Despite the tone of this guide, none of it is prescriptive. We proof read articles and edit them before publication, but the closer you get to this style, the fewer edits will be required. Some of what follows is specific to formatting WordPress posts and may not be applicable to contributors sending us articles in text or email form. Try to follow the Economist’s style guide.
George Orwell had useful advice about writing well, which he summarised:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Recommended process for authors
Once completed, try to read your article from start to finish in one go as if you were a new reader.
Question each sentence; if you weren’t you, would you understand it and be entertained by it?
Send a copy of your story to any quotees before publication to make sure you haven’t introduced an unintended meaning.
If you use abbreviations, use the full name and abbreviation the first time it is mentioned, then the abbreviation alone :
Reading Borough Council (RBC) have done something. A spokesperson for RBC told the Whitley Pump “we have done something.”
Spell check your work before submission! Most browsers come with spellcheckers these days.
Don’t make unsubstantiated allegations about people or organisations. As a rough rule of thumb, a derogatory personal opinion is acceptable provided there isn’t any actual or implied allegation of criminal activity, or damage to someone’s reputation. For example, although it is not good copy to call someone a ‘tosser’ in print, this would probably be classed as common abuse because it doesn’t allege a criminal act, but even suggesting someone has filched money when there is no evidence would land us all in a heap of trouble if there was no evidence to support it. Allegations made without supporting evidence is slander (when spoken) and libel (when written) and can result in prosecution.
Use precedence; if you want to know how to present or say something, then find out how we did it before and use that as a template (unless you can think of an improvement!). Don’t be precious, either as an author or a reviewer. Leave your ego and the feelings of the author out of it; the post being written or reviewed may be read by hundreds of people and. if it’s no good, these readers are under no obligation to come back.
Self-expression and opinion
For most informational posts, article writing is not an exercise in self-expression. Keep opinion and factual information separate; put opinion in opinion articles and news in news articles. Opinion articles can be more loosely written than news.
Ruthlessly cut out any sentence or paragraph that doesn’t add anything useful. Why waste readers’ time with guff?
Check that all links work, and each opens in a new page rather than replacing the current one. Remember to categorise the post, and optionally schedule it for a future date or time.
There are news-type stories that don’t lend themselves to later scheduling. but feature-type articles often do. Experience thus far suggests that trying to keep one post a day, at about 09:00, seems to work well.
Change the status of the post to ‘Pending review’ and save it as pending. Unless there really is no-one else available to review the post before it must be published, an author should never publish their own work. An independent reviewer and proof reader offers significant added value to a piece. Contact a reviewer to ask them to do it if the post is urgent.
Each piece should be as short as possible, free of padding and purple prose, consistent with the goal of making the story accurate and entertaining. 500 words seems to be about the upper limit for a ‘simple’ article about one thing; 1000 words seems to be the upper limit for a more discursive piece. Break up longer articles into subsections, preferably with images.
The header paragraph (q.v. below) shouldn’t be more than 100 words long, and preferably much shorter.
Header photo 1 (optional)
Header paragraph 1 (mandatory)
<–more–> (mandatory if the story continues beyond 1st paragraph)
Paragraph 2… n (optional)
Photo 2… n (optional)
<– horizontal line–>
Links or references (optional)
This needs to be short as possible (fewer then 10 words) and attention grabbing. Use proper case for the start of sentences and proper nouns only. The Whitley Pump editorial team will probably do this, but the submitter’s offerings are exceedingly welcome.
This should be of something directly and obviously applicable to the story, but peripherally ornamental will do. If the photo is merely ornamental, or its subject is obvious, don’t include a caption.
A story with a photo is more visually interesting than one without.
Link to the attachment page unless it’s something like a logo when linking to the applicable URL would be better. In all cases, make sure the link opens in a new page.
Photos may require attribution; this is mandatory when the photo owner requests it.
The first paragraph is the summary of the entire story. It appears on post listings, such as on the website front page. The first few words also appear in Twitter posts.
