Guide to style

This Guide to Style addresses issues of writing style and presentation which come up in the course of preparing books in the History Group of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. It was drafted because of frequent requests for such a guide from those who write and edit for the Group. Feedback from others would be welcomed.

David Green
Editor/Historian, History Group

E-mail [email protected]


Texts presented for editing in the History Group should conform to the guidelines set out in this style guide. This will make them easier to edit; less work will be needed to create a consistent style, and in checking references and typesetting.

Presentation and format of text

Material which is to be edited should be presented both on disk and in hard copy, double-spaced and with ample margins. Leave only one space after punctuation marks, including full stops, and don't break words at the end of lines. Number the pages; indent the first lines of paragraphs by one tab rather than leaving extra space between them. In most word-processing software packages, references can be numbered and renumbered automatically. Do not embed references in the text; present them separately, at the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter or book.

The first rule of style is consistency. The use of capitals should be consistent; there are conventions for the presentation of numerals, weights and measures, and dates; references should follow a pattern. Some rules and conventions are outlined below. These may sometimes be departed from in cases of strong personal preference.

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These end with a full stop where they are abbreviations proper, i.e. where they comprise only the initial letter(s) of each word, e.g. p.m., fig., Rev., c., etc. Abbreviations of months used in references (Jan, Feb, Mar, etc.) do not take full stops.

Contractions, which include the last letter of the word, do not take a full stop: e.g. Mr, Sgt, St, Mt.

Where the abbreviation includes two or more capital letters, omit the full stop, e.g. NZ, PM, OBE, MP, JP, PhD.

Pluralise abbreviations by adding an 's' and deleting the full stop, e.g. 'see figs 1 and 2'; 'three MPs missed the vote'.

Note that there is no apostrophe in plural abbreviations, i.e. '1890s', 'MPs'.

The possessive apostrophe applies to abbreviations and contractions in the same way as to ordinary words. Thus 'The PM's limousine was called'; 'three MPs' offices were burgled'.

In general, avoid using symbols (e.g. km, kg, %) in text, but use them in references. Spell out these words in the text, e.g. 'per cent' (note that 'percent' is an American usage to be avoided).

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Always use the form of job titles, etc., that was used at the time, even where these have subsequently changed.

The choice of units of measurement depends on the nature of the text, but in general use Imperial units for the period they apply to, and metric ones similarly. Metric units were introduced progressively in New Zealand between 1967 and 1976, beginning with decimal currency.

Do not 'correct' the titles of publications, organisations, Acts, etc. by inserting macrons or punctuation that was not used originally.

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Archives New Zealand

For assistance with research and referencing, see the general guide, How to Request Archives, and the leaflet, Citation Guidelines. Archives New Zealand has also produced a number of useful Reference Guides which are available on their website (

See below, under 'References', for the citation of Archives New Zealand material.

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Arrange this in the following general categories, which may vary depending on the range of source materials used:

Unpublished sources

  • archives and manuscripts, organised by institution, listing collections and (where appropriate) sub-series and files, and possibly including brief descriptions of the subject matter
  • personal papers
  • unpublished reports, etc.
  • theses, research papers, etc.
  • interviews
  • personal communications (e.g. letters, e-mail)

Published sources

  • official publications, including titles and years covered — newspapers and journals, including years covered
  • books, pamphlets, etc.
  • articles
  • non-written material, e.g. electronic sources, television programmes, recorded music

See below, under 'References', for detailed information on bibliographic citation.

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The general principle is to capitalise sparingly. Commonly used words and phrases relating to the activities of government are discussed here.

In general there is no need to capitalise words used generically, e.g. 'in many government departments', 'several ministers disagreed', 'the number of factory inspectors increased dramatically'. Capitalisation is needed when specific individuals, offices or organisations are being referred to.

Capitalise 'Parliament', 'Prime Minister', and 'the Minister' when referring to the minister responsible for a specific department; do not capitalise the corresponding adjectives, such as 'parliamentary'.

Capitalise the titles of organisations, e.g. 'the Department of Internal Affairs'.

Capitalise components of agencies — e.g. Division, Directorate, Service, Branch — including when referring to them in an abbreviated form, e.g. 'the Historical Branch', 'the Branch'.

