BindleSnitch Style Guide
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for TellusNewsDigest.com by Tabitha Farrar before we shelved that project and started BindleSnitch. Even though it is more than four years old, we think it’s a great summary of writing rules, so we are keeping it in BindleSnitch. TellusNewsDigest was specifically a news site so some of this advice might not apply to the free writing situation at BindleSnitch.)
The BindleSnitch Style Guide is a very compact, lightweight version of grammar and punctuation guideline. The contents of the style guide are constantly evolving and subject to change without notice. For a more complete and authoritative (and FREE) guideline, consult the Wikipedia Manual of Style.
Abbreviations and Acronyms
An abbreviation is a shorter version of a longer word or phrase that is usually a title of an individual, an organization or an artifact of some kind. Example: “The Fed” is an abbreviation of The Federal Reserve System. An acronym is a word made up of the initial letters of a longer title, sometimes with and sometimes without periods between the letters. Example: “USA” is an acronym for “United States of America.”
Unless they are very familiar, abbreviations or acronyms should not be used alone on first reference. Write out the whole name of the organization in the first instance and insert the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses after it. From that point on, use the shorter form. Example: The Federal Reserve System (FED).
Some acronyms require periods, especially when they can be mistaken for an English language word. Therefore, NASDAQ would not need punctuation, but the United Nations has to be the U.N., not UN. The United States has to be U.S., not US. Regardless of what the Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Style Guide think, the World Health Organization has to be W.H.O. not WHO. Some other authorities also disagree. Do not capitalize only the first letter of an acronym. This is also wrong because doing so makes the acronym into a word rather than an acronym. Inventing your own abbreviations and acronyms can be fun…if done carefully and rarely.
- Be aware that adjectives can imply a writer’s opinion.
- Example: He delivered a mediocre speech …
- This is not to say that you cannot do this, just be aware of it.
- Should be used to indicate possession. In the case of a proper noun that ends in “s,” use an apostrophe only. Example: James’ book.
- In the case of plural nouns, add apostrophe + s. Example: The Jones’s house.
- (There’s a difference of opinions here, with some authorities insisting that it should be “The Joneses’ house” but that just looks too wrong to us. In fact, they both look wrong to us.)
- There are, however, rare exceptions. When the plural is formed by changing a “y” to “ies” as from puppy to puppies, the possessive plural takes the form of the “s apostrophe: puppies’
- Do not use apostrophes for plurals of numbers. Example: 1970s. Not: 1960’s
- Apostrophes are of course used to create contractions. It’s = It is. Don’t = Do not.
- “Its” is a special case. “Its” is the possessive form meaning “belonging to it.” You do not need an apostrophe after “Its.” “It’s” means “It is.”
Brackets and Parentheses
- Brackets and parentheses should be used sparingly by news and feature writers, if at all. (They are frowned upon in classical journalism. I use them all the time.)
- Editors may insert brackets to place additional information in an article that they are perfecting.
- If a parenthetical comment ENDS with complete sentence, then the punctuation is included within the closing parenthesis:
- Example: Cereal is a breakfast item. (College students, however, have been known to eat cereal whenever it suits them.)
- If the parenthetical comment is not a complete sentence, then the punctuation belongs outside the parentheses:
- Example: People typically eat cereal for breakfast (rather than for dinner).
The following should be capitalized:
- Proper nouns
- Companies, institutions, and organizations
- Brand names
- Governmental entities
- Days of the week
- Months of the year
- Man-made structures
- Natural and human-made landmarks
- Streets and Roads
- Nationalities, Races and Tribes
- Planets (but not the sun, earth or moon)
- Hyphenated titles. Capitalize both parts.
- Corporate tiles (Company President Joe Blogs)
- Capitalize a person’s official title if it is placed immediately in front of their name without the article “the” preceding it.
- Example: President Barack Obama.
- Example: British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
- If a title is preceded by “the” or a modifier, it should be considered an adjective or a descriptive element. It is not capitalized in this circumstance.
- The president greeted the prime minister warmly.
- The exception to this rule is that some newspapers include the word “the” in their names: The New York Times
- Honorary titles (Professor, Ambassador) should be capitalized when placed in front of a name.
- It is customary to use the highest title as the honorific.
- If someone has been a governor and a president, the highest title would be president.
- It is preferable to write the position after their name, especially if the title is long, but the honorific would come before.
- Example:Dr. Joe Bloggs, professor of art history,…
- Not: Professor of Art History Joe Bloggs…
- Use dashes sparingly, if at all.
