Guide for Authors

General rules:

  • 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.

Style Guide

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References: Do not cite papers/articles like you would in an academic manuscript.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.

Titles

  • 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


Credit: This guide partially sources from the Massive Science Consortium's writing and style guide.

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