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Spelling and terminology

  • Before editing a document, check the FAO recommended word list to be aware of the variant spellings used.
  • For words not listed, follow the first spelling listed in the latest edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Another useful tool is The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Ensure that the default language for your document is set to English (UK), by selecting Language from the Tools menu, but note that some FAO terminology differs from this standard.
  • Use z and not s in such words as realize, organization, but beware of words such as advertise, analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse and supervise. Also note exceptions such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • Use FAOTERM for abbreviations/acronyms, names of countries, bodies, organizations and specific technical terms.
  • Aim for consistency, particularly in the use of hyphenation.
  • Write: an FAO regulation (not a FAO ... ) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (not Agricultural and not Organisation).
  • Avoid sexist language: replace he, mankind, manpower, spokesman, chairman, etc., by they, human beings/humanity, human resources/labour force, spokesperson, chairperson and so on.

English usage

  • Avoid split infinitives, e.g. The countries agreed to implement the directives fully (not ... to fully implement ... ).
  • Use the word fewer when referring to quantifiable units, e.g. fewer people, fewer animals. Use less when referring to a singular mass, e.g. less space, less interest.
  • Ensure that verbs agree in number with the subject. Particular care is needed with collective nouns, e.g. government is, and with plural nouns, e.g. data are.
  • That is used for defining or restrictive clauses, e.g. The girl knocked on the door that was open. (There were several doors, but she knocked on the only one that was open.) Which is used for non-defining or non-restrictive clauses, e.g. The girl knocked on the door, which was open. (The door she knocked on happened to be open). Although which is increasingly used for defining clauses, when it is used for non-defining clauses it should always be preceded by a comma.
  • Note the following:
  • Use assist + in + gerund or noun, not assist + infinitive.
  • Use compare with, not compare to, in comparison with not in comparison to.
  • Use different from, not different than or different to.
  • Use participate in, not participate at.
  • Expressions to avoid:
  • a lot of use many or, preferably, be more precise
  • get or got
  • hopefully
  • since should only be used with reference to time, not as a substitute for because
  • due to should only be used when attached to a noun or pronoun use owing to when attached to a verb (e.g. ... the crops failed owing to drought ... not ... the crops failed due to drought). It is better to substitute because, result from, e.g. ... the crops failed because of drought.


Full stops/full points/periods

  • Leave only one letter space after a full stop at the end of a sentence. This rule applies to all punctuation.
  • Use full stops for e.g. and i.e. and M.Sc. and Ph.D. Do not use full stops:
  • after people’ s titles, e.g. Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr
  • in acronyms, e.g. FAO, UK, USA
  • after a heading, caption or running head
  • in contractions, where the last letter is the same as that of the original word, e.g. Ltd (limited), St (Saint)


  • Use commas to separate clauses within a compound sentence where there is a change of subject, or to prevent possible misreading:
  • The Chairperson selected the representative of the Netherlands to lead the subcommittee, and the subcommittee agreed.
  • Use commas to isolate a word, phrase or relative clause:
  • The study, conducted in 1999, confirmed the earlier findings.
  • The rise in productivity, although limited, has been steady.
  • Do not use a comma:
  • before and in a list, e.g. sheep, goats and oxen
  • after i.e. and e.g.
  • Avoid overuse of commas. For example, the following sentence has many unnecessary commas:
  • The soil, which, in places, overlies the hard rock of the plateau, is, for the most part, thin and poor.
    The same sentence would be better written as follows:
  • The soil, which in places overlies the hard rock of the plateau, is for the most part thin and poor.


  • Colons are generally followed by a lower-case letter and are usually used to introduce a list or a definition, e.g. The programme materials will include: handbook, worksheets, etc. However, an initial capital letter is used when a colon is followed by a proper noun or by a complete sentence, e.g. Land-use planning can be expressed in the following questions: What is the present situation? Is change desirable?


  • Semicolons are used to separate main clauses that have different subjects and are not introduced by a conjunction. A semicolon is followed by an initial lower-case letter (unless the semicolon is followed by a proper noun).
  • See also Lists.


