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  • Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Delicate pastel-coloured Indigenous dot painting

    Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology reflects the culture and beliefs of First Nations Australians.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs, and these understandings vary between groups.

    Currently, there are more than 500 different communities or nations across Australia and, in 2019, more than 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were being spoken at home.

    While non-Indigenous writers and editors can find it difficult to identify appropriate terminology, it’s important to know there’s no single culture in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and communities.

    What’s defined as appropriate usage depends on the preferences of different groups of people.

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology is based on my 14 years experience in educational publishing. It also includes research from Reconciliation Australia, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Common Ground.

    I was privileged to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia when I was researching my Masters of Education thesis, and throughout my publishing career.

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology was last updated on 11 July 2021.

    Aborigine or Aboriginal

    Aborigine is a noun meaning one of the first inhabitants of a country.

    However, in Australia the term ‘Aborigine’ is increasingly considered outdated and inappropriate because it has racist connotations from Australia’s colonial past.

    Many Aboriginal people have called for the word to be dropped. 

    Some publications, such as The Australian newspaper, still use this term, but it’s best not to join them.

    Aboriginal is an adjective that  people sometimes use as a noun.

    It’s appropriate to use terms such as Aboriginal person, Aboriginal people and Aboriginal community.

    You can call an Aboriginal person an Aboriginal, but keep in mind that it isn’t yet accepted by the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology


    The ‘Welcome to Country’ is not formally an acknowledgement and can be found further down this A–Z page.

    Welcome to Country is delivered by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples; whereas, the following acknowledgements can be delivered by them as well as non-Indigenous people.

    Indigenous painting of a circle for Guidelines for Indigenous Australian terminology

    Acknowledgement of Country

    The ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is delivered to show respect for the Traditional Owners and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their connection to the land you are living and working on.

    It’s usually delivered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or other formal occasion. The acknowledgement can be adapted for printing in books and on websites, as shown in ‘Other acknowledgements’.

    For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, ‘country’ means more than owning land or being connected to it.

    In the words of Professor Mick Dodson, it means the “values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations” associated with the area being acknowledged.

    There is no set protocol or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, but Reconciliation Australia recommends the two following versions.

    General: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.

    Specific: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the (people) of the (nation) and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

    Other acknowledgements

    To include an Acknowledgement of Country in a printed document such as a book, report, or website and email, Creative Spirits recommends the following practices.

    In printed publications, if possible, place the acknowledgement in a significant place on the inside front cover. 

    For websites and emails place a more concise acknowledgement that references your business or organisations’ respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which you live and work.


    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ beliefs should never be referred to as ‘myth’, ‘folklore’ or ‘legend’.

    Black, blackfella

    Don’t call a First Nations person a Black. You might hear them using the term among themselves, but don’t use it yourself.

    Many of them consider it highly offensive when a non-Indigenous person uses this term. Colonial books were littered with these references.

    Blackfella is another informal term used among First Nations peoples but, again, it’s not appropriate for non-Indigenous people to use this word – even if they’re a whitefella.

    You may have heard Black and blackfella used in friendly ways by First Nations peoples, but context is everything. 

    Be aware that our inferences can miss nuances we can’t see, or aren’t aware of, as non-Indigenous people.

    Copyright problems for First Nations stories

    First Nations peoples’ Dreaming stories and teachings have been told by word-of-mouth for thousands of years. 

    Some of these stories are sacred and fiercely guarded. They are stories that connect the people to their community, their land and their survival.

    Modern copyright laws don’t protect oral First Nations peoples’ stories from being rewritten or retold inappropriately or even inaccurately.

    There is no legal requirement to obtain consent to publish a story owned by a community.

    The takeaway here is not to rewrite or retell First Nations peoples’ stories without prior consent from the community that owns the story.

    If you don’t know anybody from the community, seek advice from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or one of their representative organisations.

    Indigenous drawing of a kangaroo


    ‘Dreaming’ can refer to a system of spiritual beliefs and is capitalised when used in this way. 

    ‘Dreamtime’ is diminishing in use, as it is believed to refer to the past.

    First nations

    First Nations is always capitalised. It refers to the collective of individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations within Australia.

    It is also used when referring to some of those nations.

