Following are the UTS journalism style guidelines:
BASIC STYLE GUIDE FOR ALL COPY
STYLE GUIDE FOR JOURNALISM STUDENTS:
For a journalist there is more to the right word than rounding off a fine description. The right word has to convey to the reader unambiguously and without confusion what the writer is trying to say. Every day reporters grapple with problems of textual accuracy and consistency. The problem might be the best way to handle a lengthy quote or a surfeit of abbreviations.
Most newspapers and publishing organisations produce a style guide for writers and sub-editors to save themselves from the traps of inconsistency. These guides can differ from organisation to organisation and will change over time. Media organisations adapt their style guides to changes in language usage and readers and audiences. Even quite minor differences in language and syntax can affect meaning. These UTS journalism style guidelines are basic and are generally applied. We have also included other recommendations on structuring stories. The aim is to promote clarity and consistency and to introduce students to a basic aspect of journalism writing to style.
Before handing in your story, check it against these guidelines.
QUOTES: Any quotes used must be a precise word for word reproduction of statement or comment made by an individual or excerpt from a document.
It cannot be altered and still remain a quotation. If you make a change to the material in direct speech you must take the material out of quotation marks and paraphrase into reported speech.
If you cut material from a quotation you must show that it has been cut by using an ellipsis three full points with a space between, as follows ( . . . )
It is advisable to use an ellipsis only once in a quotation.
Quotations used should be supported by evidence that they are accurate. In other words, keep your notes and tape recordings and documents from which the quote is taken. You may be asked to produce the evidence especially if the story is published and is controversial.
Said should be used for quotes in preference to verbs such as conceded, admitted, emphasised, pointed out, claimed, affirmed, contended, stressed, maintained, suggested and others, which mostly imply a judgment on the truthfulness, sincerity, etc., of the speaker.
TENSES: Do not mix them in a sentence. You can use use present tense/active voice in leads ie introductions. Use the past tense for reported speech in news copy for a paper because it indicates the situation at the time of writing and many things can change between then and publication in a newspaper.
The present tense is preferred for spoken word copy for radio and TV and for online news, which is expected to be read immediately. Even in copy for broadcast do not labour the present tense. To write “the prime minister expelled the ambassador last night” sounds natural and is correct. To attempt false immediacy by writing “the prime minister has expelled the ambassador last night” is neither.
Time is implied in directly quoted speech.
In print publication features present tense is acceptable.
HONORIFICS: Lose the honorific on first mention eg. Lebanese community spokesman Abdul El Ayoubi but thereafter Mr El Ayoubi, or Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and thereafter Mr Rudd.
Follow tradition in the newspaper industry by using surnames only for actors, artists, musicians and sports people but move away from tradition by keeping the honorific for people who are before the courts. The honorific can be dropped after a guilty verdict.
INTROS: The introduction may be the one chance a reporter has to grab the attention of most readers.
Sub-editors sometimes help this process by re-jigging the intro. But a reporter’s job is to make sure readers will want to read on.
There are exceptions to every rule but good news intros will be short, simple sentences using active voice and cutting to the heart of the story.
VERIFICATION AND ATTRIBUTION: No story should be written from a news release without the material being verified.
Contacting primary sources should always be a priority over lifting from other publications.
If you do need to use a quote or material from another publication or a recorded interview always source the material.
Eg Mr Jones was speaking on the ABC’s Lateline program.
RACE, NATIONALITY, ETHNIC ORIGIN: Mention race, nationality or ethnic origin only if strictly relevant, and it is usually not needed in the intro or even the first few paragraphs. Ask yourself if you would write that a person was Australian or Anglo-Celtic or Caucasian in the same context. Terms of racial abuse must never be used unless they are essential to a story, as might happen if they were integral to evidence in a court case.
NUMBERS: Dates: Month first then numeral: March 15, December 5.
Numerals: Spell out numbers under 10 use figures after 10.
For ages always use figures,
John Smith 2:
Mary Smith, 23:
Time: Express time in the simplest form possible: today, tomorrow, next week but beware of a couple of areas of confusion.
Sunday is the first day of the week.
