Help & FAQs

Style on WikiTribune

Talk (38)

Angela Long

Angela Long

"Thanks Alan, those changes are helpfu..."
AH

Alan Henness

"OK. I've had a go at creating two new..."
Angela Long

Angela Long

"Absolutely right! I always say punctu..."
Angela Long

Angela Long

"Hi Alan, thanks for that. We're usi..."

WikiTribune staff members are working to align their stories to a range of Wikipedia style guides which have developed organically, and when they don’t have all the answers, we will refer to the Associated Press Style Guide — the benchmark for U.S. journalism.

You’re more than welcome to propose changes or suggest different guides.

Before you ask, we’re agnostic about US versus UK spellings.  Most staff are UK, but we’re trying to tend to use US spelling more often, so that the site doesn’t seem “too British” for American readers.  We realize WikiTribune won’t always be consistent, and we don’t expect members of the community to change the habits of a lifetime.

If you believe that these style suggestions need to be adjusted please EDIT, or suggest changes on TALK.

Wikipedia style guides

We find these valuable:

Wikipedia Manual of Style
Wikipedia Manual of Style/Dates and Numbers
Wikipedia Guide to Inverted Pyramid style in journalism
Wikipedia Citation Templates

Daily Operation

Some of these are based on the AP Stylebook, which has many positives. AP Style’s aim is to present information in an accurate and neutral way, as the good people from the Papercheck editing service said.

These are not strict edicts. Ignore them if it makes more sense in the story.

Write clearly and concisely. Avoid elegant variation: choose a word and use it throughout. Don’t waver between “marriage” and “union”. Don’t write “protesters” in one sentence and “demonstrators” in the next.

Some basics

Spell out whole numbers below 10 and numerals that start a sentence. Example: Thirty-five dogs were released this morning. Avoid starting a sentence with numbers.

Within a story, don’t switch numerical categories like comparing percentages to ratios. Example: 25 percent in one example and 1 in 15 in the next. 

Use digits for 10 and above and for all ages and percentages. Spell “percent” as one word but prefer the use of the symbol “%”.

In an address, abbreviate words “street,” “avenue” and “boulevard” after numbered addresses. Also abbreviate compass directions. Use digits for the numbers in addresses.

Dates should always use numerals without st, nd, rd or th in dates, and avoid using yesterday, today and tomorrow so everything is more factual and lasting. When writing about an event use the month and date e.g. April 30, June 2. However, when referring to a month, day and year, separate the year with commas e.g. April 22, 2017. Months should never be abbreviated within stories.

AM to PM should be presented as so but in lower case: am or pm. Apart from noon and midnight, use digits. The time of day should be written like this: 4:40 pm.

Years are presented in full – don’t miss out the first two digits e.g. the 1960s, 1972.

Titles should be capitalized, apart from the articles: “a,” “an” and “the” or other conjunctions or prepositions. We italicize newspaper and book titles: The New York Times, The Handmaid’s Tale.

People’s names should be capitalized, along with their official titles – do not separate title from name with a comma. WikiTribune founder Jimmy Wales.

Places should be capitalized as usual, including U.S. regions and geographical areas. We use points in U.S. for clarity.

Ethnic Groups 

Use “black,” not African Americans, and do not capitalize. Use “white” for Caucasians, also lowercase. Use “Asian” for Asian people capitalized. Lastly, “American Indian,” capitalized with no hyphen, is preferred over “Native American.”

Internationally and since its adoption by the UN, the preferred term is “indigenous peoples” with the final “s”. You can refer specifically to a geographical area as in: indigenous peoples in North America or indigenous peoples in New Zealand. See Wikipedia articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Indigenous_peoples_of_North_America, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_peoples

Numbers

Use a period/point/full stop as the decimal separator and use a comma as the thousands separator. For example: 12,345.67, not 12345.67. This is particularly important where there are several adjacent identical digits. For example: 100,000 is far easier to correctly read than 100000.

Be aware of presenting numbers more accurately than they should be but be guided by the source and context.

  • thousand represents 1,000
  • million represents 1,000,000
  • billion represents one thousand million, ie 1,000,000,000
  • trillion represents one thousand billion, ie 1,000,000,000,000

When using these, use a space to separate them from the number. For example: 1.2 billion, not 1.2billion.

Only use when the amounts are over a million, etc. For example: 1.23 million but not 0.123 million (write the latter as 123,000 or 123 thousand).

Currencies

Be guided by the numbers style above.

Use the common currency symbol, £, $, €, etc, but specify the country or use the three-letter alphabetic country code if not obvious from the context.

For example: GBP123. Note there in no space between the country code and the number.

For larger amounts, use million, billion and trillion. For example: $1.23 million.

