Global Voices - IWPR Style Guide | Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Style refers both to a manner of writing and to the specific spelling and other rules which guide a publication. Every author has his or her own style, but every publication has its particular style. The aim is not to homogenise tone, but to avoid inconsistency, awkwardness and confusion that may hinder the reader. A firm set of rules also saves time by helping authors submit copy that is a closer match to the requirements of the editors, and providing ready answers for common spelling, grammatical and other questions.
IWPR publishes from London for an international audience. We use a modified British English, with some allowances for international and regional norms. IWPR's general rule-book is the Economist Style Guide, which takes precedence over the dictionary or any other reference source except this guide. For all other words, we use the Cambridge Dictionary of International English.
Basic House Style and Formatting
Spell out abbreviations and acronyms first time round.
United Nations, United States, European Union, European Commission etc.
BBC, NATO, USSR, BP
and some others (the rule is probably that the expansion isn’t immediately recognisable, and the acronym is).
Avoid unnecessary use of abbreviations and acronyms. Where needed, include the abbreviation or acronym on first reference, but only if it is to be used later in the text.
This is the style:
The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a new investigation.
This is a change – we used to use commas (…Court, ICC, launched…)
Write around them wherever possible – eg:
The tribunal in preference to ICTY, Bosnia rather than BiH, the prosecutor or the prosecutor's office rather than OTP.
Some organisations have well-known acronyms in another language, in which case we would use that after the English expansion – eg:
Committee for State Security, KGB.
FAARC (Colombia), FSB (Russia), SNB (Uzbekistan), and FLDR and similar francophone acronyms in DRC where we translate the full French name into English.
Because IWPR’s email publishing system used to preclude the reproduction of accents, we did not use them. There is no technical obstacle to doing so now. (Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian names are a special case in that we did not use diacritics in the past; but again there would be no objection if all authors/editors wanted to introduce them now.)
Ages should only be used for members of the public, and when they are, they must be provided for all those quoted (not just some of them).
Exceptions to this are when age is directly relevant to the story – eg:
The four-year-old child was hit by shrapnel, Joe Bloggs, 89, was attacked or Duska, aged eight, witnessed the killing etc.
The ampersand & is used only in formal names according to common or official usage:
Institute for War & Peace Reporting.
These are used as in normal English. There is particular confusion on plurals and other nouns ending in s. The presence of an s does not change normal practice. So:
Hamas’s political views; Mr Jones’s dog.
As a general rule, only capitalise formal proper names – eg:
President George Bush but US president George Bush
The Kazak supreme court but the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakstan.
Examples in use:
The minister of agriculture, Fred Smith, said…
Fred Smith, the minister of agriculture, said…
Kyrgyz agriculture minister Fred Smith said…
Agriculture Minister Fred Smith said… [his title – like Bishop Fred Smith]
Exceptions are things like the Security Council, the State Department. So:
Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, should be lower case according to our rules but it really is a title and an accepted convention, so we make it upper case.
Headlines Use the Upper Case as a Rule (ie lower case for short words “in”, “on” etc)
No serial comma in general. So:
Tom, Dick and Harry.
That is for a simple list, but add a comma for clarity where it seems sensible – if each element is long – eg:
Defence analyst and media commentator Tom, famous cinema director Dick, and struggling actor and father-of-ten Harry.
Subordinate clauses within sentences must be set off either by two commas or by none:
John Major, the former prime minister, launched a blistering attack on the Labour candidate.
The government, while officially acknowledging the need for reform, opposed the draft legislation.
The editor realised while running to the printer's that he had forgotten the proof.
Large parts of the country, particularly in Eastern Bosnia were virtually depopulated.
A comma is required after "Bosnia" here. Omitting it destroys the syntax.
Several politicians were present, but the man who left the room was the prime minister.
Defines him; it is almost adjectival: “the room-leaving man”. If you could technically use “that” it shows no commas are needed – the man that left the room… not very elegant in this case but the point is made.
The man, who at this point left the room, was the prime minister.
Two things here - 1. you could remove the clause and it wouldn’t change anything. 2. it elaborates on the theme; essentially The man – and at this point he left the room – was the prime minister.
Always lower case and spelled out, dollars, euro etc. Currency name after the number.
Dollars: Nine US dollars, and in subsequent mentions nine dollars. Not $, not USD, not any other form.
The US dollar is the base currency for conversions to show how much an amount in another currency is worth.
