Writing Style Guide

A guide to help you achieve consistency and accuracy in your writing, formatting and referencing of essays and reports. 

Writing Style

Getting started in academic writing?

Writing styles vary between school, university and the workplace. You may even find that different departments at university expect different styles of writing. It is your responsibility to learn the conventions of writing in each subject area.

The Academic Skills Unit has a range of resources to help you develop your academic writing skills, including:

  • Workshops
  • Individual tutorials
  • Booklets
  • Short pdf guides

The Tertiary essay writing booklet is a good place to start if you are new to academic writing.

Some of the other excellent guides they produce include:

Reading and note taking for science students

Reading Effectively

Academic Style

Writing successful essays

Undergraduate research reports

Writing your Honours thesis?

The Academic Skills Unit has produced an Honours Study Booklet especially for Honours students. If you are unsure of the style of writing expected in your thesis, talk to your supervisor.

DVM Students

If you are a student in the DVM3 or DVM4, you are advised to use styles recommended in the Author Guidelines provided by the Australian Veterinary Journal (AVJ).

The library website also has this Research Project Resources Guide for students in the DVM3.

Writing Conventions


Australian English should be used.

The standard spelling reference for Australian writing is the Macquarie Dictionary. In general, English spelling is preferred to American. The Macquarie is also useful as an up-to-date guide to current hyphenation of words. You can also use the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.


Below is a brief explanation of using tenses, particularly in scientific writing. The academic skills unit has produced two guides with more information about tenses:

ASU: Using tenses in essays

ASU: Using tenses in scientific writing

In scientific circles, knowledge is considered to be established when it has been published in a reputable journal or book. Established knowledge is cited and/or discussed in the present tense:

'The cell membrane of ML05 contains 42% protein .....'

New information, knowledge, data and observations, as well as methods used in an experiment, are referred to in the past tense: ..

'the cell membrane of this closely related species contained 27% protein ....'

'Protein content was measured by ....'

The future tense may be used in 'planning' documents, and in statements of intention, aims and objectives:

'…opportunities to conduct a study of the effects of variation in the protein content of all cell membranes will be actively sought.'


Essays and reports should normally be written in the third person:

'The fluid was transferred…'


'I transferred the fluid .....' or '...you transfer the fluid'

It may be appropriate to use the first person in some reports (or even in a thesis). You should check the instructions in the subject outline or see the subject convenor (or supervisor) if you think that this is the case. Examples of reports that might be written in first person are personal planning documents or tour reports.

Shortened forms of words

For a more extensive discussion of shortened forms of words, please refer to Snooks & Co (2002), Chapter 10.

There are four types of shortened forms of a word or words that may be used in an essay or report:

  • Abbreviations
  • Contractions
  • Acronyms
  • Symbols

Shortened forms are usually used to save space, particularly in tables and figures. They can also make reading easier by reducing unnecessary repetition, particularly with words or phrases that are long, or familiar.  As a general rule, if in doubt, spell it out.


An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word. Conventional abbreviations such as 'eg.' and 'etc.', are generally so familiar that no explanation is necessary. Where abbreviations of organisations are used they must be spelt out in full, followed by the abbreviated form in brackets. Subsequent use can be the abbreviation only. Use a full-stop after the abbreviation.

Table 1           Examples of common abbreviations




for example (Latin: exempli gratia)


that is (Latin: id est)










namely, or, that is to say (Latin videlicet)




and so forth (Latin: et cetera)


Australian Capital Territory


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


deoxyribose nucleic acid


Grains Research and Development Corporation


United States of America

Abbreviations are followed by a full stop except where they include one or more capital letters after the first letter (table 1). Abbreviations of this latter type often refer to organisations (e.g. CSIRO; GRDC), and may be used in the abbreviated form in text and references (see section 5.1)


The first and last letter of a contraction is the same as those of the original word. They are written without a full stop (e.g. Dept-Department; edn-edition; vols-volumes).


Acronyms are shortened forms that may be pronounced as words. Normally, acronyms are in common use as words and do not need to be spelt out in full. Acronyms are usually spelt in all capitals, except for very familiar ones.

Table 2           Examples of common acronyms



light amplification by stimulating emission of radiation


Sound navigation and ranging


"Symbols are internationally recognised representations of units of measurement, words or concepts". (Snooks & Co 2002, p. 159). They do not require full stops.  Scientific symbols are discussed in detail in Section 3.4.

Foreign phrases in common usage

The use of foreign phrases (table  2) is permissible, but these should always be italicised.

Table 3            Some common foreign phrases

Foreign phrase


in toto

in total

in situ

on site

per se

in itself

in vivo

in a live organic environment

in vitro

outside organisms - in an artificial, non-organic environment

Plagiarism and collusion

"The most important attribute that the University of Melbourne would like to see in its graduates is a profound respect for truth, and for the ethics of scholarship...we want our graduates to be capable of independent thought, to be able to do their own work, and to know how to acknowledge the work of others."

