Pen and the Pan Style Guide

While we value your unique voice and perspective, following these basic writing tips as you craft your work will help us maintain a baseline of consistency among the chapters.



• Commas are placed after the last item in a list (for example: Apples, oranges, and pears…)

• Commas are placed between two long independent clauses joined by conjunctions (and, but, so, or), but not between short independent clauses (The apple looked tasty but I didn’t eat it.).


• Semicolons are used instead of commas for lists that follow a colon ( Prepare yourself for the conference by taking: a large binder with color tabs; a black dryerase pen; energy drinks.)

• Semicolons are used to join two complete sentences, where the second sentence is a result of the first sentence (for example: The book was so good that I finished it in four hours; hopefully I will find another book by that author soon.)

Em Dash (—), En Dash (–) & hyphens (-)

• Em dashes have no spaces, and are used for emphasizing a non-essential phrase (eg.: The book I read this summer—Harry Potter—was a big disappointment.)

• En dashes have spaces before and after, and are used to show the relationship of one thing to another (5 – 6 people)

• Hyphens have no spaces, and are used to connect adjective words ( able-bodied, two-year-old boy)


• Any list longer than 3 items will be turned into bullet points, or numbered points

• A comma will be placed at the end of each list item, and the word ‘and’ at the second to last point, with a period at the last point.  For example:

o Apples,

o Oranges,

o Pears, and

o Grapes.

• A semicolon will be used at the end of each listed item for list items that are long

• Focusing on issues that will help all British Columbians achieve their goals;

• A period will be used in list items that are complete sentences


That or Which?

• ‘That’ is used when the connecting phrase is essential (the sentence won’t make sense without it); No comma with ‘that’ (I took the apple that was on the counter and ate it.)

• ‘Which’ is used when the connecting phrase is just an extra description (if you take it out, the sentence still makes sense).

Always use a comma with ‘which’ (for example: I ate the apple, which was very tasty, and threw the core in my garden.)


• Capitalize proper nouns only ( I saw Doctor Joyce on the street.)

• The first word in all sub-headings is capitalised, but the rest of the words are lowercase

• All major words are capitalized in top-level headings


• For non-news writing, numbers are always written out. When using Associated Press (AP) style, numbers 1-12 are written out (one through twelve).  Above twelve, they are written numerically, unless at the beginning of a sentence (For example,  Twenty-three people voted on the project).


• Dates are always written with the month spelled out, a space followed by the day written numerically, followed by a space, and then the year: October 13, 1977


Dialog can be tricky but no worries.  Just follow the tips in these two following documents to get your dialog cleaned up in a snap.

Punctuation of Dialog, Part 1

Punctuation of Dialog, Part 2

If you’d like more in-depth non-fiction style advice, refer to The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Struck, E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web fame), and Roger Angell.  The Pen In The Pan credits Lerning2Grow as a resource for it’s style guide.

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