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English Translation Style Guide for EU – Writing English – LISTS, SCIENCE GUIDE, FOOTNOTES, CITATIONS AND REFERENCES

English Translation Style Guide for EU


Use automatic numbering wherever possible, since it is much easier to amend a list if the numbers are automatically adjusted.

For the list items themselves, take care that each is a grammatically correct continuation of the introduction to the list. Do not change syntactical horses in midstream, for example by switching from noun to verb. Avoid running the sentence on after the list of points, either by incorporating the final phrase in the introductory sentence or by starting a new sentence.

When translating lists, always use the same type of numbering as in the original, e.g. Arabic numerals, small letters, Roman numerals, etc. If the original has bullets or dashes, use these. However, you need not use the same punctuation (points, brackets, etc.) for list numbers, and indeed should not do so if they would otherwise look the same as numbered headings elsewhere in the text.

The four basic types of list are illustrated below. In multi-level lists, follow the same rules for each level.

Lists of short items (without main verbs) should be introduced by a full sentence and have the following features:

  • introductory colon
  • no initial capitals
  • no punctuation (very short items) or comma after each item
  • a full stop at the end.

Where each item completes the introductory sentence, you should:

  • begin with the introductory colon;
  • label each item with the appropriate bullet, number or letter;
  • end each item with a semicolon;
  • close with a full stop.

If all items are complete statements without a grammatical link to the introductory sentence, proceed as follows:
a. introduce the list with a colon;
b. label each item with the appropriate bullet, number or letter;
c. start each item with a lowercase letter;
d. end each one with a semicolon;
e. put a full stop at the end.

If any one item consists of several complete sentences, announce the list with a complete sentence and continue as indicated below:

  • 1) Introduce the list with a colon.
  • 2) Label each item with the appropriate bullet, number or letter.
  • 3) Begin each item with a capital letter.
  • 4) End each statement with a full stop. This allows several sentences to be included under a single item without throwing punctuation into confusion.


Biological sciences. As the binomial system for classifying living organisms is used in all languages, it is normally sufficient to reproduce the original terms. Note that the initial letter of the scientific name is capitalised, while species epithets are always lowercased, even if derived from proper names (e.g. Martes americana, Pusa sibirica). The names of genera and species are always italicised. Practice varies for the names of higher taxonomic ranks, but the trend is towards italicising them too:

  • ORDER: Rosales > Carnivora
  • FAMILY: Rosaceae > Felidae
  • GENUS: Rosa > Felis
  • SPECIES: Rosa moschata > Felis catus

In zoology, the names of subspecies are also italicised: Felis silvestris bieti. In botany, the names of taxons below the rank of species are also italicised, but the rank itself is indicated by an unitalicised abbreviation: Acanthocalycium klimpelianum var. macranthum. The recommended abbreviations are ‘subsp.’ (rather than ‘ssp.’) for subspecies, ‘var.’ for ‘variety’, ‘subvar.’ for subvariety, ‘f.’ for ‘form’, and ‘subf.’ for ‘subform’. The name of a cultivar is placed in single quotation marks without italics, and the first letter of each word is capitalised: Camellia japonica ‘Ballet Dancer’.

Most text references are to genus or species (i.e. the name of the genus followed by an epithet). The genus name should be spelled out in full on first occurrence and subsequently abbreviated: Escherichia coli, abbreviated E. coli.

Non-technical usage. Some scientific plant names are identical with the vernacular name and of course should not be capitalised or italicised when used non-technically (e.g. ‘rhododendron growers’ but Rhododendron canadense).

Geology. Use initial capitals for formations (Old Red Sandstone; Eldon formation) and geological time units (Cenozoic; Tertiary period; Holocene) but not for the words era, period, etc.

Chemical compounds. Like chemical elements, the symbols for chemical compounds (i.e. chemical formulae) are interlingual: NaCl, H2O, C18H25NO, etc.

Sulphur/sulfur. Note that the spelling sulfur is preferred by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), but the Harmonised System and Combined Nomenclature (customs tariff nomenclatures) retain the sulph– forms. The correct spelling will therefore depend on the context.

Avoiding hyphenation. Current practice is to avoid hyphenation altogether, except between letters and numbers (see below). This applies both to prefixes (such as di, iso, tetra, tri: diisopropyl fluorophosphate, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) and other compound forms (benzeneethanol), where normal hyphenation rules would require a hyphen between the double vowels.

Closed and open compounds. When in doubt as to whether to close up constituents or not (ethyl alcohol, but ethylbenzene), follow the conventions used in Einecs (European inventory of existing commercial chemical substances ).

