“Style to be good must be clear. Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary.”
I have recently concluded that this website requires a style guide; one which will take effect immediately, and will be available to view for everyone. Much of this is inspired by the Guardian/ Observer style guide. These are simply guides, not rules, which I feel are important for writing consistency.
Abbreviations and acronyms
Do not use full points in abbreviations, or spaces between initials, including those in proper names: IMF, mph, eg, 4am, M&S, No 10, AN Wilson, WH Smith, etc.
Use all capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters (an initialism): BBC, CEO, US, VAT, etc; if it is an acronym (pronounced as a word) spell out with initial capital, eg Nasa, Nato, Unicef, unless it can be considered to have entered the language as an everyday word, such as awol, laser and, more recently, asbo, pin number and sim card. Note that pdf and plc are lowercase.
If an abbreviation or acronym is to be used more than once in a piece, put it in brackets at first mention: so Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), seasonal affective disorder (Sad); alternatively, use the abbreviation with a brief description, eg the conservation charity the RSPB. If an organisation is mentioned only once, it is not necessary to give its abbreviation or acronym.
Cap up single letters in such expressions as C-list, F-word, “the word assassin contains four Ss”, etc
When writing the full name of legislation (eg. Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015), uppercase “A” will be used. Also, in reference to “the Act”, uppercase will also be used, so as to distinguish between legislation and an incident (eg. “he was caught in the act”, versus “under the Act”).
Use for both male and female actors; do not use actress except when in name of award, eg Oscar for best actress. The Guardian’s view is that actress comes into the same category as authoress, comedienne, manageress, “lady doctor”, “male nurse” and similar obsolete terms that date from a time when professions were largely the preserve of one sex (usually men). As Whoopi Goldberg put it in an interview with the paper: “An actress can only play a woman. I’m an actor – I can play anything.”
There is normally no need to differentiate between the sexes – and if there is, the words male and female are perfectly adequate: Lady Gaga won a Brit in 2010 for best international female artist, not artiste, chanteuse, or songstress.
As always, use common sense: a piece about the late film director Carlo Ponti was edited to say that in his early career he was “already a man with a good eye for pretty actors … ” As the readers’ editor pointed out in the subsequent clarification: “This was one of those occasions when the word ‘actresses’ might have been used”
In both occasions, the year will precede the distinguisher if required. Eg. 64AD, 347BC. AD and BC will only be used when required, particularly if using historical data or information that precedes the first millennia. Thus, 1066 will be written as such, whilst 985AD will be written so.
“The Cameron administration”
All right vs Alright
“I got on alright”, versus “I got them all right”
Discovered by Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s disease is not the actual title of the disease; lower case “d” as opposed to Alzheimer’s Disease.
The same applies to Parkinson’s disease. Both can be abbreviated to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
When referring to legislation, up-cap “a”. Eg. “He made an amendment”, versus “under the Second Amendment”. The difference lies in the name, I could table an amendment to a Bill, for instance.
America and Americans
Is a general term used for identifying citizens of the USA. However, it also refers to South America, so this should be clarified if necessary.
Follow US spellings for proper nouns, eg Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, Labor Day, One World Trade Center, Ann Arbor, Pearl Harbor
Take care: “University of X” is not the same as “X University”; most states have two large public universities, eg University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, University of Illinois and Illinois State University, etc.
Do not call Johns Hopkins University “John Hopkins” or Stanford University “Stamford”
Anarchism with a uppercase “A” refers to the school of political philosophy. Anarchy is that state in which there is an absence of any higher authority, such as a monarch or government.
Using “anarchism” with a lowercase “a” refers to the belief of an individual in seeking anarchy. For instance, “he was prone to anarchism.”
I can study Anarchism, within which are anarchist schools of thought. However, I as a person may be drawn towards the school of Anarchism, because I am an anarchist seeking anarchy through anarchic measures.
In short, Anarchism is a noun to describe a school of thought; anarchy is a noun to identify a stateless society; an anarchist is a person who believes in anarchy, or a branch of Anarchism; and anarchic is an adjective to describe actions or behaviours.
On this latter point, do not use the word “anarchical” to replace “anarchic”.
Antichrist, Anticlimax, Antisemitic, Antisocial, Antidote, Antithesis, etc.
Widely accepted spelling, and receives higher Google hits.
Most widely used form.
Hyphen used due to conflicting vowels.
Anymore or any more
Anymore has time context. Eg. “I cannot do this anymore.”
Any more used when dealing with numbers. Eg. “I cannot eat any more chicken.” Or “I cannot eat any more.”
Used to indicate a missing letter or letters (can’t, we’d) or a possessive (David’s book).
Don’t let anyone tell you that apostrophes don’t matter and we would be better off without them. Consider these four phrases, each of which means something different:
my sister’s friend’s books (refers to one sister and her friend).
my sister’s friends’ books (one sister with lots of friends).
my sisters’ friend’s books (more than one sister, and their friend).
my sisters’ friends’ books (more than one sister, and their friends).
Possessives ending in “s” should be followed with an apostrophe, not an “s”. Eg. Mephistopheles’, Waters’, Hedges’, Jones’ rather than Mephistopheles’s, Waters’s, Hedges’s, Jones’s.
Plural nouns that do not end in S take an apostrophe and S in the possessive: children’s games, old folk’s home, people’s republic, etc.
Phrases such as butcher’s knife, collector’s item, cow’s milk, goat’s cheese, pig’s blood, hangman’s noose, writer’s cramp, etc are treated as singular.