Do not use 12am or 12pm. Use midday/ midnight.
Note 11.30pm (full point separating hours and minutes, am or pm close up). Do not use 10am this morning. It’s tautology write 10am today/yesterday/Tuesday last week
Use o’clock only in quotes or titles or light-hearted pieces.
Distance: spell out kilometres, metres and centimetres.
In lists, however, you can use the abbreviations such as km, m. cm.
Quantities: same rule as above applies, spell out litres and millilitres in isolated references but abbreviate for a group of such quantities.
Use per cent rather than % or percentage
NAMES and LOCATIONS: check names and locations carefully. Wrong names and locations damage credibility because many people recognise the error and question the whole story.
ABBREVIATIONS, CONTRACTIONS, ACRONYMNS: Shortening complex names and ideas is part of the job of a journalist, but avoid short forms that are not quickly and easily understood. Do not use full points with contractions except where the contraction forms another word that may confuse a reader.
Use initials such as ACTU that are well established, but do not clutter copy with bunches of capital letters. Do not use abbreviations that are irrelevant to the wider community.
Some contractions, like ACTU, ALP, USA , ABC, AIDS. CSIRO, NATO, NSW, RAAF, RSL, TAB, are part of everyday language but generally the first reference to an organisation should be full-out, followed immediately by the abbreviation in brackets: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group. Do not use initials in brackets if there is no later reference requiring their use.
With involved names such as the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, it can be referred to subsequently as the union/miners’ union/forestry workers’ union, and only infrequently as the CFMEU.
Long names of unions or other organisations should be avoided in intros. Say, for example, the forestry workers’ union or forestry workers.
However, initials must be kept in a direct quote.
Always remember your audience:
The RACQ might be a household name in Queensland, but the rest of the country needs to know it’s “… the Queensland motorists’ group, the RACQ …”
In other cases acronyms like Anzac and Qantas now stand as proper nouns.
Contractions of verbs: Contractions such as don’t, can’t, doesn’t, won’t, she’ll, aren’t, have their place in light-hearted pieces and must be kept in quotes. They should not be used otherwise.
Abbreviations after a name: Senior and Junior, contracted after a name, should be spelt Sr and Jr. Initials after a name, such as QC, do not need to be enclosed by commas.
JARGON: Jargon is the use of words with meaning peculiar to a group and whose use excludes outsiders. Jargon is one of the hurdles placed in the way of clear writing along with obfuscation, officialese, bureauspeak, buzz words and ‘police-speak’.
They can be accidental or malicious because they are used thoughtlessly by some and to conceal the full import of information by others.
Our task is to maintain the accuracy of the story but simplify its delivery to our audience.
There are words that should start alarm bells ringing whenever they appear. Two regulars are situation and condition. Always remove them when they occur in phrases like the appalling weather conditions/situation.
TAUTOLOGY: A man was killed when he was electrocuted… or some variant is a tautology commonly perpetrated on the news-consuming public.
A tautology is repetition that serves no purpose. Killed is a tautology because electrocution means a fatal shock. Others would be two twins or ‘most of our imports come from overseas’. In the spoken word some tautologies, like grateful thanks or usual habit, are so widely used that they are accepted. Some are in a class of their own: “I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father” (Greg Norman) or “If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again” (Terry Venables).
EXTRAS: Remember a baby becomes a child at 12 months.
Avoid tautology, as in she gave birth to a baby boy; should be she gave birth to a boy. In intros the word baby is usually far more immediate than the sex and age of a child. A baby was rescued from … has more impact than a 10-month-old boy was rescued from….
boy/girl, adulthood begins at 18.
Brand names – avoid and use generic term e.g. Hoover should be vacuum cleaner
Prison for jail or gaol
Teenage not teenaged
-ize should be -ise. Eg. organise, not organize.
Centre not center. Program not programme.
X-ray cap and hyphen.
Sydney Morning Herald Style Guide
Australian Associated Press ( AAP) Style Guide
Handbook for journalists: Reuters
The Guardian Style Guide
The Economist Style Guide
The Associated Press Style Book.
News Ltd Style
Annette Blackwell, UTS journalism, February 2009