This guide is based on the Yahoo! Style Guide.
What’s in this guide:
- Our voice – write accessible and engaging posts by using our tone of voice
- Spelling – use US English
- Be inclusive, write for the world – ensure your posts are easily understood
- Punctuate proficiently – tips and tricks
- Abbreviate, capitalize, and treat titles consistently – a guide to our style
- Apply a consistent style for numbers – a guide to our style
- Word list – from A-Z, how we write
Everyone’s writing style will be different. But there is a certain tone that we’d like to strike on the blogs which translates across different styles of writing. This is summarized with examples below:
Human sounds like when you’re talking to another person. It’s likely to sound less formal than the style you’d normally write in. You might use more contractions – I’ve, they’re, you’d, it’s. You might occasionally start a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’. Human also sounds like a real person, with opinions and passion for their subject.
An easy way to tell if you sound human – read what you’ve written back to yourself and see whether or not it’s something you would say to someone in a conversation. (You can also read some tips in this Forbes article and this article on NextScientist.com)
|Given this trend, it makes sense that we’re also seeing an increase in the number of researchers from Asia choosing to publish their research open access. According to Joyce Li, our Journal Development Manager based in Beijing, open access is growing in China, and we’re also seeing a lot of interest in partnerships to start new OA journals.That said, there are still a lot of questions around open access and plenty to do if the model is to become as established as it is in the US and Europe.||We are seeing an increase in the number of Asian researchers choosing to publish their research in open access journals. Open access is growing in China, and as publishers, we are receiving considerable interest in developing innovative partnerships to create new journals.However, we believe that more can be done to establish the open access model in Asia in the same way that it has become established in the US and Europe.|
Knowledgeable sounds like someone who is confident in their understanding and opinions. You might reference your previous experience in the area you’re writing about, or tell stories that explain your background in a topic.
An easy way to tell if you sound knowledgeable – read the blog back, does it sound confident and with clearly expressed views? Does the reader know why they should be listening to you?
|I’ve been working in the editorial teams of OA journals for almost six years now. The time we take to learn the trade of editorial work is not trivial – and a large focus is on learning and adhering to the highest standards of publication ethics and practice. So, it’s extremely troubling when a subset of OA journals start to have a negative impact on the reputation of OA journals in general.||It’s thought that adhering to the highest standards of publication ethics and practice is important. However, it seems to be that a subset of OA journals that do not adhere to these standards are having a negative impact on open access generally.|
Spirited sounds like someone who is enthusiastic about their subject and determined to make sure that the reader feels the same. Let your interest in the subject shine through and give it a bit of personality.
An easy way to tell if you sound spirited – read the blog back and ask yourself ‘can I tell that the person who’s written this is interested in the subject and wants me to be excited about it?’ If the answer is no, go back through the blog and think about how you can work some of that in. (Our writing guide can help with this.)
|Do you feel you’re drowning in the dating scene? Have you suffered a string of failed relationships or flings? Is love a distant dream you are beginning to lose faith in? Well, cheer up, because if you think your life is lacking in romance, you should see how awful the animal kingdom can be. Here we show you how shallow, promiscuous, strange, and utterly dreadful creatures are when it comes to love.||It’s Valentine’s Day today and so we thought we’d take a look at the strange world of romance in the animal kingdom. From Strawberry Dart frogs to Black Widow Spiders we take a look at our research and what it tells us about their love lives.|
A quick disclaimer on tone of voice
Of course, different blogs on different subjects will inevitably call for a different balance of the elements in our tone of voice. A blog about Valentine’s Day is the perfect place to play up the ‘spirited’ element, while a blog about a new open access mandate calls for more of the ‘knowledgeable’ element. No matter what, we should always sound human.
In product names and website copy – and on the blogs – we use American spellings (anesthesiology, anemia, catalog, color, etc). Always make sure you check this before sending posts for review.
Be inclusive, write for the world
When writing for the blogs, always remember your audience. We’re aiming the majority of our blogs at ‘interested lay readers’ and scientists (but non-specialist).
