Salient style guide

by / 01/10/09

This is a guide for Salient‘s writers to follow. It outlines the basic rules of writing that Salient adheres to, as well as explaining some finer points of grammar and common mistakes people make.

Why have a style guide?

For consistency. Consistency is very important. Imagine reading a magazine that used a different font, font size and layout for each page—it would be very difficult and annoying. Of course, those things are for the editor and designer to take care of, but it comes right down to the writing as well. How punctuation is used, spelling, when to use double quotes or single quotes, italics, capitalisation… These things all come together to give the magazine a sense of style. Think of it as brand recognition.

General

All writing should be done in New Zealand English and follow the rules of the English language. Do not use text abbreviations or l337 speek, as people find it annoying and hard to read. Use proper capitalisation and punctuation, and don’t be lazy.
If you want to use it or make mistakes intentionally (playing around with language and such), then it needs to serve a purpose in the writing (such as for comedic effect) and I need to be aware of it—so you need to make a note of it or it needs to be obvious, otherwise I might think it’s a mistake and fix it. I don’t mind people playing around with language. Also, I won’t understand your obscure pop culture references.

When referring to Salient, use italics. This also applies to other student rags, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Email/web addresses in italics.

    Write to us at letters@salient.org.nz, or leave a comment on our site at salient.org.nz.

When quoting someone or something, use double quotes. Single quotes are for song titles, quotes within quotes or so-called ‘words’. If you’re placing emphasis on something, you can use italics.

Numbers zero to ten are written, 11 and up are numerals. When referring to issue numbers, measurements or mathematical stuff, use numerals.

Numbers going up to 9999 to be written without a comma to separate the thousands, 10,000 onwards to have the comma(s).

Use em dashes for asides—like this—rather than hyphens – like this. Em dashes are slightly longer than normal dashes, and we’ll be using them without spaces on either end. On PCs you should be able to get em dashes using alt+0151, and on Macs with apple+shift+hyphen.
You don’t necessarily have to use em dashes, as they will be replaced during the sub-editing process as necessary.

If referring to an acronym in your piece, you need to introduce it by writing it out in full, followed by the acronym in brackets. After this you can just use the acronym. For example:

    The National Institute for Weather and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) announced that… Researchers from
    NIWA have been working on…

If the acronym is a familiar one, then it shouldn’t have to be explained, such as USA, UK, the UN, VUWSA.

Titles such as Mrs, Mr, and Dr will not be written with a full stop.

Capitalisation

Words that should be capitalised are organisations, people or place names, days of the week, months. The personal pronoun I.

Words that are tricky are words such as mum and dad. If you are referring to them in name and not relationship, then capitalise:

    “But my mum wouldn’t do that.”
    “But Mum wouldn’t do that.”
    “But Carol wouldn’t do that.”

A similar thing applies to titles. If using the full title, capitalise, otherwise don’t. For example:

    “VUWSA President Max Hardy has been arrested following… After his release, the president fled to… Victoria
    University stated that… the second VUWSA president to be trespassed from the university…”

Words that shouldn’t be capitalised are the (Kelburn) quad, and just about anything else not covered by this list.

Punctuation

Exclamation and question marks—will be used only when necessary. You might be able to get away with using two exclamation or question marks, or one of each, but no more.

Quotes—punctuation must be included inside the quotes if it is part of the original quote. If you are quoting just words or snippets, then punctuation goes outside of the quotes:

    John described his friend as “annoying” and “a bit of a dick”.
    “Seriously, how do I get rid of him?” he said.

Brackets—are used for adding bits of information that aren’t entirely necessary to the sentence. It should be possible to edit out brackets and anything in them and still have grammatically correct sentences. Therefore punctuation that is part of the sentence should go outside of the brackets. Only punctuate inside the brackets if it is required—i.e., if you are using more than one sentence or need an exclamation or question mark.

Colons—used to introduce extra information, and to start off a list or example:

    “Things I need from the gardening store: hatchet, rubber hosing, plastic rubbish bags, flashlight, manual
    landscaping implement, calcium oxide.”
    “That’s what I’m going to do: internment.”

Semicolons—can be used between closely related clauses, in place of some conjunctions, and to separate items in lists, usually when commas would be unclear:

    “I come here for the peace; I like digging in the woods at night.”
    “You can’t arrest me; I haven’t done anything wrong.” (The semicolon implies the word because.)
    “The hatchet is for cutting things into small pieces; the rubber hosing is to drain fluids; the rubbish bags are
    for putting rubbish in, for safe disposal; the flashlight is to see in the dark; the shovel is for digging graves;
    and the calcium oxide is for hiding the stench of a decaying body in an open grave.” (Using semicolons in such
    an extended list is necessary, as commas don’t separate the items clearly enough.)

