Writing For The Web (Style Guide and Tips)

October 15, 2010

WBEZ WEB STYLE CHEAT SHEET

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Past Tense


The purpose of this style guide is to provide a standard frame of reference for all content producers and to improve the quality and consistency of our content presentation online. 

 

Note that all radio spots are now to be entered as print stories, not radio scripts. As broadcast writing and radio conventions differ somewhat from those used online, we’ve put together this short document to help make that transition – and the translation – a bit easier for you. 

 

Please adhere guidelines below when entering your story into the CMS. This will ensure we’re providing the best possible user-experience on wbez.org.  In most cases, the items below will be familiar and intuitive.

 

 

bylines: If the content is original and produced primarily by a single person, write By Joe Smith.

 

If it’s a standard interview segment in a show with a host or contributor (e.g., a two-way between Alison and Blagojevich produced by Joe), write Produced by Eight Forty-Eight, rather than Joe’s name.

 

If this field is left blank in the CMS, it defaults to your name, which links to your profile.  Also, you can enter “By (your username)” [e.g. (jsmith)] and the CMS will automatically enter your name in the field – and will automatically associate that story with your profile and all other stories you’ve created.

 

 

colons: Clauses after a colon should be capitalized only if they are independent. He had a problem: No one would buy his condo. And he blamed it on three things: location, location, location.

 

commas: A small note: Dependent clauses at the beginning of a sentence generally should be set off by a comma only if they’re four words or longer. On Wednesday we had an all-staff meeting.  In the interest of time, it was cut off after three hours. No Oxford commas.

 

corrections: In an effort to maintain the highest editorial standards, including accuracy and transparency, our policy is to correct factual errors online.  This includes the misspelling of names.   

 

Because of the way the site pulls copy into the teaser fields on feature blocks throughout, we will now indicate that a correction has been made at the bottom of the story, in italics, as follows:

 

A correction has been made to this story.

 

Also at the bottom of the post, describe the reason for the correction and the corrected fact(s) in italics as follows:  Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Mayor Richard M. Daley’s favorite color.  It is lavender.

 

When making corrections, do not repeat the incorrect information so as not to further confuse users.

 

dates:  Don’t say today or tomorrow in the body of a web story.  If you’re writing the story on Tuesday, write Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday announced he isn’t running for re-election. If the date is more than a week in the past or future, write it out: He made the announcement on Sept. 7.

 

dimensions: Use figures to spell out feet, inches, yards, etc. The car is 17 feet long. The 5-foot 4-inch mayor didn’t run for re-election.

 

governor: Abbreviate unless it begins a sentence. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn trailed in the polls.

 

headlines: Down-style capitalization, not up-style: Daley announces he won’t run again, not Daley Announces He Won’t Run Again. Please see note below about writing headlines for the web.

 

*Please note the CMS uses the word Title, but this is the same as the headline.

 

italics:  Titles of books, radio/tv programs, newspapers, magazines, movies, etc SHOULD be placed in italics. 

 

ledes: Web ledes should be direct (think inverted pyramid) rather than meandering teasers (like radio ledes):

 

      radio: Congressman Luis Gutierrez says he won't run for Chicago mayor. Gutierrez says his time would be better served working for immigration reform in Congress. He made the announcement Thursday at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

 

      web: Illinois U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez announced Thursday he will not run to be Chicago’s next mayor because he’d rather stay in Congress and fight for immigration reform.

     

legislative titles:  Use Rep., Sen., State Rep., Ald.,  etc. when referring to legislators. Spell it out when the title begins a sentence: Senator Richard Durbin met with Sen. Roland Burris. Mention party affiliation and home turf in the sentence, or set it off with commas and an endash: Former Democratic Illinois U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel ran against Illinois State Sen. John Fritchey, D-Chicago. Aldermen should be identified by ward only, as in Ald. Bernie Stone, 50th.

 

linking:  Embedding hyperlinks to your stories is encouraged.  It leverages the unique qualities of the web to add appropriate context to stories/posts and encourages additional exploration of stories, topics within our site

 

numbers: Write out numbers one through nine, use numerals for 10 and above. The four aldermen are facing 26 counts.

 

photo captions: All photos must have a caption – written as a complete sentence – and a credit: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn ate 15 hot dogs in nine minutes Wednesday. (WBEZ/Jane Smith).

 

photo credits:  Photo credits are in parentheses, and written as (Outlet/Photographer Name).

File photos: If the photo isn’t specific to the story but is one we have on file, note that it’s a file photo but still include a caption relevant to the story: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is calling for a hot dog tax. (WBEZ/file). 

 

Flickr photos: If the photo comes from Flickr try to determine the given name of the photographer and use that name in the credit instead of their username:  (Flickr/Jane Doe) Where no given name can be located, use the user name:  (Flickr/PhotoGirl)

 

Outside photos:  If a person or an organization supplies you with a photo you’d like to use, you can’t determine the identity of the specific photographer and it’s otherwise uncredited (i.e. from a press kit; an historic photo, etc) credit the source of the photo.  Example:  (Photo courtesy of Steppenwolf Theater)

 

Generic photos:  Use of file or generic photos/images is acceptable if they refer to the topic broadly or the subject generically (e.g., a stock photo of a “For Sale” sign in connection with a story on real estate or home foreclosures).

If a license requires you link back to the original photo you can use this html code to insert alink: <a href=”URL”>Title of Link</a> (replacing URL with the site you wish it to link toand the words you'd like hyperlinked where it says Title of Link)

 

quotations: Write as in a print story, not a radio script. Attribution goes subject-verb. “I quit,” Daley said Tuesday, not DALEY: I quit.

quotations in headlines:  Use single quotes when quoting in a headline

states: Write out state names in full.  Do not use abbreviations. 

tense: Past tense is encouraged and preferred for web stories, in keeping with the text-based and archival nature of web content. However, present tense is acceptable in cases where it’s helpful for clarity.  Don’t use “we” or “us” as you would in a script.

updates: When updating a story with new information, use the same CMS entry rather than creating an entirely new entry. Even though that news may go into two or three discreet radio spots, if the new information is part of the same developing story, it should exist online as one story (unless reaction to the story is substantial enough to warrant an entry unto itself). 

 

All updates to the original story entry should be noted at the top of the copy with the time and date included.  Example:  Updated at: 10:19am on 10/10/2010

 

 

Web Headlines 101:

 

A strong headline can maximize the number of times someone will click through to your story or the chance it will come up in a Google search (also known as SEO or search engine optimization).

 

Here are some tips for writing strong web headlines:

 

1.  Think in keywords:  Headlines are the number one tool used by search engines when indexing your story.  Think:  If someone was looking for my story, what words would they be typing into the search box.  Now use those words in your headline, where possible.

 

2.  Think about the headline appearing in multiple contexts:  In print, headlines only appear in one place and that place usually includes an image and the story.  With web headlines, the headline may appear in an RSS feed and the story and image will note be immediately available.  Make sure your headline makes sense and gives enough information even without the first few sentences or an image. 

 

3.  Use full names of people and places:  This is useful both in terms of optimizing the possibility that your story will appear in a search – and for ensuring clarity across multiple platforms and contexts (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc)

 

4.  Steer clear of puns:  While puns can be clever and witty (at times), they often cause problems on the web for two reasons: 1) They don’t contain the relevant key words that help with SEO; and 2) They fail to communicate what the story is about and therefore don’t generate click-throughs from users.  Be mindful of this the next time you’re thinking of writing “Bear-ly made it” in reference to last night’s nail-biting Chicago Bears victory.

*Please note the CMS uses the word Title, but th