dashes (sometimes referred to as ‘en’ rules and ‘em’ dashes)

See also Hyphens

Use dashes sparingly to explain or add emphasis. Too many dashes can be jarring for the reader. Where you notice this is a problem, replace dashes with other punctuation such as commas, brackets, or semicolons.

  • A spaced short dash can be used in place of a colon to indicate that what follows is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes it, eg See our website for the latest information - links are at the bottom of each page. (What precedes the dash must be a complete sentence. What follows it may be a sentence, a phrase, or single word.)
  • Use spaced short dashes to draw more attention to the enclosed phrase than a pair of commas, eg With its large number of students - many of them international - Oxford is both vibrant and cosmopolitan.

Print only

  • A short dash is used, in print, to stand for ‘to’ or ‘and’, eg 2010-15 and The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. When used in this way, use without spaces either side.
  • Em dashes (a longer dash) in the past were used to function as brackets but the convention is now to use spaced short dashes.
  • Em dashes can be used in print to indicate a deliberate blank, eg Mr T— left the building at 1.00 pm.

Web only

  • Use normal dashes ‘-’ instead of en/em dashes, as not all browsers cope with the latter.
  • For date spans, use to instead of a hyphen as screen readers do not handle the dash well (sometimes interpreting it as a minus sign).


  • Write out dates in the form of: 26 January 2025 (with no ‘th’ or ‘st’ following the number).
  • For decades use figures but no apostrophes, so 1850s (not 1850’s).
  • Write centuries in figures, eg the 19th century.
  • Hyphenate the century when used as an adjective, eg 20th-century art.

Print only

  • For academic or financial years use a forward slash, eg 1998/99.
  • For time spans, use a dash, eg 2005-15.

Web only

  • For date and time spans use to instead of a hyphen as screen readers don’t handle hyphens or dashes well (sometimes interpreting it as a minus sign) eg 2005 to 2015. Unless you are preceding a time span with between, in which case write between 8am and 11am.
  • For academic and financial years use to instead of a forward-slash. Again, this is because the forward-slash is not handled well by screen reading software eg financial year ending April 2015 to financial year ending April 2016.

degree classifications

  • 2.1, 2.2, first-class honours
  • Honours to be referred to within a general sentence. If part of a degree title, it should be written upper case eg Engineering BSc (Hons). Include a space between the subject title and ‘(Hons)’.


(diploma of higher education)


(Department for Education)

disability language

  • It is important to avoid characterising disabled people as a homogenous group. Use disabled people, disabled students not expressions that depersonalise such as ‘the disabled’.
  • Use inclusive language when describing facilities, eg accessible toilets rather than 'disabled toilets' and powered access doors rather than 'disabled doors'.
  • Use non-disabled rather than able-bodied.
  • Don’t use terms such as ‘falling on deaf ears’. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of terms that are outdated and which you should avoid using to prevent causing offence.
  • When using ‘SpLD’ write out in full first time, eg
    Our specialist services for dyslexia and specific learning difficulties (SpLD) are here to offer help when you need it.

discriminatory language/ diversity

The Equalities Act 2010 underpins our duty as a university to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people across the University.

When preparing communications:

  • avoid using language and terms which treat people as a homogenous group (such as drawing undue attention to age, disability, ethnic backgrounds, racial identities or gender)
  • avoid generalisations based on race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

See also entries on
Ageist terms
Disability language
Gender bias