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05 House Style


- Spelling and hyphenation

- British style or US style?

- OUP house style

- Serial or Oxford comma

- Ellipsis (three points)

- -ize, -yse, and -yze endings

- Hyphens

- En rules

- Em rules

- Quotation marks

- British style quotation marks

- US style quotation marks

- Quotations: displayed or run on?

- Capitalization

- Use of italics, bold, and roman text

- Abbreviations

- Acceptable language

- Numbers, dates, and units of measure

- Numbers: figures or words?

- Formatting figures

- Dates

- Units of measure

House style is the set of conventions adopted by a publishing house and may include spelling, punctuation, text formatting, abbreviations, acceptable language, numbers, dates, and units of measure. OUP’s house style carries significant authority in academic publishing. You are required to follow OUP house style as you write and to check that instructions have been followed before final submission. This will save time and unnecessary corrections during the production process.

Oxford Dictionaries Pro is Oxford’s current English dictionary, thesaurus, and language reference website. If you are contracted to write for OUP you are eligible to receive free access to this resource which includes access to New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005) – please ask your OUP Editor for further information on accessing this site for free. Once you have received your access information from your Editor you will be able to log in here For writers and editors:Oxford Dictionaries Pro. The site offers quick access to definitions of words, phrases, and idioms; expert guidance on style and usage, grammar, and spelling; and specialist guides for professional writers. Where any deviation occurs in New Hart's Rules, these Instructions for Authors take precedence.

When reproducing quoted material, you should copy verbatim from the source. Do not alter the spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or any other aspect of the original style to match that of your manuscript. In terms of notes and references, follow the title page of the original source in all matters of wording, such as author name and spelling of the title. However, capitalization and punctuation should be changed to ensure consistency with the rest of your manuscript.

Any compelling reasons for departure from the OUP house style must be discussed with your OUP Editor at an early stage of the writing process.

Spelling and hyphenation

Spelling and hyphenation used must be consistent throughout your text. Please refer to a good dictionary when writing. We recommend:

Tip! Keep a list of the spelling and hyphenation choices you make and refer to this list as you are writing the text. Please then submit this with your manuscript for the copy editor to refer to.

British style or US style?

Your OUP Editor will discuss with you the style to use. Choosing between the two will depend mainly on the nationality of the author(s), the type and subject of your book, and its intended readership and market. Choice will affect vocabulary, idioms, spelling, and punctuation. Specific guidance is given below on use of quotation marks and abbreviations.

Tip! Consistency of style throughout a title is crucial. Multi-contributor volume editors should agree with their OUP Editor whether consistency should be within individual chapters or across the title as a whole.

OUP house style

Element Description Examples

Serial or Oxford comma

The serial or Oxford comma is a hallmark of OUP house style and must be used in both British and US style.

red, white, and blue

In a list of three or more items, insert a comma before the ‘and’ or ‘or’.

feminine, masculine, or neuter

Note that no comma is used for two items in a list.

convex and concave

Ellipsis (three points) . . .

An ellipsis is used to indicate content omitted from a quotation.

You should use three full points, spaced from each other and from the words either side.

Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful.

Where the preceding sentence ends immediately before the ellipsis, retain the punctuation.

A nightingale began to sing. . . . It was a strange sound to hear.


Where was Godfrey? . . . They said he was murdered yesterday.

-ize, -yse, and -yze endings

OUP house style for British style also takes -ize, -ization, -izing endings; however, a 'z' may not be substituted for 's' in words ending -yse.


US style always chooses -ize, -ization, -izing endings as well as -yze endings.

British style

US style



Used to join words together to form compound terms and expressions.


There are often no hard-and-fast rules, so consult your dictionary to determine whether two elements should be hyphenated, run together, or set as single words, and apply one form consistently.

airstream, air stream, or air-stream

There are some particular rules that govern placement of hyphens in compound terms and expressions depending on how the terms and expressions are made up.

a well-known story (meaning the story is well known)

Words with prefixes are usually written without hyphens, unless there is a collision of vowels or consonants.


Note that ‘cooperate’ and ‘coordinate’ should be spelt without a hyphen.