Use apostrophes in phrases such as two days’ time, 12 years’ imprisonment and six weeks’ holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) – if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day’s time, one month pregnant.
Proper names that contain an apostrophe stay the same in the possessive: McDonald’s burgers may be delicious but Sainsbury’s are just as good.
Apple vs apple
Former refers to the company, the latter the fruit.
April Fools’ Day
Not All Fools’ Day. Nor is it April Fool’s Day.
Arrows are shot, rather than fired; and if they hit the centre of the target, it is a gold rather than a bullseye.
Archetype or stereotype?
An archetype is a perfect or typical specimen, an original model or pattern, or prototype.
A stereotype is based on simplistic generalisations about a particular group. So the matriarch in a typical Woody Allen film might be described as a stereotypical, not archetypal, Jewish mother.
Armed forces ranks
Use as abbreviated below on first mention, then just surname, eg Col Tommy Smith, thereafter Smith.
Army: Gen, Lt Gen, Maj Gen, Brig, Col, Lt Col, Maj, Capt, Lt, 2Lt, OCdt, WOI, WOII, SSgt, CSgt, Sgt, CoH, L/CoH, Cpl, Bdr, L/Cpl, L/Bdr, Pte
Navy: Adm, V-Adm, R Adm, Capt, Cmdr, Lt Cmdr, Lt, SLt, Mid, OCdt, WOI, WOII, CPO, PO, LH, AB, Mne
RAF: Gp Capt, Wg Cmdr, Sqn Ldr, Flt Lt, Fg Off, Plt Off, MAcr, WO, Ft Sgt, Ch Tech, Sgt, Cpl, Jr Tech, L/Cpl, SAC, LAC, AC
Do not abbreviate: Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet, Commodore, Marshal of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal, Air Marshal, Air Vice-Marshal, Air Commodore
Noun – to receive a financial bailout
Verb – I need to bail out; millions are required to bail out [country]
Bank of England
Bank of Scotland
Bank of Ireland
BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4
is no longer BBC News 24
BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 Extra, 5 Live, 6 Music
Not so-called, or “bedroom tax” – it’s the bedroom tax
begs the question
Use “raises the question” when leading from a statement. Eg. “She always walks down to the store in the morning, which raises the question: where was she yesterday morning, if not at the store?”
Begs the question means claiming a conclusion to be true.
Is in England
Between X and X
Not “between 15-20” or “between 15 to 20”. Use “and.”
Avoid. This is a confusing term for many. Use “every fortnight”, “every other year”, “twice a year”, etc.
When referring to the Bible, up-cap.
Up-cap when referring to the dawn of creation
Up-cap Bill when referring to the name of a piece of legislation. Eg. “the Bill stated”.
Birthplace, birthright, birthrate
Unless referring to the Bishop of [Region], lower-cap. Eg. “He is a bishop”, versus “he is the Bishop of…”
Never state “blacks”, always say “black people/ persons”
Use a period followed by a single space. Also, when using quotation marks, place the period within the quotations. Eg. “That’s what she said.”
Use % symbol if the figure is within a sentence. Eg. “Of those survey, 50% said…” Due to the demographic of readers, % is an easier way of drawing the eye.
However, if starting a sentence, use the full number and the word “percent”. Eg. “Sixty two percent of voters…”
Spell out numbers one to nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 to 999,999. After that, use m, bn, or tn for money, quantities, or inanimate objects. Eg. “£1tn”, “30bn vaccinations”.
For people and animals, spell out million, billion, or trillion.
Headlines always use m, bn, or tn.
For numbers above 9999, place a comma after the first two numbers as required. Eg. 10,650; 789,000.
It’s easy to be hoodwinked by big numbers in particular. But are they really so big? Compared with what? And what is being assumed? A government announcement of an extra £Xm a year will look far less impressive if divided by 60 million (the British population) and/or 52 (weeks in the year). That’s quite apart from the fact that it was probably trumpeted last week already, as part of another, bigger number.
Never invent a big figure when a small one will do. Totting jail sentences together (“the six men were jailed for a total of 87 years”) is meaningless as well as irritating. Similarly, saying that something has an area the size of 150 football pitches, or is “eight times the size of Wales”, is cliched and may not be helpful.
Here is an easy three-point guide to sidestepping common “mythematics” traps:
1. Be careful in conversions, don’t muddle metric and imperial, or linear, square and cubic measures. Square miles and miles square are constantly confused: an area 10 miles square is 10 miles by 10 miles, which equals 100 square miles.
2. Be extremely wary of (or don’t bother) converting changes in temperature; you run the risk of confusing absolute and relative temperatures, eg while a temperature of 2C is about the same as 36F, a temperature change of 2C corresponds to a change of about 4F.
3. When calculating percentages, beware the “rose by/fell by X%” construction: an increase from 3% to 5% is a 2 percentage point increase or a 2-point increase, not a 2% increase
Government and Parliament
Up-cap when stating the name of the institution. Eg. the Scottish Government, the UK Parliament, and so forth. Also, when referring back to these institutions, up-cap. “it is believed the Government will…” Importantly, remember to use “the” when writing about political institutions. Do not say “he was too close to Government”, use “he was too close to the Government.”
Lower-cap these words if speaking about government or parliament generally. Eg. “A system of government.” This will usually be used in political theory contexts.
Use ” ” not ‘ ‘. When writing “”I do not know what to say,” said Mr. Carn” place the comma inside the quotation marks, followed by the name of the person making the statement.