Editorial Style Guide
Compiled by the Texas A&M Division of Marketing and Communications (MarComm)View the Official Texas A&M Style Dictionary
This Editorial Style Guide is designed to standardize written communication across Texas A&M University. The guide will help writers and editors ensure posted news stories, press releases, web copy, bulk emails, marketing materials, ad copy and other written communications meet university standards.
The Editorial Style Guide also helps writers to determine newsworthiness, enhance content search engine optimization (SEO) and accessibility, learn style unique to Texas A&M, draft effective bulk emails and more.
All style guides are living documents, open to revisions and updates at any time.
Contact email@example.com for Editorial Style Guide questions, clarifications or recommendations.
Texas A&M University and The Texas A&M University System use Associated Press (AP) Style. The AP Style Book is the standard for journalistic writing and is updated annually. The book is available in hard copy and online. Consult your unit's lead communicator for information about access to the guide and for AP Style-related questions.
Get AP Style tips and updates through social media and the monthly AP Style Book newsletter:
Texas A&M University uses the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. merriam-webster.com
System And Unit Guides
The Texas A&M University System and several university units have style guides. These guides are useful because they contain rules most often needed for writing about certain topics and disciplines including the use of medical or technical terminology, and the names of departments, buildings and system campuses. These may be used as supplements to this guide.
- AgriLife Editorial Style Guide
- Engineering Communications Editorial Guide
- Health Editorial Style Guide
- System Written Style Guidelines
Best Practices Writing News Stories
Post vs. Press Release
A Texas A&M news story can be distributed one of two ways:
A "post" is a news story that is published on a university website. The main university news site is Texas A&M Today. Colleges, schools and other units also carry news stories on their sites. Texas A&M social media channels often link to university news stories, furthering their reach. Posted stories are also used in Texas A&M Today's weekly newsletter — subscribe to the newsletter here.
- Press release:
A news story becomes a "press release" when it is distributed through Cision Public Relations software directly to media outlets via email. In addition to sharing important information with media, press releases are sent in hopes that media will do their own stories on the research and endeavors detailed in our press releases.
Not all posted news stories are sent as press releases. Texas A&M Today editors judge the newsworthiness of posted stories to determine whether or not they qualify. Editors look to release stories that are of broad interest to reporters and the general public.
Examples of content with broad appeal
- Major administrative hires/changes
- Major research progress, findings or results
- Research grant announcements over $100,000 and donations over $1M
- University-wide, national and international awards
- Interesting profiles on remarkable students and faculty
- Coverage of major events
- Research-based news analysis
- Major anniversaries and milestones
- Retirements or deaths of notable campus members
Examples of content without broad appeal
- Department head and faculty hires
- College/school-, division- and department-level awards
- Book release announcements
- Unit-level events and announcements
For questions about access to Cision, contact Lesley Henton, the university's Cision administrator.
For questions/instructions on how to use this software, contact Cision support.
Usually the first words a reader sees, a headline can make or break a news story. Headlines should grab a reader's attention and give the right amount of information to make them want to learn more. Long, dull or unintelligible headlines discourage reading.
Things To Do
- Be brief
The ideal length of a web headline is 50 to 60 characters (including letters, spaces and numbers) or around eight words. Try not to use more than 12 words in a headline. Cision limits press release headlines to 100 characters.
- Capitalize each word
Per Texas A&M House Style, each word of a headline is capitalized.
- Write a headline that can stand on its own
Headlines are often read alone, so they should fairly convey what the story is about and include relevant context. Use words in the headline that are key to the focus of the story. While a good headline encourages audiences to read further, it also contains all essential information to communicate the main focus and takeaway.
- Think about SEO
What terms are average users searching for related to the story's topic? Check what keywords are trending online that are relevant to the story and use them in the headline. Read more about Writing for the Web.
- View the story from the average reader's point of view
Sometimes it's challenging to write a brief headline when stories are multifaceted or the subject matter is complex. What would the average reader think is the most important or interesting part of the story? How does this topic apply to them — to their health, their finances, their community? The best performing headlines reflect topics readers care about and information they need or want to know.
- Be clever and funny, when appropriate
A headline's tone should match the story's tone. Not all topics are serious; it's OK to write a fun headline on occasion. Prior to publishing a more lighthearted headline, consult with others to ensure it's not foolish or in bad taste.
