by | 11 Jan,2022 | 0 comments

Australian Style Manual – what’s new?

By Micah Wagner, Catch the Sun Intern

Not many things stay the same for nearly a full 20 years. Your car, maybe, if it’s a good one. Your grandmother’s lasagne recipe that she guards with sharpened kitchen knives. Oh, and my well-thumbed, copiously bookmarked 2002 copy of the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers.

We all thought it was going to stay the same forever, didn’t we? However, after nearly 20 years, it’s back with a new haircut and a sleek new government interface. That’s right – the guide affectionately known as the ‘Australian Style Manual‘ has gone digital. And it’s fresh with some modern changes to boot.

Rather than have you pore over every page to find the most scandalous changes, we’re going to list the biggest ones here. So, without further ado:

Numbers have changed

“In text, the general rule is: use numerals for ‘2 and above’ and write the numbers ‘zero’ and ‘one’ in words.”

With the world digitising in the past 20 years, certain changes are to be expected. When it comes to the new Australian Government Style Manual, this means that the old rule of numerals has changed. Prior to this, the Style Manual recommended using words for numbers from one to 9 and numerals from 10 and above. Now it recommends using numerals in all cases but zero and one. According to the website’s release notes, this is aimed at making contemporary digital content more accessible for screen readers and easier to scan.

The em dash (—) is no more

“Spaced en dashes (–) are Australian government style and should be used in digital content.”

Australiaup until nowwas in the camp of using an unspaced em dash. This matched America but differed from some other countries – like Britain and Canada – who prefer using spaced en dashes (see what we did there!). It seems like a small difference but, as we all know, small things can be incredibly divisive.

And as for us now? Well, we’ve swapped camps.

No longer is the em dash the default, like in the previous edition of the Style Manual. It’s now recommended that spaced en dashes are used in all digital content to form a new Australian Government style. (The en dash is spaced so screen readers don’t mistake an unspaced en dash for a hyphen.)

However, the Style Manual does stress that it’s okay to follow the old standard if your publication or company still follows the old edition of the Style Manual.

Culturally appropriate language

“Use culturally appropriate and respectful language when writing with, for or about First Nations Australians.”

We’ve come a long way since 2002 and part of that is shown in the changes made to the Style Manual. Whereas the previous edition merely had two pages on the subject of culturally appropriate language, we now have an entire section dedicated to the subject.

In large, great effort has been made to be culturally appropriate and respectful. The new section goes into detail about the correct use of terms, tenses and descriptions, while also explaining what to avoid. Past editions of the Style Manual didn’t go into great depth on the subject and a lot of what was once considered acceptable is now deemed inappropriate.

Inclusive language is a large part of this. Below is an excerpt.

If writing about:

  • a specific group, use their nation, island or community name
  • many Aboriginal nations, there may be a regional term that is better, such as ‘Murris’ or ‘Kooris’
  • many Torres Strait Islander peoples or islands, there may be a regional term that is better, such as ‘Eastern Islands’
  • both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, use terms such as ‘First Nations Australians’, ‘First Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples’.

This differs greatly from previous editions. In fact, it now advises to avoid the term ‘Indigenous’ wherever possible. ‘First Nation Australians’ or ‘First Australians’ is an example of what is preferred in its place. But it differs case by case and asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about the cultural terms they prefer is always the best approach.

It’s a solid change and I’m glad this reworked section will be considered by the government as best-practice content provision moving forward.

The changes listed here are only a few of the many included in the new Australian Government Style Manual. Much has shifted following 20 years of societal and scientific progress, but here at Catch the Sun Communications, we’re tickled pink to see language evolving in such a modern way. (Although, to be honest, the new ‘numerals’ rule still has us crying into our dictionaries!).

Check out the online edition of the Australian Government Style Manual today:

Or, if you’d rather work with someone to make sure your content follows the Australian Government Style Manual, then get in touch – because we’re all over it!



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