This is based on the BBC guide – online at: www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/news-style-guide – and x-many years’ experience at the Yorkshire Post , where the style guide seemed to be in either the chief sub editor’s memory or their imagination.
Dictionary – www.oxforddictionaries.com/. Please avoid Americanisms, but spelling using ‘z’ rather than ‘s’ in words such as ‘emphasize’ is acceptable and US English spellings of participles are also acceptable.
Biographical details, information about other publications and work, links to appropriate sites and similar references will be included within reason.
Please keep spelling consistent – either with American English or British English.
Please try to avoid idiom, colloquialism, humour and too much sarcasm, so that those who do not have English as their first language are not deterred from reading your work.
Also, for the same reason, please keep sentences simple. Try to avoid having more than one sub-clause per sentence. Please try to structure your wording so that the relationships between nouns and pronouns are as clear as possible.
Titles: Please use these where they are appropriate. Use ‘Mr, Mrs, Ms’ in place of first names if you want to but first name and surname otherwise. If you cite someone because of their role, that should go first; if it helps establish credibility it should be second. So: ‘Union president Fred Smith said …’ or Fred Smith, president of the union, said … ‘.
Organisations should be named in full (where an international readership may be in the least unfamiliar with initials) the first time they are mentioned, with the abbreviation – which may be used thereafter – in brackets.
‘Parent’ organisations should be capped up, but internal divisions should not wherever possible – such as: ‘The board of the International Megalomaniac Media Corporation …’.
Don’t use full stops between the initials.
Acronyms are abbreviations pronounced as words – and should only carry an upper case initial, such as ‘Bectu’.
‘And’ and ampersands
‘And’ should be used instead of the ampersand (&), except in registered company names when the company uses it.
Apostrophes indicate either that something belongs to another word in the sentence (possession) or that a letter/letters are missing (omission/contraction). The rules are:
If you are describing more than one MP or MSP, use a lower case ‘s’ with no apostrophe – MPs, MSPs. Try to avoid abbreviations such as ‘it’s’ or ‘we’re’, for example.
Try wherever possible to reflect the practice in the place you are writing about – being as vague or specific as you or the context requires. If you want a generic expression for ‘non-white’ then use ‘black and minority ethnic’ (BME) where appropriate.
Lists should begin with colons. Most word processing software will automatically ‘cap up’ the first letters after bullets into upper case. Please try to cancel this.
Each bullet point should end with a semi-colon and the last should end with a full stop.
Try to avoid capping up as much as possible. Job titles apart from senior governmental roles should be lower case.
- To start sentences
- Proper nouns or names – Nottingham, Jane Smith
- Titles when they form part of a person’s name – Sir David Anybody, Lord Somebody
- Cap up titles, but not job description, eg President Barack Obama (but the US president, Barack Obama, and Obama on subsequent mention); the Duke of Westminster (the duke at second mention); Pope Francis but the pope.
- Government ministries and departments, agencies and employers – Newsquest, Department for Culture, Media and Sport
- Acts of parliament when written in full – Official Secrets Act
- House of Commons, House of Lords (not parliament)
- Political parties – Labour Party, Conservative Party, Plaid Cymru.
Do not use:
- Committees – national executive committee, House of Commons public accounts committee
- References to organisations after they have been named – the union, the department, the agency
- The government and parliament
- Political movements – socialism, fascism – unless they form part of the name of a political party
- References to parliamentary acts (the act) or when speaking in general terms (‘There are rumours of a new communications bill ’). Parliamentary bills are lower case until they become acts (i.e. they are passed into law)
- Negotiating issues – pay, pensions, terms and conditions
- Non-national or continental ethnicities – white, black (but Chinese, Asian)
- Areas of the country that are not counties – south-west, the north, east London
- For internet, email, website.
- Compass points are not capped up (ie north, south, east, west). Areas of the country that are not counties are not capped: the north, east London. Compound nouns (eg: south-west) are usually hyphenated and lower case.
Use ‘disabled people’ rather than ‘people with disabilities’
Avoid offensive terms and those that depersonalise disabled people, such as ‘the blind’, ‘the deaf’, ‘the disabled’.