Things To Avoid
- Vagueness and ambiguity
While brief headlines are ideal, they should never be so brief or vague they lose the central message of the story, becoming confusing or open to interpretation.
- Unfamiliar acronyms
Acronyms such as CIA, FBI, FDA, IRS, NASA, NATO, NSF, STEM, UK and US generally are recognized by most readers and may be used in headlines (no periods). Acronyms most recognizable to members of certain groups in academia, medicine, business or government should never appear in headlines. If you're not sure if an acronym is easily recognizable, ask people outside your unit or search online to see how major media outlets use it. Examples of acronyms used at Texas A&M that should not be used in headlines:
Headlines should never sensationalize, mislead or overpromise.
- People's names
Headlines should include people's names only if they are highly recognizable by most readers.
Subheads (aka subheadings, headings or headers)
News stories in some university publications and websites — including Texas A&M Today — require a subhead to appear below the headline.
Things To Do
- Use this sentence to expand on the headline, giving additional information to encourage the reader to continue.
- The subhead should be a complete sentence, beginning with a capital letter, capitalizing only proper nouns and ending with a period.
- Aim for 60-120 characters.
- A subhead may be one sentence, or two short sentences.
- Help readers scan text by using additional subheads within a story. Subheads also help people who are using screen readers. Read more about Accessibility.
- Most stories over 300 words need subheadings for SEO. Text between subheadings should be around 300-400 words.
- These subheads should use just a few words to indicate what that section of the article is about; they do not require a period.
- Keep them between two to five words.
- Capitalize each word, per Texas A&M House Style.
(Headline) Texas A&M AgriLife Debuts Automated Precision Phenotyping Greenhouse
(Main subhead) Described as the "future of agricultural research," the facility features robotics and sensor technology.
Research Initiative Funding
Milestone For Texas A&M AgriLife
(Headline) How To Vote In The Midterm Elections
(Main Subhead) Texas A&M and Brazos County have teamed to bus people from campus to the nearest voting location at College Station City Hall.
Am I Eligible to Vote?
When Can I Vote?
Where Can I Vote?
Can I Vote By Mail?
Things To Avoid
- Long subheads
Main subheads that are too long can skew the appearance of a webpage featuring multiple stories. Long subheads within the body of a story defeat their purpose, which is giving readers the ability to quickly scan a story.
- Unfamiliar acronyms
Same as headlines, subheads with unfamiliar acronyms are not SEO-friendly and may be confusing to readers.
Lead Writing And The Inverted Pyramid
Because many people only read the first few paragraphs of a news story, journalists use a method of organizing information called the "inverted pyramid."
If you picture a pyramid upside-down, the widest part is on top and it progressively narrows. This is how information should be presented in news stories: the most important and/or interesting information is at the top of the article, presented in descending order of importance, narrowing to the least important information at the end.
The first paragraph of a news story is called the lead (sometimes spelled "lede"). The ideal lead is one sentence long, but some may be two or three shorter sentences, depending on the story.
Things To Do
- Think about the "who, what, where, when, why and how"
Include as many of these as possible in the lead. If including all of them in the first paragraph is too cumbersome, include the rest in the second paragraph.
- Lead with the most timely, interesting and/or important information
Like headlines, the most effective leads pull readers in and make them want to learn more. Lead with the most interesting or "need to know" parts of your story.
- Include a nut graph
Consider writing a "nut graph," so-called because it contains the "kernel" or central idea of a story. It's a way to transition from the lead into the rest of the story by letting the reader know what to expect if they continue reading. Learn more about writing a nut graph.
- Write for the layperson
In general, Texas A&M news stories should be written so they can be read easily by people who are not experts on the topic. The writer should not assume readers will understand complex ideas or subject matter terminology with no explanation. Writers work in tandem with faculty to break down complex research.
- Use words sparingly
Brevity is a skill. Don't use a dozen words when you can say the same thing with fewer. Readers often want to learn information quickly; help them by communicating your message efficiently.
- Use hyperlinks
Long URLs are not only visually unappealing, they result in poor user experience for people who use screen readers. Instead, hyperlink two to five words that describe where the readers are going when they click.
Read more about student success from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
Read more about student success in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at atmo.tamu.edu.
Things To Avoid
- Burying the lead
A reader shouldn't have to wade through several paragraphs to get to the focus of the story. Give them the most important information at the top, then provide background information and less important details in subsequent paragraphs.