The euro: the correct form is lower case, no plural. 10,000 euro.
Dashes and hyphens
Dashes are not hyphens. As symbols, they are “em-dashes”. The Word programme should correct automatically when they have a space on either side. Here is the difference:
The ministry – already facing criticism for its childcare policy – is threatened by a new scandal.
(This would be wrong: a hyphen stuck on the end of a word used as a dash: The ministry- already facing criticism…)
Month, day as plain number and year.
February 21, 2002.
The 1992-95 war
The 1990s or the Nineties.
To prevent editors having to deal with a very wide range of formats and make it easier to turn copy into something that can be easily posted on the internet, English-language versions should arrive in similar shape.
Word document, almost any version.
A space between each paragraph, meaning a paragraph marker: ¶.
Font: something legible, ideally Times New Roman. Size: visible to the human eye.
Indentation: none, because of our website.
Headlines and standfirsts
Headlines should not be more than four or five words (where that is humanly possible). The first letter of important words is capitalised, and those of prepositions and indefinite and definite articles lower case, unless kicking off the headline. (Headlines Use the Upper Case as a Rule.)
Include some country reference (except in ICTY/ICC coverage) in the headline, and also in the lead unless it is a feature and it does not work.
Standfirsts are in sentence form although they can be in conflated form, taking out articles where feasible. Short and snappy, never more than 15 words if possible, and a full stop at the end. Normal sentence case. The standfirst is not the lead sentence. Its purpose is to expand on the headline, or (if it works) add another element.
Hyperlinks should be done in the following manner:
i.e the link included. Note the punctuation.
or like this:
(See Macedonian Officer Jailed for Crimes Against Albanians http://iwpr.net/global-voices/macedonian-officer-jailed-crimes-against-albanians.)
IWPR does not use italics in body text.
Where people’s names, placenames and the titles of political parties and organisations etc are given in previous IWPR published copy, that is the form that should be used. Check rather than sending along another variant. The same goes for the names of article authors.
Nationality and identity
Ethnic groups and nationalities should generally be called by the terms they have chosen for themselves.
Bosniak or Bosnian Muslim. No preference here.
Serbian, Croatian – used to describe the people and other aspects of Serbia and Croatia. To distinguish the ethnic groups, particularly outside “their own” states, we use Serbs and Croats.
In other cases, we use common sense and try to achieve clarity.
Kazak politician Petr Ivanov. It is obvious this man is not ethnic Kazak but Russian, so it is preferable to say Kazakstan-based analyst Petr Ivanov or the like. In more neutral contexts the adjective is fine – the Uzbek economy.
The United States, then US on second mention. We can use American later for variation.
Political placenames: Given IWPR's approach, we allow flexibility for author preferences – normally the internationally-accepted Kosovo, but for writers who insist on a different usage:
Kosova, the Albanian-language spelling. The same with Sukhumi, the spelling used by Georgians and most others; the Abkhaz who control it call it Sukhum. We might want to note that a place has an alternative name, giving it in brackets.
Nagorny Karabakh is our accepted spelling for that disputed place, then Karabakh on second reference. Not “Nagorno-Karabakh”. If a speaker refers to it as Artsakh (the Armenian name) in a direct quote we should leave that and put [Nagorny Karabakh] in square brackets.
Numbers and measures
One to ten spelled out (except decimals: 5.5 etc), then numerals. Numbers for hundreds and thousands – 20,000,700. Thousands use commas. Spell out million.
The exception is at the beginning of sentences, where cardinal numbers cannot be used. Spell them out, or get round it.
Measures: Spell out first time and then abbreviate. Kilograms becomes kg.
IWPR uses the metric system. So no pounds, pints or jeribs. Convert them into kilograms, litres and square metres/kilometres. Also hectares since although it is metric, not everyone understands what that is; at least square metres/kilometres is clear.
Direct quotes must be verbatim, but if translated must read like English (so that the speaker sounds as coherent as in his/her own language.
When non-essential words are cut from a direct quote, this must not distort the meaning. The omission is shown with elipses. Three dots… unless it ends a sentence, when four dots are needed….
“I met a lot of the villagers, including the baker, the butcher, some women, and a very odd-looking man, and promised to build a power station for them,” the minister said.
“I met a lot of the villagers… and promised to build a power station for them,” the minister said.
Square brackets are used for additional explanatory insertions.
“We discussed the  Moscow agreement,” he said.
“While visiting the prison, I met [convicted murderer Arthur] Brown,” he said.