  • (When a complete sentence is enclosed in parentheses, its punctuation is also enclosed.)
  • When only part of a sentence is enclosed in parentheses, its punctuation is placed outside (as in this example).
  • (Use square brackets [if needed] within parentheses.)


  • See also En rules.
  • The tendency in English spelling is not to hyphenate compound nouns or prefixes where the sense is clear, e.g. subeditor, subregion, overuse, database, germplasm, proofreader, etc. Be consistent. Do not hyphenate adverbial clauses such as centrally planned economies or environmentally sound development.
  • Compound adjectives are hyphenated, e.g. long-term planning. Note, however, planning in the long term, where long term is a compound noun.
  • In proper nouns, use upper case for all principal hyphenated words, e.g. European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease. Do not capitalize, however, where a hyphen is part of a prefixed word.

En rules

  • See also Hyphens.
  • An en rule (dash) is longer than a hyphen and can be used either as a parenthetical dash or to convey a distinction in sense. Press CTRL+MINUS on the numeric keypad to obtain the correct en rule. Do not use double hyphens to denote an en dash.
  • Paired, parenthetical dashes have a space on either side, e.g. Poverty in rural areas – where 94 percent of the poor live – has been reduced at a slower rate. They should not be overused; no more than once per paragraph.
  • Unspaced en rules are used when the first part of a compound does not modify the second part. They can be thought of as meaning and or to.
  • pp. 1–20 (range of values)
  • 1987–1993 (see also Dates)
  • cost–benefit analysis
  • dose–response curve
  • Epstein–Barr virus
  • Do not use the en rule in a range of values or dates with the constructions from ... to or between ... and, e.g. from 1970 to 1987, not from 1970–1987.


  • Apostrophes signify the genitive or possessive case and appear after the noun in its usual form. Hence, the singular a reader’ s letter (the letter of one reader) and the plural several readers’ letters (the letters of several readers).
  • Do not use an apostrophe when referring to decades, e.g. the 1960s (not the 1960’ s) because the s denotes the plural, not the genitive; similarly, do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of acronyms (NGOs, not NGO’s)
  • Note the distinction between it’s (it is) and its (genitive), e.g. It’ s something important, but its importance is relative.

Quotation marks/inverted commas

  • Reported speech is enclosed in double quotation marks.
  • Where one quotation appears within another, the inner quotation takes single quotes:
  • “When we say ‘urgent’, we mean the day before yesterday,” said the originator.
  • Punctuation not referring to the quote itself falls outside the quotation marks:
  • Mr Vinci was said to be “overjoyed by his lottery win”.
  • However, where a complete sentence is quoted, it takes its own punctuation:
  • Mr Vinci was said to be “overjoyed by his lottery win. He would buy a new house for his parents.”
  • When a quotation is interrupted by words such as she said, a comma represents any punctuation in the original speech:
  • “We will do it by Friday,” she said, “so the deadline will be respected.”
  • If, however, the words quoted are continuous, then the comma does not belong to the quotation and is placed outside the quotation marks:
  • “We will do it”, she said, “by Friday.”
  • Where there are several consecutive paragraphs of speech, open quotation marks at the beginning of the first and every following paragraph; close the quotation marks only at the end of the final paragraph.


  • Lists are punctuated in the same way as sentences, unless entries are very short, e.g. no punctuation is required in the following list:
  • radios
  • televisions
  • cameras
  • When entries are more complex, use initial lower-case letters and end each with a semicolon, except for the final entry, which ends with a full stop. When entries consist of complete sentences, begin each with a capital letter and end each with a full stop.


  • When indicating an omission in text, use three dots with one letter space before and after ... as here, or four to include the full stop at the end of a sentence.


