Guide to the style and tone of writing we want on libcom.org, particularly in the news and blog sections of the website.
The libcom.org style guide is designed to make our content easier to read and give our website more consistency in our articles across all the different sections. A lot of great material and information in alternative media sources today suffers from simply poor quality production and style, and we aim to try and address that. Compiled with help from Freedom Press, this style guide applies to the news and blog sections of the site, and to the library and history sections where appropriate (i.e. for new writing, as opposed to republishing old content).
This guide may seem large but please do not be put off! The most important thing is that we want content. If you have an article you think would be good on libcom.org let us have it in whatever form you can. If necessary we can edit it so that it fits our guidelines and any random bits and pieces we may be able to put in our Library. This style guide is included so people know why and how we might be editing any submissions, and for any people who feel they can take these suggestions into account when writing new content.
Different sites have different ways of conveying information. On libcom.org we decided that the most effective way for us to get our message across is with a uniform tone and general style of writing across the site. The tone we would like to maintain on all sections of the site should have the following characteristics:
- Serious - avoiding rhetoric and overly emotive language
- Clear - written using simple English, free from jargon
- Concise – trying to keep below 2,000 words per article where possible. Longer articles can go in our Library.
- Outward-looking - i.e. aimed at the intelligent layperson, not at people who are anarchists, activists or libertarian communists already. Not talking down to anyone, but explaining all historical references, specialised vocabulary, etc. and in general trying to address general issues of concern to all.
These are the kinds of articles and writing styles we would like for different parts of the site:
Primarily we are interested in three main things:
- Stories about people taking collective direct action to improve their lives. Example: Striking Bangladeshi garment workers win 77% pay rise
- Libertarian and working class analysis and perspective on current events, such as wars, natural disasters and other big mainstream news stories. Example: Greece: when the state turns antifa
- News about the effects of corporate and government policies on people and the environment. Example: Death-trapped in a burning cage - the Ashulia inferno
While these are our priorities we will publish almost any other news stories provided they fit the aims and ethos of the site with the general exception of the following topics:
- “Actions” - there are many websites for “activists” to post stories about “actions” they have taken part in, such as indymedia. We suggest using one of them instead of libcom. Example: Activists blockade Esso station
- The left - Leninist groups are a minor irrelevance in society who do not interest anyone. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, let’s not give them any attention they don’t warrant. Example: The Trotskyist Workers’ Alliance publish revisionist paper on North Korea
- Events or adverts - If you would like to advertise an event or anything else please use our announcements forum. Only things or events related to working class struggles or libertarian communism are permitted in this forum. Unrelated adverts or spam will be removed and the posters may be banned.
Top of the list because it can't be stressed enough. Anything which is not a direct fact useful to the piece should be removed. Try to stick to a low word count, ideally 250-500 for news articles, 600-1,000 for comment, 1,200-2,000 for in-depth pieces.
News is not comment
Try to limit personal opinion in news articles. Unlike the corporate media we don’t pretend to be objective, but we decided to avoid overly emotive and subjective language - for example “the filthy pigs injured 11 demonstrators” should be “11 demonstrators were injured by police”. News and comment are two separate things, generally please try to treat them separately.
You could find a great news story a few weeks old, so to make it sound current there are a few tricks you can use. Couch your language in the present - 'Prince Harry has been wearing a nazi uniform' sounds more up to date than 'Prince Harry wore a nazi uniform two weeks ago'.
Answer six questions
Who, Why, What, Where, When, How. Who and what should be the first questions you answer - assume your audience has no prior knowledge of your subject.
Worth a thousand words...
A relevant picture is a great addition to any news story. Our news section automatically resizes pictures to fit, so please add them to each article you can.
Any clearly written article with tips on various aspects of collective organising and action, which isn't already covered in our organise section. Ideally fewer than 2,000 words.
Any historical article from a libertarian/working class point of view. Ideally under 2,000 words, they can come from any period in history.
