Editorial Manual — Introduction

Editorial Style

Welcome to the new Manual of UNU Editorial Style (also known by the acronym MUES — pronounced like “muse”; after all, every writer needs a muse).

Why did the UNU Office of Communications (UNU-OC) editors decide that we need a new style manual? Mainly to make things easier, not only for writers and editors but also for readers

For the past three decades, UNU Centre editors have relied on the 524-page United Nations Editorial Manual (hereafter UNEM) for guidance. The focus of UNEM, however, is on ensuring a standardised format and style for documents issued by or submitted to the UN Secretariat; it is less successful as a guide for clearly and concisely writing for scholars, policymakers or the general public.

“UN editorial style”, as prescribed by UNEM, is quirky; although it is based on British style, it deviates in many aspects from current standard British usage, and numerous American predilections seem to have crept in. And despite its length, UNEM remains silent on many of the “nuts and bolts” questions of punctuation, capitalisation, etc. that arise in daily writing/editing tasks.

To replace UNEM, and to better align UNU’s output with standard usage and practice, UNU-OC has prepared this Manual of UNU Editorial Style.

The first consideration was whether to adopt British or American style. While most of the editors now in UNU-OC prefer/are more comfortable with American style, given the global reach of UNU, and the reality that most UNU institutes are based in the European Union or in British Commonwealth nations, we have opted for British style.

Within the rubric of “British English”, though, an assortment of variations can be found. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, we deemed that the best course would be to base our MUES on a reputable, widely used style guide. After looking through numerous candidates, our shortlist was (i) the EU Publications Office Style Guide, (ii) the EC Director-General for Translation English Style Guide, (iii) The Economist Style Guide, (iv) the University of Oxford Style Guide, and (v) the Guardian and Observer Style Guide (hereafter GOSG).

In the end, we settled on the online GOSG. Granted, it isn’t particularly easy-to-use: the A-Z itemized format can make answers hard to find unless you happen guess the right term, and its explanations sometimes are too “clever” to the detriment of clarity. But the GOSG won out for three main reasons:

  • The UNU-OC Our World web magazine is part of The Guardian Environment Network, so the editors already have some experience with this editorial style.
  • The content style guide of the gov.uk website, of which the OC staff are big fans, is based (with some modifications) on the GOSG.
  • Each of the shortlist style guides has its own quirks; the GOSG, however, seems less quirky than most, and its precepts seem to be more internally consistent. Overall, it seems best aligned with the UNU brand identity. (tl;dr version: we liked it the best.)

Which is not to say that GOSG is a perfect match “as is”. Like the gov.uk website, the UNU-OC editorial team has decided to diverge from the GOSG on some issues. (Many of these divergences are so noted herein).

We welcome comments, suggestions for additions, and corrections. You can contact the UNU-OC editorial team at editor@unu.edu.