A Guide to Punctuation

Use commas between words in lists of things. Do not put a comma before a conjunction in a simple sentence. A comma before a conjunction in a longer complex sentence adds clarity by separating the independent clauses. Use a comma before and after a person’s age. Avoid overusing commas.

When using colons, capitalize the first word after the colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a sentence. For example: This is what he said: “Hello, my name is Jimmy Wales.” Colons go outside quotation marks unless part of quoted material.

A semi-colon joins two independent sentences that are closely linked in content.

Use a hyphen (-) for compound adjectives before the noun, unless the first word ends in “-ly.”

Use a dash (–) when breaking up a sentence where a comma wouldn’t be appropriate.

Use a single space after a full stop at the end of a sentence. Don’t put a space between initials, though.

Quotations indicate exact wording, so only use them when that quote is exactly what someone said. Quote marks should come outside of punctuation. Use a comma inside the quotations at the end or at the beginning when introduced or followed by an attribution. Begin a new paragraph with each speaker and use single marks for quotes within quotes. If a quote is more than two sentences, use a colon after attribution.

Spellings

WikiTribune has an international readership, and as such any attempts to enforce a localized spelling of an English word are unnecessary and counter to the goal of accepting international edits. However, there should be consistency within stories themselves, so if a word omits a ‘u’ in one part of the story, it should not be inserted later.

When a word has different meanings in different variations of English, another should be found. This is both in the body of the story and within the headline. For example, tabled in the United States means “put aside,” whereas in England it means “presented.”

If a subject is heavily focused on one country (say, New Zealand) local spellings should be respected throughout the story.

Accessibility

Avoid using pictures of text where possible. If it is unavoidable (i.e. a picture of a tweet) put the actual text below, so that those using text-to-speech readers can also access the content.

For more Associated Press grammar and spelling in a downloadable format from the University of Texas try here.

Other online style guides we like include:
The Reuters Handbook of Journalism – Style
– The Guardian and The Observer Style Guide

History for projects "Style on WikiTribune"

Select two items to compare revisions

21 May 2018

11:36:27, 21 May 2018 . .‎ Jimmy Wales (Updated → toning down the US spelling thing, as I think it is off putting)

15 May 2018

00:49:27, 15 May 2018 . .‎ David Barry (Updated → Added space between "4:40" and "pm"; corrected spelling of "area";)

08 February 2018

12:44:10, 08 Feb 2018 . .‎ Angela Long (Updated → bullet points)
12:43:13, 08 Feb 2018 . .‎ Angela Long (Updated → approving)

07 February 2018

23:22:05, 07 Feb 2018 . .‎ Alan Henness (Updated → Added sections on numbers and currency - see talk page.)

02 January 2018

31 December 2017

09:31:45, 31 Dec 2017 . .‎ Cheryl Stephens (Updated → "indigenous")
09:12:27, 31 Dec 2017 . .‎ Cheryl Stephens (Updated → style updates)

07 December 2017

( tax ) .. - Tag Bernie Sanders created; 10:40:31, 07 Dec 2017.. Peter Bale (talk | contribs)‎ ( created )

Talk for Project "Style on WikiTribune"

Talk about this Project

  1. Numbers

    It would be good to strive for consistency in how large numbers are given. The UK and US tradition is to use a comma as a thousands separator, but mainland Europe used the full stop (point), which can be very confusing. I’m not sure what other countries use. Many scientific/technical sources recommend a half-space as a separator:

    123456
    123,456
    123.456
    123 456

    Without any separator, it’s sometimes difficult to read the number correctly.

    Since the US use the comma, is this something that should be written into the style guide so everyone knows?

    Then there’s the use of millions, billions, etc. In the UK, I think the use of the UK meaning of billion as a million million rather than the US usage of a thousand million has all but died out, but it might be good to have this in the guide so everyone knows which billion is being referred to.

    Then monetary amounts… the unit will depend on the country being referred to, but, for consistency, which of these is preferred?

    £1.2million
    £1.2 million
    1.2 million GBP/USD/etc

    €12.34
    12.34 Euros

    Note that many countries in the Eurozone will use the comma as the decimal separator, not the full stop (point)!

    Thoughts?

    1. Hi Alan, thanks for that.
      We’re using the comma to separate thousands (and millions, billions if it occurs). It should go in the Style guide as you’re right about the European way.
      Also the full point is the decimal separator, and the symbols rather than words for euro/pound/dollar sign (unless the text reads ‘thousands of euros’ or similar).
      £1.2 million with the space is the preferred option.
      We need more quiet days to write the comprehensive WikiTribune style guide. And a whole section on numerals/figures/currency will be fun to do!

