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Policy Horizons Canada Style Guide

About our style guide

This style guide is evergreen. You can always access the most updated version on the shared drive here: S:\Communications\Styleguides, forms and templates\Style guide and glossary.

The style guide clarifies Policy Horizons’ particular style concerns, and helps you write in a consistent, engaging, and user-centric manner while avoiding common mistakes.

We, the Communications Team, rely on the same style authorities as the Government of Canada, namely: The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, The Canadian Style Guide, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

This guide also reflects specific guidelines from ESDC’s style guide as well as Government of Canada’s published writing standards to ensure consistency.


Referring to Policy Horizons Canada

Write out our organizational name in full as Policy Horizons Canada (Policy Horizons) the first time we refer to it in a document. Shorten all subsequent mentions to Policy Horizons.

The organization’s official acronym is PHC (Policy Horizons Canada). There should be no references to the “Policy Research Secretariat” or “Policy Research Initiative” except as a historical term.

Key terms and organization names

Termium is the best source for translations of key terms and organization names, particularly those used by the federal government. Developed by the Translation Bureau, Termium is the most extensive source of equivalents of its kind in Canada.

Use the Federal Identity Program names for government departments, offices, projects, etc. rather than the legal names:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada (not Department of the Environment)

A glossary of words and terms commonly used at Horizons and in the foresight field is located here. This glossary is updated on an ongoing basis.

Tone and language

  • Use the active voice whenever possible.
  • Use plain language, suitable for someone in grade 8 to understand, when writing and editing Policy Horizons reports, publications, blogs, or other material. Consult these useful readability guidelines.
  • Keep sentences short, clear, and easy to understand. Separate ideas and concepts into different sentences whenever possible.

Typographical emphasis

  • Use bold type to emphasize certain words.
  • Use underlining only for hyperlinks.
  • Italicize French and foreign words that are not assimilated into English. Do not italicize common Latin terms such as ad hoc, per capita, per annum, and vice versa.
  • Italicize titles of books, pamphlets, acts of Parliament, reports, newspapers, and periodicals. Do not italicize scientific periodicals and unofficial articles.



  • Capitalize the proper titles of all levels of government, government departments, and agencies.
    • the Government of Canada, the Department of Finance
  • Capitalize short forms of the full title of government bodies when “the” precedes the word.
    • the Government, the Department
  • Capitalize both the legal and applied titles of a federal department.
    • Department of Employment and Social Development
    • Employment and Social Development Canada


Capitalize formal position titles when they follow or precede a name, or when they act as a substitute for that person’s name.

  • the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
  • Minister Qualtrough
  • the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

Publication titles

Capitalize all words except for articles (unless they begin the title), and conjunctions or prepositions of less than four letters.

  • Biodigital Today and Tomorrow
  • The Future of Sense-Making


Use sentence case for page titles, headings, subheadings, table captions, and table headers. Capitalize only the first word and proper nouns.

  • What is biodigital convergence?

Collective nouns

  • A singular collective noun (e.g. family) usually takes a singular verb. A plural collective noun (e.g. families) takes a plural verb.
    • The family is going to the park.
    • The families are going to the park.
  • When all the members of a collective noun are performing an action as a unit (and that is usually the case), use a singular verb.
    • The class is going on a field trip.
  • When the members of a collective noun are performing an action as individuals, use a plural verb.
    • The orchestra are tuning their instruments.


“Police” and “people” are the only two singular collective nouns that consistently use a plural verb.

Acronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations

  • Avoid using acronyms and initialisms unnecessarily.
  • For each chapter of a document, write out the full term the first time it appears, followed by the acronym/initialism in parentheses.
  • Do not use an acronym/initialism in a title, subtitle, or heading.
  • Provide an acronym/initialism only if the term appears more than once in your text.
    • Artificial intelligence (AI)
    • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Do not use a period after each letter in acronyms and initialisms:
    • USMCA
    • ESDC
  • The short form of a term is often easier for the reader to understand than an abbreviation that isn’t widely known.

Plural form

To pluralize most acronyms, simply add an “s”.