So what does this mean? Well, essentially we want people with a knowledge of science to be able to understand all of our blogs, no matter what research field they are in. So for example, a physicist should be able to understand an article on the microbiome, and a biologist should be able to understand a post on medical ethics.
We’re also a global organization with a global audience, so it’s worth remembering that not everyone reading a post will be reading it in their first language or will know about things happening in a certain country.
For example, it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone reading will know what DNA is, but don’t be so sure that they will know the NHS or ISRCTN. With all this in mind, try to:
- Keep sentences short and simple
- Avoid using technical language and jargon – write the blog in the style of an opinion piece you would find in a high brow newspaper – it doesn’t have to be dumbed-down, just clear.
- Avoid using initials and acronyms, and always explain them if you do – unless it’s so commonly used that it’s likely to be understood by a wide range of audiences. And try to avoid using too many as they can make the page look messy.
- Avoid being too location-specific – while it’s fine to write about things that are only relevant to one country – especially if you can show how it applies to others – it’s important to remember that not everyone reading the post will be from the same place as you.
Before: The journal, which has already made a considerable impact here, will be relaunched as an open access journal in January by the new Editor-in-Chief, with the hope of reaching foreign markets.
After: The journal will be relaunched in January by the new Editor-in-Chief. It has already made a considerable impact in the UK, and hopes to reach new countries by becoming open access.
Keep punctuation simple. Some rules to remember:
- Uncluttered and easy-to-read sentences work best online. If you find yourself using comma after comma after comma, try making two (or even three) short sentences out of that long one.
- Avoid overusing exclamation points. Your words should be so clear and strong that they don’t require extra emphasis.
- Use the serial or ‘Oxford’ comma. In a series consisting of three or more elements, separate the elements with commas. E.g. Our blogs are written by our staff, Editors, and authors.
- Use single quote marks to refer to words, titles, or to indicate irony, sarcasm or nonstandard usage. For example:
- The sentence contains two instances of ‘friend’, one misspelled, the other spelled correctly.
- The paper suggests that ‘sugar-sweetened beverages’ are bad for our health.
- The US military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy was introduced in 1993.
- Use double quote marks for quoting speech. For example:
- “It’s an unexpected finding,” said Dr. Watson, lead author on the paper. “We really didn’t think that Holmes could have survived a fall of that height.”
- Professor Moriarty said, “it’s been a complete surprise to me too, believe me.”
- Semicolons can be used to separate related independent clauses (that is, clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences), if they are not joined by a conjunction (such as ‘and’ or ‘but’).
Abbreviate, capitalize, and treat titles consistently
No matter how familiar an abbreviation or acronym may seem to you, some visitors – particularly from other countries – may be unfamiliar with the term.
- If the shortened form of the word may be unfamiliar, spell it out the first time it’s used. g. Many sites now support Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a method of accessing content online.
Abbreviations and acronyms don’t need full stops/periods between them. So, it’s USA, not U.S.A.
Capitalization and titles
We use sentence case for titles and headings on the blogs. This means:
- Capitalize the first word and any other words that are normally capitalized (such as proper nouns). For example:
- How can tagging a hammerhead shark help save the species?
- Are carbon nanotubes the next asbestos?
- The long-lasting impact of El Niño on child growth in Peru
Take a look at our word list to check whether certain words related to our business should or shouldn’t be capitalized.
Apply a consistent style for numbers
We use numbers a lot in our blogs, so it’s important we keep a consistent style. Below are some simple rules to follow:
- Spell out numbers below 10, use numerals for 10 and above. With a few exceptions:
- In headlines, particularly in the number is important, it may be better to use the numeral
- If a passage contains two or more numbers that refer to the same category of information and one of them is 10 or higher, use numerals for all of them. g. The delegation included 3 women and 11 men.
- When referring to the age of a person or animal.
- Express large and very large numbers in numerals followed by ‘million’ or ‘billion’, etc. g. 5 billion people, 7 million liters.
- If expressing a number greater than 999 in numerals, use a comma. Except in page numbers, addresses, or years. g. 1,240 people took part in the study
- Avoid starting a sentence with a number. Except in a headline.
- Write dates in the US style. g. The journal is launching on January 22, 2015.
