Writing Style

Ensuring simple and consistent communication

The City of Unley Writing Style Guide promotes a consistent writing style in all City of Unley documents in order to create a cohesive style of branding that is easily accepted and understood.
Our writing style style is based on the Australian Government Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, sixth edition, published by Wiley. This manual can be referred to for any style issues that are not covered in this guide. A copy of the Government Style Manual is readily available at most public libraries.

Writing in Plain English

Plain English communicates clear and concise messages that are written with the reader specifically in mind. It means writing so that the reader understands what you are saying the first time they read it.
Writing in plain English means you keep your sentences short, avoid technical jargon and use an active voice. Using the language the way it is spoken will take you well down the path to plain English.

Plain English techniques
Remember your audience
Will people outside of the Council understand what you’re saying? Use familiar everyday words that your readers will understand.
Use small words
Never use a big word when a small one will do.
Use short sentences and paragraphs
Short sentences communicate small messages of information and make it easy for the reader to understand your message. Aim for your sentences to be no longer than 25 words.
Paragraphs should consist only of three or four sentences and contain one main idea.
Use active verbs
Active verbs create lively and interesting writing and make an organisation sound dynamic and professional.
To make a sentence active you need to put the doer (the person, group or thing doing the action) before the verb (the action itself).
  •  Your bin will be collected by  council every  Monday
  •  We will collect your bin every Monday 
Avoid jargon
Jargon assumes the reader has specialist knowledge about a particular topic. If you can’t avoid using jargon you should explain difficult terms in brackets and create a glossary of terms for your reader to use as a reference.
Use lists
If you need to write many items in a sentence you should consider using a list. When listing items make sure each point follows logically and grammatically from the introductory sentence.
Use the right tone
The tone of your writing will portray our attitude to our customers. The wrong tone can have a huge effect on how your message is understood and perceived as the reader could react negatively to the way the piece of communication is written.
If you have to write a negative letter, be gracious and understanding, not imposing or aggressive. Your tone must not be unsympathetic or make your readers anxious. Avoid language that might offend people. Refer to respectful language on page 14 for additional tips.
Use ‘you’ and ‘we’
Try to call the reader ‘you’, even if the reader is only one of many people you are talking to generally. If this feels strange at first, remember that you wouldn’t use words like ‘the applicant’ and ‘the supplier’ if you were speaking to somebody sitting across a desk from you.
Using ‘I’, ‘you’, or ‘we’ makes your tone of voice more personal and sincere.
Where possible, refer to the person by name.

House Style

It is important that all of our communications are consistent across the organisation to ensure we are viewed in a professional way by our community.
The elements of our house style
  • Abbreviations and acronyms
    When you use an acronym for the first time you should introduce the reader to the words in full and follow this by writing the acronym in brackets.
    Do this for the first reference and then use the abbreviation from then on. If it is a long document it can be helpful to the reader to spell it out in full later on to remind them what the abbreviation stands for.
    The Development Assessment Panel (DAP) meets on Mondays at 6pm. The DAP meets in the Unley Council Chambers.
    Almost always an abbreviation does not need full stops. The only exception is where the abbreviated form makes a proper word such as ‘no’ for ‘number’ where it is correct to write ‘no.’

    •  e.g.
    •  eg
    •  e.t.c.
    •  etc
    States and territories of Australia should be abbreviated to:

    NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, NT and ACT

    Streets and roads etc should be written in full unless space is restricted.

    •  King William Rd
    •  King William Road
  • Ampersands '&'
    Ampersands can be used in headings but never in the main copy of written material.

    •  Karen & Erin will manage the project
    •  Karen and Erin will manage the project
  • Use of capital letters
    Councils tend to over capitalise words and sentences to make them sound more important. Too many capitals make it difficult for the reader to focus on and spoils the appearance of a page.
    Writing in capital letters impacts on tone as it signifies shouting.
    For short headings, capitalise the first letter of each word. For longer headings use lower case after the first initial letter.
    •  Proposal for New Communication Techniques
    •  Waste & Recycling
    •  Proposal for new communication techniques 
    Using capitals for names and places (proper nouns)
    Capitals should be used for titles, committees and programs etc.
    Unless the words form part of a proper noun, use lower case.
    The South Australian Government has begun work on the project. The government expects regular reports.
    Words like department, division, and program do not take an initial capital letter unless they are part of a proper noun.
    •  The Department of Transport Energy and Infrastructure
    •  The department
    There is one exception: using The Department when it is a defined term, such as in a contract or other legal document.  The same applies for The Council, when this term is directly referring to The City of Unley.

