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Using correct and consistent punctuation can make your content easier to read and understand, allowing the user to focus more on the content. It also shows attention to detail and professionalism.


Addresses should only use punctuation when written across a line.

Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport, South Wales, NP10 8XG

Government Buildings
Cardiff Road
South Wales
NP10 8XG


Only use apostrophes to show possession.

Please use Sarah’s statistics

Refer to last month’s data


The apostrophe shows that something is owned by someone. For example, the National Statistician’s Office is the office owned by the National Statistician. Depending on who is doing the owning, the apostrophe is used differently.

If the possessor is singular, use an apostrophe followed by “s”.

The report’s contents (contents belonging to the report)

The statistician’s opinion (opinion belonging to the statistician)

If the possessor is singular and ends in s, use an apostrophe followed by “s”.

James’s driving test

The Office for National Statistics's response

The ONS’s web standards

If the possessor is plural and does not end in s, use an apostrophe followed by “s”.

The women’s average salary

The children’s ward

If the possessor is plural and ends in s, use an apostrophe after “s”.

The statistics’ source

The statisticians’ discussion


Avoid negative contractions like can’t and don’t. Read more in our contractions guidance


Avoid using too many brackets in text and make sure they are always closed. If the whole statement is within brackets the final full stop should be inside them.

Use round brackets when adding supplementary information to the text.

The arithmetic was wrong (which is unheard of)

The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA)

(The Authority has the final say on these.)

Use square brackets when adding comments or corrections.

The judge stated: “You [Mr Sykes] have suffered.”

On Twitter she said: “The statistecs [sic] seemed wrong”

Avoid having two brackets next to each other. Use one set of brackets and a comma or semicolon to separate the information.

(up 22% to 79,117 offences; Figure 13)

…as shown in the data (Figure 12, Table A1)

Also try to avoid brackets within brackets unless it is an acronym that you need to provide.

…as shown in the data (Annual Business Survey (ABS))


Use a colon to introduce an idea, list or quotation. The clause before the colon must be a full sentence. If not, do not use a colon.

An idea

Use the colon to introduce an idea that is an explanation or continuation of the one before the colon.

There is one thing you need to know about statistics: they are fascinating.

Start the explanation or continuation with a capital letter if it is a formal quote that is a full sentence.

There is one thing you need to know about statistics: “A better thing has never been created,” said the Chief Statistician.

A list

Use a colon to introduce a list.

"The statistics incorporate varied data on: housing, schooling and population information"

A quotation

Use a colon to introduce a quotation. The quotation should begin with a capital letter.

The judge stated: “You have suffered.”


There are three situations where you should use a comma:

  • when writing a list
  • to separate introductory parts
  • to separate asides in a sentence

A list

Use a comma to separate three or more items in a list.

For breakfast there are sausages, bacon, beans and tomato available.

The comma before “and” is usually removed. However, if the last two items in the list could merge together, it is better to separate them with a serial comma to avoid confusion. This is the only time it should be used.

My favourite ice cream flavours are strawberry, chocolate, banana, and toffee.

This shows that banana is a separate flavour to toffee, so people do not think it is “banana and toffee”.

Separating introductory parts

Use a comma to separate the introductory part of a sentence from the main part.

Despite his misgivings, the scientist felt the experiment went well.

Use a comma if the introductory part of the sentence changes the meaning.

Sadly, the numbers showed he had lost the election.

Use a comma if the introductory part of the sentence can merge into the sentence itself.

"Inside, his heart was beating fast" not "Inside his heart was beating fast"

The comma can be left out if the introductory part of the sentence is very short and does not merge.

Soon the statistics will be on the website.

Separating asides in a sentence

Use a comma to separate anything that is not vital to understanding the meaning of the sentence. There should be a comma at the beginning of the aside and at the end.

The monthly death statistics, not always the most cheerful, were always informative.


An ellipsis is a row of three full stops, used to show that words have been left out. How it looks depends on where it is in the sentence.

At the start of a sentence

There should be no space between the ellipsis and the word.

…We are aware that each country is unique.

In the middle of a sentence

There should be single spaces before and after the ellipsis.

We are aware that each country … is unique.

At the end of a sentence

There should be no space before it and no full stop. If it is in a quotation, the sentence can be closed by a full stop after the quotation mark.

We are aware that each country is unique…

“We are aware that each country is unique…”.

Exclamation marks

Exclamation marks are generally used to show emotion, commands and interjections. Do not use these unless quoting directly.

Full stops

Full stops are used to end sentences. Only use one space after them. Do not use them after initials, or in titles, abbreviations or acronyms. They also should not be used in any heading, subheading, title, date or name that occupies a line to itself.

