Content/Writing Guide | Style Guide

Part A: Content/Writing Guide

1. If you are doing a long form piece (length > 800 words) send your piece with subheadings.

2. Authors may recommend their title for the story.

3. ALWAYS name the people you are writing about

Name people when you first refer to them; do not refer to them in designation only, letting the readers wonder who they are. I.e., the ‘Commissioner said this or that’, or the ‘Secretary passed this order’ is not OK. ‘The Commissioner P Rangarajan defended the municipal council’s decision…’, is better. Name the actor(s). The only exception to this is when credible people/sources release critical information to you only under conditions of anonymity, because if you did name them, their job/life may be put in danger. When you cite such a source, tell the reader that the person spoke to you under conditions of anonymity. We don’t want to force the reader to guess. Whenever a source quotes statistics (for eg: infant mortality rate in the sate is 35%) ask them their source/reference for the same. If they have computed it, ask them how they did so. Otherwise, we will not be able to use those statistics in the article. Whenever you talk to officials at corporates or public agenices or at events, ensure you are talking the person authorised to speak on that matter first. If the person is authorised to speak and cannot be quoted, that’s a separate matter of request for anonymity. If the person is not authorised to speak at all, and we quote him/her, the organisation may quickly distance itself from the person or press him to change his quote after the story goes live. If we know a person is highly placed, and he is willing to put his name on record, then we need tell them upfront that they will be named, so that they don’t revise their stance (under pressure) later

4. Introducing people

When you first mention someone in a report, introduce the person, his/her designation and why s/he is relevant to that part of your report. Don’t make the reader wonder about who the person is, unless it is a Manmohan Singh or A B Vajpayee.Spellings of names of people, espcially government officials, use the govt websites or govt sources to verify this. Best route: get the name from the source itself on how they spell in. Initials in names need not be marked with dots. James T Morris will work, not James T. Morris

5. Referring to people after first full name mention

In general refer to men by their last name throughout the article, after introducing them with their full name. For example, for the first time, you might say Subbu Vincent said this or that. After that, you can just report Vincent said this or that. Do not use Subbu. In case of initialed names like K Vishwanathan, use “Vishwanathan” In the case of women, use first name, for example, “Satyavathi Hegde …” . Later on it would be “Satyavathi added …”Exceptions a) the person does not use a full name at all b) definitely uses an initialed name, like M Sankar, where Sankar is the only way to address him c) other strong cultural or demographic reasons the last name won’t workUsage of names is not easy to resolve and we have arrived at this convention after a lot of deliberation.

6. Legislators (MPs, MLAs, Councillors)

If you make a note about an elected official, include the party affiliation and constituency immediately after the first reference. For example, S.Yediyurappa (BJP)

7. Introducing organisations

Likewise, when you first mention an organisation, do not abbreviate it. Write the full name, and put the abbreviation in brackets and introduce to the organisation to the reader so that the reader understands why the writer is telling her/him aboudt the group in that part of the article.

8. Active voice mostly

Active voice narrates action better and pins down the actor cleanly.For example: Avoid “A one-day workshop was organised to understand Sakrama” Switch to “Indiranagar Residents association organised a one-day workshop…”Use passive voice only when a deliberate shift of emphasis is needed. For example, “R.K Mishra was voted by the viewers…” The emphasis here is on the winner, by intent.

9. Avoid long quotations from sources

Quotes are key to news reports. However, avoid extended quotes. Convert most of what a source (official, citizen, expert, whoever) told you into indirect speech and report only key parts in quotes. This way you can cleanup redundancy that is natural in people-talk and unnecessary in reporting. Readers are learning from your reporting, and not necessarily interested in a long lecture from a figure masquerading as quotes in the article. It is enough to paraphrase what the person said accurately and quote a key line or two per instance.Likewise if you are quoting from quotes or reports in the print/other media. Use fewer direct quotes and paraphrase the rest.Exceptions exist, as always. When referring to specific text such a law, a ruling, or some legalistic reference for direct purposes in the article, quoting a entire block of text verbatim does make sense.

10. Sending us pictures

When you send us a pic, remember to send us a caption and credit for the pic. Merely sending a pic forces us to get in touch with you for the caption/credit and that is one extra email-cycle, and lost time.If your article is the type that could really do with a picture and you do not have a pic to send us, make sure you check online for a public-domain creditable pic, before giving up. A Google search on the subject may lead to you to pictures for which you may be able to get permissions. Some pictures are directly usable with credits to the source website/organisations. Some require an explicit emailed request to check with source. Either way, if you do this during the editorial review, we will all save time and be able publish your article with a pic.Note: No digital modification of images is allowed beyond digital enhancement (like colour correction or cropping)Graphics (charts and tables) must use information from authoritative sourcesPlease ensure that your pictures are relevant, of good quality and of high resolution. We prefer pictures to be sent as attachments, rather than embedded in the article itself. You may mention where the picture needs to be introduced in the text, by saying Pic 1, 2 etc in brackets.