    The City of Unley adopted its budget.  The Council will not increase rates.

    When referring to job titles in general, they should be written in lower case. Individual titles however, should have initial capitals.
    •  The general manager met with the chief executive officer
    •  John Smith, General Manager
  • Formatting
    Bold, italics and underlining
    Bold and italics can emphasise your headings  but should be used sparingly. If they are used too much it can reduce readability and credibility.
    • Put headings in bold
    • Use italics instead of quotation marks when referring to books, government Acts and brochures etc.
    • Avoid whole paragraphs in bold or italics
    • Avoid underlining as it interferes with the text and makes reading difficult
    Bullets and numbering
    Bullets are generally preferable to numbers or letters for itemised indented material, as they are neater and take less space. Numbers or letters should be reserved for cases where it is necessary to show priority or chronology within a series or where individual items need to be identified for later use.
    Remember to ensure that you are consistent with the style of bullet points that you use.
    Precede bulleted items on a short list with a colon. Use lower case only and the only punctuation needed is a full stop at the end of the final point.
    The report includes:
    • an executive summary
    • background information
    • arguments for and against the proposal
    • a recommendation.
    Each bullet point must read as if it follows directly from the introduction and each must be expressed in the same grammatical form.
    Where you’re using bullet points for long sentences, it may help readers to have a semi colon at the end of each one and a full stop after the last.
    Divided words
    Avoid splitting words up over two lines. To place the full word on the line below, put your cursor at the beginning of the word and press the shift and the enter keys at the same time (this is called a ‘soft return’).
    The City of Unley font to be used in all correspondence is Arial, 12 point.
    When communicating with low vision readers the font size should be 18pt as recommended by Vision Australia.
    Indented paragraphs
    The left margin is used to orientate the reader.
    Avoid indenting paragraphs as some readers, particularly those with low vision, have difficulty finding the first word of the paragraphs.
    Left alignment
    Use left align  instead of justifying text. This makes the spaces between the letters the same, which is easier to read.
    Margins for your letters and other council documents should be 2.54cm.
    You can set this up as a default on your computer.
  • Numbers, times, dates, currency
    The general rule is to spell out numbers one to nine and use numerals for 10 and over. There are exceptions such as for numbers at the beginning of sentences or where numbers are grouped.
    •  Fifteen residents responded to four of the questions
    •  The number of residents responding has increased from 4 to 12
    •  The number of clients has now reached 45
    For five-digit numbers or more, separate the hundreds using a comma.
    •  45,368
    •  45638
    Telephone numbers
    Telephone numbers should be set as follows:
    •  Ph 08 8372 5111
    •  Ph 61 8 8372 5111
    •  Ph 0420 507 599
    •  Ph (08) 8372 5111
    •  TEL: (08) 8372 5111
    •  (Ph) 08 8372 5111
    The international code should be used only where appropriate.
    When choosing whether or not to use the brackets around the area code, please ensure you are consistent throughout  the communications piece.
    Times are written without a space between the figure and am or pm. Do not put noughts after the figure. Do not write times with a colon between the hour and minutes. Do not write in the 24–hour clock.
     4 am
    •  4:00am
    •  19:30
    •  4am
    •  7.30pm
    •  Half past three
    When referring to 12pm, write 12noon or 12midday.
    Our preferred way to write the date is day, month, and year without punctuation.
    •  1 July 2010
    For exact dollar amounts you don’t need to include the decimal points.

    •  $504.20
    To express million dollar amounts:
     $7.25 m
    •  $7,250,000
  • Punctuation
    An apostrophe is used to show the possessive.
    The Council’s staff
    But for plurals ending in ‘s’ you need to put the apostrophe after the ‘s’.
    The residents’ association
    For plural nouns without an 's' you need to put the apostrophe before the ‘s’.
    The children’s choice

