckers in Microsoft Word, which the digital edition does not.

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