SourceWatch:Manual of Style

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A Manual of Style has the simple purpose of making things look alike - it is a style guide. The following rules don't claim to be the last word. One way is often as good as another, but if everyone does it the same way, SourceWatch will be easier to read and easier to use, not to mention easier to write and easier to edit. New contributors are reminded that clear, informative writing is always more important than presentation and formatting. Writers are not expected to follow all these rules, but please do your best to bear them in mind when contributing and editing articles.

Please see Quick guide to editing for information on how to use all the different forms of markup, much more than just bold or italic. This article concentrates on when to use them, although the examples usually also show the markup.

Style for specific parts of SourceWatch articles

Article introduction

All articles should have the title or subject in bold in the first line. The title or subject can almost always be made part of the first sentence, but some articles simply have names.

  • The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) was a front group created by the APCO Worldwide to represent the tobacco industry's interests on the issue of secondhand smoke.
    • '''The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition''' (TASSC) was a front group created by the [[APCO Worldwide]] to represent the tobacco industry's interests on the issue of secondhand smoke.

Section titles

Use the == style markup for section titles, not '''. Start with "==" (that's two equal signs). If the resulting font looks too big (as many people feel), that's an issue for the SourceWatch-wide stylesheet, not individual articles. Major benefits of marking headers this way are that sections can be automatically numbered for users with that preference set, and words within properly marked headers are given greater weight in searches. Headlines also help readers by breaking up the text and outlining the article.

Repeat section titles in the body text of sections

Because sections are often renamed, moved and merged, make sure to repeat any subject mentioned in a section title. I.e. don't entitle a section "The Los Angeles Riots" and then start the section out by saying, "In the riots..."


Photos and other graphics should have captions unless they are "self-captioning" as in reproductions of book covers. Captions should follow the style of article text, using italics only for normally italicized material.

  • Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer
    • Al Jolson in ''The Jazz Singer''

General style in SourceWatch

Titles of publications & media

Use italics for the title or name of books, movies, albums, TV series, magazines, and court cases. If the title is also a link, you should usually place the italic markup outside the brackets.

Use "quotes" for the title or name of short stories, articles, statues, short films, songs, individual episodes of TV shows, and poems (except for epic poems, e.g. Odyssey and Iliad).

  • "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge", Rodin's "The Thinker", "Goober and Gomer Change a Tire", "Do's and Don'ts of Dating", "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
  • "She's Leaving Home" appears on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Titles (for people)

Titles such as president, king, or emperor start with a capital letter when used as a title (followed by a name): "President Nixon", not "president Nixon". When used generically, they should be in lower case: "De Gaulle was the French president." The correct formal name of an office is treated as a proper noun. Hence: "Hirohito was Emperor of Japan." Similarly, "Louis XVI was the French king" but "Louis XVI was King of France", King of France being a title in that context. Likewise, capitalize royal titles: "Her Majesty" or "His Highness". (Reference: Chicago Manual of Style 15th ed., 8.35; The Guardian Manual of Style, "Titles" keyword.) Exceptions may apply for specific offices.

In the case of "prime minister", either both words begin with a capital letter or neither, except, obviously, when it starts a sentence. Again, when using it generically, do not use a capital letter: "There are many prime ministers around the world." When making reference to a specific office, generally use uppercase: "The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said today…" (A good rule of thumb is whether the sentence uses a definite article [the] or an indefinite article [a]. If the sentence uses the, use "Prime Minister". If the sentence uses a, go with "prime minister". However to complicate matters, some style manuals, while saying "The British Prime Minister", recommend "British prime minister".)

Government officials

For government officials, particularly in the U.S., SourceWatch uses a slightly modified version of the Associated Press style:

  • Abbreviate the titles, i.e. use Rep., Sen. or Gov. "President" is not abbreviated. In the case of a series of more than one senator or representative it is permissible to use Reps. or Sens.
  • On the second reference it is permissible to use only the full name or last name of the official and omit any title, state or party information.
  • For former officials, say "former Rep...". It is also permissible to use the "then-" prefix to indicate that a person was an official at the time.
  • When relevant to the information being presented, it is permissible to use leadership positions.
  • Include party and state affiliations when possible (this is unnecessary when the sentence makes it clear the state or party affiliation of the official). Offset these with parenthesis rather than commas.
  • Use the AP abbreviations of states.