  • Avoid excessive use of capital letters in text.
  • In headings, subheadings, captions and book titles, use capitals only for the initial letter of the phrase and of proper nouns.
  • When naming a specific body, use a capital letter:
  • The French Government ruled that ... but All participating governments were asked to comment on the ruling.
  • Words such as committee and commission take a capital letter when used as part of a proper name, e.g. the Codex Alimentarius Commission discussed the issue.
  • The words Organization and Secretariat only take a capital letter when referring to FAO. Similarly, the Conference of FAO, after it has been mentioned in full, may subsequently be referred to as the Conference (with a capital letter). Note that FAO headquarters does not take a capital h.
  • The word state takes a lower-case initial letter when referring generally to the institution or to nations or divisions of a nation; it takes a capital S when a specific state is named, e.g. State of Andhra Pradesh; but state-owned enterprise, head of state.
  • In geographical names, north, south, etc. are capitalized if they are part of the title of an area or a political division, e.g. East Asia, but not if they are descriptions in general terms, e.g. southern Europe.
  • When referring to tabular or graphic elements in a text, use a capital letter for Table, Figure, etc.

Use of italic

  • Italic is used for:
  • all book, journal and periodical titles (titles of chapters and articles are not italicized); titles of paintings and sculptures; plays, films and radio and television programmes; and names of ships (prefixes such as SS or HMS are not italicized);
  • mathematical variables (see Mathematics and equations);
  • foreign words and phrases that are not in common usage, such as et seq., inter alia (refer also to the FAO recommended word list;
  • to indicate genus or species, e.g. Oryza sativa, Cucurbita spp., but not for higher levels of taxonomic classification, e.g. Brassicaceae. Note that modifiers to species’ names (such as cv., var., spp.) and species' authorities are not italicized.

Abbreviations and acronyms

  • Abbreviations should always be defined in full the first time they are used in a document, e.g. the World Health Organization (WHO). They may then be used alone, e.g. According to a WHO spokesperson ...
  • Use FAOTERM to check acronyms.
  • Note that most acronyms do not have full stops, e.g. FAO, not F.A.O.
    Do not abbreviate the names of countries in text, e.g. exports to the United Kingdom (not ... to the UK); and exports to the United States (not ... to the USA). In these two cases, abbreviations may be used in references (see Bibliographic style).

Numbers, units and dates


  • Numbers from one to ten inclusive are always written in text as words, and numbers 11 upwards are written as numerals, with the following exceptions:
  • where a number begins a sentence, e.g. Fifteen NGOs were present;
  • where a number accompanies a unit, e.g. 5 cm, 7 percent, US$2;
  • when numbers from both groups are used consecutively, e.g. The number of replies varied, ranging between 2 and 12 per group.
  • Use spaces, not full stops or commas, to denote thousands, millions, etc. (e.g. 10 000, 150 000 000). Note: US$5 000. Use hard (non-breaking) spaces to avoid awkward number divisions at the end of lines (press CTRL+SHIFT+SPACEBAR).
  • Write fractions in words rather than numbers: one-third.
  • For telephone and fax numbers, be consistent in the use of parentheses or spaces. Recommended is: (+39) 06 57053405.


  • Use Système Internationale (SI) units (tonnes, hectares, etc.), with equivalents in parentheses if necessary.
  • Do not use punctuation or letter spacing in such measurements as cm, mm, g, ha, ºC. Note, however, that there should always be a space between the number and the unit, e.g. 3 cm, 70 g, 37 oC.
  • Do not abbreviate the words litre and tonne.
  • Use percent (not per cent) in text, e.g. Exports increased by 16 percent in the last quarter. The use of % is acceptable in tables and graphs, e.g. 16% (with no space between the number and the symbol).

Mathematics and equations

  • Relational and operational signs should have a space either side of them, e.g. 3 + 2 = 5.
  • Use the multiplication sign not lower-case letter x.
  • Symbols used for variables, including Greek characters, should be italicized.