Write one or two sentences explaining what, where and when (and who and why, if applicable). The sentences must be in an active voice (“X did this” not “this was done by X”), using as simple and concise an English as you can manage.
If the article continues beyond this point, a <–more–> line needs to be added here.
Paragraphs 2… n
Keep the English simple and easy to read, concise and grammatical, friendly and informative.
Err the side of a neutral voice, even a flat one. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon creativity, just use it very sparingly.
The style need not be literary; it needs to be in modern written (not spoken) English. Style restrictions on longer, discursive and more personal articles are applied more gently to allow greater variety and personality, but even then it is recommended to keep this style guide in mind, especially for the crucial opening paragraph.
(With a subsidiary clause) If you want to quote a chunk of text written elsewhere, use the block quotes.
(Without a subsidiary clause) : Use the block quotes if you want to quote a chunk of written text from elsewhere.
“You can quote speech if you’re really sure what was said,” said the author. “If not, it’s probably best to report a summarised version, as shown below.”
Use the active voice as much as you can.
(More passive voice) Speech can be quoted directly when the author is certain of what was said, but if this is not the case it may be better to summarise speech as shown here.
(More active voice) You can quote speech directly when you are certain of what was said. Summarised speech is better when this is not the case, as shown here.
In practice, spoken English is ungrammatical, repetitious and inaccurate, and it is acceptable to fix this (as minimally as possible) to make the quote clearer, even if that means you’re not actually quoting verbatim. You have to be careful you don’t make your quotee say something they didn’t actually say if you edit their quote.
You may equally annoy a quotee by exactly quoting them, but the differences between spoken and written English meant that the sense changes. Try to reduce the number of clauses :
If you structure sentences this way, you can break up the logical flow of your argument.
You can break up the logical flow of your argument if you structure your sentences that way.
Be especially careful about ambiguous references.
I gave the travellers some explosives and two pints of milk before they went off.
Remember not to Capitalise words just because they Look Important or to Emphasise them in the Manner you would when Talking. Reserve proper case for the start of sentences, proper nouns (names) and acronyms only.
If the ‘name’ is actually a description (such as “pedestrian area” or “ward”) then it’s probably not a proper noun. Don’t use sentence fragments or clichés. Be especially careful about sentence fragmentation in lists; it is easy to get lost, and then you lose readers also.
I introduce a list like this:
- the first element in the list looks OK on its own but no longer makes grammatical sense when read in continuation with the introduction,
- and then continue each element as a grammatical continuation of the introduction.
Keep yourself out of articles (avoid “told me” or “I said”). Don’t include your interview questions unless really necessary: the interviewee’s answer is usually sufficient. If you must include a “told me”, then consider a “told the Whitley Pump” construct instead.
Don’t show your working in an article. Although assertions may need to be evidence based, the references can be included at the bottom of the article .
Be very selective about using quotes, whether taken from speech or cut-and pasted from text. Only include what is required; don’t just dump a quote in verbatim because it’s easier.
It can be a good idea to break up a lengthy article with a picture, especially when changing subjects.
Optionally round off with something a bit special but not necessarily important. Some concluding remarks or a joke from the interviewee, an observation than links in with another story or something zeitgeisty that might provide a sense of satisfaction or completeness to a reader. ITV “News at Ten” was famous for its “and finally… ” section!
Photos 2… n
If there are many photos, or the photos are specifically about something and not ornamental, then they need individual captions.
We have limited disk space, so crop and resize photos before adding them to the WordPress media library.
I would like to thank … (etc).
Links (or “References”)
We list the links here if the story references other stuff on the web. Where references may not be linkable we add notes here which are referenced in the text (“” or “” etc) instead.
- Use this (optional) section to list highlighted links
- Make sure they all open in a new tab (which also applies to links in the body text above)
- Check they all work by using the preview option!
- Alternatively, use this section to show references that may not be hyperlinks