Language usage

Abbreviations and acronyms

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase.

No matter how familiar abbreviation might seem to you, some people may be unfamiliar with the term, particularly those from other countries. Spell out acronyms at first mention, eg Centre of Excellence in Aquaculture and Marine Ecology (CEAME).

Avoid repeating abbreviations too often as they can be visually hard to read.

The plural form of an acronym, like BAs, have only 's' at the end and no apostrophe unless possessive.

Common abbreviation exceptions

Common abbreviation or acronyms that are better understood in their shortened form can be used as is eg, PhD, URL, WiFi.

UC branding

For University of Canterbury, the acronym UC can be used. Do not use other abbreviations such as U of C, UofC, UCan, or U.C.

No article is required, for example 'enrol at UC' not 'enrol at the UC'.

UC is the preferred way of referring to the University of Canterbury. If referring to UC as 'the University', ensure it is capitalised.

UC specific acronyms

Some UC acronyms have mixed uppercase and lowercase letters, such as NZi3, HIT Lab NZ, PGDipChFamPsyc and AQuA.

Acronyms to avoid

Avoid UC specific acronyms that hold little meaning for an external audience, like HODs, DVC, PVC, VC, etc.

'Learn' is the UC branded Moodle platform and is not an acronym.


There are three main styles of capitalisation:

  • Sentence case - capitalise the first word and all other words normally capitalised (such as proper nouns). 
  • Title case - capitalise the first and last words, all nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. Do not capitalise articles ('a', 'an' and 'the') or conjunctions ('and', 'or' and 'but'). 
  • All uppercase - every letter is capitalised. This should only be used for acronyms.


Sentence case is preferable

Sentence case should be used in most cases. Acceptable exceptions to the use of sentence case are:

Brand names

Brand names should be capitalised as per their official spelling, eg MasterCard, JavaScript. For brands and proper nouns using a lowercase first letter such as myUC, eBay, iPod, maintain the lowercase even at the start of a sentence.


The word 'building' does not get capitalised unless it is part of the name.

Course titles

For official course titles, capitalise main words per title case rules, eg 'Practicum in Learning and Behaviour Diversity'.

Departments and schools

Use capitalisation when using department and school official names but not for unofficial variations, eg the Department of Geology versus the geology department.

The official names of all academic schools and departments are listed in the UC Calendar.

Geography and regions

Compass directions are all in lowercase: north Canterbury, east Christchurch, etc. The same applies to wider regions -- the west, western Europe, the far east, south-east Asia.

You can use a capital for a shortened version of a specific area or region if it's commonly known by that name, eg 'the Gulf' for the Persian Gulf. If it's not in common use, stick with lowercase, eg 'the strait' for 'the Cook Strait'.

Languages, countries, and cultures

Capitalise all countries, nationalities, ethnicities, iwi, tribes, etc, such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Ngāi Tahu, Cherokee, Basque, etc.

Capitalise the names of languages but never the word 'language' itself, eg the English language, the Fijian language, the French language, the Hindi language, etc.

The Māori language may be referred to as 'te reo Māori' or just 'te reo' - 'te reo' is lowercase.

Major events

Capitalise major UC and other branded events such as Orientation, Graduation, Community Open Day, Information Day, etc.

Names of specific schemes

Capitalise widely known schemes or those known to people outside UC, eg KiwiSaver.

New Zealand

Refer to New Zealand in full, not as NZ. North Island and South Island are written with capital letters.

Proper nouns

Proper nouns should be capitalised, for example, Ilam Road, Christchurch, Mark A. Murray, New Zealand.


Semester should be uppercase when referring to 'UC Semester 1' or 'Semester 2'. Numbers are preferred (1 or 2) but if you are spelling them out, use uppercase for the numerals, eg 'Semester One'.

Subject, degree areas, majors and minors

Capitalise main words per title case rules for UC courses and subjects, eg 'Electrical and Electronic Engineering', 'Ecology', 'Law', etc.
Other subjects, such as secondary school subjects and sub-disciplines, should be in lowercase unless they are a proper noun, eg '18 NCEA Biology credits'.


Capitalise titles in table header cells.

Titles of specific acts or bills

Titles of legislation should follow title case capitalisation, eg 'Government Communications Security Bureau Bill'.

Undergraduate and postgraduate

Don't capitalise 'undergraduate' or 'postgraduate' unless part of a proper noun, eg 'the Postgraduate Student Association'.