  • Write dates in this order: Monday, 16 October 2000 (with no comma between the month and the year).
  • Do not use apostrophes in decades: e.g. 1990s (see Apostrophes).
  • Do not abbreviate years, i.e. use 1990 and not ’ 90.
  • A range of dates is normally indicated thus: 20012003 or from 2002 to 2003. This implies the whole period from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2003 inclusive, whereas 2002/03 implies one crop or fiscal year of 12 months starting in 2002 and ending in 2003. Note that, when used in tables, three-year averages may take a hyphen to denote the three-year period and an en rule between the two sets, e.g. 1997-992007-09.
  • Centuries should be written out in full: the twenty-first century.


  • The use of the 24-hour system is preferred (e.g. 08.00 hours, 13.30 hours). When it is necessary to use the 12-hour system, use full stops as follows: 8 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. Be consistent.


  • Check currency abbreviations under the names of countries.
  • The abbreviation US$ may be further abbreviated to $ if defined in an explanatory note. In this case, there is no space between the abbreviation and the amount, e.g. $45 000.
  • The abbreviation for euro (pl. euros) is .

Bibliographic style

  • All references must include: name of author(s), year of publication, title, place of publication and publisher (for books), journal title, volume and pages (for articles).
  • The names of all authors of a work should be given in bibliographies.
  • Where there are more than three authors in the bibliography, abbreviate to et al. in the text (but not in the bibliography).
  • When an author has written more than one work in the same year, use a, b, etc. to differentiate, e.g. 2000a, 2000b.
  • Entries by the same author/s should be listed in ascending chronological order.
  • Use the ampersand (&) between the names of the last two authors in the bibliography but use and in the text.
  • Note that FAO should be the corporate author of all FAO copyrighted material.
  • In the case of a corporate author, it is not necessary to repeat the name of the organization as publisher. However, if the corporate author is not well known or defined in the text, the full name may be given after the place of publication.
  • Titles of books, journals and periodicals are italicized (do not use inverted commas). Titles of articles and chapters are not italicized.
  • Titles of papers presented at meetings and titles of theses are italicized. The type of thesis, e.g. M.Sc., Ph.D., is placed at the end of the reference, in parentheses, without a full stop, e.g. Saxton, R. 2000. Information and rural women. University College, London. (MA thesis)
  • Titles of mimeographs are italicized, with the abbreviation mimeo placed at the end of the reference in parentheses, e.g. (mimeo)
  • Personal communications are not cited in a bibliography but appear only in the text, e.g. (J. Wright, personal communication, 2000).
  • Following are some examples of bibliographic entries:
  • Haines, S. & Hunter, C. 2000. Exocortis virus of citrus. Citrus Ind., 49(1): 1317.
    The article title is in roman and lower case except for the initial capital letter. The journal title is italicized, abbreviated (unless the title consists of one word only, e.g. Science) and with initial capital letters. Data are ordered as follows: volume number, (issue number in parentheses) followed by a colon and a space, page numbers.
  • McKenzie, J. & Gilbert, J.R. 2000. Editorial guidelines. In J. Wright & L. Cole, eds. Points of style, pp. 123146. Washington, DC, World Resources Institute. 200 pp.
    The city (place of publication) comes before the publisher. As in this example, when the city is the capital, the country is normally omitted. Note that in references United States and United Kingdom may be abbreviated to USA and UK. Note also that 200 pp. = 200 pages, whereas p. = page (singular). The first word of the book title takes an initial capital letter followed by lower-case initial letters (like the article title in the first example).
  • FAO. 2000. Harvest operations, by I.M.A. Farmer. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin No. 362. Rome.
  • MOLSS. 1999. China labor statistical yearbook 1998. Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Beijing, China Statistical Press.
  • Brandl, F.E. 1988. Economics of trypanosomiasis control in cattle. Vol. 1. Farming systems and resource economics in the tropics. Kiel, Germany, Wissenschaffsverlag Vauk.
  • Following is an example of a reference to an Internet document:
    Gates, B. 1995. Distributing tactical business planning information via the Internet. In Proc. FAO Workshop on Internet Applications and Electronic Information Resources (available at
  • Following is an example of both a printed and an Internet document:
    FAO. 1995. ArcView shapefile technical description. FAO Computer Studies Series, No. 1. 14 pp. (also available at

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