Writing rules: in practice

Writing for the web means keeping a constant watch on readibility, usability, media complementarity and relevant interactivity.

 

 

Note: To measure the length of a text, we use the term character count (the length of the text) expressed in signs. In typography, a sign is “an empty or full character”. A full character is a character and an empty character describes the space between the words.

For example: Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne – This expression contains 40 signs.

No more than 3 screen pages (3,000-3,500 signs or 450-500 words approximately).

For an article, you can choose one of the following formats:
– newsbrief: a short title, a short text of 3 or 4 lines (400-500 signs, 60 words approximately).View a standard newsbrief;
– short article: a short title (on one line if possible), a relatively short text of 1,500 signs, approximately 200 words), divided into short paragraphs (3-4 lines max.), a teaser with one sentence/one line, a small visual. View a standard short article;
– medium length article: a title over 1 or 2 lines, text taking up approximately one screen-page (2,000 signs, about 300 words), divided into short paragraphs (3-4 lines at most), a teaser of 2 sentences/2 lines at most, a large visual placed between the teaser and the start of the text. View a standard medium length article;
– full-length article: a title over 1 or 2 lines, text taking up approximately 2 to 3 screen-pages (3,000-3,500 signs or some 450-500 words), divided into short paragraphs (3-4 lines at most), a teaser of 2 sentences/2 lines at most, a large visual between the teaser and the start of the text, other smaller visuals (photo, map, graphics…) in the text. View a standard full length article;
– feature story: a title over 1 or 2 lines, a “long” teaser of 3 or 4 sentences, a medium-sized or large visual, a summary listing the items in the feature (4-5 elements at least, clickable links).

Journalistic styles favouring identification:

– the interview: this is the main style for identifying the reader. Well-chosen questions give rise to precise, concrete answers, moving between one human, the expert, to another human, the reader. The goal: give precise information understandable by all through a specialist.

Several forms of interview are possible:
> The interview-testimony: 1 single question, one long answer;
> the “3 questions to…” interview: 3 short questions that are precise and coherently inter-connected, 3 short and compact answers. Alternate between closed-ended questions (yes or no answers) and open-ended questions (questions such as Why… or How… require detailed answers);
> the long interview: it contains between 6 and 8 questions, asked of one or more people (interview-debate). Prepare precise and well-ordered questions to keep the detailed content consistent all the way through.

Note: include a photo of the person or persons interviewed for better reader identification.

– the special report: this is the opposite of an account (see below). It is more dynamic and delivers the information collected from a venue or event through pictures, sounds (relevant sounds, words), sensations… The goal: focus on an atmosphere, people, interactions between them.

– the portrait: this is the “human” style by excellence. It shows multiple facets of a person: physical elements, qualities and faults, achievements, opinions and values, possibly contradictions. The goal: to reveal a player, a personality.

Journalistic styles encouraging reflection:

– the summary: this is the principal thought-provoking journalistic style. It is similar to a summary or scientific abstract and gives readers the key information about the topic being discussed. It treats this topic selectively and does not go into detail. Other aspects of the topic are addressed by links to other content;

– the analysis: this is the opposite to a summary. It answers one main question, WHY? The topic is not simple or is controversial. The article therefore offers the facts and possible interpretations/explanations;

– the account: this is the “faithful witness”. It recounts an event (meeting, conference, etc.) factually and in the most objective manner possible. What is important here is accuracy, thoroughness and neutrality. The goal: to focus on the facts.

The “style of all styles”: the feature story

Already mentioned above when discussing the form, the feature story is a style of journalism that encompasses all the others. It comprises at most 4 or 5 elements, content items presented in one of the styles mentioned above and set out in a table of contents. For example, a feature story can contain:
– one main article;
– one or more secondary articles;
– non-textual content: slideshows, videos, graphics;
– “participatory” content: quiz, survey, online simulator…
– click-on content: links to articles in the archives or external articles, documents to be downloaded.

The goal here is twofold:
– “break down” a subject that is too dense and that would be unreadable if treated in one single article;
– energize a subject by dealing with its multiple facets separately and through several media.

1°) Presence/absence of hypertext links
– If the content is short (newsbrief, article less than 1,500 signs / 250 words): no link.
– Other formats: systematic links.

2°) Number of links
2-3 links at most in a medium length article, 3 to 5 links in a full length article. For feature stories, include a Link selection section.