- Never use dashes instead of a comma.
- A dash is not a hyphen.
- To indicate a dash, you must leave a space on either side of the dash.
- The hyphen has no spaces on either side.
- Write months out in full. Numbers can be digitized.
- Example: December 7, 2014
- Not: Dec. 7, 2014
- Ellipsis should be used sparingly to show omission of quoted material. When they are used, use three dots with a space on either side. If they are not being used to show omissions from quoted materials….they should not be used at all.
- Example: According to Dr. Rees, “Mushrooms are full of antioxidants … and should be cooked before being eaten.”
- Hyperboles are exaggerated claims or statements not meant to be taken literally
- Avoid hyperbole unless quoting another source.
- Obvious and intentional exaggeration can be cliché and misleading.
- Superlatives are hyperboles. (Donald Trump speaks in superlatives.)
- Whenever you have two or more superlative modifiers before a noun or an adjective, you are probably committing hyperbole.
- The main purpose of a hyphen is to glue words together. Hyphenation should be used to confirm meaning.
- If the modifiers come after the noun, the general rule is not to hyphenate them. Example: She works full time. (The spell checker disagrees with this one.)
- The exception to this rule is if the verb is “to be,” there are also other exceptions if the compound adjective is always hyphenated, check a dictionary if unsure. Example: She is full-time.
- Hyphenate dual heritage. Example: Anglo-Saxon.
- Hyphenate prefixes in front of proper nouns or adjectives. Example: Mid-July
- Main compass points should not be hyphenated. Example: Southeast.
- Secondary compass points should not be hyphenated. Example: South-southeast.
- Hyphenate fractions. Example: one-third, three-quarters.
- When you hyphenate words, there are no additional space around the hyphens.
Hyperlinks are very important to your success as a content contributor. We use hyperlinks to:
- Identify the sources of quoted material
- Give credit for the information to the source from which we obtained the information
- Disclaim responsibility for potentially actionable statements made by third parties and quoted by you
- Provide documentation for the sources of your opinions.
When you are hyperlinking inside an article:
- try to avoid hyperlinking to a single word.
- Instead, link to a SHORT phrase or couple of words.
- Most importantly, hyperlinks should always be attached to the source of the information – the person who said it or the publication that published it – not the information taken from the source.
- The New York Times reported that Jeb Bush is seriously considering a presidential bid, despite the strong opposition of his mother. (This is the right choice.)
- Wrong: The New York Times reported that Jeb Bush is seriously considering a presidential bid, despite the strong opposition of his mother.
- Also wrong: The New York Times reported that Jeb Bush is seriously considering a presidential bid, despite the strong opposition of his mother.
- Professional and technical jargon should be avoided.
- Readers should be able to understand any article regardless of their knowledge base.
- If you want to use a quote which is jargon-heavy, consider paraphrasing instead of direct quoting.
- If readers cannot understand what you write, they will not return.
- ***Also consider using the Tool Tip (the green exclamation point in the menu bar) to add further explanation that would otherwise be in a footnote.
BindleSnitch is an American website. Therefore, we use American style rules and that includes using the English system for measurements. If the article has international implication, consider adding the metric equivalent in parentheses.
Memes and Other Nonsense Words
“Meme” is not a word, at least not at BindleSnitch, because it has no meaning. Even Richard Dawkins, who coined the word, is uncertain about what it is supposed to mean. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, was attempting to analogize “genes,” the building blocks of life, with core concepts that are the basic building blocks of ideas, hence “memes.” However, in the real world, the word cannot be used because it is impossible to assign a universally understood meaning for the term. If you want to test this hypothesis, use the word in conversation (with well-educated people, that is) and watch their eye movements as they attempt to process what you are saying. Other forbidden words will be added to this section when they occur to us. Try not to use cant phrases such as “throwing shade” or “gaslighting.”
Names with Honorifics
- When referring to anything by name, double-check the spelling. Do this no matter how familiar the name sounds.
- Whenever you are referring to someone whose name is also a common word, it is a good idea to use a prefix, Dr., Prof., Rev., Mr., Ms., etc. to differentiate that person’s name from the common word. Example: “Mr. Light is going steady with Ms. Manners.”
- For very well-known people, it is acceptable to use the last name only, but ONLY when it is not possible to confused that person with someone else.
- Examples: There are three Bushes, two Clintons, two Obamas and two Pauls. In each of these cases, an honorific is necessary to differentiate between them.
