Punctuation and symbols in web content

Last updated: June 29, 2022

Guidance for using punctuation and symbols to support accessibility and readability.

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Ampersands (&)

Spell out the word ‘and’ instead of using an ampersand. Use ampersands only for business names or when citing sources:

  • AT&T
  • Smith & Jones, 2001

Apostrophes (')

Use an apostrophe before an 's' to indicate the possessive:

  • B.C. government's web content standards

Contractions join two words. They use apostrophes to show there are letters missing. Use an apostrophe with the contraction of 'it is', but not with the possessive pronoun 'its':

  • It’s an updated version of the content standards
  • Its standards improve accessibility

Do not use an apostrophe to form plurals:

  • We launched 3 new programs this year

At symbols (@)

Only use the ’@’ symbol in email addresses and social media handles.

Celsius (°C)

Always use numerical figures with no space between the number and the Celsius symbol. Both the word and the symbol are always capitalized:

  • The average annual temperature warmed by 1.4°C across the province
  • Canadians measure the weather in Celsius

Colons (:)

Always use colons to introduce lists.

Commas (,)

Avoid multiple commas in a sentence. You can do this by breaking it up into a few shorter sentences or changing it into a bulleted list. If needed, use commas (,) to emphasize or frame an idea.

Only place a comma before ‘and’ and ‘or’ if it will make the sentence clearer, even if you're listing items. For example:

  • The ministries working together are Health, Finance, and Education and Child Care

‘Education and Child Care’ is one ministry, this is made clear by the use of the extra comma. Without the comma, it's not clear what the names of the last two ministries are:

  • The ministries working together are Health, Finance and Education and Child Care

Dashes (–,—)

Instead of em dashes (—), write shorter sentences. If you need to emphasize or frame an idea use commas (,)

Use ‘to’ instead of a dash (–) in a span or range of numbers, dates or time.

You may use dashes to indicate fiscal years:

  • Applications are open from June 1 to July 17
  • The 2020-21 annual report outlines our strategic goals

Dashes and hyphens are different. See hyphens for information on when and how to use them.

Ellipses (…)

Only use ellipses when you’re leaving text out of a long quote. There are no extra spaces before, between or after each of the periods.

Use the CMS Lite special character tool to insert ellipses.

Exclamation marks (!)

Don’t use exclamation marks in government web content, they can create a sense of alarm. The tone of your content should be calm and direct.

Hyphens (-)

Use hyphens:

If the word is at the beginning of a sentence, only capitalize the first of the hyphenated words. 

Hyphens and dashes are different. See dashes for information on when and how to use them.

Compound words

Compound words are when two or more words are joined together to create a new word that has a new meaning, such as railroad or crosswalk. Most compound words don’t use hyphens. When in doubt, check the Canadian Oxford dictionary.

Hyphenated adjectives

Use a hyphen when you join two or more words to form an adjective. If unsure, check the Canadian Oxford dictionary for spelling:

  • Tax-exempt equipment

Separating double vowels

Use a hyphen when a prefix brings two identical vowels together:

  • Co-operate, co-ordinate

Hyphenating words with ‘re’ prefix

Use a hyphen with ‘re’ if the word could otherwise be confusing:

  • Please re-sign the letters once they’re reprinted
  • Resign could be confused with another definition but reprinted could not

Percentages and fractions (%, ½)

Spell out the word ‘percent’ in sentences:

  • The survey had 80 percent participation

Use the % symbol in financial charts, tables, equations and calculations:

  • 20%

See the numbers and dates page for information on decimals and fractions.

Periods (.)

Put only one space after a period, not two. Do not use periods in lists.

Following abbreviations or acronyms

Don’t add a period to a sentence that ends with a punctuated abbreviation:

  • The capital of the province is Victoria, B.C.

After hyperlinks

If a sentence ends with a hyperlink, don’t include the period in the linked text:

  • The tax agreement can be found on gov.bc.ca.

Parentheses () and punctuation

Don’t include the end punctuation, such as a period or question mark, inside the parentheses, unless it is a full sentence:

  • Please bring the required documents (signed form and ID).
  • Students in B.C. must comply with the regulations. (If you are not a citizen of Canada, see International Students for more information.)

Quotation marks (" ", ' ')

Double quotation marks (" ")

Use double quotation marks to enclose direct quotes. Punctuation goes inside quotation marks only when they’re part of the quoted material.

Single quotation marks (' ')

Use single quote marks to enclose and emphasize an unusual word or expression. Or to note an example:

  • Spell out the word ‘and’ instead of using an ampersand

Semi-colons (;)

Use two sentences where you might have used a semi-colon to link two independent clauses. Don’t use semi-colons at the ends of list items.

Slashes (/)

Only use slashes in URLs. Using a slash, as in ‘and/or’ creates vagueness. Use gender neutral pronouns 'they' and 'them' instead of using 'she/her' or 'he/him'. See inclusive language and terms for more information.

Special characters

Special characters are characters that are not numerical and are not used in the English alphabet. Such as '©' or 'é'. When using punctuation or symbols not listed on this page, use the CMS Lite Rich Text Editor. If you're writing content in a language other than English, you need to tag it as 'non-English'.

If you're using a platform other than CMS Lite, use Unicode character encoding for special characters. This will ensure that screen readers read them correctly.