Style guide for Indian Abroad writers

All publications, online or print, adhere to certain rules for grammar and word usage. This consistency in journalism terminology is called “style”. The whole idea behind Indian Abroad using a style book is to let readers know that we are a professional bunch who follow a consistent writing style. It’s our way of telling our readers that we are professional enough to work as a team and follow a disciplined approach in writing.

Keep this style-guide in mind while writing and keep referring to it in case of confusion. We request all our writers to do their own subbing before submitting the articles and use words precisely and correctly. Check for mistakes in spellings, grammar, and facts and figures provided in your articles. Since you all get bylines, you’re doing it more for yourselves than for Indian Abroad.

Ordinarily, small newspapers/publications like us will base their style on a dominant style-sheet in the region. Indian Abroad has also based its style on the ABC style guide but with variations. Majority of our audience is from the Pacific, where British English is used, not American. That is why we are following the ABC style guide, and the following style guide–a tiny one we know, but we’ll keep updating it–has borrowed some stuff from The ABC style guide. Anything that’s good for ABC is good for us.

Keep this file somewhere handy and whenever additions are made, just add the add-on directions to this file.

No editorialising – When writing a news story, you’re giving some information to the readers, not expressing your subjective opinion. Doing that is known as editorialising. Please never do it in a news story.

No contractions – like don’t, isn’t, he’s etc.

  • At least in the news stories.
  • You can use contractions in feature articles if the subject-matter of the feature article warrants an informal writing tone.
    • Subject of the article is a deciding factor in the choice of words, writing tone, and style.

Headlines – News articles in sentence case.

  • Feature article headings can still be in title case.

Percentages – Spell out the word “percent” but use numerals for the actual number. The following sentence puts it across I guess – ‘Researchers said 23 percent of participants…’ You may use the % sign in headlines.

Titles: In general, confine capitalisation to formal titles used directly before an individual’s name (For example, write Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Michael McCormack, Pope Paul, President Biden). Use lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name (The deputy prime minister of Australia, Michael McCormack, declined to comment). Use lowercase when formal titles follow a name (e.g., Antony J. Blinken, secretary of state).

If you’re wondering when to use a comma between title and name, just listen for the natural pause when you say the sentence aloud. If you pause, use a comma. Examples: The president, (PAUSE) Joe Biden, (PAUSE) ate a burger. President (NO PAUSE) Joe Biden got indigestion.

Very long titles may be shortened or summarised unless they are essential to the story, but the shortened form should not be capitalised (for example, you may use spokesperson instead of Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications). General titles, such as astronaut Neil Armstrong and actor Matt Damon, are lowercase.

Capitalise formal titles and names of people, places or things to set them apart from a general group. These include proper nouns such as Mike, Canada, Hudson River, and St. John’s Church. But use lowercase for common nouns (i.e. nouns not coupled with a proper name), such as the river or the church. Also, put a word in lowercase when you have more than one proper noun sharing the word. Example: Ocean and Monmouth counties. Capitalise the first word in a sentence. Refer to the dictionary or AP Stylebook, if needed. When in doubt, use lowercase.

Do not use courtesy titles such as Mr., Miss, Mrs., or Ms., except in direct quotes or where needed to distinguish between people of the same name. Using courtesy titles may be polite, but it is not our style. We only use them in obituaries.

First reference – The first time you name someone in your story include their first and last names, their designation, and company/organization (write out the whole name of the organization/company). Example: Robert Shoemaker, managing director, Stickwell Plywood Pty Ltd, or Don Swanson, professor of communication, not Prof. Swanson. Second reference. Once people have been fully identified, refer to them by last name only. So, use the person’s last name only on second and subsequent references in a story. For example: Shoemaker said the company is going to increase production.

Composition Titles – (book titles, journal titles, computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, song titles, television program titles, and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art) Capitalise the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. Capitalise the article if it is the first or last word in the title. Place quotation marks around the names of all such works, except the Bible and reference books, (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Avoid excessive abbreviation – Names followed by an abbreviation in parentheses are not always necessary unless you will reference that same word repeatedly throughout the news story or article. Note that in most cases, periods are not necessary for an abbreviation. (ABC, not A.B.C., but always U.S., instead of US) Some abbreviations are appropriate for all references as in FBI (for Federal Bureau of Investigation).

Spell out abbreviations or acronyms on first reference. For example, use Federation of Indian Communities of Queensland the first time you refer to the federation in a story. You may use FICQ on any references made after that.

Ages – Always use figures when referring to people and animals. For inanimates, use figures for 10 and higher. Ages expressed as adjectives before a noun, or as substitutes for a noun use hyphens. (You can have a 5-year-old boy, but the boy is 5 years old. The woman is in her 30s. The woman, 26, has a daughter 2 months old. The law is eight years old. The Coast Guard is 217 years old.).