People are not confined to wheelchairs or wheelchair-bound, they are wheelchair users. And a disabled toilet is no good to anyone; an accessible toilet is.
Gender: Try to avoid gender-specific words unless they are true. A male can be a chairman; a woman cannot. Chairs, per se, are for sitting on.
Spokespeople are plural a spokesperson is singular. PRs should not be named or identified, but executives or others ‘speaking on behalf of’ an organization should be.
Less and fewer
Fewer is for things you count, and less is for things you don’t count.
Spell out numbers one to nine. After that it’s 10, 11, 12 up to 999,999. Exceptions are: when describing a range, e.g. ‘one-to-fifty’.
When writing currency, e.g. £4.50; when a number starts a sentence, e.g. ‘Thirty years ago’; and percentages.
Use m or bn for sums of money and quantities – £10m, 5bn tonnes.
Use million or billion for people – 30 million people.
Per cent (two words) in body copy, please.
Percentages always take numbers – even when they are fewer or less than 10
Percentages always take a number e.g. 8 per cent not eight%.
Check all use of percentages carefully. An increase from 100 to 300 is a 200% rise; but the final total is 300% of what it was.
An increase from 2% to 5% is a rise of three percentage points, not of 3%.
Date style is March 24, 2016. Try to avoid being specific unless the exact date is vital.
Put dates in this order: day number, month year, with no commas or abbreviations – 31 March 2015.
Punctuation in general
No double spaces between sentences.
- After full stops and commas, etc, use a single space – it is no longer necessary to use double spaces
- Avoid exclamation marks!
In customary book, rather than newspaper or magazine style, single quotation marks should be used – with ‘double quotes’ inside the relevant section if necessary.
Full stops and commas should go inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the point comes outside – ‘Anna said: “’Your style guide needs updating,” and I said: “I agree”.’ But: ‘Anna said updating the guide was “a difficult and time-consuming task”.’
When beginning a quote with a sentence fragment that is followed by a full sentence, punctuate according to the final part of the quote, eg the minister called the allegations “blatant lies. But in a position such as mine, it is only to be expected.”
Colons, rather than commas, should introduce quotes.
Semi-colons still have a purpose. Do not be afraid to use them. However, do try to avoid sentences that are too complex. Setting a sub-clause limit of one per sentence has much to commend it – as does making sure that sub-clauses are appropriately punctuated, so that meanings are clear.
Singular and plural
Treat collective nouns – companies, governments and other bodies – as singular. There are some exceptions:
- Family, couple or pair, where using the singular can sound odd
- Sports teams – although they are singular in their role as business concerns (eg: Arsenal has declared an increase in profits)
- Rock/pop groups
- The police, as in Police say they are looking for three men. But individual forces are singular (eg The Metropolitan Police says there is no need to panic).
Please make verbs agree in number: Hundreds of people do not get into a car. They may each get into a car or they may get into cars. This is not grammatical pedantry but journalistic accuracy.
OTHER IMPORTANT POINTS
Prepositions should not be doubled-up and, wherever possible, should be avoided. We still meet others, rather than ‘meet with’. Similarly, half the population may be affected, rather than half of the population.
Tenses: Please avoid the present tense and ‘now’. Is ‘now’ when research was carried out, when a report was written, when it was submitted or when it was published? Be specific in the body of a sentence – such as: ‘In June 1960, Ebenezer Goodbody wrote that …’. This should be sufficient for someone to find the reference if they want to.
Such as: Please spell out ‘for example’ or ‘for instance’ rather than use ‘eg’ or ‘ie’. Avoid ‘etc’ and ‘etcetera’ in favour of ‘and so on’. As far as similarities or comparisons are concerned, only use ‘like’ if the entities are genuinely alike, otherwise use ‘such as’. Numbers are rarely ‘over’ anything – except when accompanied by grocers’ apostrophes on market stall signs. Quantities are ‘more than’. Numbers do not grow or shrink or go up or down; they increase or decrease.
Word order: Please think about this carefully. We doubt, as one report famously said, that: ‘Fred Smith was today convicted of sex offences at the Old Bailey.’ The conviction may have been at the Bailey but the offences were probably committed somewhere else.