The following is a brief guide to United Nations usage with regard to punctuation. It is not a comprehensive guide to the rules of punctuation in English. Works which may be consulted on the subject are listed in Sources of information/Print. Other sources include:
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition, appendix 11
G. V. Carey, Mind the Stop: A Brief Guide to Punctuation (Penguin, 1976)
Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves (London, Profile Books, 2003)
Note: For punctuation in quotations, see Editorial guidelines/Style/Quotations.
An apostrophe (’s or s’) is not used with an abbreviation or acronym, the name of a country, or the name of an organization, for example:
MONUSCO troops, the Government of Brazil, United Nations Headquarters, the United Nations position on disarmament, the World Health Organization vaccination campaigns
A colon is used to introduce a quotation or a text table.
The final comma before and is not normally used in United Nations documents. The practice is to write “organs, organizations and bodies”, not “organs, organizations, and bodies”; and “disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration”, not “disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration”.
The chief exception to this practice is in the resolutions of the principal organs. When a paragraph contains several distinct decisions of the organ in question, each introduced by a verb, these are separated by commas, for example:
The General Assembly,
33. Considers that it is essential that Member States pay more attention to the problem of collisions of space objects, calls for the continuation of national research on the question, also considers that information thereon should be provided to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, and agrees that international cooperation is needed to minimize the impact of space debris on future space missions.
In other texts, the final comma may sometimes have to be included for the sake of clarity, for instance in an enumeration comprising lengthy or complex elements.
… the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Health and Social Affairs
… the provision of nutritional programmes, education and literacy programmes, and health and social support programmes
In a sentence such as the following, eliminating the final comma may obscure the meaning:
The Panel of Experts also stressed the importance of the comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all armed factions, and of security sector reform.
Commas with “in particular”
A comma is not necessary after “in particular” if it would separate the phrase from the person or thing to which it applies.
... to prevent diversion of weapons to terrorist groups, in particular Al-Qaida
… the process of follow-up to the major summits and conferences in the economic and social fields, in particular the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the International Conference on Financing for Development, and the review of the progress achieved...
Commas in pairs
When a non-restrictive relative clause comes in the middle of a sentence, it is marked off by a comma at each end. It is also important to use commas in pairs in other parenthetical constructions:
Not "In article 4, paragraph 6 (a) of the Convention..."
But "In article 4, paragraph 6 (a), of the Convention..." [Note too that, in English, brackets are used in pairs "(a)", even where a single closing bracket is used in another language "a)".]
Not "The court, while preserving its independence should perform..."
But "The court, while preserving its independence, should perform..."
Not "... submit to the Committee for its information, a report on..."
But "... submit to the Committee, for its information, a report on..."
Not "At its 42nd meeting on 18 January 1996, the Committee had decided..."
But "At its 42nd meeting, on 18 January 1996, the Committee had decided..."
An en dash is used in ranges of numbers, dates and times:
2–4 per cent
23 May–1 June 2016 (but 23 and 24 May 2016)
An en dash, with a space before and after, is also used to express interruption in thought:
… its commitment to achieving sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – in a balanced and integrated manner
A spaced en dash is also used to separate a second subtitle in referenced works:
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2006: Beyond Scarcity – Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis (Basingstoke, United Kingdom, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
A semicolon is normally used at the end of a subparagraph, both in resolutions and in reports.
With bullets, the preferred style is no punctuation or a full stop.
For examples of the use of semicolons and bullets, see Editorial guidelines/Format/Paragraphs and subparagraphs and Basic documents/Resolutions and other formal decisions of United Nations organs.
Smart apostrophes and quotation marks
Directional (or smart) apostrophes and quotation marks, also called curly apostrophes and quotation marks, are used in documents and publications. Editors and text-processing staff should ensure that the correct punctuation mark (whether left- or right-facing) is used.