    First Nations languages

    Words and names from First Nations’ languages are Australian languages. Don’t italicise them as you would foreign words and names.

    First Peoples/First Nations Australians

    The name First Peoples is preferred to the term ‘Indigenous people’.

    ‘First Nations Australians’ is used as a synonym for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    However, due to the diversity within these two groups, any use of specific terminology should be discussed with the communities concerned.

    Indigenous and non-Indigenous people

    Be aware that referring to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples as Indigenous isn’t okay with everybody.

    Many people and organisations accept it as a broad term synonymous with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    The federal government has also embedded the term into its policies and literature.

    Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, regularly also uses the ‘Indigenous’.

    But not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are happy to be referred to as Indigenous.

    For a long time, ‘Indigenous’ was a scientific term used to categorise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the fauna and flora of Australia.

    People who aren’t Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders are referred to as non-Indigenous.

    Replace ‘Indigenous’ with First Nations Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Indigenous content warnings – how to write them

    Bereavement practices (also known as ‘sorry business’) vary between communities, but there is a common rule that first names, images and voice recordings of deceased First Nation’s peoples are not permitted to be seen or heard.

    The practice is very old and is based on the belief that saying a dead person’s first name, seeing their image or hearing their voice after death would recall and disturb their spirit.

    This can be challenging if you work in publishing because it can be difficult, for example, to determine whether any deceased people are in a group photo included in a book, magazine or article.

    In these situations, we should do our best to ensure all people depicted in an image or recorded in an audio are living.

    Permission can be sought from the deceased person’s family to publish their name, image or voice.

    Because it can be difficult to confirm whether people have passed away, we insert an ‘Indigenous warning’ at the front of written and recorded content such as books, journals, online articles, video recordings and television shows.

    Particular care should be taken to use appropriate First Nations peoples’ terminology in an Indigenous warning.


    Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

    – AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies)

    WARNING: Readers are notified that this publication may contain names or images of deceased persons.

    – ANU Press

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images, names and voices of deceased persons.

    – Australian Government, Anzac Portal

    Indigenous drawing of two turtles


    There are hundreds of First Nations languages and many are still in use today.

     Languages that are not currently in use are referred to as ‘sleeping’ not ‘extinct’.

    Leaders or Elders?

    A leader is not an Elder.

    Take care not to nominate somebody who is speaking to you on behalf of others in their community as a leader.

    Also, don’t assume that an elderly First Nations’ person is an Elder.

    In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Elders are not powerful or privileged.

    They’re people who are held in high esteem and respected within their families or communities.

    Elders are often referred to in their communities as Aunty or Uncle.

    While hundreds of different groups, communities, organisations and nations live in Australia, there isn’t one person who speaks on behalf of them all. 

    Local names for people from particular regions across Australia

    When writing about a specific group, it’s more respectful to use their nation, community or island name.

    The Guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology advises you to check with a local group or organisation before using the following terms. 

    Anangu are people from South-West Central Australia – the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Nyangatjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra Nations.

    Koorie are people from NSW and Victoria, and some parts of Tasmania.

    Murrie are people from Queensland and some parts of NSW.

    Nunga are people from the southern region of South Australia.

    Noongar are people from the South-West region of WA.

    Palawa are people from Tasmania.

    People or peoples

    The most appropriate term to use for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    It’s peoples because it’s two nations of people.

    Don’t assume that all First Nations peoples living in Australia are Aboriginal, and that you can use that term when referring specifically to mainland people. In the 2011 Census, 52,616 people living in Australia identified as being of Torres Strait Islander origin.

    Do not abbreviate to ATSI or TSI. Always write these in full.

    Don’t use ‘Australian Indigenous peoples’ or ‘our Aboriginal peoples’ as both imply ownership.

    I use the term Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples. It’s a lengthy term if repeated more than once in a paragraph, but it’s the appropriate way to refer to First Nations Australians.

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Using appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    First Nations languages

    Aboriginal person/people

    Torres Strait Islander person/people

    Creation/Dreaming stories

    First Nations peoples


    Aboriginal nations

    language groups

    First Nations Australians

    the Dreaming/s


    First Nations

    gone missing (not walkabout)

    Aboriginal communities

    Stolen Generation 

    Traditional Owner 




    legends (Torres Strait Islander People only)

    Welcome to Country

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been welcoming visitors to Country for thousands of years.