Professor Peter McPhee (Provost 2007-9)

Plagiarism and collusion are viewed as serious academic offences, which under

University Regulations, may result in penalties, varying from loss of marks to failure of a

whole subject, or suspension or termination.

The Academic Skills Unit booklet Using Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism is an excellent guide to how to reference properly and other strategies for avoiding plagiarism in your academic writing. The University's Academic Honesty website also provides advice for students.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of representing as one's own original work the creative works of another, without appropriate acknowledgment of the author or source.

While use of the writings, results, thoughts and ideas of others is important when writing

scientific reports, doing so without acknowledgment is plagiarism. Plagiarism is viewed as a form of cheating. Appropriate in-text citation and referencing must be used to distinguish the work and ideas of others from your own.

Copying one or more sentences or paragraphs from a reference is plagiarism, unless

it is treated as a quote. If a section of text is copied without being shown as a quote it is still plagiarism, even if an in-text citation is given at the end of the copied text.

What is collusion?

Collusion is the presentation by a student of an assignment as his or her own which is in fact the result in whole or in part of unauthorised collaboration with another person or persons.

Simply changing a few words in what is otherwise a copy of part or the whole of a work written by someone else, or co-operatively with others, is still plagiarism or collusion.

Scientific Writing

Scientific writing must be unambiguous, strictly relevant and non-repetitive. Conciseness, consistency of tense, and non-emotive language are the hallmarks of good scientific writing. If you are writing to contribute to a scientific journal, you need to consult the 'information for authors' of that journal before final preparation and submission of papers for publication.

The Academic Skills Unit has guides to help you write lab reports and research reports:

ASU: Writing science laboratory reports

ASU: Scientific research reports

Scientific and common names

Living organisms are identified and classified by scientific names, which should always be used in your writing. Scientific names have three components (table 4). The first name refers to the genus. The second name refers to the species and the third is an authority name (often abbreviated to one or more letters) of the person who has collected, described, classified or coined the scientific name. When names are revised, the most recent author is also added to the name as the owner of the most recent classification. Not all scientific names have authors. Animals rarely have an authority name. Common names must be followed by the scientific name when first mentioned.

Table 4      Some conventions applying to the use of scientific names of organisms



Genus starts with capital, species starts with lower case. Both are italicised. Author's name is not italicised, but is often abbreviated.

Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehuh.

After the first reference, the Genus may be abbreviated

E. camaldulensis

After the first reference, other members of the same genus may be abbreviated

E.polyanthemos Schauer

The abbreviation of genus must apply to one genus only.

E.camaldulensis is not related to the quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis F.Muell). This is despite the fact that Elaeocarpus grandis is a similar height to E.camaldulensis.

If referring to a number of species of the same genus, then the term spp. (un-italicised) is used (sp. means one species).

Eucalyptus spp.

Agricultural chemicals usually have a standard, commonly used scientific name. These should always be used in preference to the Trade or Brand name. Hence use 'metalaxyl' in preference to 'Ridomil'. If it is necessary to refer also to the Trade or Brand name write as 'metalaxyl (RIDOMIL ®)'.

Numbers and dates

Use words for whole numbers one to nine, and for all whole numbers at the beginning of a sentence. Otherwise, figures are used (e.g. 10, 21, 32).  Write dates in text as 26 January 1997 but use abbreviations in tables, (e.g. 26 Jan 97 or 26/01/97). Detailed rules for the use of numbers and measurement are given by Snooks & Co (2002, ch.11).

Capital letters

Use lower case letters for seasons (e.g. spring), compass points (e.g. northeast), common names of organisms (e.g. wheat), chemicals (e.g. sodium chloride), unless you are starting a new sentence or the name contains a proper noun (e.g. Colorado beetle). However, in formulas, tables and figures appropriate shortened forms (section 2.3) and case, such as NE, NaCl, should be used. When compass points are used in names of areas or cities, upper case is used (e.g. North Eastern Victoria).

International System of Units (SI), and symbols

The International Conference on Weights and Measures has accepted a system of basic metric units known as the International System of Units (SI) (table  5). Only SI units and symbols can be used in written work. Table 5 sets out the recommended conventions for units in scientific text. Further information is available in Snooks & Co (2002). Multiple units should be written in the format g m-2 day -1, rather than g/m2/day although both formats are allowable in the SI system.

Except in special circumstances, all references to units must be in the metric system; e.g. hectares (ha) not acres (ac). The main exception to this is when you are quoting from historical documents, in which case the metric equivalent should be included in brackets but not in italics (e.g. '.......One acre (0.4 ha) was sown ...'). Conversions from imperial to metric units are given in Snooks & Co (2002, Appendix B).

