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Style, Usage, Tone, Voice
Updated 6.11
Many different writing styles coexist at WGBH. This guide outlines elements that will
help us achieve consistency within our organization.
The guide will continue to be updated with your help. Please send suggestions, additions,
or questions to Constituent Communications’ Cynthia Broner
([email protected], x5310).
The most important rules:
• Keep a good dictionary and thesaurus bookmarked/handy.
• Use SpellCheck—but don’t rely on it to determine correct word usage (they’re, there,
and their, for instance).
• Be consistent within a document.
This guide represents only a small slice of the rules that govern good writing. Many more
are available on the Web and in books, including:
• Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com)
• The Associated Press Stylebook
• The Chicago Manual of Style
• Fowler’s Modern English Usage
• The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
• Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style
• The Washington Post Deskbook on Style
THE BASICS
Tone and Voice
We want to be friendly and inviting. Keep the tone informal and think about the audience
you are targeting.
• When appropriate, use “we,” “you.” At times, “WGBH is….” is the best option, but
consider whether “we are” fits the situation.
• Don’t assume that readers will understand references. Always take a step back and
make sure you’re supplying context and avoiding insider jargon. For instance:
- If you mention WGBH’s MoPix system, explain what it is.
- Don’t use “PTV”; it’s an inside term that is not used outside the system.
- Don’t use insider acronyms (e.g., TOH for This Old House) or shorthand terms
(Roadshow).
-
Exception: If you’ve used Antiques Roadshow in a piece, it’s OK to use
Roadshow in a later reference (more on this below).
Don’t reference “the Foundation” (more on this below).
Titles
WGBH’s Constituent Communications department italicizes all program titles and uses
uppercase initials only, followed by lowercase (Nova, not NOVA) to avoid such up-anddown sentences as “WGBH is the source of Arthur, ZOOM, Between the Lions,
FRONTLINE, and The World.” Productions, of course, do as they wish in their own
materials (press releases, websites, etc.).
Exceptions:
• in QuickNooz, where WGBH’s own productions are capitalized to set them apart from
other productions
• on wgbh.org, where bold is the norm, not italics
• if italicizing is not an option and capitalization is the only way to set the title apart
Use upper/lowercase and italics for series titles, program titles within a series, and
episode titles.
A Celtic Sojourn
Frontline’s Breaking the Bank or Frontline: Breaking the Bank
Nova’s Arctic Passage
Masterpiece Mystery!: Miss Marple
Note:
• Program titles from other producers may reflect styles other than those listed in this
guide (for instance, Fabulous 50’s). In that case, we use the title as is (“coming up”
messages on the air, in our members’ magazine, on wgbh.org, etc.).
Song titles and exhibition titles are roman, in quotation marks:
• “The Star-Spangled Banner”
• “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” at the Museum of Fine
Arts
Artwork titles are in italics: van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows
Do not use quotation marks or italics for classical works:
• Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat
Exception:
If a multi-part classical work, such as an opera or a ballet, has a “songlike” name,
italicize it:
• Bizet’s Carmen
• Handel’s Messiah
First use always should reference the complete program title (Antiques Roadshow, etc.).
If a title is used frequently thereafter within a piece, titles may be shortened (Roadshow)
if that’s a familiar usage outside WGBH. Avoid insider jargon such as TOH, AmEx.
WGBH Channels
Use the correct designations for our channels, which take advantage of the positive
associations with the WGBH brand:
TV
WGBH 2
WGBH 44
WGBH World
WGBH Create
WGBH On Demand
’GBH Kids
(also: Boston Kids & Family)
Radio
89.7 WGBH, Boston’s NPR® Station for News and Culture
99.5 All Classical
WCAI, the Cape & Islands NPR® Station
Web
wgbh.org
If a channel is being used repeatedly, the “surname” may be used alone after the first use
of the full channel name (e.g., first use WCAI, the Cape & Islands NPR® Station;
thereafter, WCAI).
Note: Longtime viewers still may say “Channel 2”; we shouldn’t. Use WGBH 2.
WGBH
WGBH’s licensed name is WGBH Educational Foundation. Internally we talk about “the
Foundation.” However, this is not a familiar term outside WGBH, and it can be
confusing: foundations give away money; we seek it. So avoid “the Foundation” except
where required. Stick to WGBH.
WGBH vs. Departments
The tendency within WGBH is to talk about specific departments rather than the
institution. In general, guard against this:
WGBH is the largest supplier of Web content to pbs.org. (rather than WGBH
Interactive is…)
Programs vs. Productions
Using “productions” when talking about programs we create underscores the homegrown nature of the show, as opposed to programs we acquire for broadcast.
