WATM Style Guide

Your step-by-step guide to writing an awesome WATM article.


Pick the right story:

The first step in creating great content and delivering a valuable experience to our readers (and bringing in traffic to the site) is to write about things that will resonate with our current audience or help grow it. Part of finding those ideas is to tap into the audience by knowing what it likes, find out what its reading elsewhere, and/or pulling the information it will respond to.

Digital journalism and content creation is no longer a one-way street — we don't have the luxury anymore of telling the audience what it wants to see, we have to respond to what they want.

In short, it helps to be your audience. What would resonate with you? What would you like to know more about? What are you reading at other sites? If you follow military/veteran-related news, information and entertainment, then you've already won half the battle of selecting great stories for WATM.

How can we determine what will work at WATM? First, we can look at what has worked already. Dive into the analytics and see what stories consistently did the best and write more like that.

Barring access to Google Analytics, take a look at the number of comments on a story or the impact it made on Facebook and other social platforms. If it brought in a lot of eyeballs and had a good amount of engagement, that's a winner. Do more of it and do it better.

Second, try to figure out what we're missing that you'd like to see more of. If you're living the military content life, then you'll know. More weapons and gear stuff? More war coverage? More influential veterans stories? If you'd read it, chances are a good segment of the audience would too.

Third, break news. There's no better way to earn traffic and audience than to break news that affects them. Whether it's a new uniform policy for the Army, a major change to force strength or a new deployment to a war zone no one knows about, you break it, you win. The one caveat here is that you have to try to answer the "who cares" question — in other words, the more people that care, the better your story will be.

Breaking a story on new rules for Motor T maintenance Marines might not resonate as well as the Marine Corps disbanding the Motor T MOS. See what we mean?

There are certain kinds of stories that will always perform. Look at the Mandatory Fun Podcast's description, for example. There's a reason the podcast "features awesome military stories, weird history, and entertaining military/veteran guests." Everything that performs well with the audience is upcycled into a new format, including podcasts and web video.

In the end, if you're living and breathing this type of content, your gut will nine times out of 10 tell you what'll work.

Article archetypes

There are nine article formats that have proven successful at WATM. The archetypes include:

  1. The laid-back professor
  2. The culture clash
  3. Cool military gear
  4. Hero from history
  5. The pep rally
  6. The fight card
  7. Heartwarming
  8. The listicle
  9. Valor
  10. Debate/anger therapy
  11. News

Read the full article archetypes here >

WATM Style:

Our style borrows directly from the AP Style guide that everyone else in the media works on, with some minor tweaks.

NOTE: Your stories will be published much faster and have to be edited much less if you follow this guide.

Basic guidelines:

  • Abbreviations and acronyms: if it's the first reference, spell it out. Further references can be abbreviated. You don't however, need to go overboard. Acronyms that are in common usage, like DoD, or USMC don't need to be explained. DO NOT insert a parenthetical abbreviation after the first reference.

    • The briefing was held in the Tactical Operations Center on Aug. 16. When the commander addressed his troops in the TOC, he said it was time to defeat the enemy.
    • WRONG: The briefing was held in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) on Aug. 16.

  • Civilian titles: use full name and title/job description on first reference. Capitalize title and do not use a comma to separate it from the individual's name. You can also use non-formal titles like "Pentagon chief Ash Carter."

    • ex: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke today at a press conference.
    • If the title is after the name, it is not capitalized. Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, spoke at a press conference.

  • Titles for military personnel: use the proper terminology for referencing people of other services.

    • Army: soldier
    • Navy: sailor
    • Marine Corps: Marine
    • Air Force: airman
    • Coast Guard: coast guardsman

  • Ranks: For personnel on first reference, use the rank, then drop it completely if referencing back to that person later in the piece. Always use the AP style version, not whatever the branch's version is. Here's the full listing.

    • This means you should never use SGM, CPT, LtCol., etc. Please read and follow the AP Version (which by the way would be Sgt. Maj., Capt., Lt. Col).
    • One soldier, Capt. Steven Hendrix, believes this is a major problem among the ranks. Hendrix also believes that this quote will make a great bullet point for his OER.
    • Sgt. Maj. Evan Banks believes this is a real problem. Banks also told WATM that we need to get our goddamn hands out of our pockets.
    • EXCEPTION: When the sentence begins with the rank, spell out the rank. "Sergeant John Smith is an olympic athlete on the Team USA rowing squad."