Capitalise position titles when the official title is being used, including when this is being attached to the person who holds it, e.g 'the Commissioner of Taxes'; 'Susan Smith, Factory Inspector'.

Do not capitalise 'the state' or 'the government'.

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Captions explaining illustrations should conform to the style of the text.

Captions are best rendered in roman, in a type size smaller than the main text and clearly separated from it. Italicise directions to the reader, e.g. 'lower right'.

Acknowledge publications, institutions or individuals who have provided illustrations within parentheses or in italics; give full references, including (for example) Alexander Turnbull Library negative numbers and collection names.

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Elide these to the shortest meaningful form, e.g. 1850–60, 1903–4; but 1910–15.

Decades do not take apostrophes: 1850s, not 1850's.

'Between 1914 and 1928', not 'Between 1914–28'; similarly 'From 1914 to 1928'.

Give dates in the order: day, month, year, e.g. '8 May 1920'.

Denote whole years which are not calendar years (e.g. financial years) with a solidus (oblique stroke), e.g. '1936/7'.

Spell out century numbers, i.e. 'nineteenth' not '19th' century. Hyphenate these when they are being used adjectivally, e.g. 'nineteenth-century scholars...'.

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The use of endnotes rather than footnotes for references is preferred by publishers for reasons of both cost and convenience. See below, under 'References'.

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For advice on compiling an index, see Write Edit Print: Style Manual for Aotearoa New Zealand, Australian Government Publishing Service in association with Lincoln University Press, Canberra, 1997.

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Italicise foreign words and phrases which have not been assimilated into English. Follow the usage in the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

Italicise the titles of published books, pamphlets and periodicals; motion pictures, videos, television and radio series; musical works and recordings of them; works of art and exhibitions.

Do not italicise words in Maori or in Pacific Islands languages (an English translation in brackets is acceptable for words which are not widely understood).

Italicise the names of vehicles, but not any abbreviations which precede these, e.g. HMNZS Te Kaha.

Only items of punctuation which form part of italicised material are themselves italicised.

Use italics rather than bold type for emphasis.

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Māori language

Māori is an official language of New Zealand, and it is important to render Māori language appropriately, whether in a Māori or predominantly English text.

Do not 'correct' the titles of publications, organisations, Acts, etc. by inserting macrons that were not used originally.

Note that plurals of Māori words do not take an 's'.

Do not italicise Māori words.

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Non-discriminatory language

Avoid gender-specific language when it is inappropriate to assign gender, for example by using 'he' to mean 'he and/or she', or 'mankind' to refer to all of humanity. See chapter 8 of Write Edit Print for guidance.

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Spell out numbers up to and including twenty. Render numbers above twenty in numerals: 56, 5,600, 12,300, etc. Spell out or (better) avoid using numbers or dates at the beginning of sentences.

Weights, measures and percentages are always expressed in numerals. Render percentages in text in the style '6 per cent'.

Currency should be expressed as follows: £30 11s 6d; $35.10. Indicate if non-New Zealand currency: e.g. US$35.10, A£30 11s 6d.

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Place names

Official place names are always capitalised. For guidance on correct spellings, refer to Land Information New Zealand's Gazetteer database and the Index to Places and Streets, and (for overseas place names) the Times Atlas of the World.

Note that the Group follows New Zealand Geographic Board practice by removing apostrophes from place names (e.g. 'Arthurs Pass').

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For mark-up conventions, see the lists in Derek Wallace and Janet Hughes, Style Book: A Guide for New Zealand Writers and Editors, GP Publications, Wellington, 1995, and Write Edit Print. The most important considerations are clarity and the avoidance of ambiguity.

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Em-rule: Used for parenthetical dashes: 'Evander Holyfield—who is promoted as 'The Real Deal'—became a 'Real Meal' for Mike Tyson'. There should always be two of these unless the parenthetical phrase comes at the end of the sentence. Note that em-rules are unspaced.

En-rule: Used when two nouns of equal value are linked to indicate a relationship, e.g. 'Tyson–Holyfield fight', 'Labour–Liberal alliance', 'December–January'. Compound nouns, e.g. 'actor-manager', 'Anglo-Saxon', take a hyphen. En-rules are also used to link numbers, e.g. pp. 1–50; 1914–18 war.

Hyphens: In general, hyphenate compound words which are being used adjectivally, e.g. 'middle-class voters'. Follow the Concise Oxford Dictionary in specific cases.

