Standard units of measurement support readability and accuracy. Express precise values for users by combining numerals with the correct unit symbol.
Use the standard units of measurement
Australia uses the metric system for most quantities:
- The modern form of the metric system is the International System of Units (SI).
- Australia also uses some non-SI legal units of measurement, which are listed in Schedules 1 and 2 of the National Measurement Regulations.
Don’t use the non-SI legal units of measurement for international content. The exception is when you have checked that
Rules for units of measurement:
- Punctuation: don’t place a full stop after a unit of measurement.
- Capitalisation: use capitals only if the unit represents a proper name.
- Plural and possessive: units don’t have a plural or possessive form.
- Start of a sentence: write out the unit in full.
- Spacing: use a non-breaking space between the number and the unit.
‘m’ for metre
‘kg’ for kilogram
‘W’ for watt
Measurements and units can include:
- symbols (for example, ‘μ’ for ‘micro’
- superscript (a number, letter or symbol placed above a line – for example, the ‘2’ in ‘km2’).
Unless they are coded correctly, symbols and superscript may be inaccessible for some people who:
- have low vision
- use screen readers to access content.
Insert symbols and superscript with tools such as:
These make mathematical equations and symbols accessible, including for screen readers.
Ensure both symbols and superscript can be enlarged without loss of content or functionality. Don't use images of symbols or superscript.
WCAG quick reference: 1.3.1 Info and relationships – level A
Write numerals with units of measurement
Use numerals, not words, for numbers when you are referring to a unit of measurement:
- Always use numerals next to a unit of measurement.
- Include a non-breaking space between the number and the unit.
Use symbols for common units of measurement
You don’t need to spell out units of measurement, even for the first use, if they’re well known and users will know what they mean.
‘mm’ for millimetres
‘cm’ for centimetres
‘km’ for kilometres
‘km/h’ for kilometres per hour
Spell out units of measurement the first time you use them if
The noise from the building site was 120 decibels (dB). Workers in the nearby office preferred a limit of only 50 dB.
Don’t combine symbols and words for units.
Queensland is 1,853 million km2 in area.
Queensland is 1,853 million square km in area.
SI prefixes for large and small quantities
Internationally accepted prefixes and their symbols make it easier for users to read, understand and compare numbers. Use them in government content.
Table 1 details common prefixes and their symbols.
A complete list of prefixes and symbols is available at The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).
|deca (also ‘deka’)||da||101||10|
Note: the International Bureau of Weights and Measures uses ‘deca’ but this is spelled ‘deka’ in Schedule 3 of the National Measurement Regulations.
63 megalitres is 63,000,000 litres
0.001 metre is 1 millimetre
Don’t use non-standard units.
There was 5 μg of active ingredient in each capsule.
He measured 50 mL of water.
There was 5 mcg of active ingredient in each capsule.
He measured 5 dL of water.
Data storage and transfer
The prefixes for data storage and transfer work differently to those used for SI units. ‘Byte’ (B) is the unit of storage and data transfer speed. For this purpose, use:
- ‘kilobyte’ for 1,024 B
- ‘megabyte’ for 1,024 kB
- ‘gigabyte’ for 1,024 MB
- ‘terabyte’ for 1,024 GB.
Units of time
Days, years, hours and minutes measure time. These are not SI units. Spell them out in full – unless they’re in a table, list or chart and are easy to understand.
I have been working in the public service for 12 years.
He started in the new department 20 days ago.
They sent the report in the last 15 minutes.
Use symbols for units that are derived from time measurements, such as speed.
The speed limit for urban areas in NSW is 50 km/h.
Put a non-breaking space between numbers and units
People will read the number and its unit as a measurement only if the two components sit together. To do this, use a non-breaking space between numbers and their units of measurement.
Without a non-breaking space, a unit could reflow to the next line. This would separate it from the quantity, making it difficult for users to understand the information being presented.
Although this is important for all content, it’s more likely to happen on smaller screens, such as those on mobile devices.
The post should be at least 1.5 m tall.
[The sentence has a
inserted between ‘1.5’ and ‘m’.]
The post should be at least 1.5
[A bad line break between the measurement and its unit]
By convention, some industries don’t have a space between the quantity and the unit. Many 750 mL bottles of wine, for example, have the volume 750ml printed on the label.
Check the preferred style if you are writing for a specialist application.
Don’t add ‘s’ for plural forms
Symbols for units of measurement represent both the singular and the plural forms. Don’t use an ‘s’ to show plural with the symbols for units.
Compare measurements using the same units
Make it easy for users to compare quantities. Use the same:
- unit and prefix
- number of decimal places.
The Green Wattle Creek fire burnt almost 3,000 km2, of which more than 1,000 km2 was national park.
The smaller jug held 1.5 L and the bigger jug held 2.0 L.
The piece of wood was 140 mm by 1,320 mm by 20 mm.
The Green Wattle Creek fire burnt almost 300,000 ha, of which more than 1,000 km2 was national park.
The smaller jug held 1,500 mL and the bigger jug held 2 L.
The piece of wood was 14 cm by 1.32 m by 20 mm.
Only use non-SI units if the user understands them
There are other units that are also Australian legal units of measurement but are not SI units. They’re listed in Schedules 1 and 2 of the National Measurement Regulations.
These non-SI units are not all legally accepted in every country. Use them only if users will understand them. Some units, such as the nautical mile, are for use only in Australia. Table 2 details common examples of other legal Australian units.
|length||nautical mile||n mile|
|volume||litre||L or l|
|blood pressure||millimetre of mercury||mm Hg|
|work and energy||kilocalorie||kcal|
Note: ‘litre’ can be represented as ‘L’ or ‘l’, depending on the type of content and who will be using it. Most government content should use ‘L’ as it’s clearer to users (‘l’ can be confused with ‘I’ and ‘1’).
Avoid imperial units
Don’t use imperial units of measurement in Australia unless you have a specific reason, such as:
- in quotations from historical documents
- when writing for readers in countries (particularly the United States) where imperial measures, or elements of them, still apply.
gallons for volume of fuel
barrels for volume of oil
inches for the size of a screen
feet for the altitude of a plane
It’s good practice to also provide the equivalent quantity in SI units when that helps users.
In the 1970s, the speed limit for highways in many states of Australia was set at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).
The digital edition consolidates information from the sixth edition about measurement and units. It links to external sources for more detailed information.
The digital edition follows advice from the sixth edition about including a space between the number and unit of measurement.
This is contrary to the recommendation in the Content Guide, which recommended omitting the space between number and measure.
The Content Guide had no information about imperial units.
About this page
BIPM (International Bureau of Weights and Measures) (n.d.) SI brochure: the international system of units (SI), BIPM website, accessed 4 June 2020.
Oxford University Press (2016) ‘14.1.4: units’, New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
University of Chicago (2017) ‘9.16: numbers with abbreviations and symbols’, Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
American Psychological Association (2020) Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edn, American Psychological Association, Washington DC.
BIPM (n.d.) The international system of units (SI), International Bureau of Weights and Measures website, accessed 4 June 2020.
The Unicode Consortium (2020) Unicode 13.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 2 June 2020.
This page was updated Sunday 20 September 2020.