    Commas tend to be over used. They work best when they reflect the natural pauses of speech and help understanding. If the meaning is quite clear without them, leave them out. A misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of your sentence.
    Commas are used to separate items in a simple series or list within a sentence.
    The details required are name, date of birth, address and telephone number.
    Exclamation mark
    An exclamation mark expresses surprise or alarm. It is hardly ever necessary to use one. If you do need to use an exclamation mark, never end a sentence with more than one.
    Full stops
    Do not use full stops after headings.
    These are so often misused that it is suggested that you split your sentence into two or more. Semi colons can assist clarity and ease of reading if used at the end of long items in a list where those items have commas within them.
    The semicolon is used correctly when the part of the sentence that follows it is an extension of what preceded it and would make sense as a separate sentence.
    We expect ministerial approval next week; the work can then start immediately.
    Use double quotations marks for direct speech. When something is quoted within a quote use single quotation marks.
    With a quoted text in paragraphs the quotation marks should go at the start of each paragraph and at the end of the last one.
    “I would like to thank the community for supporting the meeting,” the Mayor said.
    “It was great to see everyone there.
    “The Council is looking forward to implementing all of your ideas.” 
  • Spelling
    Make sure your spell checker is set to the Australian version (not American). Also ask someone to proof read your work.  Spelling mistakes  impact your message.
    A great tip is to read the document backwards. Start from the last word and read right to left. It is much easier to pick up a word that is spelt correctly, but used in the wrong context.
    from / form
    advice / advise
    there / their
    Avoid alternative spelling.
    •  Programme
    •  Program
    •  Color
    •  Colour
    •  Organization
    •  Organisation
  • Inclusive and respectful language
    The language we use can reflect the way we see the world. As our appreciation of the richness and variety of human culture has increased, we have identified some language habits as sexist and discriminatory.
    We must not characterise someone by one aspect of who they are. By grouping or stereotyping a person we can miss their fundamental humanity and fail to treat them respectfully.
    Indigenous people
    Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people should be referred to as Indigenous people.
    Please use Aboriginal with a capital A not Aborigine when referring to original inhabitants of Australia.
    People with disabilities
    People with disabilities want to be treated first and foremost as people, not as sick, different or set apart. Do not focus on their disability.
    •  The blind
    •  People who are visually impaired
    Avoiding sexist language
    Avoid using masculine or feminine forms when referring to both men and women. Writing he or she, his or her will sometimes work but can look a little clumsy. You can avoid this problem by using plural nouns.
    •  The client must submit his invoice before the end of the month
    •  The client must submit their invoice before the end of the month
    As a general rule, use gender neutral words and titles.
    •  Chairman
    •  Chairperson
  • Letters

    The City of Unley’s suite of corporate stationery is to be used for all written communication.
    When correspondence consists of more than one page, blank sheets are to be used for the additional pages.
    Only use a heading where it will make the reader’s task easier by focusing on the message intended by the heading. It should summarise the purpose of the letter or what it is about.
    Headings should be placed below the salutation, justified to the left, bold, Arial 12pt.
    Please note: RE: is Latin for about. It is old fashioned and not everyone knows what it means. The heading is already telling the reader what the letter is about so including this term is not necessary.
    Avoid using sir/madam. It’s more personal to address readers by name. Find out the person’s name wherever possible. Use the title Ms (not Mrs or Miss) unless you know the person prefers to be referred to as Mrs or Miss.
    Commas are no longer needed after the salutation.
    Closing sentence
    The last sentence of your letter should always invite community members or stakeholders  to contact us if they would like more information or  to proceed with further action. Make sure you include a contact name, the person’s position and direct phone number.
    For further information please contact Erin Thompson, Communications Officer on ph 8372 5183 or ethompson@unley.sa.gov.au
    Signing off
    Use Yours sincerely if the letter is addressed: Dear Ms Smith

    Use Kind regards if the letter is addressed: Dear Amanda
    Commas are no longer needed after the word sincerely/regards.
    Include five returns before your name in full, and position underneath in bold.

Proof Reading

Always read over your work before sending it out. Use your spell check and double check all words that have alternate spellings.
When editing your work you should remove all unnecessary words, terms and phrases in order to express your ideas more succinctly.
Check your use of tense. Remember that if you're writing in the present tense, you shouldn’t shift to the past tense (or vice versa).
Remember, every piece of written work is an opportunity to represent who we are and what we do in the best possible way. 