Ellipses—there are three periods in an ellipsis. If you are ending a piece with an ellipsis, then use four periods (extra one for the full stop). In quotes, an ellipsis is used for pauses in speech, or with square brackets when editing text out:

    Original: “I’m going, um… outside to the bushes in the park to stalk.”
    Edited: “I’m going, um… outside [...] to stalk.”

Line breaks—it is important to spread out your writing each paragraph or so. This ensures that it doesn’t look like a wall of text, which is just daunting to read.

The possessive apostrophe Singular Plural
Not possessive A word
A DVD
A typo
My grandma
James
A man/A woman
The words
Two DVDs
Several typos
Our grandmas
James and James
Men/Women
Possessive The word’s pronunciation
A DVD’s menu
A typo’s cause
My grandma’s dog
James’ job
The man’s/woman’s shirt
The words’ effect
The two DVDs’ menus
The typos’ causes
Our grandmas’ punk rock band
James and James’ room
Men’s toilet/Women’s toilet*

*If the plural is formed without an s, then the apostrophe goes before the s.

Hyphens

Hyphens are used to connect or separate words, either for style purposes or to clarify meaning. Most commonly (apart from in emoticons) they are used in what is called a compound modifier, where it is used to connect descriptive words together when one modifies the other and not the noun, making the meaning clear. Take some sort of awesome vegetable that eats people, for example. You’d describe it like this:

“A man-eating celery is causing havoc in the library.”

Note the placement of the hyphen between man and eating. This is because here the word man describes the word eating (and not celery), and only together they describe the noun celery. If we remove the hyphen, the meaning of the sentence changes drastically:

    “A man eating celery is causing havoc in the library.”

Without the hyphen, it now says that a man who is eating celery is causing havoc in the library.

Basically you need to decide if the words belong together, and use a hyphen if they do:

    “Dr Dre-dissin’ gangsta fools and their zombie-like moaning.”

Just like in the previous example, the hyphen is placed in between Dr Dre and dissin’, as Dr Dre describes what the fools are dissin’. Note that gangsta is hyphen-free, because it is being used as an adjective that isn’t being modified by anything else—i.e., the fools are gangstas as well as Dr Dre-dissin’. If we removed the first hyphen, it would mean that Dr Dre is dissin’ the gangsta fools. Also note the hyphen between zombie and like, as like is being added as a suffix to modify zombie into an adjective.

However, if the adjective is preceded by an adverb, no hyphen is necessary, as adverbs can’t modify nouns—they describe the how, when, where and why, modifying verbs and adjectives—so it is clear that it modifies the adjective and not the noun. Adverbs commonly end in -ly.

Words you should know about

a lot—is two words.

amongst—Among and amongst are completely interchangeable, but we’ll only be using among, mainly for consistency’s sake.

complement—To go well with something.

compliment—To praise something.

Courtenay Place—Note the spelling. Not Courtney Place.

definitely—spell ‘definite’, then just add ‘-ly’.

e.g.—For example. i.e.—That is. e.g. shows one or a few examples out of many, whereas i.e. refers to something specific. Also note the placement of full stops.

fewer—I can say I have fewer dollars, but not less dollars. I can say I have less money, but not fewer money. This is because dollars can be counted (in a grammatical sense) but money cannot—you can say 12 dollars but not 12 money. The same thing goes for many dollars and much money.

it’s—can either mean it is or it has. If you can’t replace it with one of these, then you should probably use its.

its—a possessive pronoun. If you can change ‘it’ to a man or a woman, then you should also be able to replace the its to one of the other possessive pronouns, his or her:

    What’s that over there?
    It’s a cadaver. The zombie lost its brains.
    It’s a cadaver. The zombie lost her brains.

let’s—Short for let us. Different to “George lets the dog go.”

no one—Two words, no hyphen.

okay—not ok or OK.

per cent—is two words. Percentage is one.

practice/practise—practice is a noun and practise is a verb. Advice is a noun and advise is a verb—these two words have the same endings but they sound different when spoken. Compare this with practice and practise to get the right one.

there—where something is. Ask where?

their—belongs to them. Ask whose?

they’re—they are. Ask who are?

whilst—Same thing as among/amongst. We’ll be using while.

whom—This form is slowly being phased out of the English language, so you can get by with just who. If you want to sound smart and use whom then just make sure you get it right (I’ll be double checking anyway). Who is used for the subject of a sentence, and whom is used for the object. This basically means that who does the verb, and whom is what the verb is acted upon. See the Sentence structure section below for a better explanation.

who’s—means who is or who has, similar to it’s.

whose—belonging to someone.

your—belonging to you.

you’re—you are.

Sentence structure

A basic sentence structure goes subject – verb – object.

