Write out “and” at all times. Ampersands should never be used, even in tables, charts and graphs.

distribution, hotels and restaurants sector
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

Ampersands do not simplify reading. A serial comma must be added instead.

distribution, hotels and restaurants, and transport, storage and communication sectors


distribution, hotels & restaurants and transport, storage & communication sectors


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 Statistician’s Office is the office owned by the 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
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


Contractions should not be used. They are hard to read and are not accessible for all users, particularly those with learning difficulties or those who speak English as an additional language.

“We do not use this method on all surveys” not “We don’t use this method on all surveys”
“It is clear that no change has occurred” not “It’s clear that no change has occurred”


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))

Bullet points

We use bullet points in two different ways.

As a list within the text

Use bullet points to make text easier to read. Make sure that:

  • you always use a lead-in line
  • there is always a space between the lead-in line and the bullet points
  • the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
  • each bullet is short (no more than one sentence)
  • you use lower case at the start of the bullet point, unless it starts with a proper noun
  • you do not use full stops within bullet points – where possible start another bullet point or use commas, dashes or semicolons to expand
  • you do not put “or”, “and” after the bullet points
  • there is no punctuation at the end of bullet points
  • if you add links they appear within the text and not as the whole bullet point
  • there is no full stop after the last bullet point

Your list should have at least three bullet points. If you have fewer, rewrite your content as individual sentences or paragraphs.

For bullet points following a heading

There is no lead-in line and the bullet points follow on directly from a heading or subheading. Each bullet point:

  • starts with a capital letter
  • finishes with a full stop
  • is short (no more than one sentence)

Main points

  • There were 240,854 marriages in 2013, a decrease of 8.6% compared with 2012 and the first decline since 2009.
  • Civil ceremonies accounted for 72% of all marriages in 2013.


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, or more than one sentence.

There is one thing you need to know about statistics: They are fascinating and I do not know why anyone would think differently. Truly they have made my life better.

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: housing, schooling and population information.


The statistics incorporate: 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 in which to use the comma.

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”.

To separate 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


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.

To separate 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.

Dashes and hyphens

En dash

An en dash – can be used to add extra information or break up a sentence, or it can be used in a headline. It should always have spaces on either side of it.

Some content management systems, including GOV.UK’s Publisher, do not recognise the en dash and will replace it with a hyphen. If in Microsoft Word, use en dashes.

Microsoft Word automatically converts hyphens to en dashes when they are preceded by a space. Elsewhere, you can use “Ctrl” and “-” (minus on the number keypad). Be aware that the minus sign and the hyphen are easily mistaken for each other.

Adding extra information

The en dash is a good device for adding extra information that is not essential to the rest of the sentence. Be careful: these can make writing difficult to read if overused.

There are some statistics – fascinating ones at that – on the ONS website.

Breaking a sentence

This shows other kinds of break in a sentence where a comma, semicolon, or colon would be traditionally used.

There are some statistics on the website – they are fascinating

For headlines

Consumer Services Price Indices – expected availability


A hyphen – is used to join two words together with no spaces.

Hyphens have several specific uses and must be used for the following situations. These are for linking, and for compound modifiers.


Use hyphens as prefixes and suffixes to words, or show that these are required for a word to be understood.

Henri IV betrayed his co-religionists

Hyphens are used for all words with “e” as a prefix, except for “email”.


Hyphens are used for all words with “co” as a prefix.


Hyphens are not used for words with “re” as a prefix, unless the word afterwards begins with an “e”.


If in doubt, check using the Oxford English Dictionary.

Compound modifiers

Hyphens are used in compound words where component words have a combined meaning or a relationship.

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

However, if you use this after the subject of the sentence, it is not hyphenated.

a report that was well explained

It is best to check if the word is a compound modifier in the Oxford English Dictionary.

There is one exception to this rule. The term “police recorded crime” does not require a hyphen.


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:

The beginning 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.

The end of a sentence

There should be no space before it and no full stop.

We are aware that each country is unique…

If this 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…”.

Exclamation mark

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?”
(The thunder and lightning are terrifying!)

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.

Where have you put the release?

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 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 show a link between two clauses. This should not be used if it makes a sentence over 25 words.

It is used to show that the second clause of a sentence is dependent on the first – that there is a link between them.

Each person is different; it is what makes life exciting

The fact that each person is different is the thing that makes life exciting. There is nothing else that can make life exciting in this situation, apart from each person being different. The ideas before and after the semicolon must be full sentences that could stand alone if necessary. If not, a semicolon must not be used.

Each person is different
It is what makes life exciting


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.

We are constantly improving based on research and best practice. Any significant changes to our guidance are available on the Updates page.