WGBH productions such as Arthur
Sesame Street and other WGBH programs
Programs vs. Programming
Outside the media world, folks think about programs, not programming. Use the former
rather than the latter.
Pledge your support for the programs you enjoy on WGBH 2.
Children vs. Kids
Best choice depends on usage. “Children” is more formal and often preferable when
talking about educational media. “Kids” is more colloquial and may seem more natural in
a quote, or as an alternative to avoid overuse of “children.”
WGBH is a leader in children’s television, and millions of parents and kids rely
on us for education and entertainment.
Avoiding Bias
WGBH is committed to avoiding bias on our air and in our writing and publications. That
means:
• Steer clear of sexism, racism, ageism, or any other -ism.
• Don’t hyphenate such terms as African American or Korean American, whether as
adjectives or nouns.
• Respect current preferred terms (“people with disabilities” vs. “handicapped”).
• Put the emphasis on people (“people who are blind” vs. “the blind”).
• Make sure that text and images are inclusive.
For a full discussion of these issues, consult A Guide to Bias-Free Communications at
WGBH:
innertube.wgbh.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=107&Itemid=29
MORE TIPS
Abbreviations
WGBH style is no periods in abbreviations.
US
PhD
DVS
Use periods in initials for names (P.G. Wodehouse), except when expressly not used by
the individual (M Howard Jacobson).
Acronyms
Spell out most acronyms on first use, then you can use the acronym on second use:
…at the Federal Communications Commission. Nevertheless, the FCC decided…
More formally, handle this way:
…at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Nevertheless, the FCC
decided…
If the acronym is in the dictionary (aka, AIDS, CEO, HMO, LP, CD-ROM), then do not
spell out on first use.
Certain organizations (WGBH, AARP, TDK) are known by their acronyms, so do not
spell out.
Ampersand
Unless an ampersand is part of a title, generally write out “and.”
Sound & Spirit
jazz and classical
Apostrophe
Use Smart Quotes style (the “curly” kind of apostrophe/quote: ‘/’, “/”).
Make sure the apostrophe goes in the right direction: ’09, ’GBH.
Our channel numbers carry the full WGBH name. In talking to our local audience, we
sometimes use ’GBH (“Here at ’GBH, we’re putting your membership dollars to work”).
The apostrophe can provide a familiar, insider feeling; when used appropriately, it says
you know us well enough to call us by our nickname. But we want to capitalize on the
equity of the WGBH brand wherever we can.
S’ vs. S’s
WGBH style is PBS’s (as opposed to PBS’), CBS’s
No apostrophe for plurals except when essential for clarity.
PhDs
CD-ROMs
YMCAs
The Smiths
A’s and B’s
’50s (for 1950s), not 50’s
’n’ (for and): rock ’n’ roll
Proper names can be tricky. When in doubt, check a good stylebook.
Ken Burns’s Jazz BUT in Jesus’ name
Capitalization
Capitalize top-tier professional titles when they precede the person’s name. Lowercase
the title when it follows the person’s name:
WGBH President Jon Abbott
Jon Abbott, president of WGBH
Capitalize the “R” in WGBH Radio when talking about our formal service, but lower
case the “r” when talking about the medium:
All the great WGBH content you enjoy on TV, radio, and online…
Cities
A city must include its corresponding state/country. Whether or not you spell out the state
(York, ME vs. York, Maine) depends on the context, preferred style of the piece,
formality of the writing, etc. Again, be consistent within the communication.
Exceptions: Many cities can stand alone without state or country name. For example:
Atlanta
Baltimore
Boston
Chicago
New York
London
Paris
Tokyo
Cairo
Use full state name if it’s used alone: Idaho (He was born in Idaho vs. He was born in
ID.)
Comma
The serial comma is preferred, for clarity. Again, consistency within a communication is
key.
John, Mary, or Joe
Moe, Larry, and Curly
If a sentence has two different subjects, separate those two parts with a comma:
The Northeast had no electricity for a day, so people sat on their stoops and got
acquainted with their neighbors. (“Northeast” is the subject of the first part, and
“people” is the subject of the second part.)
If both parts of the sentence are short, then you can forgo the comma:
The checks bounced and the dog died.
Add a comma after state and year:
I was born in Flushing, NY, on May 25, 1963, at 4:40pm.
However, no comma when month plus year or season plus year:
April 2006 BUT April 4, 2006
Fall 2006
Dashes
The common dash—used to mark an abrupt change in the structure of a sentence or to
add parenthetic elements—is called the em dash because it is the width of a capital M. In
typewriting, this dash is generally represented by two hyphens (--). Word processing
automatically converts this to —. Do not add spacing around this dash.