- When possible, use decimals instead of fractions. ‘1.5’ rather than ‘1-1/2’
- When using fractions that stand alone (without a whole number) spell them out and hyphenate. g. In three-quarters of cases
- Use the ‘%’ sign, rather than spelling out ‘percent’.
|24/7||Note slash. E.g. Phones are staffed 24/7|
|3D||No space. No hyphen.|
|3G, 4G||For cell phone networks|
|50-50||Note hyphen, and use of numerals|
|a lot||Two words. Not ‘alot’.|
|a.m.||As in 9 a.m.|
|aka||Abbreviation for ‘also known as’|
|all right||Two words. Not ‘alright’.|
|Alzheimer’s||Note capitalization, and apostrophe|
|amid, amidst||Amid is the preferred choice in the US|
|among, amongst||Among is the preferred choice in the US|
|anti-||Generally a hyphen is not needed, unless the root word starts with and ‘i’ or a capital. E.g. anti-intelligence, anti-American, antidepressant|
|article level metrics||Lowercase|
|article-processing charge||Not capitalized, has a hyphen|
|backward, backwards||Use ‘backward’ in American English|
|BA||Abbreviation for Bachelor of Arts|
|biannual, bimonthly, biweekly||Don’t use these words as they are ambiguous in meaning.|
|billion||Use numerals with ‘billion’. Don’t hyphenate the numeral and ‘billion’|
|biodiesel||One word, no hyphen|
|biology||lowercase unless part of a proper noun|
|BMC||Not BioMed Central.|
|birth date||Not birthdate|
|BMC series||‘BMC’ italicized. When used as a noun, no hyphen. E.g. The BMC series goes from strength to strength. When used as an adjective, it does have a hyphen. E.g More BMC-series journals are tracked by ISI than independent ones.|
|BMC Series blog||Name of a blog|
|breast cancer||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|BugBitten||The name of a blog. Note the second capital ‘B’.|
|cancellation (n.), canceled, canceling (v.)||The preferred US spelling has two ‘l’s in noun form and one ‘l’ in verb form|
|cancer||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|cardiovascular disease||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|CC BY||No hyphen. All capitalized.|
|cell phone||Interchangeable with ‘mobile phone’|
|centiliter||Note US spelling|
|centimeter||Note US spelling|
|chair, chairperson||Try to use these gender-neutral terms rather than ‘chairman’ or ‘chairwoman’|
|CO2||Acceptable abbreviation for carbon dioxide|
|co-||Use a hyphen between this prefix and root word unless the word is one that the dictionary closes up, such as ‘cooperation’, ‘coordinate’|
|conference, conferences||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|crowdsource, crowdsourcing||One word|
|data||Treat data as a mass noun like ‘information’, taking a singular verb. E.g. The data is lost.|
|daylight saving time||Lowercase in all uses. ‘Saving’, not ‘savings’.|
|dialog, dialogue||Use ‘dialog’ for the term ‘dialog box’. Otherwise use ‘dialogue’.|
|disabled||OK to use as an adjective when referring to people with disabilities. E.g. Can disabled people access your website? Do NOT use as a noun, as in ‘the disabled’.|
|do’s and don’ts||Note apostrophes.|
|double check (n.), double-check (v.)||E.g. A thorough double check of the dataE.g. Please double-check your data|
|Dr.||As in ‘Dr. Watson’|
|dreamed, dreamt||The preferred US spelling is ‘dreamed’|
|e.g.||Abbreviation. OK to use when limited for space.|
|Earth, earth||Capitalize when used as the proper name of the planet. Lowercase in all other uses.|
|Editor-in-Chief||Capitalized, with hyphens|
|Editorial Board||should always be capitalized|
|One word, no hyphen|
|forward, forwards||Use ‘forward’ in American English|
|full text||Two words, not capitalized|
|full-text format||Has a hyphen when used adjectively|
|genetics||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|genomics||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|global health||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|government||Lowercase, unless referring to a specific government. E.g. There are concerns over new government guidelines being introduced in several countries. The UK Government is looking into these urgently.|
|health||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|health services research||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|hold on to||Not ‘hold onto’|
|how-to (n., adj.)||As in ‘Your how-to guide to publishing a research paper’, or ‘Here is our peer review how-to’|
|ID||All capitals, no periods, no space|