Numerals – Spell out first through ninth when they indicate a sequence in time or location (first base, the First Amendment, he was first in line). However, from the 10th on, use figures. Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and above. (They have a fleet of 250 helicopters and 100 airplanes.) Note, however, that numbers used at the beginning of a sentence are spelled out. Example: Five hundred twenty-four students attended. It is better, however, to rewrite the sentence so that it doesn’t begin with a number. Example: Attending the event were 524 students from local colleges. Years are one of the exceptions. For example: 2008 was a bad year for investors.

Months – Never abbreviate months when they do not immediately precede a date. Example: We got married in September last year. However, when the name of a month immediately precedes a date, abbreviate it – but only if the month’s name is six letters or longer. Exceptions are March, April, May, June and July — write them out, don’t abbreviate. For example, write Sept. 2, 2008, not September 2nd, 2008. Another example: We got married Aug. 6 last year. But, we were divorced March 5. Abbreviate months when used with days, and use numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) not ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, etc.). But, when using only the month and year, spell out the month. Also, in the dateline we’re keeping the complete name of the month.

Years – To indicate a decade, add an “s.” to the first year in the decade. Example: In the 1960s, I did a lot of things I don’t remember. If you abbreviate this, do it this way: In the ’60s, I did a lot of . . . Remember that years are never spelled out. Even at the beginning of a sentence, use a figure: 1968 was a good year, I’m told.

a, an – You use the article “an” in front of words that sound as if they begin with a vowel, regardless of how they are spelled. So, you would say it is an honor to be here today. (Hear the flat-A sound that begins the word? It sounds as if it should be spelled AWN-or.) Or, if you already know this rule, you could say this is a useless exercise. (Hear the “y” sound in “useless?”)

Academic degrees – Put an apostrophe in bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. This is to show possession. The degree belongs to the bachelor or master (that’s you). Even when shortened to bachelor’s and master’s (no “degree” afterward), you keep the apostrophe.

affect, effect – Ninety-nine times out of 100, if the word you use is a verb, spell it with an “a,” and if it is a noun, spell it with an “e.” In these two usages, affect means to influence and effect means the result of an action – and those are by far the most common uses. Examples? Student: How will this affect (try substituting the word “influence”) my grade? Teacher: I don’t know what the effect (try substituting the word “result”) will be.

a.m., p.m. – Recognise that 8 p.m. tonight is redundant. So, write 8 tonight, or 8 p.m. today. Better still: 8 p.m. Monday.

City Council – Capitalise when referring to a specific City Council, even if the name of the town is not given. Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner asked the City Council to spend more on patrolling near Griffith University.

co- – Sometimes it’s followed by a hyphen, and sometimes it’s not. When the prefix is part of a word indicating occupation, hyphenate, as in co-worker, co-owner. There are no hyphens when the letter “o” is doubled, as is cooperate and coordinate.

Collective nouns – In the United States, nouns such as team, Congress, committee and group take singular verbs, such as “is.” These collective nouns also take the pronoun “it” instead of “they.” So, if you’re confused about whether a word such as “team” is an “it” or a “they,” try making up a sentence using the word followed by “is” or “are.” You wouldn’t say “The team are playing well.” Try this, instead: “The team is playing well. It may win this game.” That’s correct.

Comma – Place a comma before and after the following when they appear in the middle of a sentence: A year, if it follows a month and date. Example: I was born on Nov. 6, 1958, in Brisbane, Qld; and an appositive, which means a word or phrase that says the same thing as a word or phrase next to it. Example: I saw my boss, John McFeely, in the hall. (My boss and John McFeely are identical.) However do not place a comma after a title that precedes a name. Example: Executive Editor John McFeely died today.

Days or dates? – The common rule for publications is to use the days of the week – Monday, Tuesday, etc. – when referring to events within seven days, before or after the publication date. When writing about events more distant, use months and dates, such as “April 30” and “June 5.” Do not use both. Do not use yesterday, today and tomorrow – if a story were delayed before publication, the time elements would be wrong.

Dimensions – Use figures for all numbers that indicate height, weight, width, etc., even for numbers less than 10. Example: The book weighs 2 pounds.

Essential clauses, essential phrases – If you use the word “which” to introduce a phrase or clause, precede it with a comma. Do not precede the word “that” by a comma. Use “which” to introduce non-essential phrases and clauses, which can be eliminated from a sentence without changing its essential meaning (such as in this sentence). See? If you drop the clause “which can be eliminated, etc.,” then the remaining sentence still has the same meaning – Use “which” to introduce non-essential phrases and clauses. Use “that” when you want to use a phrase or clause that cannot be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning (such as in this sentence). If you eliminate the essential clause from that sentence, you are left with “Use ‘that’ when you want to use a phrase or clause.” That gives a clearly different meaning than the original sentence, because you know by now that you want to start some phrases and clauses with “which,” and thus the sentence is illogical. If this causes you problems, let’s talk.

