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Australian Government Coat of Arms

Style Manual

Spelling

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

Choose one dictionary for consistency

Many government organisations use one dictionary. This manual recommends either:

  • the Australian concise Oxford dictionary
  • the Macquarie dictionary.

These are general references for spelling.

Use the dictionary your organisation prefers for house style or specific content. Use an up-to-date edition. This will reflect current language use.

Dictionaries list variable spellings. Use the first entry in the list. This helps ensure content is consistent across government.

Only use an alternative spelling that is also listed if you have evidence it will meet a user need. Use a style sheet for alternative spellings.

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

  • information on word division

  • appendices.

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

Follow guidance in this manual

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

This manual also recognises conventions and spellings particular to government content.

You’ll find specific guidance for:

Spelling conventions relate to guidance for using punctuation and capitalisation.

Check a dictionary when in doubt

Most words have a single spelling. This can lead people to assume there is always a ‘correct’ spelling. If you are in any doubt about the spelling of a word, use a dictionary.

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 a variety of English.

Spellings aren’t uniform or consistent around the world. Australian usage sits somewhere between British and American spellings.

Dictionaries have alternative but legitimate spellings. The entry for a spelling can expand on changes in the basic form of a word. These changes show things like the plural or past tense. These changes are called ‘inflections’ and ‘derivations’.

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 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 spell checkers in Microsoft Word, which the digital edition does not.

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