Australian Government Style Manual

New Style Manual makes the leap to digital

style manual

The new live version of the Australian Government Style Manual helps writers and editors make the leap from print to digital publishing.

An Ethos CRS team of writers and editors and the Digital Transformation Agency co-authored the manual for the digital age. The new version was released on 24 September 2020.

The transformation of writing, editing and publishing over the past few decades is the greatest since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440.

Yet the user manuals for writers and editors have struggled to keep up with the changes. The new edition of the Style Manual makes the leap.

The previous edition published in 2002 was a 550-page print edition. It gave some advice on writing for the internet as if it was a minor variation on an old theme.

“The new edition is written with digital publishing foremost – while still covering the needs of print,” said Ethos CRS chief executive Chas Savage.

“The most obvious change is the way the manual is published – as a digital product. Just as important, the advice has been completely rewritten to reflect the needs and practices of publishing in the digital age.

“People read and use digital content in different ways from print. The most common way of reading now is on the tiny screens of smartphones” he said. “Their attention span is shorter and there is vastly more competition for their interest.

“Now, most people seek information about government services and policy online. Information and communications technology have profoundly changed almost all aspects of society, including the way governments operate, deliver services, communicate, and create, store and share information.”

The new edition gives advice on:

  • writing content that is easy to understand
  • researching user needs
  • getting best results from search engines
  • creating content for social media
  • writing blogs.

The new edition also reflects social changes over the past 18 years. There is new advice on:

  • using inclusive language
  • respecting the increasing diversity of Australian society.

Because it is available online to anyone, the new Style Manual has a big advantage over the previous edition. As it’s a website rather than a book, it is dynamic. It will be updated regularly to reflect changes in advice and practice.

“The Style Manual is written first for those writing and editing information published by the Australian Government,” Mr Savage said.

“But we expect it will again become the definitive guide on writing style across Australia.”

“An authoritative style manual will make the work of government more efficient and government documents more accessible for a very diverse readership.”

Purpose of the Style Manual

The Style Manual defines government style and provide comprehensive advice on whole-of-government standards and publishing requirements. This helps achieve clarity, consistency and excellence in government publications, both online and print.

The Style Manual provides detailed advice on best practices in writing, editing, design and production. It is the standard reference tool for the Australian Government and is widely used in business and education.

The previous Style Manual, the sixth edition, was published in 2002 and is 550 pages long. It has long been a valued reference, but is silent on the conventions that writers and editors must adopt in a digital environment.

The first edition of the Style Manual was published in 1966 in response to a 1964 report by the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary and Government Publications.

In 1966 the metric system had just been introduced in Australia and the style manual used spellings such as ‘kilogramme’.

The second edition was published in 1972; the third in 1978; the fourth in 1988; and the fifth in 1994.

The first five editions of the Style Manual were edited, published and printed by the Australian Government Publishing Service using external editorial committees and in-house expertise.

In 1996 the AGPS was privatised. The Australian Government continued to be responsible for governance. The then Department of Finance and Administration commissioned the sixth edition using a new approach to producing, marketing and distributing the Style Manual.

Benefits for users

The new Style Manual will benefit all who access government services – nearly all of us.

If agencies produce more accessible and clearer documents, they directly improve the lives of those who use government services. People can access services more quickly and easily. Their obligations and rights will be clearly explained and as a result there will be fewer mistakes and better responses.

Ethos CRS worked on the manual with the Australian National Dictionary Centre, the Australian National University, Oxford University Press and Principle Co.

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