|i.e.||Abbreviation that means ‘that is’. OK to use when space is a consideration, otherwise say ‘that is’ or ‘in other words’|
|Impact Factor||Note capitalization|
|infectious diseases||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|IT||Acceptable abbreviation for ‘information technology’|
|journal||Lowercase, unless part of a proper name of a particular journal|
|kg||Acceptable abbreviation for ‘kilogram’|
|km||Acceptable abbreviation for ‘kilometer’|
|learned, learnt||The preferred US spelling is ‘learned’|
|low-fat (adj.)||As in ‘a low-fat diet’|
|malaria||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|mankind||DON’T use when referring to all people. Use ‘humanity’ or ‘humankind’|
|manuscript||The author’s version of a paper – generally applied to the paper during the time before it was published, though you can retrospectively talk about ‘accepted manuscripts’.|
|medicine||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|Membership||Capitalized when referring to BioMed Central Membership, and any of its subcategories. E.g. BioMed Central has a Prepay Membership|
|mental health||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|million||Use numerals with million and include a space after the numerals. E.g. 248 million. As part of a compound adjective, use a hyphen. E.g. a 7-million-year-old fossil|
|multi-||Generally, close up this prefix with the root word, unless the root starts with an ‘i’ or a capital letter. E.g. multiplayer, multiscreen, multi-industry|
|neuroscience||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|non-||Generally, close up this prefix with the root word, unless the root starts with a capital letter. E.g. noncommercial, nonprofit, non-Darwinian|
|no-no (n.)||Note hyphen|
|nutrition||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|obesity||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|OK||All capitals. Not ‘okay’, ‘Ok’, or ‘ok’|
|On Biology||Name of a blog. Note capitalization.|
|On Health||Name of a blog. Note capitalization.|
|On Medicine||Name of a blog. Note capitalization.|
|open access||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|Open Access Week||Note capitalization|
|open data||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|open science||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|paper||an informal general term covering manuscripts and articles|
|peer review (n.), peer-review (adj.)||E.g. We carry out peer review on all papers submitted to our journals. The peer-review process is extremely thorough.|
|percent||In general, do not use. Use ‘%’ instead.|
|PhD||Acceptable abbreviation. No periods needed.|
|p.m.||As in ‘it is 5 p.m.’|
|post-||Generally, hyphenate this prefix with the root word. E.g. post-publication, post-peer review, post-production|
|president, President||Lowercase unless used as a formal title before a name. E.g. President Barack Obama visited the Queen. Her Majesty was impressed by the president’s sharp suit.|
|program||Note US spelling, not ‘programme’|
|public health||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|Q&A||Acceptable abbreviation for ‘question and answer’. All capitals, no spaces. Note ampersand.|
|Research Awards||As in, ‘the BioMed Central Research Awards’|
|reproductive health||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|retrovirology||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|RSS||Acronym for ‘Really Simple Syndication’. Avoid using on its own, instead use ‘RSS news feed’ or ‘RSS newsreader’ as appropriate|
|setup (n., adj.), set up (v.)||E.g. Set up your account. The setup is very straightforward.|
|spokesperson||Use this in preference to ‘spokesman’ or ‘spokeswoman’|
|super-||Generally, close up this prefix with the root word, unless the root starts with a capital letter. E.g. superfood, superdelegate, super-PC|
|sustainability, sustainable development||Lowercase|
|techno-||Generally, close up this prefix with the root word, unless the root starts with a capital letter. E.g. technophobe, technobabble|
|toward, towards||The preferred US spelling is ‘toward’|
|UN||Acceptable abbreviation of ‘United Nations’. Ideally spell out on first use.|
|US, USA||Acceptable abbreviations|
|virology||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|
|while, whilst||The preferred US spelling is ‘while’|
|www.biomedcentral.com||All lowercase, no ‘http’ necessary|
|zoology||Lowercase, unless part of a proper noun|