Either American or English spelling is acceptable. It is in no way a requirement, but it probably reads better to use American spellings in articles on American subjects and English spelling in articles on English subjects. A reference to "the American labour movement" (with a U) or to "Anglicization" (with a Z) may be jarring. It also may be jarring to find both forms in a single article. If the spelling appears in an article name, you should make a redirect page to accommodate "the other language", as with Aeroplane and Airplane.


In most cases, simply follow the usual rules of English punctuation. A few points where the SourceWatch may differ from usual usage follow. With quotation marks, we suggest splitting the difference between American and English usage. Although it is not a rigid rule, it is probably best to use the "double quotes" for most quotations, as they are easier to read on the screen, and use 'single quotes' for "quotations 'within' quotations". This is the American style. When punctuating quoted passages, put punctuation where it belongs, inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on the meaning, not rigidly within the quotation marks. This is the British style. For example, "Stop!" has the punctuation inside the quotation marks. However, when using "scare quotes", the comma goes outside.

Another example:

Arthur said the situation was "deplorable". (we're quoting only part of a sentence)
Arthur said, "The situation is deplorable." (full sentence is quoted)

Keep in mind that if you're quoting several paragraphs, there should be quotes at the beginning of each paragraph, but only at the end of the last paragraph.


Please see for a list of citation style guides. For citing online documents, please follow the recommendations of ISBN numbers are auto-converted to links. This is useful, as this allows readers to go to online stores and purchase books. However, ISBN numbers only identify a particular edition of a book: when it goes out of print, they are not very useful. The SourceWatch software recognizes inline ISBNs; for example: ISBN 0-12-345678-9 becomes ISBN 0-12-345678-9. This creates an external link to a special booksource page, with links to sites where one may search for the best price for the book or access information about the book such as reviews and reader reactions. It is important when making a link to not put a colon after "ISBN". Please do not use ISBN numbers alone to identify books: please add a proper citation as well as the ISBN.

Free link style

The use of so-called "free links" to other topics, for example, [[George W. Bush]], is encouraged. Use the links for all words and terms that appear in your article for which it could be worthwhile to read the linked article. However, don't overdo it. Do not link every occurrance of a word; simply linking the first time the word appears will usually be enough. Links that follow the SourceWatch naming conventions are much more likely to lead to existing articles, and, if there is not yet an article about that subject, will make the creation of a correctly-named article much easier for later writers. It is possible to link words that are not exactly the same as the linked article title, [[English language|English]] for example. Make sure however that it is still clear what the link refers without having to follow the link. When making plurals, do [[language]]s. This is clearer to read in wiki form than [[language|languages]] -- and easier to type. Try to link accurately. If an article you want to link doesn't yet exist, do a quick search to find out if that is really the case; the article may be named slightly different from what you expected.

URL and World Wide Web style

SourceWatch is not a link collection and an article with only links is actively discouraged, but it is appropriate to reference more detailed material from the World Wide Web. This is particularly the case when you have used a web site as an important source of information. The syntax of referencing a URL is simple, just enclose it in single brackets, [full URL optional text after space]. The URL must begin with http:// or other form, such as ftp://. Most URLs are ugly and uninformative, so it is better to hide them. The "printable version" of a page displays all URLs in full, even if concealed, so no information is lost.

Without the optional text, such an external reference takes the form of a footnote:

  • [1]
    • []

If followed by a space and text, the text replaces the URL:

This form can be used to include a run-in URL reference within text when necessary, as:

  • One good example of a cooperative online community is the Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia.
    • One good example of a cooperative online community is the [ Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia].