Subject—The subject of a sentence is the thing doing the verb.
Verb—What the subject is doing. Together, the subject and verb can act upon an object.
Object—What the subject and verb are acting upon in a sentence.

In the sentence “Juliette gets all the boys”, the subject is Juliette (the one doing the verb), the verb is gets (the action the subject Juliette is doing), and the object is all the boys (what the subject and verb act upon—what Juliette gets). This may not seem important at first, but a few words change depending on their function.

The conjugation of the verb depends on the subject:

Verb conjugation (to be) Singular Plural
First person I am We are
Second person You are You are (y’all are/you guys are)
Third person He/she/it is They are

Verb conjugation (to have) Singular Plural
First person I have We have
Second person You have You have (y’all have/you guys have)
Third person He/she/it has They have

Pronouns (I/you/he/she/it/we/they) are used to replace nouns and names. They are different when acting as the object of a sentence:

Pronouns as objects Singular Plural
First person You bit me. The zombies are overwhelming us.
Second person I am eating you. They’re going to kill you guys.
Third person He zombified her/him/it. Just fucking shoot them!

The who/whom example acts in the same way:

    Who gets all the boys? (She gets all the boys)
    Juliette gets whom?/Whom does Juliette get? (Juliette gets them)
    Who gets whom? (She gets them)

Reviews in general

Name of artwork, exhibition, TV programme, book, movie, theatre production, etc, should be in italics. Company names, episodes, chapters, scenes, etc, are not.
If a movie, book or play is named after a character, for example, Don Carlos in Don Carlos, then you should not italicise the name when you are referring to the character.

Music reviews

Band names in normal text (Muse).
Album names in italics (Showbiz).
Song names in single quotes (‘Sunburn’).

    My favourite track from The Prodigy is ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, from The Fat of the Land.

Annoying things people do

Double spacing—this is when somebody puts two spaces where there should only be one (after full stops or in between words), and there should always only be one. According to Wikipedia the practice of putting two spaces after a full stop comes from the olden days of monospaced typesetting (having characters of equal width), where the “increased spacing between sentences facilitates readability”. With the introduction of proportional fonts in publishing, this has changed.
In my opinion, the gaps you see between these words are all of equal space, and if you happen to put two spaces somewhere then it creates uneven-looking text.

R.I.P—If you are using an acronym with full stops, then you must also place a full stop after the last letter, even if it is in the middle of a sentence.

:-) —Textual expressions are usually saved for less formal means of communication, such as text messages and some emails.

could of/should of/would of—could, should and would are auxiliary verbs (or ‘helping’ verbs), which require a verb for them to work properly. Of is a preposition and not a verb, so the proper written form is could have, should have and would have, or at least shortened to could’ve, should’ve and would’ve. People get this confused because the ‘ve sounds like of when spoken.

try and do something—This is usually incorrect. If you try and do something, it doesn’t make sense most of the time. “I’m gonna try and use grammar properly.” Using the conjunction and instead of to separates the sentence into two bits: “I’m gonna try” and “(I’m gonna) use grammar properly”. However, try is a transitive verb, and it requires either a verb in the infinitive (indicating purpose—what you’re trying to do) or an object.
“Come and do something” is probably the cause for this common error. You can come and you can do something. You can also come to do something.

Get lost looser!—Lose is a verb. Loose is an adjective. You can have a tooth loose, but once you lose it, it’s gone.

Beowulf lead the men into battle—lead can be a verb or a metal. The past tense form of the verb is led, and is pronounced the same as the metal. You could either say “Beowulf leads the men into battle” (present tense) or “Beowulf led the men into battle” (past tense). Confused? The present tense form of the verb to read changes pronunciation in the past tense just like to lead, but the spelling remains the same. I read about it.

She’s going to insure that doesn’t happen—Insurance is related to the verb to insure. The verb to ensure means to secure or to guarantee.

    You should ensure that you insure your car on time.

women joggers, three males—Male and female are preferably used as adjectives, and men and women are used as nouns. Three women who are also joggers can be described as female joggers, but not women joggers.

Before you submit your piece

There are a few things you should do before submitting a final copy.
1. Use a spell check to make sure there are no spelling mistakes.
2. Read the piece again. Look for:
    a) Any revisions you might need or want to make.
    b) Factual errors.
    c) More spelling mistakes. If you’ve accidentally used or spelled the wrong word, the spell check won’t find it.
    d) Grammatical mistakes. Follow the style guide, and make sure everything makes sense.
3. Make sure the file is in a format we can use, and any pictures are separate files.

If you have any questions about grammar or need anything explained, email me at mikey@salient.org.nz.

About the Author ()

Mikey learned everything he knows about English Grammar in an MSN chat room when he was 13. Believing that people don't say "LOL" enough in everyday conversation, he has made it his mission to teach the world about grammerz one person at a time.

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