Editing government documents and publications might seem like a challenge. But there are ways to simplify the task of editing government documents. Whether you’re working in a government department or submitting a proposal to a government body, following the accepted standards for editing government documents and publications will help you maintain clarity and consistency.

Style guide for editing government documents and publications

For government departments in Australia, the Style manual for authors, editors and printers is the key publication that provides guidance for anyone who needs to prepare material for publication. It covers the textual, structural and design aspects of creating and editing government documents and publications.

The main sections of the 550-page Style manual include:

  • Part 1 – Planning the communication
  • Part 2 – Writing and editing
  • Part 3 – Designing and illustrating
  • Part 4 – Legal and compliance aspects of publishing
  • Part 5 – Producing and evaluating the product.

For editing government documents and publications, Part 2 of the manual is the most relevant. It covers the basics for clear and consistent communication. The sections of this part include:

  • Structuring documents for readers
  • Effective and inclusive language
  • Grammar
  • Spelling and word punctuation
  • Sentence punctuation
  • Capital letters
  • Textual contrast
  • Shortened forms
  • Numbers and measurement
  • Methods of citation
  • The components of a publication
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Indexing.

You can purchase the Style manual for authors, editors and printers at most major bookstores or through online booksellers. Additional information on the publication can be found at www.australia.gov.au/about-government/publications/style-manual.

Editing government documents at the state or local level

Most state and local governments base their writing and editing styles on the Style manual for authors, editors and printers, but include additions and exceptions. For example, the 2003 Victoria Department of Human Services writing style guide states: “‘DHS’ is not acceptable in departmental documents. Spell out ‘Department of Human Services’ in full, or use ‘the department’”.

If you are writing or editing government documents or publications for a state or local department, ask if they have a house style guide or if they use the Style manual for authors, editors and printers as their default guide.