  • ADMs, NGOs, MOUs


  • Use periods in U.S. when abbreviating United States. This initialism is how the U.S. government refers to itself.
    • Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation, U.S. governors
  • When referring to the United States, regardless of whether you use the full name or the acronym, always use a singular verb, because the term designates a single country (rather than a collection of states).
    • The United States is home to several species of birds.
  • Do not use periods in UK. This initialism is how the UK government refers to itself. For example:
    • Northern Ireland is part of the UK.

Compass directions

In general writing, you can use the abbreviations NE, NW, SE, and SW to denote town and city division, but you should always spell out the words north, south, east, and west.

Use the traditional abbreviations for provinces. However, use the Canada Post abbreviations in correspondence.

Abbreviations with the use of periods

Lower-case abbreviations
  • e.g.
  • i.e.
  • a.m.
  • p.m.
  • etc.
Initials in people’s names
  • C.D. Howe
  • V.S. Naipaul
  • George W. Bush
At the end of abbreviations for single words
  • Rt. Hon.
  • Ms.
  • Mr.
  • Jr.
  • Ltd.
  • misc.
  • St.
  • Hwy.

Abbreviations with no periods

University degrees and professional designations
  • BA
  • BSc
  • MA
  • MSc
  • MBA
  • MPA
  • PhD
  • LLB

Latin terms

  • Use e.g. when you mean “for example” to introduce lists of examples that contain some of the items that would be relevant. Do not use a comma after e.g.
    • Popular online shopping and streaming services already curate options based on past consumption (e.g. Netflix and Amazon).
  • Use etc. when you mean “and so on” at the end of lists of examples that contain only some of the items that would be relevant. Use a comma before etc.
    • Popular online shopping and streaming services already curate options based on past consumption (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.).
  • Use i.e. when you mean “that is” or “in other words” to provide more specific information or to clarify something you have just stated. Do not use a comma after i.e.
    • I’ll review the slides you sent for the presentation and provide feedback shortly — i.e. one to two business days.


  • Usually, compound terms require a hyphen when used as an adjective before a noun, but do not take one in other positions. For example:
    • Someone’s new theory revolutionized the policy-making process.
    • Qualitative data is equally important for informed policy making.
  • Never hyphenate a compound term that includes an adverb ending in “ly”. For example:
    • Equally productive means
    • Fully employed person

For more information on hyphenation, consult the Canadian Style Guide.



Use between two independent clauses that are too closely related to be separated by a period, or to separate elements in a complex series.

  • We can go to the museum to do some research; Mondays are pretty quiet there.
  • I need the weather statistics for the following cities: London, England; London, Ontario; Paris, France; Paris, Ontario; Perth, Scotland; Perth, Ontario.

Point-form lists

Point-form lists make it easier for the reader to understand how the elements are related. Grammar and syntax determine the internal capitalization and punctuation of the initial letters of items in lists. It is more important for lists to be logically understandable and syntactically consistent than to look alike.

  • If the lead-in to a list is syntactically related to the points that follow, as in this list,
    • do not capitalize the first words of items within the list, and
    • except for the bullets or dashes, punctuate as if the entire sentence was not in point form.
  • Items in lists are sometimes capitalized. This list illustrates one possible set of conditions.
    • It consists of complete sentences, which do not depend on the lead-in sentence fragment and which end with a period.
    • It contains points that are easier to understand separately than together.
  • Incomplete sentences or single words entered as points in lists are normally lower-cased:
    • E.g. Four issues are related to the economics of healthy housing:
      • affordability
      • adaptability
      • viability for the construction industry
      • marketability

Note that there is no period at the end of the list.


Use the serial (or Oxford) comma. Place a comma before the “and” in a list of more than two items:

  • …the SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC.


  • The em dash (—) sets off a word or phrase that interrupts the flow of a sentence, like an example or clarification. There is no space before or after an em dash.
    • The productsthe news release, speech, and media linesstill require editing.
  • The en dash (–) joins numbers, like a span of page numbers, ages, or years. There is no space before or after an en dash (unless it is used as a graphic element).
    • In 20182020
    • Pages 510

Quotation marks

  • Place commas and periods within closing quotation marks, whether or not they were included in the original material:
    • In keeping with President Fox’s notion of NAFTA-plus,” Ambassador de Madero called for a shared commitment to North America’s future.”
  • Place colons and semicolons outside quotation marks:
    • Louis rushed to the North Pod when he heard the screams of help, help”; unfortunately, he said, it was too late”: the files were deleted.