They can also be used to clarify what someone means, but we have to be sure we know.
“I have not seen any [community reconstruction] venture in my village,” she said.
Square brackets can also be used judiciously to remove and summarise a long passage. Technically, dots should also be used but using the two is a bit confusing.
“The area was surrounded by the heroic fighters of the Great People’s Revolutionary Democratic Popular Movement (Provisional) of the People’s Republic of Kazbekistan, and all the civilians were shot,” the spokesman said.
“The area was surrounded by the heroic fighters of the [Kazbek rebel group ], and all the civilians were shot,” the spokesman said.
“Yes,” said Fred. (rather than Fred said). Again, an IWPR quirk rather than a rule of English.
Quotation marks, commas and full stops. The full stop and comma go outside the quotation mark if the quote is a full sentence, inside if it is not. Examples:
He said that the police detained five “hooligan elements”, and would “hold onto them for a few days for their own safety”.
“We arrested five protesters,” he said. “We plan to hold onto them for a few days for their own safety.”
Quotes within quotes – single quotation marks.
“The police arrested me and said, ‘We won’t be letting you go any time soon.’ And then they put me in a cell,” she said.
S and Z
UK English with -sation not -zation.
Within stories, these are capitalised, bold.
Our stories are written in the plainest English possible, attempting to adhere to George Orwell’s succinct description of good writing in which he suggests asking oneself, “Could I put it more shortly?” and “Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
Orwell’s six don’ts:
- 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 barbarous.
Do not attribute a verbatim quote clearly made by one person to several. “We demand justice, and we want it now,” people in the crowd said. This is inaccurate, unless the crowd chanted those words in unison. We can’t weld together several similar remarks to make one direct quotation.
Using the wrong word in place of a similar word.
a prisoner held incognito
diffuse for defuse (and vice versa)
the decision caused delusion among foreign investors
There is a tendency in journalistic writing to use stock phrases. This is always going to happen, but it is worth being aware that overuse of such phrases makes for dull reading.
What should be avoided altogether, however, is mixing up words and phrases, for instance using “stock” verbs – spark, curb, prompt, spur etc without thinking about what the verb and its object mean, so that the result sounds incongruous. Something might spark interest, but it couldn’t really spark disappointment.
Other awful examples:
harnessing the ability to do something, spelling a blow to something, arming a mutiny (rather than the participants, the human mutineers), capture indignation, curb public attention; the nuclear industry building up a head of steam.
The juxtaposition of different images jars and hence confuses. Think about the basic English meanings of words in these contexts.
Passive vs active construction
Avoid long Latinate-sounding formulae and words where not needed – journalistic language is not academic. Avoid obscuring meaning. It is best to use short English words and clear, direct phrases with active verbs.
Plural and singular
Nouns are either singular or plural. Verbs must agree with them.
In IWPR usage, collective-type singulars take singular verbs: the government, the England team, the army, the political party.
The only major exceptions seems to be the police, where the singular sounds odd, so it takes a plural. And family, which is generally singular but could be plural if the singular sounds strange. But don’t mix up singular and plural in the same sentence.
Other singular examples:
Neither he nor she is….
Neither they nor the others are…
No one has seen….
None of them has gone….
The boy, together with the other children, is playing outside.
Look for ways to use synonyms to avoid tedious repetition.
So for example the Serbian government becomes the authorities in Serbia, Belgrade officials or simply Belgrade.
Try not to repeat the country’s name two or three times in the same sentence (or indeed other words).
Subjects of clauses
Linked clauses in a sentence need to retain the same subject. Changing them is just wrong, and can be baffling.
Wearing robes and a long beard, the woman asked the tribal chief about the incident.
After eating a small child, the hunter shot the lion.
Having stopped for a drink on the Tour de France, journalists asked the cyclist how he was doing.
Ruined by alcohol and drugs, senior doctors have expressed concern about marginalised groups of young people.
Beset by high prices, safety fears and inefficiency, businessmen say the air industry faces bankruptcy.
Maintain the sequence of tenses in sentences:
She says he will go; she said he would go; she says he went/has gone (depending on meaning); she said he had gone etc.