      1. OK. I’ve had a go at creating two new sections on numbers and currencies. I’ve kept it simple but might be a good start.

        I think the sections above it about numbers should be moved, but let me know what you think first.

        I’d like to add something about the use of the minus sign: I’ve just seen it used to separate a number from the text but it’s entirely unclear whether it’s a separator or a unary minus sign!

        Also, ranges are a bugbear of mine: it should always be 2% to 5%, not 2-5%, etc, but I’ll leave that for later as well.

        1. Thanks Alan, those changes are helpful and approved. The minus thing is well noticed. Remind me in future if I let this project slip.

  2. Is this the best place to comment on grammar and style? For example, I found this in a story:: “The Trump administration plans to loosen restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons according to a former U.S. government official for arms control,…”
    Without a comma after “weapons” the sentence means that the use of nuclear weapons is currently determined by a former U.S. government official.

    1. Absolutely right! I always say punctuation is the reader’s friend, and think of the reader when you’re writing.
      You can comment here, Donald, but probably best to put them in the TALK section of individual stories. The authors look back at these, so the feedback goes to the appropriate person.

  3. I’ve just come across this memo from 2010 which should encourage the operators to update the editing standards:
    At IBM a group of editors tested whether editing paid off. You can see the report written by James Mathewson of IBM in July of 2010.
    The IBM people gave unedited web pages to a random sample of users. The pages were then revised by an expert editor from IBM marketing. The result was shown to the remaining users in the sample.
    The edited pages got 30% more clicks to desired links on the page.

  4. Thanks so much for this Jonathan and Cheryl. I will try to make it clearer that the style guide is aimed at staff and can only be indicative for contributors. It is intended to avoid the dog’s breakfast problem but I am not convinced it is possible to expect contributions “at scale” which are perfect AP or even Wikipedia style. Cheryl, your points on percentages and numbers are almost certainly correct in terms of clarity though it is also true that percentage signs often render badly on the web. We will aim for what is clearest and avoids mistakes. For example, Dow Jones historically had what I found an uncomfortable but actually very important rule to use don’t and won’t and can’t and didn’t instead of x not to avoid the potential to lose a word and change meaning completely.

  5. We have talked elsewhere about how to mix volunteers and paid staff on a project, I think that style is a good place to make an explicit statement, something to the effect of: ” This guide is required reading for all paid staff of WikiTribune, though there may be occasions where they feel it necessary to diverge from it. Volunteers who make purely stylistic changes to other people’s contributions to WikiTribune are expected to follow the relevant parts of this guide. Other voluntary contributors to WikiTribune may or may not find this guide to be of interest.”

    1. What does that have to do with the need to modify or modernize the style guidelines?

      1. The start of the guidelines say who they apply to, and by implication who has to know the guidelines before they contribute or is welcome to start contributing without reading a style guide. I’m making a suggestion re that start, there may be alternative views, some people on Wikipedia put a lot of effort into telling newbies about the Manual of Style as soon as they make an edit. Personally I think that is a barrier to participation, a reasonable expectation for paid staff but not for volunteers.

        1. Ok. But I just do edits. I am happy to edit what others write.
          But I’d like the style guide to be simple and accessible so that writers *could* read it quickly and editors can refer to it.
          Still I don’t think it is too much to ask writers to check the basic page on WT–it is only one page.
          Once we pull together a style sheet, the writers won’t have to go to all the reference tyle guides.

  6. The style guides that have been written in the past did not have the benefit of science. Much research has been done in the past 20 years on how the brain processes language, information, and numbers. In plain language work and training, we promote the use of evidence-based guidelines. Karen Schriver has been the most prolific in popularizing the research that applies.

    Can’t WT promote evidence-based style as well as evidence-based news?

  7. There is only history and no science to support the use of words, rather than numerals, for numbers under 10. Could we use numerals atall times, except at the start of a sentence?

  8. Although the AP style calls for spelling out “percent”, a modern, web-based news site like WikiTribune should go for the use of the symbol “%”.

    Spelling it out is cumbersome and contributes to wordiness. For the readers, it slows them down and puts extra distance between the numbers under discussion or up for comparison.

    AP: Percent
    • Use figures and spell out the word: “50 percent of the people were there.”
    • Repeat percent with each individual figure: “He said 10 percent to 30 percent would attend.”

  9. There is a style in use that cannot be justified–using incomplete sentences following a subhead with colon. Here is one:

    CORPORATE TAX: Will be set at 21 percent, instead of the current rate of 35 percent.

    The style guide should require complete sentences.

  10. Modern typography, especially online, rejects the use of fully capitalized words, for example the subheadings in a recent article: INDIVIDUAL TAXES. It is preferable to use bolding and sentence case, like this: Individual taxes.

