Style Guide

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


The Editorial Process:

  1. Pitch your headline to the contributors group, either as a post or a question. If you get 1-2+ likes, it's probably worth your time. It's not mandatory, but odds are with 0, 1, or 2 likes you'll get a ding at a later stage. At a minimum, you can pitch your headline to Paul via Facebook message or email and he will tell you whether its worth it right away.
  2. Post a rough draft for your article in the group for feedback (not required but a good practice).
  3. Put a draft in Wordpress at the same time. Make sure your draft CONFORMS TO THE STYLE GUIDE.
  4. Once you get all the feedback you can stomach, go into your Wordpress draft, make what changes you want, and when satisfied, then click "Submit for Review" Those are the articles Paul and Ward read, edit, comment on, and schedule or kick back to authors. We don't look at your drafts.
  5. If it's great, it'll be scheduled and/or published. If it needs work, we'll email you back with our comments.

The Style Guide:

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

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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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."

  • 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!

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.

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

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.

"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."

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."

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