    The welcome is delivered by Traditional Owners or First Nations peoples who have permission from the Traditional Owners.

    It is delivered at the beginning of formal events and can be a speech, smoking ceremony, song or a dance.

    References and links

    Arts Council of Australia – Protocols for producing Indigenous Australian writing

    Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies – Ethical publishing guidelines

     Australians Together –  Language and Terminology Guide

    Reconciliation Australia –Share our pride

    The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) website

     Guidance on communication with First Nations peoples – AIATSIS Ethical Research Guidelines

    A note from me

    If you’d like to contribute to these Guidelines on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology, or discuss any of the topics here, please don’t hesitate to contact me on the button below. 

    The Australian Government Style Manual has recently been updated with a new section on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. If you’re writing for a government department, the terminology in the style manual is mandatory.

    You might also be interested in reading How to make your writing more powerful.

    Last updated 10 July 2021.

    Textshop respectfully acknowledges the past and present Traditional Custodians of this land, and respects their culture and identity, which have been intrinsically connected to the land and sea for thousands of years. 

  • Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    Hands on laptop typing Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    ✼ By Sharon Lapkin

    Have you noticed that online news sites and mainstream media regularly hyphenate adverbs ending in ly? 

    Even our national broadcaster, the ABC, is inserting hyphens where they don’t belong. 

    From ‘newly-minted’ to ‘hotly-anticipated’ and ‘locally-acquired’, our useful little line (-) is being overplayed and overworked. Can you see the problem here? 

    If our news outlets hyphenate adverbs ending in ly, then it becomes commonplace. Students, teachers, writers and others start copying the trend and, before you know it, a lot of people think it’s correct.

    We rely on our media to get it right, and when they slip up it’s not just a betrayal of correct grammar and punctuation, but of every reader who incorporates that error into their own writing because they think ‘If the ABC does it, I should too.’

    Brown gingham strip of fabric
    Middle-aged man looking at his mobile to see if he needs a hyphen in the adverb ending in ly.

    But I like my hyphen

    Some grammarians call it a hypercorrection. The Australian Government Style Manual simply says don’t do it.

    What they’re referring to is the practice of inserting a hyphen between an adverb ending in ly and the participle that follows it – ending in ‘ed’ or ‘ing’.

    The Chicago Manual of Style applies this rule to both adverbs and participles:

    ‘Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun.’

    But why can't I write that my cat is 'visually-impaired'?

    The purpose of hyphenation is to increase clarity. Inserting a hyphen where it’s not needed is like adding an exclamation mark when there’s no interjection or exclamation. It’s not an oversight, it’s an error.

    Following are examples of adverbs ending in ly that don’t require hyphens. Notice the words following the adverbs are either participles or adjectives.

    – the rapidly declining number

    – a badly worded sentence

    – a fully loaded syringe

    – the terrifyingly large dog

    – most heavily populated city

    – a closely watched procedure

    – it was about locally acquired Covid-19

    – a newly minted necklace

    – the dimly lit library

    – the highly regarded professor

    – John’s barely worn suit

    – a rarely used car

    What about 'ly' words that aren't adverbs?

    Not all words ending in ly are adverbs and for these words the no-hyphen rule doesn’t apply.

    For example:

    – a family-oriented workplace

    – their only-begotten child

    – supply-side economics.

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    What is a hyphen and what does it do?

    Hyphens connect parts of words (such as pre, non, re and co) or whole words to form new words or compound words.

    So you might use a hyphen to connect ‘co’ to ‘conspirator’ and create ‘co-conspirator’.

    However, words evolve over time and hyphens sometimes become redundant as the prefix and word merge into one.

    For example: co-ordinate eventually became ‘coordinate’.

    To check if you need to insert a hyphen, consult a good online dictionary for current usage.

    Hyphens are also used to connect the words that form compound nouns, verbs and adjectives.

    For example: 

    – I took Apollo to the pet-friendly cafe.

    – The well-known actor was in a built-for-purpose boat.

    – The six-year-old boy was eating a lentil burger.