En rules

Longer than a hyphen.

Used to close up elements that form a range.

pp. 23–36

Used to express a connection or relation between words; roughly meaning ‘to’ or ‘and’.


Sometimes used instead of a solidus (/).

editor–author relationship
on–off relationship

Em rules

Twice the length of an en rule.

Oxford style uses it as a parenthetical dash.


No space is required either side of the em rule.

There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Tip! To insert a rule or dash in MS Word, go to Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters, then select and insert.

Quotation marks

Use varies depending on whether British or US style is in use.


Quotation marks are not used around displayed quotations

British style quotation marks

Use single quotation marks first.


Use double quotation marks for quoted matter within a quotation.

Weber saw it as embodying ‘the typical power of the “non-economic”’


‘Have you any idea what “red mercury” is?’

When quoting a complete sentence, place punctuation within the quotation marks.

Rather than mince words she told them: ‘You have forced this move upon me.’

When quoting a word or incomplete sentence, place punctuation outside the quotation.

Why does he use the word ‘poison’?


No one should ‘follow a multitude to do evil’, as the Scripture says.

US style quotation marks

Use double quotation marks first.


Use single quotation marks for quoted matter within a quotation.

Weber saw it as embodying “the typical power of the ‘non-economic.’”


“Have you any idea what ‘red mercury’ is?”

Always place commas and periods inside the closing quotation mark, regardless of whether or not it is part of the quoted material. Colons and semicolons—unlike periods and commas—following closing quotation marks; question marks and exclamation points follow closing quotation marks unless they belong within the quoted matter.

Why does he use the word “poison?”

Quotations: displayed or run on?

Quotations can be set apart from the main text (‘displayed’) or run on in the main text. Generally quotations of less than fifty words are run on.


Quotation marks are not used around displayed quotations


Keep the use of capitalized letters to a minimum.

Use capital letters only for proper nouns, and for the initial letters of the full formal names of institutions, organizations, buildings, and the like.

British Museum
United Nations
Bridge of Sighs

Do not use capital letters for common nouns.

Oxford University
their university

Tip! For guidance on capitalization in bibliographies see Notes, References, and Bibliographical Lists

Use of italics, bold, and Roman text

Consistent application of italics throughout the text is crucial.

Italic type

Non-italicized font is known as ‘Roman’.

Roman or non-italic type

Use italics:

For foreign words.

the catenaccio defensive system employed by the Italians

For binomial nomenclature.

Homo sapiens

For titles of books, journals, works of art, films, and other self-contained works.

A Christmas Carol
Journal of Infectious Diseases
Mona Lisa
The Times
West Side Story

Use of bold: in some titles, like textbooks, bold is used for key terms or concepts to be distinguished at the point of introduction. This device must be used systematically if readers are to find it helpful.

A kangaroo is a marsupial.

Use Roman (non-italics):

For the names of places and institutions.

Pont du Gard
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

For commonly used Latin abbreviations (note that in some areas, such as Academic and Practitioner Law, full points are omitted).


When terminology has become the accepted language of your discipline; look at other examples of OUP publishing in your area or speak to your OUP Editor for advice on what is relevant for you.

For foreign or Latin words that have become naturalized into English; sometimes this will be obvious but not always; a dictionary will advise, but a list of the most common terms and their presentation is provided in the box below.

It was a delicious croissant.

List of common terms

a posteriori
a priori
ad hoc
ad infinitum
ad nauseam
de facto
en route
et al.
fait accompli
inter alia
par excellence
per se
prima facie

c. (circa)
de novo
ex parte
ex post facto
in situ
joie de vivre
raison d‘être
stare decisis


Abbreviations fall into three categories. US style uses more full points than British style.

British style

US style

Abbreviations: omit the end of a word or words. In general include a full point at the end (note that in some disciplines no full points are used; check with your OUP Editor if you are unsure).



Contractions: omit the middle of a word or words. Do not include any full points in British style.



Acronyms: formed from the initial letters of words. Do not include any full points.