  • Quotations: There are a few different ways for quoting someone. Note that punctuation should always be inside the quotation.

    • You should never use: XXXX was quoted as saying, "I said this." or XXXX stated: "Here's the quote." These are flimsy ways of quoting someone that are never used. ALWAYS lead the sentence with the quote. In some circumstances (sparingly), it's ok to use XXXX added: "Here's my quote."
    • Here is how someone should be quoted:

      • "I am giving a quote for a story," said Brian Davis, a former Marine infantryman. "I like turtles."
      • "I am giving a quote for a story," Brian Davis, a former Marine infantryman, told WATM. "I like turtles."
      • "I am giving a quote for a story," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. "I like turtles."
      • When quoting a person again in the story, structure the attribution "Smith said," not "said Smith." Think in your mind "he said" rather than "said he."

  • States and Countries: When referencing the United States in a headline, always use US with no periods between letters. In a post, write it as U.S.

  • Spacing: Always use single spacing after sentences. Never double.
  • Exclamation points: Use sparingly. Unless a person is actually yelling, DO NOT USE IT!
  • Adverbs: Use sparingly. Unless it's in a quote it is rarely necessary to use them.
  • Percent: Spell out "percent," do not use "%" unless it's in a headline.

    • The Pentagon says defense spending will decrease by 20 percent over the future year defense plan.

How To Write A Good Story:

Half the battle starts with getting people to click the link (which is usually shared on Facebook). That's why it starts with a clever and catchy headline. Headlines should be sentence case, and should give the general idea of the story. If you need to quote an item in the headline, use single quotes (' ') in lieu of double quotes (" ").

Good Headlines:

Here's how Hollywood legend Dale Dye earned the Bronze Star for heroism in Vietnam

6 Weird laws unique to the US military

Terrible Headlines:

Soldier Gets Court-Martialed

Weird UCMJ laws

Read the full Headline guide here >

Now write your Story

So now that you have a good idea, enough research, and good headline, you need to open the piece strong. The first sentence needs to catch the reader so that they want to continue on. Would you read a piece that started with, "It was a dark night on Camp Pendleton"...?

No, you wouldn't. It needs to be interesting, and the opening line should hint at what is to come: Officials at Camp Pendleton are saying that a dark night at the base is partly to blame for drunk driving.

Read other stories on the site and in the news to see how other writers do this. The worst thing that you can do is get the reader to click the link, and then bore them at the first sentence.

While traditional news writing basics still hold true today, many new writers often overlook one important aspect.

Most stories need to answer the fundamental questions of who, what, where, why, when and how. But another very important question is "who cares?" This is a basic part of what's called in news parlance a "nut graf" — usually the third or so paragraph that explains the importance of the story, or the context.

Use the other posts on the site along with this example story to construct yours:

An Example of a Good Story:

Shocking headline that will get someone to click the link

LEDE: It's not every day that an editor at WATM reads an entire story without making a change, since many stories need minor edits and others need much more. But the site recently released a style guide to make sure the posts are top quality, sources confirmed on Monday.

SUPPORTING QUOTE: "It's basically a way to make sure that we are writing in similar styles," said Paul Szoldra, executive editor of WATM. "We want our writers to have their own voice, but also to conform to similar styles of news writing like in this article."

NUT GRAF: Some writers have been writing without the use of a "lead," or an attention-grabbing sentence. Others have forgotten to use quotes from both sides of the story, or have had spelling errors.

The worst, however, are the posts that are completely boring. When this happens, a little kitten dies.

"You've got to think of the kittens," said Robert Smith. Smith is a part of a growing trend of writers who see very few edits on their articles.

"When I see an article from a select few writers, I usually know that I don't have to rewrite it, or add in a whole lot more," said Szoldra. "It definitely saves a lot of time."

Szoldra also says that it's a good idea to explain "inside jokes" so that anyone in any military branch can understand any post on the site. The key he says, is that articles need to be accessible to a wide audience.

"This is B.S.," said John Smith. "I want a damn raise if you're going to make me actually spell things properly."

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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