    Remember that some compounds revert to singular words if the sentence is restructured, and there’s no need for hyphens.

    For example:

    – The cafe was pet friendly.

    – The boy, who was six years old, was eating a lentil burger.

    A hyphen and two types of dashes

    A hyphen is only used to connect parts of words or whole words.

    When it comes to connecting groups of words, such as phrases, sentences and paragraphs, we use either en dashes or em dashes.

    An en dash is half the width of the font height and an em dash is the same width as the font height.

    En dashes are also used to connect words of equal value.

    For example:

    South–East Asia,  Guillain–Barre syndrome, the Melbourne–Sydney flight

    To connect groups of words the current editorial style is spaced en dashes.

    Use un-spaced en dashes in number spans such as 2019–2021 and 11–19 years of age.

    Em dashes are rarely used, but can be utilised for some of the same purposes as en dashes.

    A popular use of the en dash is to replace commas around non-essential information within sentences.

    For example: 

    The annual general meeting  – originally planned for Tuesday – went ahead on Friday, but arrangements were made for it to be run online.

    Brown gingham strip of fabric

    Tips about adverbs ending in ly

    If you don’t have time to check grammar and punctuation rules every time you write, then follow these simple rules:

    Don’t insert a hyphen after a word ending in ly unless you’re positive it’s not an adverb.


    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper observing how to edit like an expert

    Remember we don’t hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Only use hyphens inside individual words or compounds.

    You can read more about hyphens in 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    A note from me

    At Textshop, we’re obsessed about good grammar and punctuation. Understanding grammar is an essential skill if you want quality online content.

    You can seriously damage your brand by publishing content with errors. And there’s no need for you to take that risk when you have an editor available to copyedit or proofread your content before you share it with others.

    Click the button below to schedule a chat with Sharon.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • 9 common errors every writer should know about

    Woman reacting with shock to common errors every writer should know about

    9 common errors every writer should know about

    By Sharon Lakin

    Hitting the wrong key can explain away a typo, but using the wrong word can damage your credibility as a writer.

    Here are nine common errors every writer should know about.

    Unfortunately, I come across them regularly in my work as a professional editor.

    You’ll find explanations and examples to help you use the correct words from here forth!

    1. Do I use 'I' or 'me'?

    This is one of the most common errors in English usage.

    TIP – A pronoun is a word used instead of a noun. For example – using she instead of the name, Louise.

    RULE – If the pronoun is the object of the sentence, then use I – otherwise, use me.

    EXAMPLE – Could you join Louise and me for dinner?

    TEST  How do I tell if the example above is correct? Simple. Take Louise out of the sentence and it reads – Could you join me for dinner? It wouldn’t have worked as ‘Could you join I for dinner would it? That’s because I is never the object of a sentence.

    2. Who or that

    Another common mistake is using who when that should be used – and vice versa. It’s an easy error to make, but once I demonstrate why it’s wrong you won’t do it again.

    If we’re writing about a person such as your sister, a teacher or any other human, then you would not use that.

    We use who when we’re writing about a human.

    Remember who = human.

    EXAMPLE  The actor, who was my sister’s friend, said he would help raise money.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the actor a human or an object?

    If we’re writing about an object, such as a car, tree or office building, then who is not the word you should be using. 

    We use that when we’re talking about an object.

    Remember that = object.

    EXAMPLE – The car was a bright colour that I loved.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the car a human or an object?

    Ready for more common errors every writer should know about? Great! Keep going.

    3. Between or among

    The general rule is that between is used when comparing two distinct items, people or events.

    EXAMPLE – Two days elapsed between his arrival and his departure.

    TEST – How many days elapsed? Two? Good.

    The rule is that among is used when there are more than two people,  items or events.

    EXAMPLE – The choice was made from among four qualified candidates.

    TEST – Were there more than two candidates?

    4. Affect or effect

    These two words function both as nouns and as verbs. They’re also commonly confused because they’re so similar.

    To simplify matters there’s a simple rule of thumb that can be used to avoid most errors.

    Affect as a verb has two meanings.

    The more common use of affect is to exert an influence, have impact or bring about change through an action.

    EXAMPLE – Rising interest rates affected the company’s bottom line.

