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The National Museum prefers a minimal, or open, punctuation style.

Full stops

Always use one, not two, spaces after a colon, a semicolon, and a full stop or other sentence-closing punctuation mark.

Avoid using full stops and spaces with initials and acronyms:

AB PatersonCEW BeanNSW

Contractions are not followed by a full stop:

Pty LtdCwlthMrDr

Because they are always preceded by a numeral, ‘am’, ‘pm’ and the forms of units of measurement can be shown without stops. The space between the numeral and the abbreviation should be retained for measurements, but not for units of time:

9.15am to 1pm6 kg

It is necessary, however, to use a full stop after abbreviations and other shortened forms. For page referencing, always put a space between the ‘p.’ or ‘pp.’ and the number: 2ibid.
The Right Rev.p. 26pp. 2–20

Note: the Australian states Victoria (Vic) and Tasmania (Tas) do not take a full stop when abbreviated. Museum follows the generally accepted convention of no full stop in ‘The Hon’, as in ‘The Hon Helen Coonan’.

The shortened forms of references to sections of Acts, Ordinances and regulations also take a full stop:

s. 17(a)ss. 19–23
r. 19rr. 11–13


With the exception of proper nouns, in-text quotations of speech and the first word of a subtitle, always use lower case after a colon:

She had three ribbons: a blue one, a pink one and her favourite silver one.

When introducing quotations that are longer than a sentence, use a colon:

Ewin Hannon reported: ‘Despite the advice, the senator rejected the proposal. On 3 April 2006 he made a note on that advice, writing, “Proposed project not agreed”’.

And always use a colon to introduce quotations that are longer than about 30 words or three lines and therefore set apart from the text.

Use a comma rather than a colon before quotations no longer than a sentence:

They said, ‘This is not the place to be’.

The Canberra Times explained, ‘Labor’s “no new mines” policy was endorsed in 1984’.


Use semicolons between items with internal punctuation in a list that is run on in the text – that is, a list not set apart from the text by using, say, bullets:

The meeting was attended by the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, Professor Maria Kramer; the Director of Offset Printing, Trevor Brown; and a number of stockbrokers, lawyers and accountants.

The test results were surprising – children aged 5–8 years, 75 per cent; children aged 9–12 years, 93 per cent; teenagers, a mere 36 per cent.

A semicolon can also be used to separate linked concepts or to bring together concepts that you want to link:

Passion: foreign territory; a comical but avoidable affliction like mumps …


The comma is used in a number of important ways to make messages clear.

Coordinate clauses

Coordinate clauses are clauses joined by ‘but’, ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘for’, ‘nor’, and similar expressions. Use a comma when the coordinate clauses each have their own subject and are relatively long:

Copper and tin were on the rise, but gold was also popular with many cashed-up investors.

They feel more and more the burden of advancing years, and they would like to find a smaller house.

A comma is not usually needed when the clauses are short or when there is only one subject:

The rain beat down and the wind howled.

The children were hungry but they did not complain.

Defining and non-defining clauses and phrases

A defining clause is a clause that is integral to the sense of the statement. A non-defining clause can be omitted without losing the sense of the statement; that is, the information in the clause is incidental.

Use a comma to set apart non-defining clauses and phrases:

My cousin who lives in Ainslie is 27 years old. My cousin, who lives in Ainslie, is 27 years old.
The shack was only metres from the beach where they swam every day. It was not far to the next town, where we hoped a pub would be open.

Note that in relative clauses ‘that’ is always defining and ‘which’ and ‘who’ can be either:

The house that Jack built is enormous.

The house, which Jack built, is enormous.

The headmistress who expelled him was obliged to notify his parents.

The headmistress, who expelled him, was obliged to notify his parents.

Note too that in adverbial clauses ‘although’ and ‘though’ are always non-defining, whereas ‘if’ and ‘because’ are usually defining:

You should read the brochure, although it doesn’t matter when.

You should read the brochure if you want to know why.

Introductory clauses and phrases

Relatively long introductory clauses and phrases should be set apart with a comma:

Despite all the attacks and all the naysayers, he has endured.