Separate sentences by one space.

Numbers, dates, and times

Spell out single-digit numbers. Use figures for numbers 10 or higher. Never begin a sentence with a figure.

Percent sign

As a rule, write out percentages. You should use the % sign in these circumstances:

  • in tables
  • in parentheses
  • in a document containing many statistics, for clarity and readability


Acceptable formats:

  • August 29, 2011 (not August 29th 2011)
  • August 2011 (not August, 2011)
  • 1990s (not 1990’s)
  • 2000-2011 (not 2000-11)


In English, write out times in 12-hour format, with a.m. or p.m. after the hours and minutes:

  • 4:30 p.m. (not 4:30pm or 4:30PM)

In French, write out times in 24-hour format, with an “h” and spaces between the hours and the minutes:

  • 16 h
  • 9 h 30


  • When referring to Canadian dollars in English, place the $ directly before the amount.
    • $10
  • When referring to Canadian dollars in French, place the $ after the amount, separated by a space.
    • 10 $
  • If you are referring to various countries in a document, you need to specify which currency you are using.
    • CAN$10 (or CAD 10 in finance)
    • US$10 (or 10 USD in finance)
  • When referring to U.S. dollars in French, use “$ US” after the amount, separated by a space.
    • 10 $ US

Printed correspondence

All Policy Horizons correspondence uses the “Arial” font (12pt). You can find letter templates (depending on the audience) on the shared Policy Horizons drive.


List of commonly misspelt words

Our goal is consistency, both with our overall works, and with Government of Canada websites and resources. The recommended spelling authority is a reliable Canadian dictionary, such as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. When in doubt, please verify. Use the following spellings:


ad hoc (no italic)


benefited, benefiting (one “t”)


cooperate, cooperation
coordinate, coordination
counsellor (someone who advises or counsels)
councillor (someone who belongs to a council)
customs union (with an s)






focusing, focussed
fora (plural of forum)
freshwater (one word)






-ize, -ization, -izing


licence (noun), license (verb)
life course








policy maker
policy making (noun), policy-making (adjective)
practice (noun), practise (verb)




smart glasses


under way




Always verify and use the official spelling of organizations, individuals, books, articles, etc. For instance:

  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Place names

In Canada, most municipalities have only one official name. For instance, Montréal and Québec City keep their accents in English. However, the province of Quebec has no accent in English.

81 Canadian place names have official names in both French and English. For a full list, refer to The Canadian Style.

Terminology lexicon

For definitions of terms commonly used by Policy Horizons, refer to the Policy Horizons glossary.

Citations and references

Use Endnotes. Do not use Footnotes.

Most Policy Horizons Canada documents use Endnotes rather than a Bibliography. Examples of Endnotes are listed below. Please refer to the Chicago Manual of Style for examples of Bibliography entries.


Nancy White, Web site Design (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2004), 13.

Articles from edited volumes

Robert Judge, “Risky Business,” in Policy Making in the New Millennium, ed. Michael Bates (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada), 128-167.

Periodical and journal articles

Stuart Sykes, “Towards a Definition of Social Cohesion,” Canadian Public Policy March, no. 24 (2006): 23-24.

Rachel A. Bay et al., “Predicting Responses to Contemporary Environmental Change Using Evolutionary Response Architectures,” American Naturalist 189, no. 5 (May 2017): 465, https://doi.org/10.1086/691233.

Newspapers and magazines

Jean-Guy Desgagné, “G8 Summit Moved to Ottawa to Coincide with National Policy Research Conference,” Ottawa Citizen, June 8, 2004.


Louis-Philippe Gascon, “All You Ever Wanted to Know about the HRSDC Intranet but Were Afraid to Ask” (lecture, Canadian Centre for Management Development, Ottawa, ON, February 18, 2006).