Fewer, less – Use fewer for things that you can count. Example: I have fewer quarters than you do. (You can count, “One quarter, two quarters, three quarters.”) Use less for things you cannot count. Example: I have less cash than you do. (You don’t say, “One cash, two cash, three cash.”)

It’s, its – “It’s” is a contraction that means it is, or it has. “Its” means “belonging to it.” Whenever you must choose one or another in a sentence, try inserting the phrase “it is” or “it has.” If one of those pairs makes sense, then use it’s. I use funny word associations to remember things like this. Technically, they are called mnemonic devices (as in the movie, Johnny Mnemonic). When I see the word “it’s,” I tell myself “the apostrophe means ‘to be.'”

Possessives – In forming the possessive of a singular proper noun that ends in “s.”, merely add an apostrophe. Examples: Otis’ cookies, Amos’ ice cream, Charles’ chips. To make something that is singular into a possessive, add ‘s; to make something plural into a possessive, first make sure it is plural, usually by verifying that it ends in an “s,” and then add an apostrophe. Here’s an example: One dog’s bone is worth two dogs’ ears.

Quotations in the news – Do not change words in quotation marks. Those quote marks tell the reader, “This is exactly what was said.” Quote marks always appear outside a period, comma, semicolon and colon. When a full-sentence quotation is introduced or followed by attribution, place a comma between them. Examples: I said, “What the heck is going on?” . . . “It’s the state fair,” he said. One exception to the rule is that quotations that are in the form of a question do not need a question mark and a comma – merely a question mark. Example: “What’s going on?” he asked. [Note the lower case “h” in he.] When using a sentence fragment as a quotation, do not set it off with a comma unless the sentence requires one for proper grammar. Example: He said he felt “sicker than a dead frog[no comma here]” after he drank too much tequila. [Note that the only words he actually said were “sicker than a dead frog.” The rest of the sentence is a paraphrase, not a quotation, and thus does not have quote marks.] Attribute direct quotes using the word “said” and “commented” etc (past tense), rather than “says,”.

Temperature – Use figures unless the temperature is zero. Examples: It’s minus 5 degrees. I hope it warms to 9 or 10.

United States – Abbreviate it as “U.S.” only as an adjective before a noun, as in U.S. hockey team, U.S. economy and U.S. bonds. Otherwise, spell it out: I live in the United States.

Vice president – No hyphen.

Brevity – Shorten phrases and get to the point. Example: Instead of “will give a performance,” write “will perform.”

Dates – Abbreviate months of the year when accompanied by a full date. Example: Aug. 16, 2004. Jan. 31. Not: December 14, 2000.

Exclamation points – Avoid them. When you use exclamation points, you’re shouting. Don’t shout, unless you’ve got a good reason to.

Feel, think – Feel is used for emotions or actually touching something. Think is used for rational, logical thought processes or coming to a conclusion. Example: I think the hat ban is wrong. Not: I feel the hat ban is wrong. Example: I feel sick, and I think it’s from eating a bad taco.

I – Don’t use “I” unless you’re writing a column. Journalists try to keep themselves out of stories. But you will see many magazine writers write in first-person narrative.

Passive voice – Avoid it. Instead of “Two silver medals were won by Jim Michaels.” Write “Jim Michaels won two silver medals.”

Said – The general journalism rule is to use “said” when you’re quoting someone. Don’t use exclaimed, noted, remarked, giggled, claimed, sighed. Said is used because other verbs can add unintended meaning to someone’s remark.

Show, don’t tell – The best way to bring a story to life is to use details, specific facts. Example: If you want to tell readers your story subject is into environmentalism, show it. “Bob Wong is a member of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. He started recycling 10 years ago. And he spends his Saturday mornings picking up trash from beaches.”

Time, Date, Place – Always put these in this order. Example: The meeting will be from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Indian Abroad.

Some Frequent Spellings:

  1. accommodate (two c’s, two m’s)
  2. adviser (AP likes an “e” in it)
  3. afterward (no “s” at the end)
  4. all ready (everyone is prepared; all are ready) and already (completed action)
  5. altar (table in church) and alter (modify)
  6. amid (has no “st” at the end)
  7. among (has no “st” at the end)
  8. calendar
  9. canceled, cancellation
  10. Caribbean
  11. cemetery (the vowels are “e’s”)
  12. embarrass (two “r’s” and two “s’s”)
  13. harass (only one “r.”
  14. homicide (not homocide)
  15. indiscreet (meaning imprudent)
  16. indiscrete (meaning not separated into parts)
  17. judgement (judgment is American English)
  18. Marshall, marshal, martial (a person’s name, a military rank, and an adjective meaning military)
  19. National Organization for Women (not “of” women)
  20. principal (meaning primary or major, as in the title of the high-ranking school official)
  21. principle (a fundamental law or doctrine)
  22. privilege (no “d”)
  23. subpoena (pronounced “suh-PEEN-a”)