Colon vs. Em Dash
The em dash is greatly overused. A colon, not a dash, is the correct choice for the
following sentence:
WGBH is PBS’s premier producing station: Nova, Frontline, Arthur, Antiques
Roadshow, Masterpiece, and many other favorites are “produced in Boston,
shared with the world.”
Dates
Whether or not you abbreviate a month (January 2 vs. Jan. 2) depends, again, on context,
formality, etc. Be consistent. Always spell out a month if no date follows: January 2010.
Note below that all the months that always get spelled out are lumped together: March,
April, May, June, July.
Use cardinal numbers (24 vs. 24th):
Tune in Thursday, April 25, 9-11pm
Use BCE and CE rather than BC and AD.
e.g. vs. i.e.
e.g. means “for example”; use it when you’re providing only a sampling of a long list:
He enjoys WGBH’s productions, e.g., Jazz on WGBH with Eric Jackson, Greater
Boston, and Between the Lions.
i.e. means “that is”; use it when you’re supplying the complete list:
He enjoys the media access services on WGBH 2 and WGBH 44, i.e., DVS and
captioning.
Remember to use a comma after either one.
Headlines/Titles
All words in headlines and titles are initial capital letters except
articles (e.g., the, an, a)
conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or)
prepositions of four or fewer letters (e.g., like, with, of)
The first and last word of a title also begins with an initial cap even if it falls into one of
the above categories:
In the Kitchen with Julia and Jacques
Note that “Is,” “Are,” and “That” should be capitalized in titles and often erroneously are
not:
Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
If a title is contained within a title, distinguish the interior one with Roman type:
Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Hyphenation
Use hyphens to:
• make clear the unifying sense in compound expressions such as punch-drunk, costbenefit analysis, or weight-carrying, or compounds in attributive use (that is, in front of
the noun), as in an up-to-date list
• join a prefix to a proper name (e.g., anti-Darwinian)
• avoid misunderstanding by distinguishing phrases such as twenty-odd people and
twenty odd people, or a third-world conflict and a third world conflict
• clarify the use of a prefix, as in recovering from an illness and re-covering an umbrella
• represent the use of a common element in a list of compounds, such as four-, six-, and
eight-legged animals
• divide a word across a line break
Examples of hyphen vs. no hyphen:
fastest-growing segment of the population
on-air promotion vs. She is on the air.
an up-to-date memo vs. This memo is up to date.
a first-class seat vs. We sat in first class.
real-life stories vs. She is a mom in real life.
high-definition TV vs. This program was filmed in high definition.
Exceptions: If an adjectival phrase is composed of a noun + noun, do not hyphenate:
database management system (“database” and “management” both are nouns)
home improvement program
Hyphens never follow “very” or adverbs ending in -ly:
visually impaired members
highly organized team
very good girl
Attach most prefixes and suffixes to their root word without a hyphen:
lineup
citywide
twofold
preeminent
reenactment
childlike
miniseries
If the root word is capitalized, use a hyphen after the prefix:
pro-American
Some suffixes do take a hyphen (follow Merriam-Webster’s):
tie-in
start-up
Use hyphens in double-“I” and triple-“L” constructions:
anti-imperialist
anti-inflation
multi-instrumentalist
shell-like
Hyphenate adjectival use:
Two-year-old boy
He is two years old.
On-air promotion
She is on the air.
In numerical range, space follows the first hyphen:
12- to 14-year-olds
Sometimes sense governs whether or not to use a hyphen:
recreate (enjoy oneself) vs. re-create (form anew in the imagination)
recover (regain) vs. re-cover (cover again)
reform (improve) vs. re-form (form again)
resign (quit) vs. re-sign (sign again)
Hyphenate “prime-time” as an adjective (“our prime-time programs”); two words as noun
(“broadcast during prime time”). Note, however, that the official name of the NATAS
award is the Primetime Emmy, so reflect that usage when writing about the award.
See Word Treatment for more hyphenation issues.
Italics
Italicize opera titles, books and magazines, plays, etc. Song titles are in quotes.
Verdi’s Stabat Mater
The New Republic
Sinatra’s “My Way”
Artwork titles are in italics: van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows
Non-English phrases that are not a familiar part of the lexicon are in italics.
searching for le mot juste
Ship names are in italics.
the Titanic
Live Performances
For in-studio performances, use “live” to indicate a performance that is being broadcast
as it is occurring. After the fact, the performance should be referred to as an “in-studio
performance.”
Numbers
Write out numbers below 10, except when they begin the sentence. Use numerals for 10
and higher. But be consistent within a sentence; don’t both spell out and use numbers:
broadcasting 24 hours a day
a series for two- to six-year-olds
a series for 2- to 11-year-olds
Note the following
Episode 2; Hour 1; Part 4
Act 3
World War I, World War II
early 19th-century ceramics
Fifth Avenue
Thousands: Use a comma to distinguish a number from a year:
In 1991, there were 1,991 births in the region.