Year level

Capitalise year such as 'Year 13' or 'First Year'.

Contact information

Contact information for an individual should be formatted:

Jane Doe
College of Engineering

+64 3 365 4987

Room 117d
Forestry Building

Postal address
College of Engineering
University of Canterbury
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha
Private Bag 4800
Christchurch 8140
New Zealand

Contact information for a college, department, school or research centre should be formatted:

Name of college, department, school or research centre:

College of Engineering
Phone +64 3 364 2608

Forestry Building, Ground floor

Postal address
College of Engineering
University of Canterbury
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha
Private Bag 4800
Christchurch 8140
New Zealand

The college, department, school or research centre name should link to the relevant section of the UC website. 

Depending on the context of the contact information loction and/or postal address may not be required.

Email addresses

Write email addresses in full, in lowercase and as active links. Don't include any other words as part of the link.

Phone numbers

Use Phone +64 3 332 331Mobile +64 21 123 4567 (not 'Mob') and, if you really have to Fax +64 3 321 456 7891.

There are very few cases where a fax number is still required.

Official UC address

The official address of UC includes its Māori name:

The University of Canterbury
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha
Private Bag 4800
Christchurch 8140
New Zealand


Course codes are comprised of four capital letters, a space, then three digits without any punctuation, for example, ENCN371.

For course levels, use hyphens between numerical value and level such as 100-level, 200-level, 300-level.

A lowercase 'l' is used.

Leave a hyphen when spanning a range, eg 'Students may take a variety of 100-200-level courses.'

Eg, etc, ie and et al

Don't use full stops after or between these notations and don't italicise them.

If you want to use the long form, use 'for example' instead of 'eg', 'specifically' instead of 'ie' and 'etc' at your discretion. User testing has shown that some people are not familiar with abbreviations such as 'eg' so consider your audience before abbreviating.

With eg (for example) and ie (that is), a comma should precede the abbreviation, but not follow it, for example He trades in farm commodities, eg corn and sorghum.

Etc (and other things) should be preceded by a comma in a list and a full stop is used if at the end of a sentence.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

You should avoid using FAQs on the website. There are three main reasons for this:

1. Generally FAQs duplicate other content already on the website.
2. People forget to update FAQs so they become out of sync with other content and processes.
3. You could unnecessarily add to search results with duplicate, competing text, so if FAQs are used, they should not duplicate content on any other part of the site.

If your team gets questions that really are frequently asked, get in touch with the Web Team and they will help you find a way to address those user needs.

Gender-neutral text

Make sure text is gender neutral wherever possible. Use 'them', 'their', 'they' etc.


Avoid italics. Use 'single quotation marks' if referring to a document, scheme or initiative.

Legal language

If you're talking about a legal requirement, use 'must', eg 'you must complete an application form'.

If you feel that 'must' doesn't have enough emphasis, then use 'legal requirement', 'legally entitled', etc. For example: 'You must be legally entitled to live and work in New Zealand to apply for this scholarship'.

When you are deciding whether to use words like 'must' or 'legally entitled', consider how important it is to talk about the legal aspect, as well as the overall tone of voice.

If a requirement is not legal, but administrative or part of a process that won't have criminal repercussions, then use 'need to', eg 'You will need to provide copies of your exam certificates'.

This may be a legal requirement, but not completing it would just stop the person from moving on to the next stage of a process, rather than committing a more serious offense.


Microcopy is the term given to the short words or phrases used during transactions, for things like buttons, form labels, help text, alerts and questions.

Your first strategy when it comes to microcopy is to design a service that's so intuitive the user doesn't notice it. It helps to stick to interface design conventions where possible. Avoid innovation for its own sake.

General guidance 

  • Use sentence case
  • Address the user directly
  • Follow this style guide
  • Don't use 'please' on labels - but give polite, clear, short instructions
  • Don't use colons after labels
  • Don't add 'your' to labels, for example: 'Your name', 'Your address', unless you have a page with multiple people where you need to differentiate - eg 'your name', 'partner name'

Asking for personal details

  • 'First name', not 'Christian name'
  • 'Middle names'
  • 'Last name', not 'Family name'
  • 'Age' not 'How old are you?'
  • 'Date of birth', not 'DOB'

Names and job titles

Capitalise and spell out titles such as 'Vice-Chancellor', 'Professor', etc when they refer to a specific person with the title. 'Vice-Chancellor' is always capitalised and hyphenated.

