A Brief Style Guide


Thank you for considering contributing to The Ecologist. Our website offers a platform to a range of thought leaders, academics and change makers from around the world who are each working in a number of different sectors and disciplines. This brief guide is intended to support you as you draft your article, and to ensure that everything we publish is clear and consistent.

For a comprehensive index of conventions regarding spelling and grammar, please refer to The Guardian’s style guide. If you have any further questions, please get in touch with the editor of the website, Brendan Montague, at editor@theecologist.org.


If you’re emailing an article, please send it in Times New Roman, single-spaced, pt. 12, with no additional formatting. Please check through this guide before you submit your article. If you are uploading your piece directly to our website, please consult our step-by-step guide to the Content Management System (CMS).

Structuring the text

The headline should be short and unambiguous, 5-10 words. Please do not use capital letters apart from the first word and names etc.

Please provide a standfirst/summary that will appear at the top of the text in bold, approximately 20 words. This should follow-on from, and not repeat, the headline and end with a full stop. This should appear above the main body text in any emailed submission.

The total article should be approximately 600 to 1,500 words in length, with a preference for pieces around 1000 words. The body of the text should include short two-word subheadings: the first should appear roughly after the first three paragraphs, and thereafter every five paragraphs. These are intended to organise the text and keep the reader interested, they are not intended to encapsulate an argument.

The introductory three paragraphs should give a clear sense of what your article is about and signpost your line of argument. 

Where possible, please include a high resolution photograph that you have permission to use or re-use, along with a short description (5 words), source and copyright information. This should not be a graphic. Climate Visuals is a good source. You can also check Flickr and Google Images - be sure to restrict your search to images that are free to use and share. 

Each new article published on the website ends with This Author, followed by a short - less than 30 words - biography of the author. Job titles should be given in lower case. This is a good place to link to any book which has been published (the title should be italicised) and to also include a Twitter handle if the author so wishes. 

Voice and tone

Remember that you are writing for an online format that will be read on a variety of digital devices, many of them handheld and less suitable for reading long, complex sentences and paragraphs. Ensure that paragraphs are concise, declarative and self-contained, and that the crux of the story appears at the very beginning.

Use an active voice, in which the subject of a sentence clearly completes an action:

Eg. ‘Campaigners have welcomed the promise of an Environment Bill.’

Scanning for words like ‘was’ and ‘by’ will help you to identify the passive voice, in which it takes longer to reach the subject of the sentence.

Eg. ‘The promise of an Environment Bill was welcomed by campaigners.’

Many of our articles are informal and accessible: it’s perfectly fine to use contractions: you’re, it’s, they’re etc.


Use double quotation marks for reported speech and quoted writing. When quoting sources, place the attribution at the beginning:

Eg. Andy Gluckman, the chief executive, said: “Science is not like it once was.”

You can include hyperlinks to sources but please avoid footnotes or endnotes. Do be aware that with a hyperlink you are inviting your reader to abandon your article - at least momentarily - and focus their attention elsewhere. Where possible, please use a hyperlink to another story at The Ecologist.

Quotations of 50 words or more should be split into paragraphs with double quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the final paragraph.


Sometimes it can be helpful to add ‘that’ after a verb:

Eg: ‘He argued that the evidence had been convincing”

A general rule, use ‘which’ for relative clauses that could be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentences (these clauses usually follow a comma), and ‘that’ for introducing essential information.


Use ‘while’, not ‘whilst’; ‘among’, not ‘amongst’ etc.

In the case of news stories correct Americanisms, such as labor, color favor, center, toward, artifact, endeavor, fervor, maneuver, skeptic, pretense, ‘-ize’. If it is a comment article from a US author for a US audience these may be left in place.

Non-English words which have not passed into common English usage should be italicised.

‘Affect’ is a verb that signifies influence (eg. ‘The hot weather has really affected health’); ‘effect’ is a noun signifying the result of an influence (eg. ‘The pollution is having a disastrous effect on Londoners’).

US not U.S. etc.

Percent not %.


Use commas to separate clauses and ensure your sentences are easy to follow. An ‘Oxford comma’ is used before the final ‘and’ in lists. Where the sentence is straightforward, this isn’t necessary. In some cases, it can help the reader to determine the relationship between items in a list: it can be helpful to read sentences aloud to determine whether an Oxford comma would help.

Do include a colon after ‘said’ etc when presenting quotations. This would take the following form:

Alice Walker, the author, said: “The colour is purple.”


Do not use hyphens for compounds (eg. ‘thinktank’), unless you are using two or more words adjectivally (eg. ‘nineteenth-century ecology’). Hyphens can be used to avoid ambiguity (eg. ‘an animal-abusing corporation’) but often reorganising the sentence is the best solution (eg. ‘a corporation that abuses animals’).


Use spell check software but don’t rely on it to proofread for you. Use the Find (‘ctrl + F’) function to search for common errors such as double spaces and spaces before commas/full stops.


Please make use of these alternative terms suggested by George Monbiot.

George Monbio terms