3°) Position of the link
–      No link in teasers or subheads.
–      No link at the start of an article or links that are too close to one another.
–      Links of direct relevance to the article should be placed within the text.
–      Links enabling readers to go into greater detail (through other content in the archives, external documentary resources, documents to be downloaded): at the end of the article (in a Further Reading section, for instance).

4°) Link support:
– To remain legible, the link support must be short, 4-5 words at most.

For example: The laboratory published its activity report 2017.

– To be understandable and attractive, the link must clearly indicate what it goes to, possibly mentioning any constraints (digital format, language…)

For example: Look up global rankings of the best universities for engineers (PDF, in English).

5°) Destination of the link
– Links leading to a “non-EPFL” web page should always open a new window so as to not “overwrite” the original page.
– Links leading to another EPFL page will replace the original page which contains the link.
– A link takes the reader to a specific web page (not a site’s home page).

Basic editing rules

– All articles have titles.

– A teaser is required when articles exceed a certain length (1,500 signs): this is a summary of the article in one or 2 sentences. The teaser is stand-alone, it must be able to be read by itself; it is not the beginning of the article but a summary of the whole content.

– Subheads are required when articles exceed a certain length (1,500 signs) – every 2 or 3 paragraphs for instance. These subheads give information on the paragraph immediately below.

– Medium or full length articles can have callouts (quote block): a significant statistic, a compelling idea, a powerful quote displayed in a specific space can incite the reader to continue or resume reading.

– All articles should mention the date of publication; any updates should also be clearly specified.

– All articles should bear the signature of the writer.

 

To go further: typographical rules

General rules

Beyond the texts themselves, other criteria specify the form that some words must take.

– Justification: all texts are aligned to the left margin only (“flush left”).
– Bold and italics: no bold or italics will be used in the body of the articles. Bold will be limited to subheads and teasers.
– Punctuation: no full stop for titles or subheads.
– Signature: no signature for non-scientific articles, scientific articles are signed and the author’s name is clickable (all articles written by…).
– Quotes: quotation marks (“”).
–  Paragraph spacing: one single line break between 2 paragraphs.
– Uppercase and lowercase: the use of uppercase and lowercase letters follows typographical codes.

Note: The summaries mentioned below are listed in the appendices.

A summary of these rules.

Specific rules in use at EPFL.

– Digits and numbers: the use of digits and numbers follows typographical codes.

A summary of these rules.

– Bold, italic and underlined words: using the various “weights” and related typographical processes.

A summary of these rules.

– The title is not the theme of the article but precise information about what we have to say on this theme.
For example: The oceans are colder than we thought (and not a generic expression like: Ocean temperatures).

– A good title is clear, concise, short, precise and original.

– Like all other editing features (teaser, subheads…), the title contains one or more keywords (see search engine optimisation (SEO) rules below).

– A subhead is a “mini-title” for the paragraph that immediately follows it.

– The teaser is not the beginning of the article. It is rather a summary of it and the information we are about to read.

– Some readers only have time to read the teasers. The teaser must be stand-alone and should not require the reading of the whole article to be understood.

– A good teaser is short (depending on the space available, at most 1 or 2 lines or sentences), clear, precise, adapted for search engines and eye-catching: it must give readers the desire to go further (click or scroll to read the article).

General rules

Beyond the texts themselves, other criteria specify the form that some words must take.

– Justification: all texts are aligned to the left margin only (“flush left”).
– Bold and italics: no bold or italics will be used in the body of the articles. Bold will be limited to subheads and teasers.
– Punctuation: no full stop for titles or subheads.
– Signature: no signature for non-scientific articles, scientific articles are signed and the author’s name is clickable (all articles written by…).
– Quotes: quotation marks (“”).
– Paragraph spacing: one single line break between 2 paragraphs.
– Uppercase and lowercase: the use of uppercase and lowercase letters follows typographical codes.

 

Specific rules in use at EPFL

To review the specific rules in use at EPFL, please read our abstract of typographical rules.

 

 

– Any content (text, visual, sound) must be associated with keywords or key phrases (tags)to be easily indexed and found by search engines. This indexation facilitates internal searches, helps external search engines and makes the article easier to read especially on social networks.

– A keyword is as precise a term or expression as possible. To help search, this term must be as specific as possible and not generic.

– Keywords and key expressions are to be found in 2 different locations:

> within the text: significant keywords can be integrated and repeated in the title, teaser, the start of the text or further on;

> outside the text: in addition, the main keywords will be located at the end of the text (Tag section).

 

Short articles: an example.

Medium length articles: an example.

Full-length articles: an example.