General English usage
any more, not anymore. Not every set of words can or should be conflated.
appraise is not the same as apprise
bated breath, not baited breath
between two, among more than two
biased towards means “favourably inclined towards”; biased against is the form for eg. discrimination, a hostile attitude.
bloc refers to political coalitions, regional groupings etc – don’t use block in that context.
compare one thing with another, eg compare two writers and decide which one is better. But compare a writer to Tolstoy – we are saying the writer is like, or comes close to being as good as, the great man.
comprise – do not use when you mean consist of.
diffuse and defuse are different words
hard-line as an adjective (with a hyphen)
heart-rending not heart-wrenching
home town: two words.
if – do not use where whether is correct and clearer. If properly refers to a condition being met, whether to a possibility or an alternative.
illusion, allusion and delusion are different things. Disillusion is a verb; disillusionment the noun.
insecurity: unless in the emotional sense, this is jargon, and often used in imperfect translations. Better: lack of security; security problems.
likely is an adjective. If you need an adverb, try probably.
no one – two words, no hyphen.
ombudsman: while we would seek gender-neutral versions of other words like “chairman” (“chair”), ombudsman cannot become “ombudsperson” because it is a recently-imported foreign word (Swedish). The accepted plural is ombudsmen.
over – do not over-use. Do not use over when a more accurate term would be for, at, about, because of… These pinpoint meaning; over can just make it vague and undecided. Think about the word’s implicit meaning – a fight over money is figuratively just that.
principle and principal are different words, used differently.
prosecution and persecution are different things.
refute – do not use for deny, reject etc.
rein in, not reign in.
some time two words; sometimes one word.
that – do not use for who. People that do something might be ok in speech, but not in writing.
try to do something. Try and do has a long history, but has become informal usage.
under way. Not underway. Two words. See “any more”.
AK-47: this is just one model. Unless you are sure, it’s a Kalashnikov rifle or Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Second mention: Bosnia or BiH. (This is a recent change from Hercegovina in IWPR usage)
cooperate, cooperation – no hyphen
Elections, singular or plural?
a parliamentary election
a general election (the simultaneous conduct of two or more of the above types; it isn’t a synonym for any one type). This can then be referred to as elections.
European Union, European Commission, European Parliament: worth spelling these out on first mention as there it can be important to distinguish between the first two, especially.
geopolitical – no hyphen
Kazakstan (everyone else says Kazakhstan, but IWPR does not for some reason. We might as well be consistent after years of using it)
A mortar is the weapon itself, the launcher tube. It fires mortar bombs or shells, whichever you prefer.
mujahedin, not mujahideen or variants
percentage but five per cent. (not percent or %)
Split infinitives: no prescriptive rule here. Whatever sounds more elegant.
The Hague and The Netherlands – article the is upper case. But the Hague tribunal, the Netherlands-based institution – lower case, because the article refers to the noun, not its qualifier.
terrorist, terrorism –These are loaded terms; instead: militants, extremists, unless in a direct quote or in a term like counter-terrorism.
World War I and II – instead, say the First World War and the Second World War.
We use as near as possible a standard straight transliteration that avoids anglicism (Saifiddeen) or French (Saifeddine), unless that is the accepted form or the person’s own preference.
Exceptions are places and people with established names in wide use: Cairo, Aleppo etc, and Muammar Gaddafi
Apostrophes as part of the orthography – leave them out. If you don’t speak Arabic, an apostrophe is not going to help you pronounce the word.
The article al-....
The al is hyphenated to the next word. Sometimes it appears in altered form – Hizb ut-Tahrir. (See conflation, below)
Lower case in names:
Bashar al-Assad – lower case, then Assad on second mention
Al-Ahram newspaper because it's a formal title like The Times.
Al Jazeera because that's how it spells it.
Nur al-Din can become Nuriddin (but again if an interviewee or famous politician used Nur al-Din or anything else as the English form eg
on a business card, we would go with that). So: as-Suwayda province
Same principles, transliteration as simple as possible, no anglicised/French versions unless it is the individual’s preferred form, or generally accepted.
A typical Persian/Dari formula has a hyphen after the first word (ie unlike the different Arabic al-.)
Koh-i Nur, Mazar-e Sharif; Qala-ye Nau
Straight, simple transliteration.
First names: Sergei instead of Sergey (hence Andrei and others),
Surnames: Lavinsky not Lavinskiy, Lavinski
Щ becomes sch not shch – Khruschev
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Style Guide Contents
- Dashes and hyphens
- Headlines and standfirsts
- Nationality and identity
- Numbers and measures
- S and Z
- Greek chorus
- Mixed Metaphors
- Passive vs active construction
- Plural and singular
- Subjects of clauses