For percentages, use numerals and percent symbol, even at the beginning of a sentence:
25% of our members give money every year.
For millions and billions, use numerals except for casual use:
China has more than 1 billion citizens.
The budget is $5.5 million.
This is a $10 million-a-year job.
There are a billion stars out tonight.
Keep the “million” in the first part of a range:
We hope to pull in $2 million to $4 million (vs. We hope to pull in $2 to $4
million).
Years: It’s OK to begin a sentence with a year:
1998 was a great year for California cabernets.
Periods
Omit periods in a bulleted list unless the list is made up of full sentences separated by
commas or semicolons.
WGBH is a vibrant part of the community it serves, with
• television and radio broadcasts
• a rich website
• music performances
• events
WGBH is a vibrant part of the community it serves:
• Millions of viewers and listeners enjoy our television and radio broadcasts.
• Our rich website is a favorite destination on the Internet.
• Music performances showcase local talents.
• Our events offer fun and entertainment.
Spelling
Generally, use first spellings listed in the dictionary. For example:
OK
adviser
backward
catalog
descendant
dietitian
flutist
french fries
Hanukkah
health care
longtime
matzo
mind-set
omelette
rain forest
timesaving
toward
T-shirt
under way
However:
kebab NOT kabob
Kwanzaa NOT Kwanza
lychee NOT litchi
Sichuan NOT Szechwan
Timbuktu NOT Tombouctou
States
See Cities
Telephone Numbers
Hyphenate phone numbers:
617-300-2000
If, for style, you prefer periods or parentheses around the area code, stick with that style.
Consistency within a document is the rule.
Times
WGBH style is to lowercase am/pm
No space between numerical time and am/pm
No periods in am/pm
No :00 if on the hour
10:30pm
10am
To specify the running time of a stream, clip, podcast, Forum lecture, etc., use
minutes:seconds or hours:minutes:seconds, as appropriate:
23:30
2:31:00
5:15
TV vs. Television
May be used interchangeably. “Television” sounds more lofty, so if you’re talking about
the educational potential of the medium, choose that.
Verbs
As a general rule, keep compound verbs together, rather than separating by adverbs:
also are used NOT are also used
frequently is seen NOT is frequently seen
Viewers
When appropriate, remember to include the wider WGBH audience to underscore the
more-than-TV nature of WGBH:
our viewers, listeners, and Web visitors
Word Treatments
the WGBH Auction
the Auction
co-chair
digital TV
DTV
dot-com
email
e-bulletin
e-newsletter
fundraiser
fundraising
high-definition TV (BUT broadcast in high definition)
homepage
hotlink
how-tos
Internet
intranet (BUT InnerTube)
lineup
login
online
WGBH member
WGBH membership
MemberCard
miniseries
the Net
pbs.org
public broadcasting (vs. Public Broadcasting Service)
public radio
public television
TV
vice chair
vice president
the Web
webcast
webmaster
webpage
website
World Wide Web
wgbh.org
The following are ripe for error (trust us):
WGBH (watch out for WBGH)
PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service (not System)Juilliard
Norm Abram (not Abrams)
Sarah Vaughan (not Vaughn)
Katharine Hepburn (not Katherine)
Pharoah Sanders (BUT the pharaohs of Egypt)
public broadcasting (watch out for pubic)
sneak peek
Public radio has two main program distribution sources: NPR and PRI. Be careful not
to mislabel all public radio programs as NPR.
Beware of confusion among the following:
• complementary (companion) vs. complimentary (flattering)
the TV series and its complementary website vs.
her comments were most complimentary
• more than vs. over
Use “over” for measurements (over 12 feet), “more than” for quantity (more than
400 films)
• premiere (debut) vs. premier (first, best)
the series will premiere in June vs. WGBH is PBS’s premier producing station
“Quality” sometimes is used as an adjective. It isn’t one. Stick with high-quality, topquality, low-quality, etc.
Beware of the phrase “turn of the century.” Make explicit which century you mean.
Which vs. That
Whole chapters have been written about this. When in doubt, check a good stylebook.
General distinction: “The river that flows through London is the Thames” vs. “The river,
which is very wide, flows through London” (if it needs a comma, it should be “which”).
Who vs. That
“Who” is for humans (the women who attended). “That” is for animals (the cat that
licked its fur), companies, etc.
Who vs. Whom, Me vs. I
“Who” and “I” are subjects (doers of the action); “whom” and “me” are objects (receivers
of the action). Check a good stylebook when in doubt.
Questions? Additions? Suggestions?
Contact Constituent Communications’ Cynthia Broner (x5310,
[email protected]).
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Style, Usage, Tone, Voice