"Jargon" is technical terminology used by specific groups of people (medical practitioners, engineers, scientists, etc.). Jargon is language not easily understood or recognized by the general public. It is the writer's job to translate jargon into lay terms when writing for general audiences. Writers are encouraged to hyperlink to published studies in academic journals so readers can further explore complex topics.
- Long titles and unit names
At Texas A&M, people's titles and the names of colleges, schools, institutes and centers can be quite long. If so, leave them out of the lead and work them into other sentences later on in the story.
- Listing collaborators
Newsworthy endeavors at Texas A&M can involve multiple people, campus units, other universities and external organizations. It may be tempting to give everyone credit early in the article. But long lists of collaborators make for cumbersome reading before the user has learned what they want to know. It is important to credit people and institutions, but do so later in the story, even in one paragraph at the very end.
- Linking to poorly designed and/or unreliable websites
When using hyperlinks in stories, be sure you're linking to sites that meet the university's standards. Don't link off to sites that aren't well-designed, accessible and factual. Stick to sites with .edu and .gov domains whenever possible.
Note: Not all stories lend themselves to the inverted pyramid style; for example, feature stories may open with background information or an anecdote before building to the story's focus.
Texas A&M news stories require source approval. This means anyone who is quoted and/or has provided information to the writer for use in the article is asked to review and approve the story draft prior to publication.
Sources are asked only to verify facts and ensure they are not misquoted. Their final approval must be obtained in writing, via email, and should be archived.
All other story aspects — headlines, subheads, leads, organization, sentence construction, and grammar, spelling and punctuation — are the sole purview of writers and editors.
Writers must ensure stories are source-approved* prior to submitting content to Texas A&M Today, at which point Today editors may make style changes. If changes are substantial enough to warrant additional source review, editors will notify the submitting writer.
*If covering an event, there is no need to obtain source approval for quotes from attendees.
Read more about Submitting to Texas A&M Today.
Write For Your Audience
These key audiences have been identified for Texas A&M news stories:
- Current students, faculty and staff
- Former students
- Donors and other stakeholders
- Funding agencies
- General public
Before deciding to write a news story, think about who your audience is and what interests them. Stories that are of narrow interest may be suitable for a unit's website/social media only. Stories of interest to the broader university community may fit well on Texas A&M Today and university-level social media. And stories of interest to wider, external audiences (media, legislators, the general public) may be suitable for press release distribution.
Read more about Post vs. Press Release.
Photo Captions And Credit
Photos and other graphics can add valuable information or clarification to stories, break up long blocks of text and make the reader experience more enjoyable. Most university news sites require at least one image in order to post a story.
Things To Do
- Write brief captions that explain or highlight information from the story.
- Write a full sentence with a period or a sentence fragment with no period.
- When appropriate, identify the people who are pictured.
(l-r) Professor of Sociology John Davis, Sally Hayes, guest lecturer, and graduate student Donna Rodriguez at the poster event in the MSC
- Include photo credit.
Photo by Lisa McKay, Texas A&M Engineering
- Include alt text to describe what's in the photo/graphic for people who use screen readers. Read more about Accessibility.
Things To Avoid
- Writing captions that are too long, which can negatively affect the story's visual appeal. Aim for 125 characters or less.
- Including too much detail such as meeting room numbers, or long titles/unit names.
- Unfamiliar acronyms — spell out in photo captions.
A boilerplate is a blurb at the end of a press release that contains facts and information about the university and/or collaborating organizations. While not a requirement, boilerplates can be included to provide key facts to reporters and other readers.
Press releases distributed by Central MarComm contain the university boilerplate. Additional boilerplates in press releases may be used upon review by Texas A&M Today editors. Unit boilerplates may be used at the discretion of college/school/division communicators; just make sure they are kept current.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
Best Practices Writing for the Web
Competition for online readers is fierce, but writers can work to ensure web content ranks highly in search engines with content search engine optimization (SEO).
Content SEO is all about using keywords and organization to ensure your content appears as high as possible on search results pages when users type queries into search engines like Google or Bing. The words you use and the way you structure content can boost SEO, thereby increasing readership.
Learn about how to create content that performs from Yoast.
- See if your publishing platform has SEO tools. For example, WordPress offers the Yoast SEO plug-in which will help you optimize your posts.
- Research keywords related to your story topic, or choose a story topic based on what keywords are trending. Learn more about keyword research.
- Use the free Semrush SEO Writing Assistant Google Docs extension to optimize a story while writing.