In personal names, initials are followed by full stops and have a space between them, e.g. 'J. E. Martin'.

Possessives: Add an 's' after the apostrophe if one would be pronounced, e.g. 'James's car' but 'the Bridges' party'.

Square brackets: Enclose an authorial interpolation in a quotation, 'The spectators [at the Holyfield–Tyson fight] didn't get their money's worth'.

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Quotation marks

Use single quotation marks to enclose the titles of productions which are published or disseminated as part of more inclusive productions (which are italicised), e.g. articles in magazines; chapters and sections of books; poems collected with other poems; episodes of television or radio series; and also for unpublished material, such as university theses.

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Indicate these with single quotation marks. Quotations within quotations are denoted by double quotation marks. If the quote finishes at the end of a sentence the full stop should be inside the quotation mark; otherwise place it outside. Omitted material within a quotation is indicated by an ellipsis (...).

Longer quotations (of more than about 60 words) should be separated from the main text and indented. They should not have quotation marks put around them.

Quotations should be referenced. Colloquial words and phrases placed within quotation marks (e.g. 'rough as guts') do not require references. Nor do quotation marks placed around terms authors wish to distance themselves from (e.g. 'the yellow peril') or use ironically (e.g. 'Seddon's 'chastising' of Ward').

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References in the bibliography should be given in full (see the examples below). References in endnotes may be briefer, provided they are unambiguous.

Endnotes are usually printed in a single batch which appears immediately before the bibliography. Use subheadings with the number and name of each chapter (e.g. 'Chapter 3: Russian Scares 1873–1885', rather than the less helpful 'Notes to chapter 3'. Number each chapter's endnotes independently.

Use the fewest numerals possible for page numbers, e.g. pp. 21–3, 74–8, 234–42, but spell out numbers in the 'teens', i.e. pp. 16–18, 116–18, 210–11, not pp. 16–8, 116–8, 210–1.

Avoid the use of Roman numerals. Thus, vol. 48 rather than Vol. XLVIII.

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Archival references

The most important function of a reference is to enable the reader to readily and unambiguously identify the source. Specify the type of document being cited (where it is not a letter or memorandum), its sender and (where relevant) recipient, its date, the collection title, the archival reference number, and (at first reference) the archival repository and its location.


First reference: W. Godfrey to G. Coates, 16 Aug 1934, folder 5, MS 219, Coates Papers, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Subsequent reference: Godfrey to Coates, 16 Aug 1934, folder 5, MS 219, Coates Papers.

Bibliographic reference: Coates Papers, MS 219, Alexander Turnbull Library.

First reference: Raincliff station diary, 1867–71, 3 May 1869, South Canterbury Museum.

Subsequent reference: Raincliff station diary, 10 May 1869.

Bibliographic reference: Raincliff station diary, 1867–71, South Canterbury Museum.

Archives New Zealand references

If a specific document in a file is cited, include this information in the reference. Give the department's title in full at first reference; thereafter the Archives New Zealand mnemonic or GAIMS code (see below) will suffice.

A. Record groups (archives arranged and described before the mid-1980s)

J. Doe to J. Bloggs, 5 Apr 1887, Public Works (PW), series 1, 87/5174, Archives New Zealand (ANZ).

Subsequent reference: Doe to Bloggs, 5 Apr 1887, PW 1, 87/5174.

Expenditure under Housing Act, 1919, Labour (L), series 1, 7/8/303, ANZ.

Subsequent reference: Expenditure under Housing Act, 1919, L 1, 7/8/303.

Assistant Commissioner, 2 Jun 1970, State Services Commission (SSC), Acc W2344, 24/2/17/20, part 3, 1970, ANZ.

Subsequent reference: Assistant Commissioner, 2 Jun 1970, W2344, SSC 24/2/17/20, part 3.

Weights and Measures circulars, 1908–51, Labour (L), series 4, ANZ.

Subsequent reference: Weights and Measures circulars, 1908–51, L 4.

B. The GAIMS system (archives arranged and described since the mid-1980s)

S. Holland to A. Jones, 8 Dec 1952, Cabinet Office (AAFD), series 811, 295d, file 132/5/1, ANZ.

Subsequent reference: Holland to Jones, 8 Dec 1952, AAFD 811/295d, 132/5/1.

