Web writing style guide – Punctuation

How to use punctuation to make content more accessible and easier to read.


Most traditional print writing styles vary from online web writing. In many instances, writing for the web uses less formal punctuation and grammar to help ensure clarity and ease of reading.


Avoid using abbreviations for body text.

Spell out Latin or other writing abbreviations:

  • Use ‘that is’ instead of ‘i.e.’
  • Use ‘for example’ instead of ‘e.g.’
  • Spell out et cetera or use ‘and so on’ for ‘etc.’


Avoid using acronyms unless they are familiar to the audience, represent a popular program or used multiple times on a page.

Ampersands (&)

Avoid ampersands unless part of a proper noun or organization title. Use ‘and’ instead.


In most instances, use sentence case for titles and headings, as capitals are harder to read. Capitalize each word in a title or heading only if it is a name of a program or service.

Never use ALL CAPS – this comes across as yelling at someone.

Colons and semi-colons

Use colons to introduce bulleted or numbered lists.

Avoid semi-colons to separate phrases or ideas in a sentence. Use commas, en dashes or shorter sentences instead.

Remove semi-colons and commas at the end of items in a bulleted list.


Avoid serial commas in web writing. This means there is no comma before the final ‘and’ in a sequence unless one or more of the items also includes ‘and,’ or unless clarification is necessary.


  • Use an en dash (–) to connect numbers, dates and words.

When possible turn sequences into bulleted or numbered lists.

Do not use commas at the end of items in a bulleted list.

Compound words

According to the Canadian Press Stylebook, “new compound words generally start as 2 or more words (on line), become hyphenated (on-line) as time goes on, and then combined into a single word (online).”

For guidance, see:

  • Canadian Press Caps and Spelling
  • Canadian Oxford Dictionary


Use contractions sparingly, if at all. Contractions may cause accessibility issues when read by screen readers and those who do not know English well. For example:

  • Use ‘cannot’ instead of ‘can’t.’
  • Use ‘will not’ instead of ‘won’t.’

Exclamation marks

Avoid using exclamation marks unless required. Emphatic wording is more effective than emphatic punctuation.

Hyphens and dashes


Use hyphens to punctuate words, such as compound adjectives. For example ‘long-term project plan’.

Hyphens also indicate a single budgetary, fiscal year such as ‘Fiscal year 2018-19’. No spaces on either side of the hyphen.


Add further detail to a title or header with an en dash.

In the main content, offset phrases and add further details with an en dash instead of starting another sentence.

The en dash ( – ) uses a space before and after the dash.

For time and number ranges, use ‘to’ instead of an en dash. For example, ‘see chapters 3 to 7’ or ‘the water rose from 10 to 20 cm in 2 hours.’

Quotation marks

‘Single quotes’

Within text, use single quotes:

  • around letters, words or phrases being emphasized
  • around publication titles, articles, documents, chapters
  • within page titles, headlines and leads

“Double quotes”

Within text, use double quotes when directly citing:

  • a text
  • an individual, for example a spokesperson


A forward slash used between 2 words usually means ‘or’:

  • department/program
  • and/or
  • teacher/principal

Rather than the slash, write ‘or’ between the 2 words – ‘department or program.’

If both options are needed, include ‘or both’ after the option. For example:

  • department and/or program – instead write ‘department or program, or both’

Use a slash to describe a single school year range, such as ‘the 2019/20 school year.’