Jean-Pierre Voyer (title, department, organization) in conversation with the author, December 7, 2005.

Legislative documents

Acts, regulations and legal notices are published in federal and provincial government gazettes:

The Canada Gazette. Part II. Vol. 125, No. 1 (2 January 1991)–Vol. 125, No. 17 (14 August 1991).

Web, blogs, and social media


“WD2000: Visual Basic Macro to Assign Clipboard Text to a String Variable”, revision 1.3, Microsoft Help and Support, last modified November 23, 2019, http://support.microsoft.com/kb212730.

“Privacy Policy,” Privacy & Terms, Google, last modified September 20, 2019, https://www.google.com/policies/privacy/.

“About Us”, Policy Horizons Canada, accessed September 18, 2019, https://horizons.gc.ca/en/about-us/.

McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy Safety Facts”, McDonald’s Corporation, accessed July 19, 2008, http://www.mcdonalds.com/corp/about/factsheets.html.

CivicPlus Content Management System. n.d. City of Ithaca, New York (website). Accessed April 6, 2016. http://www.cityofithaca.org/.


Melissa Beck, “Discovery and Insight: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges”, The Bookbinder’s Daughter (blog), February 4, 2020, https://thebookbindersdaughter.com/.

Social Media

Citations of content shared through social media can usually be limited to the text (as in the “Text” example below). Add a more formal citation in Endnotes if desired.


Barack Obama expressed concern about extreme weather events in Australia. “The catastrophic fires in Australia are the latest example of the very real and very urgent consequences of climate change,” (@BarackObama, January 9, 2020).



Barack Obama (@BarackObama), “The catastrophic fires in Australia are the latest example of the very real and very urgent consequences of climate change,” Twitter, January 9, 2020, https://twitter.com/BarackObama/status/1215377738858663937


Justin Trudeau (@justinpjtrudeau), “Great to have the team back in Ottawa – here’s to another year of hope and hard work!”, Instagram photo, January 22, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/B7pbkgGANeJ/.


Bob Dylan, “’Blood on the Tracks’ was released on this day 45 years ago. Shop the Anniversary Collection”, Facebook, January 20, 2020, http://bit.ly/38gazXi.

When writing weak signals or other content, please use proper attribution for source material. Please use quotation marks when directly quoting from a source, and attribute it to its owner. This will ensure that our material looks professional and respects other people’s work.

Writing guidelines

Writing for a general audience

  • Respect the word count limits provided.
  • Use plain language; avoid technical jargon and slang.
  • Communicate one central idea/takeaway per section.
  • Make the content easy to read. You may need to organize your thoughts to build on complexity.
  • Title/Headline: Make it simple and concise. Alternatively, you can use a creative or catchy title to entice your reader to continue reading, as long as it’s clear and does not confuse the flow of the document.
  • If your point can’t be understood by someone in the 8th grade, explain it.
  • Be clear with your calls to action.
  • If there’s a central takeaway in your writing (“increased driving results in higher rates of obesity”), repeat the point/argument in several ways throughout the document to increase recall and keep your user thinking about what they’ve read.
  • Add (or propose) images that help your reader recall the content by tying them to the topic.

Blogging guidelines

A good blog is informative, friendly, and opinionated. It should tell the reader something concrete. The guidelines above (Writing for a general audience) apply to blogs, in addition to the following guidelines:

  • Try to keep your blog posts to no more than 300 words, especially as almost half of our readers are on mobile platforms.
  • When possible, write in the first person.
  • Use plain language and a conversational style. Avoid technical jargon and slang. If you must use technical terms, define them.
  • Link the content in the body; very few people scroll to the bottom for more links and sources.
  • Depending on the topic, don’t be afraid to write about feelings; people relate to vulnerability and the acknowledgement of difficulty, not perfection.
  • Have a conclusion: Wrap up the article with a call to action, your “a-ha moment”, or a question that will keep your user thinking about what they’ve just read.

Clarity and consistency

The most important guideline to follow is consistency. Be consistent in the writing styles you choose to implement in your writing to create a coherently written piece. Remember to write for your audience.