C. Unserialised accessions

Shearers' Accommodation Act file, Department of Labour (AANK), Acc W3580, 9/2/1, part 1, 1920–60, ANZ.

Subsequent reference: Shearers' Accommodation Act file, AANK, W3580, 9/2/1, part 1.

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Bibliographic references to publications

Reproduce the information about author, title and publisher given on the title page and the following page (not what is on the cover, which will often be in an abbreviated form). Give the author's surname first. Separate the title from the subtitle by a colon (:); capitalise all significant words in both title and subtitle. Use an ampersand ('&') rather than 'and' for joint authors (list these in the order they appear on the title page, rather than alphabetically) and in publishers' names, for reasons of economy.


Book: Sinclair, Keith, A History of New Zealand, 2nd edn, Penguin, Auckland, 1969.

Binney, Judith, Judith Bassett & Erik Olssen, The People and the Land/Te Tangata me Te Whenua: An Illustrated History of New Zealand, 1820–1920, Allen & Unwin, Wellington, 1990.

Edited book: May, Philip Ross (ed.), Miners and Militants: Politics in Westland, Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1975.

Article in a book: Sinclair, Keith, 'The Significance of 'the Scarecrow Ministry', 1887–1891', in Robert Chapman & Keith Sinclair (eds), Studies of a Small Democracy, Blackwood & Janet Paul, Auckland, 1963, pp. 102–26.

Article in a journal: Sinclair, Keith, 'The Lee–Sutch Syndrome: New Zealand Labour Party Policies and Politics, 1930–40', New Zealand Journal of History, vol. 8, no. 2, 1974, pp. 95–117.

Thesis: Sinclair, Keith, 'The Aborigines Protection Society and New Zealand: A Study in Nineteenth Century Opinion', MA thesis, Auckland University College, 1946.

(Note that the official names of New Zealand's universities have varied over the years; use the version given on the title page of the thesis.)

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Electronic material

References to electronic material should follow the same general approach as those for more traditional material, and also include information on the nature of the source, how it can be accessed electronically, and when the author did so.

If an electronic source for material which is also available in hard copy has been used, cite both, as URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) are notoriously transient and ephemeral.


Graeme Davison, History and Hypertext, 1997, URL:, accessed 21 Dec 1999.

Bronwyn Dalley, 10 Jul 1997, e-mail from [email protected] (Name the recipient if this was someone other than the author.)

Carriage of Goods Act 1979, database on disk: Status Library of New Zealand Statutes, 20 Feb 1995 update.

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Endnote references to publications

The book's first endnote reference to a publication should be a full reference corresponding to the information in the bibliography, plus any necessary page numbers. Refer to specific pages as pp. 15–34. Refer to a number of references scattered throughout a range of pages as pp. 34–76 passim.

In subsequent endnote references to the same source, use shortened forms. If only one work by this author is cited in the book, just the author's name and the page reference is necessary:

Arnold, p. 32 [referring to Rollo Arnold, New Zealand's Burning, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1994, p. 32.]

If more than one work by this author is cited in the book, give a short title:

Book: Sinclair, History of New Zealand, p. 37.

Article: Sinclair, 'Lee-Sutch Syndrome', p. 35.

Thesis: Sinclair, 'Aborigines Protection Society', p. 45.

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Films, video recordings, television and radio programmes

These are regarded as joint enterprises, and so the title is the first element of the reference:

Heavenly Creatures, motion picture, directed by Peter Jackson, Camperdown Studios, Wellington, 1994

Someone Else's Country?, videotape, directed by Alister Barry, Vanguard Films, Auckland, 1995

'The Death of Carmen', episode of television series, Shortland Street, Television New Zealand, Auckland, first broadcast on Television Two, 25 Dec 1995

The Archers, radio programme, British Broadcasting Corporation, episode broadcast on National Radio, New Zealand, 8 Feb 1991

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Newspapers and periodicals

These should receive their full title at first reference; this can be abbreviated if there are several subsequent references. Give the precise date, using only the first three letters of the month, i.e. Jan, Feb, Mar, etc. If possible, and particularly if the issue has many pages, cite the page number also:

First reference: New Zealand Herald (NZH), 27 Oct 1935, p. 3.

Subsequent reference: NZH, 27 Oct 1935, p. 3.

