Use the writing style guidelines and pre-written content to develop a consistent university voice.
Writing Style Guide
Appalachian State University uses The Associated Press Stylebook as its editorial guide, which is in keeping with the communications industry. Our Writing Style Guide includes highlights of AP style and provides policies for consistently representing App State in your communications.
Writing a grant, job search document, or creating a document that needs some general statistics, points of pride, general text about the university or Boone area? Our pre-written content is updated regularly and approved for use at any time.
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If you don't have access to a professional copy editor, there are proofreading steps you can use to help ensure clean, readable text for publication.
University Communications focuses on the "five C's" in editing and proofreading. We make sure text is clear, correct, concise, comprehensible and consistent.
- Read the text through once fully to understand the concept.
Your first read is simply to understand. It is your brain's chance to digest the point and meaning of the story and how the text flows. Note what doesn't flow well, is incomprehensible or could be reworded.
- Read the text a second time, word for word.
This is your eyes' opportunity to proofread word for word, paragraph by paragraph, for errors in grammar or style and to fix word choices or phrasing. See the UComm Editing Checklist for specific issues to watch for.
As you find errors, note them using the Track Changes feature in Word. Use comment balloons for any questions to the writer (as opposed to inserting questions/comments within the text).
- Read the content a third time.
This reading is to ensure your corrections improve the story and no other errors exist. Also, use the third reading to check AP style again throughout the document, as well as template formatting if applicable.
- Read copy of the same font size first, such as all headers, so your eye can catch inconsistencies in that size. Then, review copy of the next font size.
- Read the copy aloud to help identify any awkward sentence structures.
- Call any phone numbers and check any web addresses in the text to verify they are correct.
- Verify facts with another source whenever possible.
- Does the copy make sense and flow easily?
- Does it meet the needs of your target audience?
- Does the headline or title fit the text?
- Did the writer put the most important information at or near the top?
- Is written in active voice whenever possible?
- Is it free of redundancies, extra words or unnecessary information?
- Are people's names spelled accurately and consistently?
- Are organizations' names spelled accurately? Check against their websites. Also, add an organization's acronym in parentheses after its name on first use. Use the acronym on subsequent references to the organization.
- Are facts and figures accurate? Do numbers add up?
- If a number is included before a list, is the same number of items listed? EX: The professor has five research assistants: Alex, Jamal, Kelsey, Orlando and Jane.
- Are phone numbers and web addresses accurate? Call and check online to make sure.
Punctuation and style
- Are quotations closed?
- Does the font of the quotation mark match the font of the text? (Copying and pasting from emails can create a different font.)
- Are periods and commas placed inside the ending quotation mark?
- When using semicolons to separate a list, such as book titles, is the semicolon placed outside the quotation mark as Associated Press Style instructs?
- Are grammar, spelling and Associated Press Style accurate?
Journalistic storytelling can convey an organization's people and purpose in ways other marketing initiatives cannot. Effective web-based news stories used to promote an organization's brand should get to the point quickly and contain clear, concise writing that is easy for readers to understand.
Here are tips for structuring your content marketing in a journalistic style:
Limit to one line — two at most — comprising 27-50 characters, including spaces. The preferred formula is subject + verb + object. The headline should reflect information provided in the lead and contain SEO keywords that readers would use in a search bar for that topic.
Inverted pyramid structure
Use the inverted pyramid style of writing, in which the most important information is placed at the top of the story. Less important facts and details, including quotes, follow in subsequent paragraphs. The least important information should be at the bottom.
In general, keep the lead — or opening paragraph — to a single sentence under 35 words.
There are many types of leads, depending on the nature of your story and how it will be used. The most basic form in the inverted pyramid style is the "summary lead" — it summarizes the most important elements of who, what, where, when, why or how.
Common lead-writing pitfalls
- Burying the lead. This is when your news hook is too far down in the story. Don't make your readers hunt for the purpose of the story — keep the important information up high, with supporting details below.
- Crafting a 'no news' lead. The news value isn't that "A meeting (or reception) was held." The news value is what was decided, what took place or how the event supports initiatives within the university's strategic plan.
- Cluttering the lead. Too much information or poorly ordered wording detracts from readers' understanding.
- Using chronological order. The importance typically isn't what day/time something happened; it's what took place and why.
Keep paragraphs at 50 words or less. Stand-alone sentences are OK.
Use sentences of varying length, but generally keep them at about 13 words on average, according to the Poynter Institute. Shorter sentences support clear and concise writing. As William Zinsser wrote in his classic book "On Writing Well," clutter is not helpful: "The secret to good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components."
Include quotations from key people related to the story's topic and that enhance the primary message. Direct quotations are preferred but not when they confuse or detract from the story's main point. Instead, consider writing a paraphrased version of the quote. This approach can make the same points, but more clearly and in fewer words.
These two- to four-word text fragments are useful in breaking up paragraphs into digestible chunks for readers. Subheads should contain SEO keywords to help readers find the content using a search engine. Subheads should be placed after every three to seven paragraphs. In webpages, these should be added as html headers.