At ecrLife we strive to maintain consistency in our style and in our editorial standards.
Guide for Authors
- We do not accept articles with more than two authors. Exceptions apply
- Avoid repetition within sentences and paragraphs. Do not use the same words and phrases repeatedly.
- Avoid exclamation points.
- Don’t use the passive voice.
- Don’t use quotes that aren’t directly related to the text. Only use quotes by characters who appear in the text. This means no song lyrics, no quotes by celebrities etc.
- Generally speaking, don’t cut your piece up into sections with subheadings. A story should flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next.
- The final piece should be a maximum of 1,100 words. Aim to write between 800 and 1,500 words for your first draft but don’t stress about the word count when you write.
- Headlines. Editors will headline articles at their discretion, though authors are welcome to provide suggestions.
This is an alphabetical list that we will keep updating as we come across new terms that need clarification:
Adverbs: Don’t follow them with hyphens. “newly refurbished kitchen,” not “newly-refurbished kitchen”
Contractions: Use them. Write “don’t” instead of “do not” etc. However this is not a blanket rule, don’t use contractions when they don’t work with the tone of the sentence/paragraph.
Degrees (academic): No periods in degree titles that come after someone's name (Rachel Dreyer, PhD; Emma Clune, RN). Do put periods on honorifics before names (Dr. Steven Goldenberg).
Dashes: em-dash with spaces on either side (this is an em-dash: —)
Emphasis: Using italics for emphasis is fine so long as it isn’t overused.
Gender: Use the singular “they” to refer to an individual of unknown gender, not “he/she”.
Headlines: Headlines are written with only the first letter capitalised.
“Fighting the impact factor, one CV at a time”, not “Fighting The Impact Factor One CV At A Time”. The exceptions are abbreviations and proper nouns.
Numbers: Numbers below 10 must be spelled out (two not 2)
OK, not “okay”
Oxford commas: In a list, like apples, bananas, and pears, there is a comma before the “and”
Percentages: It’s “1 percent,” not 1% or one percent. Numerals and then write out the word.
Possessives that end in "s": If something is owned by more than one person, put the apostrophe at the end with no extra -s ("That's the Jones' house") If a word ends in -s- but is singular, add 's as you normally would ("That's Chris's pen").
References: Do not cite papers/articles like you would in an academic manuscript. Simply add a hyperlink to the article in the relevant word of the sentence.
For example: “There is no Nobel, for instance, for agricultural sciences where advances during the Green Revolution saved millions of lives in the last century.”
Not: “There is no Nobel, for instance, for agricultural sciences where advances during the Green Revolution saved millions of lives in the last century (1).”
Also, no reference lists at the end of an article.
Spaces: One space between sentences. Never two.
- Book titles, Journal titles, movie titles, magazine titles: Italics — Moby Dick; The New Yorker; Journal of the American Medical Association; Jaws
- Articles, chapters, etc (one level down from top-line titles): double quotes — “This is the title of a study about optogenetics,” The Journal of Optogenetics that I Just Made Up
US, no periods, is the abbreviation for “United States”
Word choice: Follow the KISS rule. Would your non-scientist friends understand the words and concepts you’re using? If you aren’t sure they would, pick new ones or explain in simple language
Guide for Editors
The editor’s role at ecrLife is to help an author convey their message to the widest possible audience and to provide constructive feedback to help authors improve their writing.
As academics we’re far too used to giving and receiving blunt, direct feedback. Try to resist this impulse and give feedback that’s positive, constructive and that doesn’t alienate the author. This means first identifying some positives in the piece followed by measured criticism.
“This is extremely well-written, I barely needed to edit your writing. I do think we need to work on the structure a bit, here are my thoughts.”
“Your piece is constructed beautifully, I’ve just edited a few grammatical errors and typos.”
“This is such a fantastic idea, do you think you could perhaps phrase it more directly for the reader?”
When you receive a pitch, you have to decide whether to say “Yes”, “Yes with these changes” and “Pass”. Occasionally you will receive a well-crafted take on a new topic or idea that is just perfect. More often though, we receive pitches that need some work. In these cases, give feedback that helps the author clarify the message behind the article they are pitching. This involves asking the author to read articles that may be published elsewhere that have similar takes or thinking of ways in which the author can bring novelty to their work. You may want to think about what part of the pitch really speaks to you and guide authors to focus on that. There’s no clear rule here but try to shape a pitch to be as novel and as striking as it can possibly be.
Rejecting/Passing on a pitch: In some cases you may find a pitch that offers nothing new to the conversation on a particular topic. You should feel empowered as an editor to reject such pitches by simply saying that the author should try pitching something more novel or exciting. Remember that every accepted pitch is also a time-commitment from you as an editor and be prepared to say no to pitches that you feel warrant rejection.
Editing the first draft
When you look at a first draft try to first consider things like content structure rather than immediately fixating on grammar and language (I know how tempting that is!). The first thing you need to do is look for large structural changes that would make the article easier to read and comprehend. This means getting rid of repetitive sentences and paragraphs, often asking authors to shorten their introduction and tightening up the message overall. Don’t be afraid to use the “Delete” key!
IMPORTANT: The first two-three sentences are the most important part of the article. The reader should be captivated and should get an idea of the message contained and described in the rest of the article. Pay extra attention to this part of the draft and make sure it's tight and on-point.
After you make structural edits, send the draft to the author and then proceed with the revised version:
Once you’re happy with the structure of the piece, proceed to make line edits. Line edits involve going through the document line by line and identifying things like overused words, abrupt changes in tense, tone, confusing sentences and paragraphs. Feel free to suggest alternate words etc.
The final step in the process involves correcting grammar and typos. At this point make sure to check that all assertions are supported and feel free to ask the author to link to an extra reference or remove a statement that is not factual etc.
At this point you should be able to read the article and feel happy with the flow, the language, the voice and the structure.
Interviews can be longer than the 1100 word limit. When editing interviews try to avoid editing the interviewees words and instead trim the text by shortening the questions, or deleting entire questions and answers. If you need to edit an interviewee’s response, make sure you get written approval of the edits.
We can accept anonymous articles (for e.g. in cases where the author fears recrimination) similar to The Guardian’s Academics Anonymous series. However, the identity of the author must be known to the editor. Anonymous articles will also be fact-checked like other articles on the website. Anonymous articles may not mention the identity of an institution or PI, especially if they are portrayed negatively.
No allowed: “I work at the University of Narnia, which fails to uphold even the most basic rules for equity in promotion.”
Allowed: “I work at a major research university, which fails to uphold even the most basic rules for equity in promotion.”
Credit: This guide partially sources from the Massive Science Consortium's writing and style guide.