Policy{hyphen, space, nothing}making


in M.Phil thesis, Writing

One minor hiccough regarding the thesis has been cropping up continuously of late. One of my key terms has a trio of possible forms, each of which has a certain appeal and a certain problem:

  1. Policy making
  2. Policy-making
  3. Policymaking

I think all three are acceptable English, and my preference vacillates between the three based on the context in which the word is used. When it is being used as the subject of a sentence, the two word version seems more natural: “Consideration of framing issues is important for those involved in policy making.” When it is modifying a noun, either the conglomerated or hyphenated version seems better: “The policymaking process is fraught with uncertainties.”

I should, however, choose a single form to use in the entire thesis, and do so before I need to wade through too many tens of thousands of words and footnotes to set the standard. Preferences, anyone?

I am working on developing presentation standards for the whole thesis. I am told Oxford has some rules of its own, but I am not sure where to find them.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 27, 2007 at 4:50 pm

Another quick note on the use of language. There has been a progression in the general terminology used by people in the M.Phil program to refer to the thesis. ‘My thesis’ became ‘the thesis’ as it began to loom with a singular largeness only properly captured by the definite article. From there, we became sufficiently bitter and embroiled in British English to start calling it ‘the bloody thesis.’

Anon February 27, 2007 at 5:47 pm

Veto Policymaking

This is English, not German!

Tristan Laing February 27, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Youre camera might be stuck in macro mode.

Ben February 27, 2007 at 11:57 pm

If you use the phrase a lot, don’t use two words every time – go with 2 or 3 for strategic reasons…

Milan February 28, 2007 at 12:06 am


What do you mean?

As a means to deal with the word limit?

Ben February 28, 2007 at 9:37 am

Yes, if you use the phrase 100 times, then using 1 will mean 100 extra words.

Milan February 28, 2007 at 6:08 pm

I am going to take the compromise position: policy-making in all cases. Microsoft Word counts it as a single word, and it serves decently in the two different contexts identified above.

I am also going with policy-makers, decision-makers, and decision-making.

Milan March 1, 2007 at 9:43 pm

I have added the relevant regulations and guidelines to my thesis stylesheet.

Pippa March 5, 2007 at 5:51 pm

The UN uses policy-making, to make it clear what is being made.

According to our style guide, hyphens are used for:
1. prefixes (non-, ex-, self- etc)
2. when the next word starts with a vowel (e.g. semi-intensive rather than semiintensive);
3. to distinguish between words – e.g. re-count as opposed to recount a tale…;
4. when the next word begins with a capital letter e.g. sub-Saharan, inter-American.
5. to avoid confusion in compound adjectival expressions e.g. light-blue coat, man-eating tiger

This can change the sense – e.g. thirty-odd participants, compared to thirty odd participants!

No hyphen for:
1. adverbs e.g. readily available data;
2. Expressions coming from a proper name – the New York government administration, Latin American telecom operators;
3. Habit!! per diem allowance, versus laissez-faire policy.

You’ve chosen the one we use, anyway!

Milan March 14, 2007 at 10:44 pm


Interesting to know. I tend to devise my own conventions for each project. For something as considerable and important as the thesis, it seems to be worth the effort.

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