11. Providing extra information links for papers and research you have cited

If you are citing external research, papers, working papers, surveys, or other published work in your article, make sure you check to see if there is an online version of the material. If there is, send us the links. Our preference is to put this link on the story itself, after verification. Many NGOs, educational institutions and research bodies in India have their own websites and put up their study reports there.

Part B: Style Guide

1. Use English/UK English, do not use American English. (Set your word processor to UK English). E.g. organise is spelt with an ‘s’, not as in ‘organize’.

2.  Abbreviations

  • It is alright to abbreviate the names of institutions once they have been introduced in full. For example, the first reference to Sonia Gandhi might be “Sonia Gandhi, Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh,” but subsequent references can simply say “MP”.
  • Do not abbreviate words simply because their abbreviated form might be well understood by the readers. For example, always write “government” and not “govt.”
  • Referring to the United States: USA or United States or the US when used in noun form. US or American in the adjective form.
  • Skip expanding known abbreviations
    • BBMP
    • BWSSB
    • BDA
    • BMTC
    • BESCOM
  • Other than words on the exempt list no other acronyms or abbreviations are allowed in the headline.

3. Apostrophe

  • Make sure that you’re not confusing the possessive with the contraction. It’s is short for ‘it is’, and it indicates belonging, as in “I now understand its value”.

Do a spell check and readability check. Keep a look out for common misspellings like loose vs lose.

4. Inverted commas

  • Use single ones only for quotations within quotations. Thus: “When I say ‘immediately’, I mean some time before April,” said the spokesman.
  • If an extract ends with a full stop or question-mark, put the punctuation before the closing inverted commas. His maxim was that “love follows laughter.” In this spirit came his opening gambit: “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?”

5. Brackets (or parantheses)

  • Be sure to include a space before the opening braces and after the ending braces. For example: All lawmakers (both MPs and MLAs) must obey the law.
  • Avoid extensive usage of text in brackets, i.e. through the article. If you are anyway meaning to elaborate through use of brackets, use hyphens “-” instead. Too many parantheses in news articles tend to be reader-unfriendly.

6. Use full stop after abbreviations. For example: abbr., adj., co. – but not after contractions – for example: Dr, Mr, Mrs, St, where the first few and last few word are used. E.g. Doctor

7. Figures

  • Never start a sentence with a figure: write the numbers in word instead.
  • Use words for simple numerals from one to ten inclusive, except: in references to pages, in percentages (eg, 4%); and in sets of numerals some of which are higher than ten. Use the symbol % in headlines, copies and tables. However, for describing an increase in %, for example, from 3% to 5%, use the term 2 percentage point increase. Expand the ‘%’ symbol in the words to say ‘percentage’.
  • Always use numbers with units of measurement, even or those less than ten. For example: 4 metres, but four cows
  • It is occasionally permissible to use words rather than numbers when referring to a rough or rhetorical figure. For example: a thousand curses, a hundred years of solitude. In other cases, though, uses figures for numerals from 11 upwards.

8. DATE – month, day, year in that order, with no commas:

  • July 5th
  • Monday July 5th
  • July 5th 2005
  • July 27th – August 3rd 2005
  • July 2002
  • 1996-99
  • 2002-05
  • 1998-2003
  • 1990s
  • June 10th and 14th
  • December 14th and 25th

9. Capitalisation

Government functionaries by designation – small letters

  • chief minister
  • prime minister
  • governor
  • municipal commissioner
  • police commissioner
  • Government/Institutions name
  • Lokayukta
  • Supreme Court
  • Prime Minister’s Office
  • High Court
  • Government functionaries referred to individually in name and designation
  • Commissioner of Police Shankar Bidari
  • Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph

10. Italicisation

  • Italicise all names of publications, books, movie names, plays, operas, ballets, radio and television progammes
  • No need to italicise words popular English-Indian words like Guru, Pandit, Tulsi
  • Names of ships, aircraft, spacecraft should be italicised .
  • Lawsuits, foreign words and phrases should also be italicised.

11. Legislators (MPs, MLAs, Councillors)- names of constituencies needed

12. AM and PM should be in lower case, with no period between them.

  • WRONG: 6 a.m; 6 A.M.
  • RIGHT: 6 am, 10 pm

13. Usage of short forms:

– Short forms like i.e, etc, viz, and e.g should be used only in brackets, and should be spelled out as ‘that is’, ‘and so on’, namely’ and ‘for example’ respectively in text.

14. Credit should be given for any line or sentence picked up from other sources.

15. An informative line relating to the photograph should be used as photo caption instead of stating the obvious except when required. For eg: a mug shot or when the focus of the photo is not clear.

16. Updating article post publication could be done within 24 hours. However, for any factual error a note should be mentioned below the article indicating the correction with an (*)

17.  If prominent people say grammatically incorrect sentences in any kind of verbal interview, it should be corrected.  If the information is given through a mail or in any written form it should be published as the same using (sic). However, for any statements related to the constitution or courts (sic) should be used.

18. Embedded quotes should be avoided. Quotes can be put either at the starting or the end of a paragraph.

Note: The Economist and India Together style guide were referred to for some segments of Citizen Matters style guide.