Using Einecs. You can use Einecs to search for a substance by name. Choose the source language (only English, French, German, or Spanish are available) and select the option in the left-hand box. If you cannot locate a substance, search for the head noun, i.e. the rightmost constituent of the string, followed by the attributive parts of the compound. Thus, lactate dehydrogenase is entered as Dehydrogenase, lactate.

Names containing numbers. Use hyphens to link numbers to letters in the names of chemical compounds (on both sides if the number is an infix). If there are several numbers in sequence, they are separated by commas. Examples: 2-pentanone; 1,2-dichloroethane; 2,2,3 3-tetrabromobutane.

Sentences beginning with numbers. If the first word in a sentence is a chemical compound that starts with a number, the first letter is capitalised:

  • 2-Pentanone is a compound obtainable from proprionic acid.

Common names. Most chemical compounds in widespread use have one or more common names besides their scientific name. Such common names or abbreviations of the scientific names are often used for brevity’s sake in scientific texts. For example, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid is more customarily known as edetic acid or abbreviated to EDTA. If translating, follow source document usage.


Footnote and endnote references. Use the automatic footnote function so that if you alter the order of footnotes, they will be renumbered automatically. Footnote/endnote references in text are usually given as superscript numerals without brackets following punctuation. However, to achieve uniformity across language versions, the Publications Office places footnote references in brackets before punctuation. Follow this practice when producing or translating texts destined for the Publications Office.

Positioning of footnote/endnote numbers referring to legislation. Put the footnote number immediately after the title of the instrument.

Punctuation in footnotes. In footnotes themselves, begin the text with a capital letter (exceptions being e.g., i.e. and p.) and end it with a full stop (whether the footnote is a single word, a phrase or one or more complete sentences).

Bibliographical citations. If authoring for an EU institution. If translating, follow the source document conventions.

Citations. Put titles of periodicals, books and newspapers in italics but cite titles of articles within such publications in single quotation marks. Use the English titles of publications where an official English version exists but do not translate titles of works that have appeared only in a foreign language.

Citing EU documents. Italicise the titles of white and green papers. Separate the main title and the subtitle, if any, with an em dash. Use initial capitals on the first and all significant words in the main title and on the first word in the subtitle. Launch straight into the italicised title: do not introduce it with ‘on’, ‘concerning’, ‘entitled’, etc.

  • In the White Paper Growth, Competitiveness, Employment — The challenges and ways forward into the twenty-first century, the Commission set out a strategy …
  • The White Paper Growth, Competitiveness, Employment was the first …
  • In Growth, Competitiveness, Employment, on the other hand, the Commission set in motion … [this form might work where the White Paper had already been mentioned, for example, or in an enumeration]
  • The Green Paper Towards Fair and Efficient Pricing in Transport — Policy options for internalising the external costs of transport in the European Union
  • The Green Paper on Innovation [‘Green Paper on’ is part of its title]

Do the same with the titles of other policy statements and the like that are published in their own right:

  • the communication An Industrial Competitiveness Policy for the European Union [published as Bull. Suppl. 3/94]
  • the communication Agenda 2000: For a stronger and wider Union [when the reference is to the title of the document, which was published in Bull. Suppl. 5/97; but of course we would probably say ‘an Agenda 2000 priority’ for example]

If a policy statement has a title, but has not as far as you know been published, put the title in inverted commas:

  • the communication ‘A European Strategy for Encouraging Local Development and Employment Initiatives’ [this appeared in OJ C 265 of 12 October 1995, and its title is cast like the title of a book, but it does not seem to have been published in its own right]

‘Communications’ that are not policy statements, such as the announcements which regularly appear in the Official Journal (OJ), get no italics, inverted commas, or special capitalisation:

  • the Commission communication in the framework of the implementation of Council Directive 89/686/EEC of 21 December 1989 in relation to personal protective equipment, as amended by Council Directives 93/68/EEC, 93/95/EEC and 96/58/EC [OJ C 180 of 14 June 1997]

Referring to parts of documents. When referring to parts of documents, use Part, Chapter, Section, etc. with capitals only if the parts are actually called that. If the parts only have a number or title, use an appropriate term in lower case, e.g. part, section or point, to refer to them or simply use the number or title, for example:

  • See [point] 6.4 below
  • See [the section on] The sexual life of the camel on page 21

Do not use a symbol such as a section mark (§, plural §§) unless the section referred to is itself marked by such a symbol (see also 16.28).

© European Union

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