Table 5           Some basic and derived SI units

Physical Quantity

Name of Unit


Basic Units




























Electric current




kelvin (not "degrees kelvin")



degree Celsius


Amount of substance



Derived units




square metre




cubic metre








kg m-3

Energy (heat)















N m-2

Heat capacity


J K-1



J K-1

Specific heat capacity


J kg-1 K-1



mol m-3

Source: TAFE 1993, pp. 68-70

When referring to multiples such as thousands (k) and millions (M) (table  7), in relation to other units, you can use the appropriate symbols from tables 5 and 7; for example, $54 M ($54 million) or 55 kt (55 thousand tonnes).

Common abbreviations need no explanation, e.g. h (hour), min (minute), m (metre), ns. (not significant), and se. (standard error). Less common abbreviations should be named on the first occasion they are used, e.g. 'a force of 10 N (Newtons) ....... '. Subsequently only the symbol need be used. A comprehensive list of abbreviations can also be found in TAFE (1993, pp. 70-72).

Table 6           Conventions applying to the use of units and symbols



The singular and plural forms of the symbols are the same

".... weighed 40 kg ...." 

not ".... weighed 40 kgs ..." 

Use a unit symbol when it is preceded by a numeral otherwise write out unit name

"Eight millimetres long by 15 mm diameter gels were used..."

Full stops are not used with units because they are symbols, not abbreviations

" .... at 25O C for 24 h in a ..."  

not".... at 25O C. for 24 h. in a ..."

Never start a sentence with a numeral or an abbreviated symbol

"Eight millimetre long by 15 mm diameter gels were used ...." not "8 millimetres long by ..."

Derived units should be written with a negative index rather than the "/" sign

kg d-1 ,   km h-1

Multiples of units in powers of 10 are indicated by means of the prefixes and symbols shown in table 7.

Table 7           Multiples of units and their prefix and symbol








































Source: edited from Snooks & Co (2002, p. 182)

Other abbreviations and symbols

Except for the units and abbreviations described in the previous section or in Snooks & Co (2002), symbols should not be used in general text. Common symbols such as +,-, *, x,=,<,>,@ and elemental symbols should only be used in formulas, tables and figures.

Essay formatting and coversheets


Essays should be typed on a computer, except where advised by the subject coordinator.

Table 8      Format requirements for written reports




left, right, top:  2.5 cm

bottom: 2 cm

Line spacing


Paragraph spacing

Double spaced between paragraphs (one blank line)

Major Section (1,2 etc.)

Start new page

Minor Section (1.1, 1.2 etc.)

Continue on same page, one blank line space


Indenting may be used in the contents page (when needed) and reference lists. Do not indent paragraphs or section headings in the text, except in quotes (Section 5.2).

Font size

11 pt or 12 pt

Page numbering

At bottom of page. Lower case Roman numerals should be used for all preliminary pages except the cover, but including title pages, authorship declarations, lists of contents, and prefaces. All subsequent pages including appendices should be sequentially numbered in lower case Arabic numerals.


Headers should be included with the student's name and number, subject code and the assignment title.

Cover Sheets

If you are asked to submit a hard copy as well as to the LMS, you must use a FVAS coversheet, available next to the assignment dropbox.


If you are handing in your assignment through Turnitin, you do not need a coversheet. All other assignments should have a coversheet that provides the title of the project, the author's name, details of the submission requirements, and an acknowledgment that your work complies with the University’s rules of assessment (table  8). Appendix A is an example title page.

The title must be short and must be a clear statement of the report topic. Where possible, avoid the use of titles like "Assignment 1" or "Third Report for Natural Resource Management". Use titles that are descriptive of the actual content.

Table 9            Information to be provided on title page of a student report

Submission title: 

Student Number:

Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences
The University of Melbourne


Assessment Task: 

Word limit 
Word count 

Only if relevant:
Return Address: Your postal address

Table of contents

Major reports should have a 'contents' page(s). On this page, all headings will be listed in correct sequence and with the respective page numbers. Headings in the contents page should be the same as those in the text. The sequence of numbers and the use of case and font should be consistent (table  9). Indenting of headings is permitted in the contents page, but not in the text.

Research students writing a thesis may need to include an abstract. The abstract should precede the table of contents. The abstract is a standalone statement and does not replace the introduction. For more information, speak to your supervisor, or see the guides to writing your thesis on the Graduate Research Hub.

Table 10         Example of sections, illustrating sequence and formatting (page numbers omitted)
Contents Page
1            INTRODUCTION 1
1            GENERAL ISSUES 1
2.1     Spelling, grammar and composition 5
2.1.1    Tense 5
2.2     Person 6
3.1     Scientific and common names 7
4            DISCUSSION 8
5            ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
6            REFERENCES 14
7            APPENDICES
Appendix A Sample title page format

Tables and Figures

Tables (rows and columns of data) or figures (graphs, maps, charts, photographs, illustrations) must be simple, easy to understand and truthful.