  11. Symbols that are commonly known to readers should be used: 28 percent ought to be 28%.
    I am new here and don’t want to enter that myself.

  12. It would be helpful to those who would edit, if you would put direct links to the Style Guide on the menu for editing pages. Then one could quickly check the style to ensure consistency within the article and with the style.

  13. “Indigenous” is probably preferred over both “American Indian” and “Native American”.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_name_controversy

    1. I think ideally we should use the most specific term available, e.g. Inuit if the person is an Inuit.

      1. Agreed, but indigenous is now used more frequently internationally. It has replaced aboriginal in Canadian government style, which is significant as aboriginal previously was used and defined in law.

        1. The guide currently deprecates use of African American in favour of black. Would it be more sensible to use African American where appropriate in stories involving African Americans in the USA but black for stories about black people in for example the UK? I do happen to know an English African American family, but their heritage unusually is a mix of English and African American from the USA. Black or Black British would be the more usual UK description.

  14. The link to the Guardian and Observer style guide (at bottom) sends you to a webmail account – copy and paste error?

    1. Argh. Almost certainly. My apologies.

  15. Should contractions (they’ve, won’t, what’s etc.) be avoided? I have seen them in several articles, but am pretty sure the AP guide advises against their use.

    1. Actually, in some cases I am encouraging them. They were a strong rule at Dow Jones for a long time — particularly in time-sensitive financial alerts where losing the IS or the NOT was entirely possible and would have made the sentence completely wrong. I’m a bit agnostic on them but that’s why I am using them at the moment. Peter

  16. I gather that some people see the AP guide as a bible, but I’ve tended to go with the ‘single word as word’ where numbers are concerned, so ‘ten’, ‘eleven’, and ‘twelve’ rather than 10, 11, and 12. (I’m also a very firm believer in the Oxford Comma, especially where people may put the text into an online translator.)

    1. We could start a riot on the Oxford Comma. The recent judgment by the court in Washington state about the Oxford Comma makes me think you are totally right. We are using Wikipedia style guides and only where there is some discrepancy are we falling back on the AP Style Guide. It isn’t a bible but it is pretty good and fits with our American demographic and my view that the Internet is essentially an American English space. I don’t believe we can expect all our contributors to adhere to the same style I might expect of our staff. Otherwise it will be free range for pedants. Who could want that? Peter

  17. Use of colours – accessibility.

    There are some known common forms of colour blindness, and it would be good if our style was to use colour combinations that work for people with those conditions. Avoiding colour contrasts between colours that resolve as the same shade of grey for many people.

    1. Thanks. You’re absolutely right and we are going to try to ensure we comply with the best accessibility standards. Peter

  18. Re the bit about whether to spell colour or color. In the short term I would broaden it to keeping language version consistent at the article level, otherwise you could have some pedant coming up with a hybrid article with half the Us removed but a surplus ation suffix on every fourth word US style.

    Longer term I think the aspiration should be to make these reader choices. You prefer metric measurements, US English and CE/BCE over AD/BC? OK set your preferences that way and that’s what you’ll see except in quotations and song names. Of course an aspiration is unscheduled, unbudgeted vapourware. But agreeing aspirations is a way of defining where want to go and in this respect how we can aim higher than Wikipedia.

    1. Interesting. I am pushing the staff reporters towards accepting U.S. spellings throughout because we have a very strongly American audience and I think it has become something of a standard across the Internet. That said I don’t think it is feasible to hold members of the community en masse to the same style we may insist staff follow. So, from time to time, there may be some style clashes. Peter

      1. Currently the start of the guide says US spellings whilst the spelling section later contradicts that and goes for the Wikipedia compromise of having spelling consistent at the article level not the project level. I think you could have a compromise whereby volunteers can start articles in the version of English that they are comfortable with, but staff writers are expected to write in US English. That might work, though you risk skewing the community further towards the US.

  19. Should we differentiate between exact quotes and translated quotes? Sometimes on wikipedia it is obvious that a quote will have been translated and the typo in it is clearly a translation mistake, I’d like to suggest that when we translate a quote the original is placed in a footnote, I think such a system would work better for crowd sourcing as it would be clearer when quotes were translations, and their subsequent translation would be open to correction.

    1. I think that is a very good idea, to explain if we are translating and how. We will make every effort to do that in the staff team. Peter

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to collaborate on our developing stories:

Support Us

Why this is important and why you should care about facts, journalism and democracy

WikiTribune Open menu Close Search Like Previous page Next page Back Next Open menu Close menu Play video RSS Feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Youtube Connect with us on Linkedin Email us Message us on Facebook Messenger Save for Later