Any libertarian left text, interview, book, personal account, leaflet, pamphlet, set of images or article which would not quite fit in any of our other sections.
In all the sections of the site, please try to take the following suggestions into account:
Use as many sources as possible - The more sources you have, the more reliable, well-rounded and believable your story. Please list your sources in footnotes or in a list at the bottom of your article.
Cross-reference - If you add links in parts of your article to other articles or sections on libcom.org, please do! Further reading and links for more information at the end are very welcome.
Avoid clichés, rhetoric and slang - Clichés are lazy writing and should only be used if you really can't think of anything else. Lefty rhetoric or slang, such as “Bliar” instead of “Blair” say, should be avoided at all costs since they immediately alienate a large audience and make reading uncomfortable for people outside activist culture. They also make a writer seem unprofessional and childish.
Cut down on capitals - Anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, communist etc. as well as government and state should all be done without capital letters. Communist with a capital “c” can and should be used if referring to members of USSR-supporting Communist Parties. Try not to use political labels unnecessarily as they break up the reading flow, and may confuse the issue.
Use shorter words - Never use 'achieve' when you can say 'do'. Make sure you don't use words which people might not understand - 'Precarity' for example - unless you absolutely have to, and make sure you explain what it means if you do. If you can, go through the text afterwards to check and explain any word or reference the average person wouldn’t know.
Kropotwho? - Don't use quotations from people not directly involved. This includes dead theoreticians and living philosophers.
CNwhat? - Do not assume in-depth historical or anarchist knowledge, particularly with respect to libertarian groups and historical events. Don’t mention groups, such as the CNT, without referring first to their full name, acronym and brief description – e.g. instead of “CNT”, first write “the National Confederation of Labour (CNT), a Spanish anarchist trade union”. It can then be referred to simply as “CNT” from then on. Don’t refer to historical events in shorthand, like “Kronstadt”, instead say “the grassroots rebellion of workers and sailors against the Bolshevik Russian Government in 1921”, and/or provide a link to a related page on libcom with more information.
To keep a standard look and feel across our site, we try to maintain a consistent use of grammar and abbreviations
Capitals - In article and page titles, only the first word should be capitalised. E.g. “US forces invade China”, not “US Forces Invade China”.
Royalty/Religion - All titles should be capped (big first letter) - the Queen, Prince (Charles/William etc.), the Pope. The Archbishop of Canterbury is Dr. Williams. Clergy should be first the Rev. John Brown, then just Rev. Brown after that. E.g. The Rev John Brown denounced Protestantism today as 'a bit silly'. Rev. Brown, a leading figure...
Everybody else - Start off using their full name. After that if it's someone we like, use their first name. If not, use their second name, with the exception of well-known figures, whose most easily recognisable name should be used - e.g. Chomsky rather than Noam. Don't use any decorations or honours.
Full stops - “USA”, not “U.S.A.”. Use “etc.” “e.g.”, and “i.e.” Don't abbreviate: Place names to St, Rd etc. Don't use Mr, Mrs or Ms at all. Don't abbreviate non-name words - “headquarters” shouldn't become “HQ” because it means unnecessary capitals.
Federations - The UK libertarian federations can be abbreviated to SolFed (Solidarity Federation), AF (Anarchist Federation) and IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). Always explain who they are at the beginning of the piece for sake of new readers.
Money/Numbers - Million shortens to m (£1m), billion to bn. Trillion is written as is because it isn't used often. Per cent becomes %. One to nine are written as words, 10 and above as numbers. If counting in euro it should be Eu120. “Euro” should always be in lower case, and “euro” is both singular and plural. Weights and measures always use the shortened version, except metres and miles. For wars, please use capitalising and numbers as follows: World War I/II, or First/Second World War.