For the correct form of titles, refer to D. R. Harvey, Union List of Newspapers Preserved in Libraries, Newspaper Offices, Local Authority Offices and Museums in New Zealand, National Library, Wellington, 1987.

Avoid these common mistakes: The 'Herald' or 'Auckland Herald' has always been the New Zealand Herald; the 'Freelance' was the New Zealand Free Lance; the 'Christchurch Star' is the Star and the 'Christchurch Press' the Press; the journal that ended its life as the New Zealand Weekly News was previously the Weekly News and before that the Auckland Weekly News. On all such matters, Harvey is the authority.

Note that the definite article is not considered to be part of the title (e.g. The Press), in view of the difficulty of establishing whether or not it was used on the masthead on any given occasion. The only exception is The Times (London).

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Obsolete terms

Do not use Op. cit., Loc. cit., etc. However, 'ibid.' (note that this is lower-case, and not italicised) is acceptable as an alternative to repeating the short form of the reference in the next footnote. Note that it is all too easy to separate the 'ibid.' from its source reference in the course of revising the text.

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Official publications

Cite Acts in the exact form of the short title at the beginning of the published Act in New Zealand Statutes (including punctuation), followed by the date, as in the following form: 'Old-age Pensions Amendment Act 1908, sec. 13(5)'. (The older style would place a comma before the date; modern practice leaves it out.)

Cite Bills in the same way, except that they are made up of clauses (abbreviated 'cl.'), rather than sections ('sec.').

Cite the Appendix [not 'Appendices'] to the Journals of the House of Representatives in the form given below. Note that it is sometimes necessary (or useful) to record the nature of the item, e.g. departmental annual report, Royal Commission, etc. Give this information at the beginning of the reference.

First reference: Department of Labour annual report, Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR), 1950, H-11, p. 13.

Subsequent reference: AJHR, 1950, H-11, p. 13.

Cite the Parliamentary Debates in the form given below. Often it is useful for a specific reference to include the date and speaker.

First reference: New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (NZPD), 1920, vol. 189, pp. 179–95.

Subsequent reference: NZPD, 1920, vol. 189, pp. 179–95.

Or for a more detailed reference: NZPD, 3 May 1920, vol. 189, p. 182 (Coates).

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Oral history interviews

Cite these in this order: interviewee, date, location on tape or page of transcript. See Megan Hutching, Talking History: A Short Guide to Oral History, Bridget Williams Books/Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1993, for guidance on how to undertake oral history interviews.

Josie Bloggs, interview, 5 May 1993, tape 1, side 2/transcript, p. 45.

List interviews in the bibliography, including full name of interviewee, date, location of interview, identity of interviewer, any other relevant information relating to the interview, place where tape/transcript kept.

Josie Frances Bloggs, Superintendent of Mount Crawford prison (1954–67), interviews, 5, 8 May 1993, Christchurch, tape held at Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Photographs and other illustrative material (e.g. paintings, cartoons) should be properly referenced, for both reproduction and reference purposes. Cite the collection, the repository's reference number, and the repository:

'Stag at Bay', Burton Bros collection, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries photograph collection, Archives New Zealand

'Ballantynes Department Store, c. 1928', G 3729 1/4, Alexander Turnbull Library

Mount Rolleston and the Otira River, P. van der Velden, 1893, acc. 69/144, Christchurch Art Gallery

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Cite book reviews in the style:

Bill Sewell, 'Not One for Cultural Cringe', review of Alex Frame, Salmond: Southern Jurist, in New Zealand Books, vol. 7, no. 1, 1997, p. 21.

Cite reviews in electronic media in the style:

Will Karkavelas, review of Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Big Horn and the Fate of the Plains Indians, by James Welch and Paul Stekler, H-Net Military History Discussion List ([email protected]), 10 Jul 1997.

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Spell words consistently, but do not correct the spelling in quotations. Use the Concise Oxford Dictionary for guidance, including on hyphenation.

Follow the Concise Oxford in deciding whether words end in 'er' or 'or'; 'able', 'ible' or 'uble; 'ance' or 'ence'.

Look out too for double consonants with suffixes, e.g. commit/committed, prefer/preferred, channel/channelled; but benefit/benefited, parallel/paralleled.

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How to cite this page

'Guide to style', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 7-May-2021