More on abbreviations

Regardless of British or US style, the following rules apply:

At the start of each chapter, place abbreviation in parentheses after the first occurrence of the full term. Thereafter, within each chapter, an abbreviation may be used without explanation.

The research was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in July 2007.

For work titles (books, plays, journals, and so on), the opposite applies; abbreviation should be followed by text in parentheses.

Arist. Metaph. (Aristotle’s Metaphysics)
DNB (Dictionary of National Biography)

If appropriate, include a ‘List of Abbreviations’ in the prelims. Construct this as you write and layout alphabetically by abbreviation in two columns as shown

OED Oxford English Dictionary
OGC Office of Government Commerce
ONS Office for National Statistics

Tip! Do not use terms such as ‘op.cit.’, ‘id.’ and ‘c.f.’. As with‘see above’ and ‘see opposite’, such terminology is irrelevant in digital form, where the page may be formatted differently and artwork, tables, and references are linked rather than placed in the text. This is to ensure the manuscript is properly formatted for any future digital publication (see Notes, References, and Bibliographical Lists ).

Acceptable language

While writing and before finally submitting your manuscript, ensure you have observed the following advice about language:

  • Text is clear and concise.
  • Unnecessary repetition has been avoided.
  • Arguments unfold clearly and logically.
  • Parochial references such as ‘this country’, ‘our legal system’, and so on should be avoided. Be specific in identifying people, places, institutions, and other entities in full so it is clear for international readers.
  • No form of language or expression has been used that could be interpreted by a reader as being racist, sexist, derogatory of a particular religion or creed, or otherwise offensive.
  • Gender-specific pronouns (‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’, and so on) have been avoided in any reference relevant to males and females. To achieve this, pluralize the references, repeat the noun, use the passive voice, or use both pronoun forms (although this last solution should be used only occasionally).

Tip! Getting a colleague or friend to read the manuscript can help with the final editing stages, as he or she will be reading the text with fresh eyes.

Numbers, dates, and units of measure

Element Description Examples

Numbers: figures or words?

It is normal to determine a threshold below which numbers are expressed in words and above which figures are used. The threshold varies depending on the context and discipline, but in general

Humanities, Social Science, and Law titles spell out numbers up to and including ninety-nine and use figures from 100. (Note that compound numbers are hyphenated.)


Science titles spell out up to and including ten and use figures from 11.


Exceptions are as follows:
units of measurement (figures);
dates (figures);
people’s ages (figures);
approximate numbers (words);
at the beginning of a sentence (words);
round numbers of a million or more (figures and words)

30 kilometres
9 September 2001
She was 58 years old.
At least a thousand people came.
Two hundred and fifty gold bars were stolen.
£8.5 million

Note that a billion is now understood to mean a thousand million (1,000,000,000 or 109) and not (as formerly in British practice) a million million (1012).

Formatting figures

In non-technical texts, separate using commas, not space, in numbers of four digits or more.


Note that in texts where numbers are frequently used:

Remove the comma for numbers of four digits or more.


Insert a thin space for numbers of five digits or more.

250 000

For decimal quantities of less than one insert a zero before the point. Use a full point on the line for the decimal point (not at midline).


Omit as many digits as possible in number ranges.


Do not omit digits between 10 and 19 in any hundred

10–11, 118–19

Tip! Use an en rule (–) between the numbers in a range (pp. 23–36, 1939–45, or 9.30–5.30)


British style formulates as: day, month, year.

11 November 1918

US style formulates as: month, day, year, and includes a comma before and after the year.

On November 11, 1918, the entire world

Omit as many digits as possible in date ranges, except where dates cross centuries.

1866–1901, not 1866–901

Units of measure

Follow normal practice in your discipline or subject.

Generally, abbreviations are less acceptable in the main text and more acceptable in tables and artwork.

Use metric measures, except where the historical context makes this unsuitable.

Louis Pasteur recommended heating milk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientific disciplines follow the relevant practices by the Royal Society and the Système International (SI), particularly for styling symbols and units.

When an abbreviated unit is used with a number, the number should be followed by a space.

10 g
1.423 km


If you are writing a Law text, see separate guidance on the use of numbers in legal instruments and cross-references.