Twenty years later she is still on the receiving end.


Only last month broadcaster Louise LaPaglia called him a ‘pompous twit’.

Use a comma if a misreading or ambiguity could otherwise occur.

In 2003 he overstepped the boundaries of good taste by …


By 1920, 30 employees had registered.


In winter few people ride bicycles to work.


In winter, clothing contributions are even more gratefully received.

Date or time phrases

When beginning a sentence with a brief ‘date or time’ phrase, don’t follow it with a comma:

use rather than
In 2001 there were 17 instances of this In 2001, there were 17 instances of this

The exception occurs when the phrase is followed by a number: ‘In 1847, 17 miners were …’

Words and phrases in apposition

Use commas around words or phrases that are in apposition to – that is, have the same meaning as – another word or phrase:

Rubella, or German measles, contracted in the first three months of pregnancy can lead to foetal abnormalities.


Tetanus or whooping cough contracted in the first three years of life can be very serious.


Dr Mathew Trinca, Director of the National Museum of Australia, and Mr David Jones, Chair of Council, invite you to the opening of Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia


The Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, announced …


Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced …

Parenthetical elements

Use commas to set off parenthetical words, phrases and clauses:

I am asking you, Your Worship, for a second chance.

Some people, especially those without cardigans, might wish they were somewhere warmer.

In this latter example, em rules or parentheses could be used. It is a question of emphasis: compared with commas, using em rules tends to give greater prominence to the parenthetical material, whereas using parentheses tends to downplay it.


Whether to use a comma between a number of adjectives depends on the relationship between the adjectives themselves and the noun:

two unassuming local craftspeople


two unassuming, talented local craftspeople

A useful test is to try linking the adjectives with ‘and’. If this is an easy substitution, use a comma; if it sounds strange, don’t:

an old, tired face

an interesting, innovative silhouette

an old red wine

the pure white colour

a large early 19th-century bookcase

Elements in common

Unless the elements are very short, use commas around elements that are followed by a shared word or phrase:

His short, not to mention rude, reply astonished us all.


They occasionally but reluctantly attended.


Use a comma to indicate the omission of one or more words common to two parts of a sentence.

In 1984 there were six applications; in 1994, none.


Use a comma to prevent ambiguity or a misreading:

He was not run over, mercifully.


Use commas in numbers of four or more digits:






Punctuating lists

Lists in sentences

Take care with ‘including’, ‘includes’ and variations. It is very common for people to write, for example, ‘Five factors are involved, including …’ and then proceed to list all five. If you want to list all five, write ‘Five factors are involved:’ and then list them.

Use a comma between items in a simple list. A comma is needed before ‘and’ or ‘or’ only if an ambiguity or misreading might occur:

It was pink, blue and yellow.

Was it pink, yellow or blue?

Why not hire skis, boots and overpants?


There were many expeditions – among them those of Sturt, Mitchell, Burke and Wills, and Darling.

Itemised lists

Do not use commas at the ends of lines in point-form lists. List items consisting of or beginning with sentence fragments take no initial capital and no terminating punctuation other than a full stop at the end of the list:

Each packet contained:

  • an entree card
  • two pamphlets
  • bumper stickers
  • badges.

List items consisting of full – that is, grammatically independent – sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop.

The Museum launched three new mobile apps in 2015–16:

  • On 12 October 2015 the Museum launched a new Mandarin-language audio tour app for its permanent galleries.
  • Visitors to the Museum’s Encounters exhibition used the Articulate app to record their written, drawn, spoken or photographic impressions.
  • The new Kspace augmented reality trail app, launched on 14 December 2015, encourages visitors to explore the Museum by finding characters from the onsite Kspace game.

Each item in a list should have the same structure: all sentence fragments or all full sentences.

Be careful not to overuse itemised lists: the flow of the argument can be obscured. Itemised lists are not generally used in exhibition text but can be effective when presenting lots of information online.

Question marks

Direct questions are always followed by a question mark:

Did they follow the established procedure?

This is the case even if the question is not phrased in the interrogative form:

That is the policy?