Spell out all titles and avoid UC specific acronyms that hold little meaning for an external audience such a title like HOD, HOS, DVC, PVC, VC, etc.

The title 'Dr', without punctuation, should be used for both medical doctors and holders of a PhD.

Avoid using salutations such as Mr, Miss, Ms or Mrs.

Do not use full stops for initials, eg F Scott Fitzgerald.

Earned titles, including Associate Professor and Professor, should be used and spelt out, eg Associate Professor Bob Smith.

Use earned titles in combination with job titles where appropriate, eg Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Brown.

Names followed by Jr, Sr or a Roman numeral do not have a comma or punctuation, eg Martin Luther King Jr or James Smith III.

Use gender neutral titles like chair rather than chairman unless it is the formal title, eg the chair of the committee and Reserve Bank Chairman Arthur Grimes.

Avoid name variations, eg Bob and Robert, including use or disuse of initials.

For student and recent graduate profiles written in prose style, the first name only may be used.

For news articles and prose writing, people should be referred to by their full name and title in the first instance, and then by their title or salutation and surname, eg Associate Professor Stefano Pampanin, then Professor Pampanin.

Where salutations are used, no punctuation is required, eg Eric Ling, then Mr Ling.

New Zealand English

Avoid slang, New Zealand or otherwise.

Use New Zealand English, avoiding American spellings.

Avoid non-New Zealand English (eg British, Australian, South African, etc) terms and phrases not in standard use in New Zealand:

  • Programme not program, unless referring to a computer program.
  • Enrol and enrolment are spelt with a single 'l' and enrolling and enrolled are spelt with two. 
  • Use advisor, not adviser. Only use adviser if it's a formal title and should be capitalised. 
  • Ageing should be spelt with an 'e'.
  • Use an 's' rather than a 'z' for words such as organisation, minimise or specialised.
  • Use 'ou' for words like labour, colour, honour, etc.
  • Use 're' for words like theatre and centre; unless it's a proper noun with an established alternative spelling, like Kennedy Center Honors.
  • The term 'high school' is the preferred term but 'secondary school' is also understood.

Numbers, figures and currency

Spell out numbers one-nine and numbers in narrative text:

  • There were seven people at the meeting.
  • There are a thousand reasons.

Use digits for numbers above nine:

  • There were 36 students in the class.
  • There are approximately 5,000 undergraduates.

UC exceptions are Semester 1, Level 2 (NCEA), and Year 3, etc.

When a number is the first word of a sentence, you should always spell it out.

Place a comma after digits signifying thousands, except when reference is made to temperature:

  • 1,160 students
  • 2200 degrees Fahrenheit

Spell out common fractions, such as 'one-half', but use a % sign for percentages, ie 50%.

Large number ranges should be expressed as 5 billion to 6 billion not 5-6 billion.

In tables, use digits throughout.


When you are referring to the age of a person or an animal, use digits.

When making a reference to a decade, use digits without an apostrophe, eg 60s or 1870s.

Dates and times

Dates should be written in the format 'day of week, date, month, year' with no punctuation such as Thursday 19 September 2013.

Dates and times derived from other systems/databases should comply where possible but you may use the format DD-MM-YYYY for dates and HH.MM am/pm for time where practical.

A year should be included with all dates so there is no confusion if the material remains online years after the event.

  • 5.30pm, not 1730hrs or 5:30 PM
  • 12am, not midnight or 00:00
  • 12pm, not 12 noon, noon or 12:00
  • 10am to 11am (not 10--11am)
  • When space is an issue, such as in tables, publication titles, etc, you can use truncated months: Jan, Feb, Mar, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
  • Don't use quarter for dates but specify the time, eg expenses for Jan to Mar 2013

When you are referring to 'today', for example in a news article, make sure you include the date as well, for example 'The Vice-Chancellor announced today, 14 June 2012, that...'


For file sizes, use 5MB, not 5,000KB. Keep it as accurate as possible.

Abbreviations for common measurements, like kilograms (kg), kilometers (km), millimeters (mm) etc, have no need to be spelled out.

Use C for Celsius in expressing temperature with degrees symbol, eg: 37°C.

Money and currency

Money should be given in New Zealand dollars unless otherwise noted.

