Minimal punctuation

April 13, 2012

Another post inspired by a writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues.


Bottom line: Eliminate unnecessary punctuation, as long as it doesn’t change your meaning

The most recent edition of the Australian ‘Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers’ (2002) advocates the use of ‘minimal punctuation’. However, ‘minimal punctuation’ doesn’t mean NO punctuation, nor does it mean removing punctuation that might change meaning. What it does mean is getting rid of punctuation that serves no particular purpose and that is possibly a hangover from your school or university days.

Full stops (p97): Do not use a full stop (‘period’ in the US) after:

  • headings
  • page headers and footers
  • lists that comprise short items
  • captions
  • certain types of shortened forms (see below for examples)
  • symbols for units of measurement.

Shortened forms (p152–153):

Type Description Punctuation Examples
abbreviations first letter of a word, perhaps some other letters, but NOT the last letter use a full stop after the abbreviation Mon., Dec., fig., no., etc., e.g., Vic.
contractions first and last letters, sometimes other letters in between no full stop Mr, Dr, Qld, Rd, dept, Cth
acronyms strings of initial letters pronounced as a word no full stops ASEAN, TAFE, Qantas, SIMOPS, SEWPaC
initialisms strings of initial letters NOT pronounced as a word no full stops WA, QMS, ROV, MOF, LNG
symbols such as SI units no full stop km, %, kW, mL
academic degrees/qualifications no full stops or spaces BA, BEng, BSc, CPA, PhD

Bullet lists (p142):

  • colon (:) immediately after the lead-in to clarify the link between the lead-in and the information that follows
  • no punctuation at the end of dot points that are not ALL full sentences (exception: the last point takes a full stop to show that the series is complete)

On a related note, the Australian  Style Manual (p144) states that ‘there is no need to add and at the end of the second-last dot point. …the clear wording of the lead-in material [is] sufficient to show the relationship between various items. … A carefully worded lead-in is also usually sufficient to show when dot points are being presented as alternatives [and thus or is also often not required].’


(Of course, you may use quite a different style guide and its instructions — especially regarding bullet list punctuation — may well be contradictory to this advice. Always follow your own organization’s style guide.)

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