- Spell out the numbers one through nine and use Arabic numerals thereafter.
- Spell out any number that begins a sentence regardless of size.
- Example: Thirty-three civilians were injured in the crash
- Not: 33 civilians were injured in the crash
- Note: This rule may be excepted for years.
- Example: 2014 was the year of the Sochi Olympics.
- Note: This rule may be excepted for years.
- Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine should be hyphenated if written out. Some style rules recommend spelling out numbers up to 99. We obviously disagree.
- All fractions should be hyphenated when written.
- Example: According to APA statistics, one-third of all female students suffer from some form of disordered eating.
- For larger figures, use commas.
- Example: 1,098 hot dogs were eaten
- Example: The house was bought for $4,987,984.
- Do not capitalize decades when writing them.
- Example: In the eighties and nineties.
- Not: In the Eighties and Nineties.
- For percentages write “percent” rather than “%.”
- Exceptions for this may be made in sports articles, business articles or stock-related context and anything that has a lot of statistical data
- To avoid reader confusion, use noon and midnight rather than 12:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.
- Use lower case “am” and “pm” without periods. (Some authorities differ on this point.)
Corporations should be referred to as “they” rather than “it”. This is due to the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are considered to be citizens with equal rights.
- Double quotation marks are used to illustrate a direct or word-for-word quote.
- Example: “The data shows that our hypothesis is correct,” said lead study author Joe Blogs.
- Not: Lead study author Joe Blogs said that “their hypothesis was correct.” (It’s the word “that” that makes this a paraphrase rather than a quote.)
- Do not use direct quotes that are longer than ten to twelve words unless you have obtained the quote as an original source; long quotes taken second-hand from other news sources can lead to Copyscape hits.
- New information: If a quote has been used widely, you may use it in its entirety. Check this by searching for the quote in Google.
- You can always use a quote if you cite the source of the quote. In this case, you cited the publication where the quote appeared and hyperlink to the quote from the publication.
- In cases where you wish to use a longer quote, but you don’t want to cite the source, you can circumvent Copyscape violations by clipping an image of the quote and inserting it into the article. Since Copyscape cannot read text in a graphic, it cannot identify the quote.
- Punctuation marks belong inside quotation marks.
- Example: The traffic signal said “Stop.” Then it changed to “Go.” (Of course, traffic signs don’t really say anything. They are read, which would be pronounced “red” not “reed.”)
These should be avoided. Reporters should make statements rather than ask questions. Special exceptions may be made for opinion, commentary or editorial articles. New Information: Question marks should be avoided. It is usually possible to frame questions in such a manner that they don’t read as questions.
Colons and Semicolons
- Should be avoided where possible in news reporting.
- Semicolons, also known as short stops, can almost always be replaced by commas.
- Colons, also known as full stops or double stops, can usually be replaced with periods.
- Colons and semicolons should NEVER appear in news writing of any kind.
- Always use Fahrenheit first, and Celsius second. On first reference, spell out the scale, abbreviate in all other references following.
- Example: The room was heated to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius), apart from on game days when it was set to 70F (21C).
- Titles should not be 44 to 58 characters because that’s the number of characters that most search engines will capture. Longer titles will not help you get read. Titles with more than 68 characters will screw up the format.
- The first paragraph of your story should summarize the entire article.
- The first 250 characters of your article should be copied and pasted into the excerpt section. This is the summary that will appear wherever your article is listed.
- The first 160 characters of your summary description will appear on Google citations. The two are not the same, however. One comes directly from the story, while the other is custom-written in the post metadata.
In your title, the following should be capitalized:
- Nouns (Woman, People, Pen)
- Adjectives (fast, large, pale)
- Verbs (drink, jog, work)
- Adverbs (quickly, very, here)
- Pronouns (She, he, it)
- Subordinating conjunctions (at, that, because)
- First and Last words regardless of type.
Do not capitalize the following:
- Articles (a, an, the)
- Coordinating Conjunctions (but, and, or, for)
- Prepositions that have fewer than four characters: on, at, to, by.
Titles of Books, Publications, Films and Creative Works
- Titles should be written in italics.
- Example: The paper was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
- Example: Tom Cruise made Top Gun at the beginning of his career.
We really would like feedback on the style rules. They are no longer obligatory, but it is a fun way to talk about writing. We might not make the changes you want, but we are always open to learning new things. Unlike most posts in the About BindleSnitch category, comments are open for this article. Please use them.