Tag questions, which are formed by adding an interrogative ‘tag’ to a statement, also take a question mark:

The exhibition is open, isn’t it?

Similarly a rhetorical question – a question to which no response is expected – is followed by a question mark, as is an unspoken question:

What can she have been thinking of?

Do not use a question mark after the following:

  • indirect questions

Before starting to write, ask yourself who your audience is.

  • polite requests that seek no verbal response

Would you please submit your comments by Monday.

  • isolated interrogative words in a sentence

The public will want to know ‘when’ rather than ‘why’.


Compound words

Use a hyphen only if omitting it would result in an awkward construction or confusion or if the word would be difficult to read. If in doubt, consult the Macquarie Dictionary. If the word is not there, try a technical dictionary. If you still cannot find it, make a decision and be consistent. Keep a list of problem words:

cooperatee-journalre-lease (lease again)

Compound adjectives and nouns

Most compound adjectives that precede the noun they qualify are hyphenated:

19th-century dress… age-standardised rateslong-term study
1.5-volt batteryduck-like quackwell-known composer
105-year-old tortoisehigh-flying eaglewide-angle lens

But be wary when such terms follow the noun:

The result cannot be determined in the short term.

Harriet the tortoise was 105 years old.

The battery had a potential of 1.5 volts.

… rates that are age standardised

There are two important exceptions to this general rule:

  • when a compound adjective is formed by words that are a name

carbon dioxide emissions

bark beetle infestation

the Albert Namatjira exhibition

North Richmond station

  • when the first part of the adjectival compound ends in -ly

highly toxic waste

nearly invisible beam

Hanging hyphens

Try to avoid constructions with hanging hyphens – for example, 11- and 14-year-old girls. It is easier for the reader if the second part of the adjective is repeated (11-year-old and 14-year-old girls) or if the expression is reworded (girls aged 11 and 14 years).

Hyphenated names and compound names

It is important to distinguish between hyphenated names and compound names. For example, the Kent-Jones reaction was discovered by the chemist Kent-Jones, but the Friedel–Crafts reaction was discovered by the chemists Friedel and Crafts. In the first instance a hyphen is used; in the second an en rule is used in order to show the association between Friedel and Crafts.

The solidus, or slash, is sometimes used for this purpose, but it can also be used to show a combination of two unrelated things or to show alternatives. For this reason, avoid it whenever possible.

En rules

The en rule (or en dash), which is a linking device, is about the width of a lower-case n. Its main uses are to separate the parts of a title consisting of two distinct names, to show a range of numbers, and to show a link between places or things:

the Asia–Pacific regionCreutzfeldt–Jakob disease23–27 London Circuit
the Museum’s 2006–07 Annual Reporta Canberra–Brisbane flightthe Goulburn–Tarago road
the Murray–Darling Basin  

If there is more than one word to be linked on one or both sides, use a spaced en rule:

15 June – 15 July

An en rule can also be used for a minus sign:

It was –8°C at 11am.

Spaced en rules are also used to signify a sudden change of thought, to set apart parenthetic elements, or to set apart words that qualify or clarify the preceding words:

In their traditions, their absorption in magic and shamanistic charms – their consciousness – these people inhabit a timeless universe.

Even nationality is an ambiguous concept for them – and far less ‘real’ than the magic arts they practise.

The world is always an unfinished project – that is, always subject to change.

There is, however, an alternative solution – radical, but at the same time simple – that republicans anxious to avoid a repetition of 1975 might care to consider.

This application of spaced em rules should be used sparingly – say, no more than one or one pair in a paragraph. Overuse diminishes their effectiveness.


Parentheses are used to enclose material that could be omitted without destroying the grammatical structure of the sentence:

Annual rainfall may have been greater than it is now (600 millimetres today) and temperatures somewhat cooler.

Walter Ebatarinja (1915–1968) was Albert Namatjira’s first pupil.

… gathered from harvester ants (Messor tropicorum) in the Namib interior.

Note that parentheses tend to downplay the importance of the information they contain.