If a sentence’s final clause is in brackets, and that clause ends in ? or !, then there must be a full stop outside the brackets. Full stops should also be used to end release calendar summaries as screen readers need this to stop reading.

Mr J A Rank
“What do you think it is?”
We have terrible weather today (the thunder and lightning are terrifying!).

Hyphens and dashes

A hyphen is the punctuation mark you should use to add clarity to some words.

An en dash is longer than a hyphen, and we use it for specific purposes at the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


A hyphen is a symbol used to link words together. Hyphens are used to clarify the meaning of different words, including prefixes and suffixes, when these are used together.

Joining words together

Use a hyphen to join words together to form a new word.

He liked his co-workers.

Use a hyphen to distinguish words from similar ones.

re-sort, not resort
co-op, not coop
re-form, not reform

Use a hyphen for all words with “e” before the word (as a prefix), except for “email”.


Do not use hyphens for words with “re” as a prefix, unless the word afterwards begins with an “e”.


If you are unsure, check the word in the Cambridge Dictionary (opens in a new tab) 

Compound modifiers

A compound modifier is two words that act as one adjective when joined by a hyphen.

Use hyphens in phrases where words have a combined meaning or a relationship.

a five-storey building
a well-explained report
the long-term effects

Do not use a hyphen when you use compound modifiers after the subject of the sentence.

a building with five storeys
a report that is well explained
the effects that are long term

If you are unsure, check if the two words are a compound modifier in the Cambridge Dictionary (opens in a new tab) 

There are some exceptions to this rule.

Compound modifiers that do not need a hyphen are:

  • police recorded crime
  • civil rights movement
  • financial services sector
  • work inspection powers

Words that end in “ly”

Do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in “ly”.

a hotly disputed penalty
a constantly evolving newspaper
genetically modified food
statistically significant changes

Prefixes that do not need hyphens

The following prefixes do not need hyphens:

  • macro
  • mega
  • micro
  • mini
  • multi
  • over
  • super
  • under

macroeconomics, not macro-economics
multimillionaire, not multi-millionaire

En dashes

Adding extra information

The en dash adds extra information that is not essential to the rest of the sentence but may be useful for the reader. Overusing en dashes in this way can make your content difficult to read.

The motive behind acquiring competitors – referred to as horizontal integration – can be to increase market share and product range.

Breaking a sentence

There are other ways to use an en dash to break a sentence where a comma, semicolon, or colon would be traditionally used.

There are some statistics on the website – they are fascinating.

Using the en dash in Microsoft Word

To use the en dash in Microsoft Word, use “ctrl” and “-” (minus on the number keypad). Be aware that the minus sign and the hyphen are easily mistaken for each other. If this does not work, you can click on “insert” in the top panel menu, then “symbols”, then “more symbols”, then “special characters”, and then “en dash”.

These functions may not work if you are using the browser version of Microsoft Word, so we suggest using the desktop app.

Read more about why symbols and special characters may not be accessible

Question marks

Question marks are used to show the end of a question. The sentence after the question mark always begins with a capital letter. If it is used in the middle of a sentence, it is followed either by a word starting with a lower case letter or another punctuation mark, such as an en dash.

Where have you put the release?

“Where now?”, they wonder.

A question mark is not needed after sentences framed as questions out of politeness or common usage.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution to this project

When a question takes the form of direct speech, the first letter should be capitalised and the whole question put in quotation marks:

“Why are there discrepancies in the count?” she asked

Quotation marks

Use double quotation marks. Single quotation marks are only for quotations within quotations, and titles of books, journals and articles that are given but are not hyperlinked.

'A Lesson in Empathy’ in Psychology Today magazine

In longer passages of speech, such as the Statistician’s comment, open quotes for every new paragraph, but close quotes only at the end of the final paragraph.


Use a semicolon to separate two or more clauses that hold equal significance and are connected; they bind two sentences together more closely than a full stop. Ideally, the sentence should not be over 25 words.

Non-store retailing sales volumes rose by 2.8% in July 2023; online retailers suggested that a range of promotions boosted sales.

A semicolon can also be used to separate list items with internal punctuation, like commas.

The three sectors combined with administrative and support services are manufacturing; professional, scientific and technical; and accommodation and food service activities.


The slash symbol is usually used to show “or”. Use “or” instead of the slash to avoid confusion. If a slash is needed, there should be no space either side of it.

masculine or feminine or neuter

house name or number

In statistical work, the slash can indicate rates, such as miles/day or input/output.

In computing a forward slash / is used differently to a backslash \ so make sure you use the correct one.

Read more about why symbols and special characters may not be accessible