In most cases, however, it is clearer to keep the URL separate at the bottom of the article under a heading like this:

  • ==External links==

Note: At present, without brackets, URLs are presented as is:

But this feature may disappear in a future release and in cases where you wish to display the URL because it is intrinsically valuable information, it is better to use the short form of the URL as the optional text:

Simple tabulation

Any line that starts with a blank space becomes a fixed font width and can be used for simple tabulation. See English plural for many examples.

foo     bar     baz
alpha   beta    gamma

A line that starts with a blank space with nothing else on it forms a blank line, which can be a confusing error, or may be just what you want.

Or maybe not.

(If you are one of those typists who puts two spaces after a period, you can cause a blank line unknowingly if those blanks are "wrapped" to the beginning of the next line.)

State abbreviations and names of state residents

SourceWatch uses the Associated Press abbreviations for U.S. states, which is different than the two-letter postal abbreviation. For a full list, see here. For the proper way to refer to the residents of a state see this infoplease sheet.

When all else fails

If you are faced with a fine point, please use other resources, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (from the University of Chicago Press) or Fowler's Modern English Usage (from the Oxford University Press). Where this page differs from the other sources, the usage on this page should be preferred, but please feel free to add to this page. Even simpler is simply to look at an article that you like and open it for editing to see how the writers and editors have put it together. You can then close the window without saving changes if you like, but look around while you're there. Almost every article can be improved. Maybe you could add some markup to make it fit this style better.

Don't get fancy

It's easier for you and whoever follows you if you don't try to get too fancy with your markup. Even with markup as suggested here, you shouldn't assume that any markup you put in is guaranteed to have a certain appearance when it is displayed. It is easier to display SourceWatch, easier to edit or add to its articles, if we don't make the markup any more complex than is necessary to display the information in a useful and comprehensible way. A useful encyclopedia is the first goal, but ease of editing and maintaining that encyclopedia is right behind it. Among other things, this means use HTML markup sparingly and only with good reason.



Using the term "reform" often implies that there is a problem to be fixed. In some cases, e.g. "campaign finance reform," the word has become part of the accepted and wide-spread way of referring to something. However, it is good to be wary of PR attempts to establish the use of the word "reform" as part of an agenda, e.g. referring to tax cuts as "tax reform." It is generally a good thing to find an alternate way to describe a "reform." "Structural changes" or "reorganization" are examples of alternate language.

"Democrat" vs. "Democratic"

Using the proper name for a political party in the proper situation is important. In American politics there are two dominant parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Often mistakes are made in labeling candidates and members of Congress in the Democratic Party. The most common error occurs in the decision to use the word "Democrat" vs. "Democratic" in reference to a member of Congress or candidate for office. For many this could arise from the confusion of the adjective "Democratic" used as a proper noun. The Democratic Party has been officially been called the Democratic Party since the 1844 Democratic National Convention. Thus, despite the possible confusion of noun or adjective all references to the party ought to refer to the Democratic Party as that is the proper name for the party. There is no such thing as the "Democrat Party" therefore a reference to the "Democrat Senator" would refer to a Senator from a nonexistent political party. The word "Democratic" should precede all nouns referencing the party, party organizations, or party affiliation (e.g. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy; member of the Democratic Party; Democratic candidate for office) The word Democrat should be used only as a noun in reference to persons in the party (Many Democrats think...; Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy; Republicans and Democrats disagree...) and never as a modifier.

In following with these rules, candidates for election and sitting members of Congress should be referred to as the "Democratic [candidate/member]" and not as the "Democrat [congressman/candidate]". When the noun "Democrat" is required it ought to be used. When referring to the Republican Party or candidates/members therein use of the word Republican (over GOP or GOPer) is always preferred.

For more background on the use of "Democrat" vs. "Democratic" see this New Yorker article.

For further information

Before you start writing or editing, it is a good idea to read through and understand these documents:

  • SourceWatch policy lists some other general policies to follow.
  • Quick guide to editing will explain the mechanics of what codes are available to you when editing a page, to do things like titles, links, external links, and so on.

Acknowledgment: Many of these guidelines were taken from or reflect the guidelines in the Wikipedia Manual of Style.