Tables and figures are numbered in two separate series using Arabic numerals (1,2,3 etc.) in order of appearance in the text. They must have a caption that describes the data, photograph or other graphical representation. Captions for tables should be above the data, while those for figures, should be below the data presented. Captions for both should be left-aligned.

All notes should be placed below tables and figures. Any abbreviations, units, calculations, treatments or statistics used should be described in footnotes (see table 7 for an example). Symbols such as #, *,!; and superscripts such as 1 and 2,, can be used to identify these footnotes. Use bold type to make these obvious.

All tables and figures should be referred to in the text and they should appear as close to, but after, the text that refers to them (the same page if possible). This in-text reference should either draw attention to key features (e.g. 'table 10 shows how different types of references can be cited in text') or it may be used like a reference to indicate the source of a statement (e.g. 'Where there is more than one reference to the same information, they should be listed (table 10, item (d), and table 12) alphabetically and then in chronological order').

Tables that have been photocopied from another source often contain irrelevant information. In most cases, you should create your own table and include only that information in the table that is relevant to your report. The source of the table, figure or other information must be cited and listed in the reference list. Where a table or figure has been copied from a reference, the exact page number must be given with the in-text citation, or in the caption or footnote. Photocopied material must be legible. Reproductions of photographs are of little use if they cannot be interpreted.

If you extract or modify figures or tables from another's work, you should refer to this at the end of the caption or by footnote giving the appropriate page numbers (e.g. Source: Smith & Turner 1988, pp. 34-35).

Using appendices

Care should be taken when choosing to use appendices. In project reports, appendices may be appropriate for detailed data that are collated and summarised in the text. The information most commonly placed in appendices is raw data, experimental plans and layouts and details of statistical analysis.

If the information is important, it should be in a table or a figure in the main report. If the important information is complicated and detailed, prepare a relevant and simple table or figure to place in the text, and give the reference to the source.

For readability and ease of cross-referencing, appendices should be numbered in a different system to the one used in the text. For example, in this document, Arabic numbers are used for the section titles (1,2,3), so appendices are numbered alphabetically (Appendix A, Appendix B).


In academic writing, you must acknowledge the sources of your information or ideas.  Using referencing in your writing allows you to acknowledge your sources of information. It also helps you demonstrate that you have given thoughtful consideration to your topic. The Academic Skills Unit's Referencing Essentials explains in more detail the purpose of referencing.

There are several major styles of referencing. Some common referencing systems are Harvard, APA and MLA, and for Veterinary Sciences, AVJ. Each subject coordinator will specify the referencing system they expect you to use in that subject.

One of the most important things to remember is that your style of referencing should be consistent throughout your essay or report. Each reference should contain sufficient detail for your reader to locate the source material that you have used.

Once you know the referencing system you should use, the Library website has a range of guides and information to help you reference correctly in that style.

Referencing Software

Using a reference manager can help you:

  • organise your references
  • generate in-text citations as you write
  • create bibliographies quickly

Taking some time to learn one of these software packages can greatly improve your referencing and save you lots of time throughout your degree.

Common reference managers include EndNote, Zotero, Refworks, and Mendeley. Each application has different features, such as cloud storage and support on different operating systems. It's a good idea to ask other people in your department what application they are using, and why.

The library supports both EndNote and Refworks, and University of Melbourne students can access either program for free. Mendeley and Zotero are both free programs.

To learn more about reference managers, read the library information, or book take a class at the library.

References used in this style manual

Snooks & Co 2002, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, Sixth edition, revision, Snooks & Co., John Wiley & Sons, Canberra.

TAFE 1993, Manual on scientific writing, Tertiary and Further Education Committee on Scientific Writing, TAFE Publications, Collingwood, Victoria.


This guide has been revised from the previous Student Style Manual written by J.C. Avery (1999) and revised by R. Cousens (2005) for the Institute of Land and Food Resources at the University of Melbourne.

This manual is not intended to be a complete guide to writing style.

This manual summarises the requirements for presentation of text, use of figures and tables and referencing of information sources, with particular emphasis on scientific writing. It is based on the style previously known as the Australian Government Publishing Service (AGPS) style, but now revised by Snooks & Co, 2002.

If you require more detail for any of the writing conventions listed here, please refer to Style manual for authors, editors and printers, Sixth edition (Snooks & Co 2002), available at the library.


Appendix A   Sample "Title Page" format


Name: Bernie Quick
Student Number:

Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences
The University of Melbourne
Date: 27 August 2015

Course: Advanced Certificate in Resource Management
Subject: Terrestrial Ecosystems 1

Assessment Task: Assignment 1

Word limit 1500
Word count 1522

Only if relevant:
Return Address: Your postal address