Amounts should be expressed in digits and be preceded by the dollar symbol. Commas should be used to demarcate hundreds, thousands, etc, eg $4, $25, $500, $1,000, $650,000.

When expressing a range, you should use the dollar symbol only once, eg $5,000-6,000.

For large sums (million or greater), you should use the currency symbol and spell out the denomination, eg $1 million or $5.5 billion.

Do not abbreviate million, billion or trillion.


Be careful in your use of the terms 'Pasifika' and 'Pacific' as they have different meanings. The term 'Pasifika' is used to collectively describe persons in New Zealand who have migrated from or who are descended from the Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian islands of Oceania.

The word 'Pacific' is a proper noun as in the 'Pacific Ocean' and may be used as an adjective when speaking of nouns (persons, places, things) of, in, or near the Pacific Ocean.


Do not use full stops between the letters of qualifications when abbreviated such as BA, MA, PhD.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Degrees

Both a master's and a bachelor's degree should use an apostrophe and be lowercase when referring to a general type of degree. The plural forms are bachelors degrees (BAs) and masters degrees (MAs) without apostrophes.

Use uppercase without an apostrophe or an 's' when referring to specific degrees, eg Bachelor of Arts or Master of Laws.

For honours degrees, 'honours' is always plural even when referring to a single conferment, eg 'she's completing her honours degree' and 'they've earned their honours degrees.'

Spell out and capitalise 'honours' when using the full name of the degree, for example Bachelor of Arts with Honours.

Use the full degree title for search engine optimisation. People and search engines prefer natural language over acronyms.

First Class Honours and Second Class Honours are spelled out, not 1st or 2nd -- and main word (title case) capitalisation used.

Doctoral Degrees

PhD doesn't need to be spelled out.

PhDs and other doctoral degrees are not synonyms. For example, a Doctor of Laws (LLD), a PhD in laws and a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) are not the same.

Social media and technology

Many web related terms are now treated as common nouns, adjectives and verbs. Social media terms remain trademarks and therefore should be treated as proper nouns.

  • email - lowercase, unless at the start of a sentence, and without a hyphen
  • Facebook - not FB, facebook, Face Book, etc
  • filename - one word
  • file types - use all caps for abbreviations of file types--a JPEG file, an AIFF file, the MP3 file, but lowercase of the extension when part of a filename 2008-application-form.pdf. Use hyphens between words in a file name, not spaces or underscores.
  • internet - lowercase 'i'
  • install - is a verb, don't use install as a noun
  • LinkedIn - one word with uppercase 'L' and 'I'
  • log in and login- use log in (and log out) when used as a verb but login when used as a noun, eg log in using your login and password.
  • machine - don't use the word machine when you mean a computer
  • online - not on-line
  • Twitter and tweet - Twitter is a proper noun but tweet is not
  • webpage - one word
  • website - one word
  • web and world wide web - lowercase in both cases
  • YouTube - proper noun, one word with uppercase 'Y' and 'T'

Titles of works

Use single quotes around most work titles including artworks, books (including chapters, headings, etc), songs, DVD, movies, TV shows and episodes, poems, podcasts, etc. Italics can be hard to read so should be avoided in online text.

Do not use italics or boldface for titles of works.

Te reo Māori

General usage guidelines

In almost all cases, the capitalisation used for Māori should be consistent with the English capitalisation used.

Do not italicise Māori words.

Passages in Māori should be followed by the English translation.

Use macrons as appropriate to indicate vowel length, except:

  • Names of people and organisations as per their personal preference or official use
  • Where source systems/database do not support macrons
  • Quotations, titles, extracts, etc where macrons were not present in the original

For more information on the use of Te Reo Maori contact Te Ohu Reo, the Māori Language Reference Group via the office of the AVC Māori

Alternatives to English

It is recommended that the following Māori words are used without English glosses:

  • ako - teaching or learning
  • ākonga- student
  • iwi or hapū - tribe or subtribe
  • Ōtautahi - Christchurch
  • rangahau - research
  • Te Waipounamu - South Island
  • Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha - University of Canterbury
  • whānau - family
  • whare - building
  • whare wānanga - university


The following UC buildings have macrons in their names:

  • Kōtuku
  • Ōtākaro
  • Ōtākaro Annex
  • Te Ao Mārama
  • Whēki
  • Ōrakipaoa