Apostrophes - Apostrophes indicate possession or abbreviation. “Its” is the possessive form of it, so like “his” and “her” there is no apostrophe. The only time you need an apostrophe in “its” is when it is an abbreviation for “it is” or “it has” – e.g. “it’s cold” or “it’s got big teeth”. Acronyms do not require apostrophes in the plural form – i.e. “CDs and DVDs”, not “CD’s and DVD’s”
Exclamation marks - No, no, no, no, no! Try to avoid wherever possible. They undermine a serious message.
Hyphens - We use hyphenated political labels. For example, anti-fascist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarchist-communist, etc.
For terms related to political labels and terminology, particularly related to class, please take a quick look at our introductory guide and try to apply them as we define them there.
Activists – most “activists” aren’t the full-time professional activists that term implies: they’re just normal people, so try to refer to them as such. If they are professional or full-time drop-out activists then please specify. See also Demonstrators and Protestors.
Anarchists believe – Please do not use, because it isn't 'anarchists', it's the writer.
Anti-capitalist – Whatever anti-capitalist movement there was is now mostly dead, and the term has little resonance with anyone any more. Please avoid (see also Anti-anything else, below)
Anti-globalisation – The anti-globalisation movement was very badly named, and deeply flawed at the root of its politics, please try to avoid (see also Anti-anything else, below)
Anti-anything else – Lefties are often seen as “anti”-everything, so please do not fuel that impression by using “anti” excessively
Basically – Avoid. You are already putting it in layman's English, no need to labour the fact.
Bush's poodle - Possibly the most overused phrase apart from Bliar in the alternative press today. Along with similar lefty clichés please avoid.
Bourgeoisie/Bourgeois – Sounds very old-fashioned, out-dated and complex. We prefer to talk of capital as the enemy of the working class, but if it must be used please use modern equivalents possible, or provide a definition if you really must.
Capital - Try to use this term to describe the entity of capitalism which the working class's interests are opposed to, rather than capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, which are a little muddy in terms of definition.
Class – Due to confusion about class on the left and in the general population we try to maintain a uniform usage across the site:
- Working class: The working class consists of all the people in society who can not get by without selling our time and energy to a boss - by working. I.e. if we do not make large amounts of money from property holdings or owning a business we have to be wage labourers, or in some places in the world rely on state welfare or crime.
- Capitalist class: The capitalist class consists of those individuals who do not have to work (though they generally do) since they draw enough income from property such as land, housing or businesses/stocks and shares. However when talking of the entity whose interests are opposed to the working class we prefer to talk of capital.
- Middle class: The middle class does not exist as a distinct economic class, so if you use the term please be as specific as possible with what you mean, i.e. if you are referring to the "cultural middle class", “professionals”, “intellectuals”, “home owners” or “more privileged workers” etc.
Deliberate misspellings such as cos, innit etc. - Activists trying to be more street. Ouch. Avoid.
Demonstrators – See activists
Fascism/fascist – Only use when referring to actual ideological fascism. Its usage referring to non-fascist phenomena like liberal democratic governments makes the author sound silly.
Middle class – see class
Obviously – Avoid. It's only obvious to you, not to casual readers.
Proletariat - see bourgeoisie
Propaganda - The word "propaganda" is associated with distortion of fact for political gain, usually by dictatorial regimes. When talking of material designed to persuade people of a political idea, please use a different term, such as "outreach material"
Protestors – see activists
Smash – You can’t really smash an abstract concept, so please don’t encourage people to try.
Swearwords – Avoid in news or information articles as it can make the writer look immature, and put readers off.
Unsurprisingly – There is no such thing if you want to write for a mass audience. Avoid.
Working class – See class
Z - Go easy on the zeds. Please use UK English spellings of words, i.e. "organise" not "organize".
This style guide is designed as an addition to large guides like the Guardian’'s, rather than as a comprehensive replacement. The Guardian guide contains large numbers of standardised ways of referring to people, places, companies and concepts and is worth checking out if you ever have anything you’re unsure about.
libcom group, with help from Freedom Press
We encourage other groups, websites and publications to use or adapt this guide if they so desire.