A Brief Style Guide



Thank you for considering contributing to The Ecologist. Our website offers a platform to a range of thought leaders, academics and change makers from around the world who are each working in a number of different sectors and disciplines. This brief guide is intended to support you as you draft your article, and to ensure that everything we publish is clear and consistent.

For a comprehensive index of conventions regarding spelling and grammar, please refer to The Guardian’s style guide. If you have any further questions, please get in touch with the editor of the website, Brendan Montague, at editor@theecologist.org.


If you are pitching an idea for the first time, please use this link. If you are uploading your piece directly to our website, please consult our step-by-step guide to the Content Management System (CMS). If you’re emailing an article, please send it in Times New Roman, single-spaced, pt. 12, with no additional formatting. Please check through this guide before you submit your article.

Structuring the text

The headline should be unambiguous and fewer than 10 words. Please do not use capital letters apart from the first word and names etc.

The total article should be 600 to 1,000 words in length. The body of the text should include short two-word subheadings: the first should appear roughly after the first three paragraphs, and thereafter every five paragraphs. These are intended to organise the text and keep the reader interested, they are not intended to encapsulate an argument.

Please provide a subheading or teaser text of one or two sentences and in total about 30 words that will appear at the top of the text in bold. Please identify a key quotation from the body of the text that will also appear towards the top of the webpage. These should both appear above the main body text in any emailed submission.

Voice and tone

Remember that you are writing for an online format that will be read on a variety of digital devices, many of them handheld and less suitable for reading long, complex sentences and paragraphs. Ensure that paragraphs are concise, declarative and self-contained, and that the crux of the story appears at the very beginning.

Use an active voice, in which the subject of a sentence clearly completes an action.

Eg. ‘Campaigners have welcomed the promise of an Environment Bill.’

Scanning for words like ‘was’ and ‘by’ will help you to identify the passive voice, in which it takes longer to reach the subject of the sentence.

Eg. ‘The promise of an Environment Bill was welcomed by campaigners.’

Many of our articles are informal and accessible: it’s perfectly fine to use contractions: you’re, it’s, they’re etc.


Use double quotation marks for reported speech and quoted writing. When quoting sources, place the attribution at the beginning:

Eg. Andy Gluckman, the chief executive, said: “Science is not like it once was.”

You can include hyperlinks to sources but please avoid footnotes or endnotes. Do be aware that with a hyperlink you are inviting your reader to abandon your article - at least momentarily - and focus their attention elsewhere. Where possible, please use a hyperlink to another story at The Ecologist.

Quotations of 50 words or more should be split into paragraphs with double quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the final paragraph.


Sometimes it can be helpful to add ‘that’ after a verb:

Eg: ‘He argued that the evidence had been convincing”

A general rule, use ‘which’ for relative clauses that could be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentences (these clauses usually follow a comma), and ‘that’ for introducing essential information.


Use ‘while’, not ‘whilst’; ‘among’, not ‘amongst’ etc.

In the case of news stories correct Americanisms, such as labor, color favor, center, toward, artifact, endeavor, fervor, maneuver, skeptic, pretense, ‘-ize’. If it is a comment article from a US author for a US audience these may be left in place.

Non-English words which have not passed into common English usage should be italicised.

‘Affect’ is a verb that signifies influence (eg. ‘The hot weather has really affected health’); ‘effect’ is a noun signifying the result of an influence (eg. ‘The pollution is having a disastrous effect on Londoners’).


Use commas to separate clauses and ensure your sentences are easy to follow. An ‘Oxford comma’ is used before the final ‘and’ in lists. Where the sentence is straightforward, this isn’t necessary. In some cases, it can help the reader to determine the relationship between items in a list: it can be helpful to read sentences aloud to determine whether an Oxford comma would help.

Do include a colon after ‘said’ etc when presenting quotations. This would take the following form:

Alice Walker, the author, said: “The colour is purple.”


Do not use hyphens for compounds (eg. ‘thinktank’), unless you are using two or more words adjectivally (eg. ‘nineteenth-century ecology’). Hyphens can be used to avoid ambiguity (eg. ‘an animal-abusing corporation’) but often reorganising the sentence is the best solution (eg. ‘a corporation that abuses animals’).


Use spell check software but don’t rely on it to proofread for you. Use the Find (‘ctrl + F’) function to search for common errors such as double spaces and spaces before commas/full stops.

This Author

Each new article published on the website ends with This Author, followed by a short - less than 30 words - biography of the author. This is a good place to link to any book which has been published (the title should be italicised) and to also include a Twitter handle if the author so wishes.