Angle brackets

Do not use angle brackets to enclose email and web addresses:

It is available from Clara Johanssen,

You can download it from the Museum’s website,

Note that in print documents the web address should not be underlined, and any hyperlink in the original Word document should be removed (unless the document is intended to be viewed electronically and the links are desired). If the web address comes at the end of a sentence, place a full stop after it.

Square brackets

Use square brackets for interpolations and insertions in quoted material, including audio and video transcripts:

‘Everyone has one of these [male or female identifier] names.’


Always put a space before and after an ellipsis:

‘The new system will … expand workers’ choices.’

Never put a full stop before or after an ellipsis.


Use an apostrophe to indicate possession. People tend to avoid it – perhaps because they’re afraid of ‘apostrophe man’ – but this often leads to stilted prose. For example, ‘the Fentons’ property’ is more natural than ‘the property of the Fentons’.

The possessive s is retained in people’s names that end in s where it would be sounded out in normal speech. It is omitted in those where it would not be sounded out in speech:

Burns’s poem

Ethel Curlewis’s letter

but note

Flinders’ anchor

For Australian place names involving possessives, please follow the spelling advised by Geoscience Australia.

Use the apostrophe to avoid confusion in particular expressions:

Mind your p’s and q’s.

Dot the i’s and cross the t’s


the dos and don’ts

Avoid using an apostrophe in terms that are adjectival as opposed to possessive:

Friends Lounge

editors conference

girls grammar school

babies room

Similarly, avoid using the greengrocer’s apostrophe in non-possessive plurals:

potatoes and tomatoes for sale


potato’s and tomato’s for sale

Decades are written without an apostrophe:

the 1840s

the 1970s

Its and it’s

The possessive of the pronoun ‘it’ does not take an apostrophe:

The book was poorly bound. Its spine came apart very soon after I opened it.

‘It’s’ is the shortened form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’:

It’s painted blue. It’s gone.

Quotation marks

All quotation marks should be smart, or curly, rather than straight, or dagger marks. Tip: In Word, go to File, Options, Proofing, Autocorrect Options, Autoformat As You Type, and check the box ‘Replace straight quotes with smart quotes’.

In general, use single quotation marks. Double quotes are only used for quotes within quotes:

‘Conventional wisdom is always wrong!’ argued Professor Severino.

‘It read “Go back”, I think,’ said Odile.

In running text, use quotation marks for:

  • citing the expressions of others

For the purposes of this study, ‘capacity building’ is defined as …

… a $1 million ‘golden hello’.

She said the holiday was ‘magnetic’.

  • expressions used in special senses

Research might be conducted as a ‘leap of faith’, but for the results to become ‘science’ they must be subjected to scientific method.

Science, scepticism and various ‘ologies’ have their origin in ancient Greek models.

  • referring to exhibition sections

In the ‘Cities’ section of Old New Land …

  • interactive titles

‘Ask the chemist’

  • the titles of chapters in books and of journal articles

‘Australian bushrangers: Criminals, outlaws and heroes’

‘“Because it is our country”: The Pintupi and their return to their country, 1970–1990’

  • new terms and words used in special senses or sarcastically, to alert readers to this special treatment

They are using ‘ransom ware’ to hold computer files hostage.

She dismissed them as ‘anti-freedom’ appeasers.

It is what might be called ‘scientronics’.

She said they had a ‘blingtastic’ weekend.

Only include punctuation that is part of the quotation inside the quote marks:

‘Ask the chemist’, an interactive on the Museum’s website.

‘Beware!’ it said in big, bold lettering.

Place the terminating punctuation inside the closing quotation mark when the quotation is a full sentence but outside the closing quotation mark whenever the quotation is part of a sentence:

‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate.’


She laughed and said, ‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate’.

When two different punctuation marks would logically appear together – one applying to the quotation and the other to the sentence – it is a question of deciding which is the stronger and retaining only that:

He heard the Speaker call ‘Order!’

A person might ask, ‘Why should the Museum need my personal details?’


Did you hear her say ‘Hooray for the digital age’?

Note that quotation marks should not be used with the expression ‘so-called’:

the ‘shoot-to-kill’ powers


the so-called shoot-to-kill powers

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