    In other words, the rise in interest rates had an impact on the financial position of the company.

    The second meaning of affect is to simulate or fake an attitude or behaviour.

    EXAMPLE – For this particular role, the actor affected an Oxbridge accent.

    By contrast, you should generally use effect with an e as a noun to signify the thing that was impacted, influenced or changed.

    Returning to our example we used above, we would say ‘the company’s lower profits are the effect of increased interest rates.’

    5. Practice or practise

    Don’t let the US  spellings confuse you. Americans use practice as both a noun and a verb.

    U.S. EXAMPLE – Doctor James practices medicine at his medical practice in New York.

    In Australia and the UK there are different spellings for the noun and the verb.

    AUSTRALIAN EXAMPLE – Doctor James practises medicine at his medical practice on Phillip Island.

    Practice is a noun and practise is a verb.

    6. Using i.e. and e.g.

    Both i.e. and e.g. are Latin abbreviations that are often confused.

    We write i.e. to mean that is.

    EXAMPLE – I am a vegetarian, i.e. I do not eat meat.

    By contrast e.g. means for example.

    EXAMPLE – Citrus comes in many forms, e.g. oranges, lemons and limes.

    Note: These two abbreviations are not generally used in sentences, but are used in tables, captions and brackets.

    7. Insure, assure or ensure

    These three words have one thing in common, but they’re not interchangeable.

    What is it that they all share? It’s ‘making an outcome sure’.

    To insure means to guarantee against harm or loss.

    EXAMPLE – My partner and I will insure our house.

    To assure means to earnestly declare or promise something.

    EXAMPLE – I assure you she’s going to arrive on time.

    To ensure means to make sure or certain something will come.

    EXAMPLEEnsure the papers are posted please.

    8. Compliment or complement

     It’s surprising how often you see these two words written incorrectly.

    It’s probably more accurate to say that some people use compliment to mean both compliment and complement. 

    Let me explain the difference between the two.

    Compliment is a commonly used word that is used as both a noun and a verb. It can be used as an expression of praise, and also to praise or express admiration for somebody.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – Penny paid me a compliment when she said my hair looked nice.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – Nick complimented the chef on the meal.

    On the other hand, complement means something else that completes something, or makes it perfect.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – My mother used complementary medicine for her allergy.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – The two colours complement each other.

    9. En dash or hyphen

    This is one of my bugbears.

    If you want your writing to look truly professional, learn the difference between a hyphen and an en dash.

    There are three types of strokes and dashes – hyphens (-), en dashes (–) and em dashes (––). Let’s forget the em dash because it’s rarely used these days.

    A hyphen is a short stroke that’s used within words that are divided.

    EXAMPLE – My ex-husband was wearing a suit.

    A hyphen is also used between words that make up compounds.

    EXAMPLE – Her manager asked for a one-on-one chat.

    Note: Over time hyphenated words become established and the hyphen can disappear.

    EXAMPLE – We used to write co-ordinate, but now we write coordinate.

    En dashes are the length of an N and are also versatile punctuation marks. They’re used in the following examples in text.

    En dashes are used in number spans in numerals, time and distance.


    The date was 13–15 May this year.

    Kate arrived at 5–5.30 pm.

    The road was about 20–25 kilometres long.

    En dashes are also used to demonstrate an association between words that retain their separate entities.


    They performed a cost–benefit analysis.

    He was holidaying in the Asia–Pacific.

    You can use a set of en dashes in sentences to replace the commas around non-essential clauses.


    The street was closed – which seemed strange – so I took a shortcut through the park.

    That’s it, all nine of them! It wasn’t a conclusive list of common errors every writer should know about, but it was a good start!

    Where to go for extra help

    Dictionaries offer great guidance on grammar and sentence structure.

    The Macquarie Dictionary is used by publishers, newspapers, magazines and journals  across Australia. They also have a great blog.

    The Australian Government Style Manual has the most recent styles and usages, as well as comprehensive explanations.

    If you’re after an American style guide, you can’t go past the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Are you done with common errors every writer should know about?

    We hope this list will be useful in your writing.

    You might also enjoy reading Which is that pronoun.

    Have an annual report coming up? Read our 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me if Textshop Content Writing Services can help you with your writing or editing.