Writing & Editing – General Guidelines

Editorial Style

Some general editorial guidance and best practices.

For guidance on aspects of the mechanics of writing (usage, punctuation, capitalisation, etc.) not covered in this Manual of UNU Editorial Style (MUES), please refer to the Guardian and Observer Style Guide and the gov.uk Content Style Guide.

For questions about spelling not covered in MUES, consult the Concise Oxford English Dictionary or the Oxford Dictionaries website.

Write in a style that is clear, simple, and accessible. Our audience is worldwide, so use global (“British”) rather than “American” English.

Remember that for many of our readers, English is not their first language. Avoid colloquial or idiomatic words or phrases, and briefly explain technical terms on first use.

Write conversationally, as if you are talking to a group of colleagues (not lecturing to a captive audience).

Write so that a general audience can understand (doing so isn’t “dumbing down” the content — consider it as “opening up” and elucidating complex academic/scientific concepts). Use “plain English” that enables persons with lower-level reading ability to understand content they might otherwise find perplexing, and allows people with higher-level reading ability to grasp your message as quickly as possible.

Finally, some general tips when writing for online publication (but applicable to all writing):

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use simple, everyday words rather than complex terminology.
  • Write in a style that is appropriate for your target audience.
  • Write in a direct, conversational style (but avoid idioms, colloquialisms, and jargon).
  • Be specific rather than general.
  • Use active verbs.