Addressing Members of Government

Local Government
Mayors in South Australia
Envelopes are addressed:
His Worship the Mayor of Unley, Mr Lachlan Clyne
Her Worship the Mayor of Marion, Ms Felicity-ann Lewis
Formal letters: Mr or Madam Mayor
Less formal: Dear Mr Clyne
Refer to as: His Worship the Mayor then The Mayor
Conversation: Mr Mayor then Mr Clyne
Mayor’s spouse or partner
Every Mayor and their partner will be different.
To find out how to address the partner of a mayor, contact the Mayor’s Office and find out what decision has been made about titles.
The Lord Mayor of Adelaide
Envelopes are addressed:
The Right Honourable, Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Mr Martin Haese
Formal letters: My Lord Mayor
Less formal: Dear Lord Mayor
Refer to as: The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor then The Lord Mayor
Conversation: Lord Mayor then Mr Haese
The Lord Mayor’s spouse or partner
Every Mayor and their partner will be different.
To find out how to address the partner of a mayor, contact the Mayor’s Office and find out what decision has been made about titles.
These titles are applied equally to men and women.
The correct abbreviation for Councillor is Cr.
Envelopes are addressed:  Councillor Rufus Salaman
Letters: Dear Councillor Salaman
Conversation: Councillor or Councillor Salaman
Refer to as: The Elected Members
State Government   
All members of state and territory parliaments are referred to as MPs
Mr David Pisoni MP
Government ministers are addressed listing all of their portfolios. The current Premier does not currently hold any additional portfolios.
The Hon. Jay Weatherill
Premier of South Australia
The salutation for all government Senators, Ministers and Premiers is Dear Senator/Minister/Premier. 

Writing for the Web

On the web, people are in a hurry. They skim and scan, looking for quick answers to their questions. Our plain English and Council house style rules still apply to our website. But there are some crucial extra considerations when writing for the web.
Tips for writing content
  • Less is more! Be concise. A web page will have around 50 per cent fewer words than its printed counterpart.
  • Write clear and simple content in a conversational style.
  • Front-load your text. Put the most important content in the first paragraph, so that readers scanning your pages won’t miss your main idea.
  • Cover only one topic per paragraph. This makes your content more scannable by breaking it into manageable sections.
  • Always use sub headings throughout the page to guide the reader.  
  • Use clear headings and subheadings. Questions are particularly effective.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs. The ideal standard is no more than 20 words per sentence, five sentences per paragraph.  
  • Where possible use lists rather than paragraphs to make your content easier to scan.
  • Write for your audience. By knowing who you are writing for, you can write at a level that will be meaningful for them.  
  • Use pronouns. The user is “you.” The organisation or government agency is “we.” This creates cleaner sentence structure and more approachable content.
  • Use active voice. “The board proposed the legislation” not “The regulation was proposed by the board.”  
  • Half the content will do just as well, don’t bother with 'Fluffy', 'Welcome' text
Stay up to date
Content must always be kept up to date. If a web user sees an out-of-date page they will not trust or value our website as a source of council information. They will assume all of the pages are out of date.
Avoid writing tomorrow, next week or yesterday as these will immediately be out of date after the event. If you do need to use dates, ensure you set yourself a reminder to update the content the day it expires.
Never use "click here" as a link — link language should describe what your reader will get if they click the link.


  •  Click here for more information
  •  For more information, visit the SA Water website
Web accessibility
All visitors, regardless of any disability or their standard of technology, must be able to use our website. Writing accessible content will help people with cognitive difficulties, visually impaired people and people from a different language background. It is good practice to make your content as succinct as possible. This is done by reducing the number of words in total, and laying them out on the page so they are easier to understand.
All images must have an alternative text that appears when the mouse hovers over the image. This helps text based browsers and those with visual impairments.
All information made available on the City of Unley website should be published in accordance with WCAG 2.0 level AA accessibility requirements. 

Further Reading

Australian Government Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, 6th edition, John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, 2002.
The Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edition (revised), 2001

The Macquarie Thesaurus, 2nd edition (revised), 2001


An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word, eg Development Assessment Panel is DAP
The sign &.
Jargon is a type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside of it eg RFT as Request for Tender
A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.
The grammatical category in nouns, pronouns, and verbs that refers to more than one thing. Most nouns become plural with the addition of ‘s’ or ‘es’ eg hats, chairs, dishes, countries, and so on.
Plural noun
A plural noun is a word that indicates that there is more than one person, animal place, thing, or idea. When you talk about more than one of anything, you're using plural nouns.
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. In the sentence Joe saw Jill, and he waved at her, the pronouns he and her take the place of Joe and Jill, respectively. Examples of pronouns include I, me, he, she, herself, you, it, that, they, each, few, many, who, whoever, whose, someone, everybody.
Proper noun
A name used for an individual person, place, or organization, spelled with an initial capital letter, eg Jane, Unley, and St John Ambulance.
Verbs are doing words. A verb can express:
  • A physical action (to swim, to write, to climb).
  • A mental action (to think, to guess, to consider).
  • A state of being (to be, to exist, to appear).