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Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Doing it with style

A perennial issue for any science writer, especially freelance contributors, is which "house style" to adopt. "Style" isn't about fine writing or grammar, but the need to be consistent in what appears in a publication. How do you deal with numbers, for example? Is it "5" or "five"? Neither is wrong, but you cannot chop and change within a publication.

Most larger magazines and newspapers have their own house style. Writers should, then, get their hands on a copy, if possible, and stick with that.

There are times when there is no house style to guide a writer. There can even be projects where the writer has to set the style. This is often the case when you are working for a large organisation – maybe a government department or a research organisation – that is not primarily in the publishing business.

A good place to start on the subject could be the Thoughts on Style from the Institute of Scientific & Technical Communications. As well as offering some sound advice, the ISTC has a pdf file of its own house style. As the institute says, this style guide "demonstrates a minimalist approach to style guidance". It is not a bad place to start to assemble a style guide for other projects.

The ISTC's web also has a page of "Further reading" with links to several other style guides.

Much of this information is relevant to any area of writing. Even the ISTC steers clear of ruling on issues of science and technology. Maybe that is something that the ABSW might like to investigate.