A critical facet of SEO/web writing is accessibility — ensuring websites can be fully experienced by everyone, regardless of their abilities or internet connection speed.
Read Texas A&M's standards for web accessibility.
Many writers on campus are tasked with selecting and placing images in online posts, so are responsible for writing alt text (alternative text) and managing file size. Images should be less than 1MB, which might be needed for banners or full-size images. Closer to 100KB is ideal as long as you don’t lose too much quality. For assistance in shrinking images, when necessary, consult your unit's visual media specialists.
Resources for Writing Alt Text:
Making Accessible Web Graphics:
Website Accessibility Checker:
Submitting to Texas A&M Today
If you'd like to have a story considered for posting on Texas A&M Today and/or university press release, submit the story to your respective contact in Central MarComm. If you don't know who your contact is, ask your unit's lead communicator or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things To Do
- Submit in a Word or Google document
- Include images, captions and photo credits
- Include a headline, main subhead and byline
- Capitalize every word in the headline; the main subhead is a complete sentence with a period.
- Include the dateline — BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Jan. 1, 2022
- End with a media contact — Media contact: Greg Kringle, 979-555-5555, email@example.com
Things To Avoid
- Headers and footers
- Draft marks
- Parentheses in phone numbers
Read more about Post vs. Press Release.
Best Practices Writing Bulk Emails
Texas A&M units can send bulk emails to the campus community. Check with your unit's lead communicator for guidance on sending.
Things To Do
- Keep subject lines brief.
Aim for no more than nine words/60 characters.
- Write a descriptive subject line.
The subject line should be descriptive enough to inform the reader what the email is about and why it matters to them.
- Keep the body of the email brief and to the point.
Campus members can receive many emails each day, so allow them to be able to read your email quickly and efficiently. Use words sparingly, and use bullet points and headers to facilitate quick reading.
- Send to the right audience.
University bulk email services allow targeted distribution. For example, you can send an email only to students on the College Station campus, or only to faculty at all campuses, and so on.
- Use "please" sparingly.
Emails often overuse the word "please" as in "please contact Mary Smith for more information" or "please join us." While it is polite, using it too many times simply adds more words. One use in an email is plenty and it should be used for the main call to action.
Things To Avoid
- Images of text
Text within images may not be accessible for people with visual impairments. Read more about Accessibility.
Avoid emailing or linking to PDFs for several reasons: poor mobile user experience; multiple steps required to read; the sender can't track reader engagement; and PDFs can't be updated once they are downloaded.
- Long URLs
As with news stories, long URLs in emails are not ideal. Use hyperlinks instead.
- Bulk emails for small audiences
A communication via bulk email should be relevant to a wide swath of the university community. If it's not, consider using interdepartmental or direct email.
Tips And Tricks
Use Aggie Map to find the correct names for campus buildings.
Texas A&M Data and Research Services (DARS) has helpful dashboards and other reports where writers can find current and historical data on student and faculty headcounts and demographics, degrees awarded and more. Visit dars.tamu.edu or for questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whenever possible, use gender neutral terms. AP Style accepts "congresswoman and congressman" due to their common use.
- Use "chairperson" instead of "chairman" or "chairwoman"
- Use "police officer" instead of "police man" or "police woman"
AP Style calls for periods after each bullet point, but Texas A&M House Style allows either periods or no periods — just pick one and be consistent.
Use exclamation points sparingly
Don't try to create excitement by using a lot of exclamation points. AP Style calls for their use to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotion. Use a comma after mild interjections and end mildly exclamatory sentences with a period.
Avoid "alphabet soup"
Written communications can be weighed down by overuse of acronyms, so use them sparingly.
- Emma James, Ph.D, M.D. F.A.C.S
- Professors in ESPY are joining staff in OVPSA for an APA conference in the MSC.
An Oxford, or serial, comma is one that is used before a conjunction such as "and." AP Style forbids this comma unless its omission changes the meaning of the sentence.
Do not put a comma before a conjunction in most simple series:
- Jessica, James and Fred are students in the class.
- The children said they'd like either pizza, spaghetti or hamburgers for dinner.
Use an Oxford comma if its omission makes the meaning of the sentence unclear or changes its meaning.
Here are some real-world examples in which an Oxford comma was needed, but left out:
- "…an overworked employee at the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children."
- (in a photo caption) "…Catherine holding her daughter and the Queen."