Article Guidelines

Presstacular uses rigorous guidelines for its content library. Our editorial team ensures that our writers follow specific spelling, grammar, punctuation and other stylistic rules so that all of our articles, white papers, and other content are professional and consistent. The guidelines we provide to our writing team are below.

General

Articles should be written as though you were writing for a small IT services company communicating to its prospect and customer base. These people will be primarily business people, not technicians and engineers. Avoid using technical language, and try to keep things as simple as possible. Your audience will be looking for advice on things like password protection and word processing tips, not how to set up their own server or coding advice.

When writing, you should keep in mind that these articles will be re-used by many different small IT companies, and often edited by them. Unless articles discuss trends or big news related to large tech companies (e.g., Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IngramMicro, Tech Data, Intel/McAffee, Norton, Adobe, etc), avoid mentioning any specific products, services or companies. For example, in an article with a topic like, "What should go into your business intelligence dashboard?," the article should present the types of products and services a business owner would want to see, but not specific business intelligence tools that provide such options. The same rule applies to social media tools; discussing trends related to large companies (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Instagram) is acceptable, but an article entitled "10 Ways to Use Social Media to Increase your Brand Presence" should cover only generic tips on social media use, not detailed instructions on which specific services to use.

These articles should encourage the audience to purchase products or services from the sender (i.e. the small IT services company sending the articles). As such, articles should periodically use closing statements like, "Contact us for a vulnerability check to make sure your computers are virus-free," which would appear at the end of an article about the importance of regular virus checkups.

Article Types

Features

Features should be between 500 and 2000 words; generally we would prefer they be around 600-1000 words. A feature article should begin with an introduction and contain a minimum of two subheadings. The material in these subheadings should support the introduction and general idea of the article. A feature can contain bullet points and lists, but the majority of the article should be paragraph style prose.

A feature article is meant to be a thorough discussion of a topic. It should go into more detail than what is offered by a list or a tip/trick.

Lists<

Lists must be at least 250 words, but there is no upper limit on word count. Each list should have at least three list items. List titles should contain numbers ("5 Ways to...") and have numbered subheadings, ("1. Birds Are Descended From Dinosaurs"). Each individual list item should ideally be no more than 100 words. As a general rule, the more items on your list, the shorter each list item should be. For instance, a list of "30 Questions to Ask Your Clients" should ideally have only a single sentence for each list item, while "3 Email Tricks to Guarantee Clicks" can have more substantial paragraphs for each list item.

For lists with fewer, more substantial list items, the list items themselves can feature unordered lists, or bullet points. However, list items should not contain numbered lists.

Lists MUST begin with an introduction in order to explain the subject matter. For example, "3 Email Tricks to Guarantee Clicks" should begin with something like, "It's well known that getting users to actually click on links within the body of an email is quite difficult. Here are three ways to get the attention of those users so they click through to your content."

Conclusions are optional, but they must use subheadings (e.g. "Final Thoughts") in order to be differentiated from list items.

Tips and Tricks

Tips and tricks should be less than 500 words, but more than 250 words. These articles should be smaller items that provide steps on how to solve a single problem or offer a single piece of advice.

Tips and tricks should be formatted in paragraphs and contain very few subheadings, or none at all. In general, they should be written in the grammatical second person (e.g. "You should click on the red button.") or the imperative mood, which implies a second-person subject (e.g. "Click on the red button").

An example topic would be how to accomplish a single task within a commonly used software program (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint). Another example would be general advice on what to do in a specific situation (e.g., "How to Write a Great Article Title"). If several different solutions are explored (e.g., "7 Ways to Secure Your Wireless Network"), the article then qualifies as a list rather than a tip.

Style

Presstacular uses a style guide to ensure consistent spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage throughout all of our content. For technical aspects, we refer to The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). We recommend being familiar with Chicago before you submit your content. For spelling, we use Merriam-Webster. Note that spell check can sometimes trip you up if you aren't careful about usage—Microsoft Word will often correct to the wrong word if you don't double-check.

Common IT Terms

Below, you'll find definitions, as well as various grammar, spelling, and punctuation guidelines, for terms commonly used within IT articles.

  • blog (i.e., a web page on a website that contains posts organized by date)
  • Blu-ray
  • company names are capitalized (e.g., Google, Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, Intel, Microsoft)
  • e-commerce
  • email
  • information technology is abbreviated IT
  • Internet
  • media file type extensions are in all capital letters (e.g., GIF, JPEG, MPEG, MP4, MIDI, HTML, XML)
  • net (not Net or 'net)
  • periods and commas are used inside quotes (e.g., "This is great!" "This is also great." "Is this great?" "This is great," he said.)
  • post (i.e., an individual article on a blog; also "blog post")
  • publication titles are italicized (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine, The New York Times)
  • web (not Web)
  • website (i.e., a full and complete website and all the pages it contains; e.g. Amazon.com)
  • web page (i.e., an individual sub-page of a website; e.g. Amazon.com's movies and DVDs section)

Commas

The Serial Comma

We use the serial or Oxford comma, as per the instructions in The Chicago Manual of Style. This means that in a list of items of three or more where the last item is joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, or, as well as), the conjunction must be preceded by a comma. If the last element of a list is a paired item joined by a conjunction, that pair should be preceded by a serial comma and the first "and" (see the second example below). This helps prevent ambiguity. For example:

Children enjoy bananas, oranges, and strawberries.

IT professionals should be aware of hackers, viruses, and phishing and scams.

See The Chicago Manual of Style 6.16–6.53 for a thorough explanation of proper comma usage.

Comma Splices

Avoid creating comma splices. A comma splice occurs when you link two complete sentences together using a comma, without a conjunction to properly join the two sentences. For example, "I baked some cookies, Joe really enjoyed them" is two complete sentences split by a comma. Instead, this should be "I baked some cookies. Joe really enjoyed them."

For more details on how to recognize and avoid comma splices, see this article: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/comma-splice

Commas and Dates

If a full date (e.g. June 14, 2015) occurs in the middle of a sentence, commas should appear both before and after the year. However, if there are only two elements to the date (e.g. January 1 or November 2016), no commas are necessary. For example:

The meeting scheduled for April 2, 2015, was postponed following this development.

The release of the operating system on May 9 will be highly anticipated.

The first store opened December 2014 in Brooklyn, NY.

Quotes

Scare Quotes

Avoid the use of "scare quotes." These are quotation marks put around a phrase to emphasize it, indicate a nonstandard use, or indicate sarcasm. Only use these for indicating nonstandard usage, and even then, only if absolutely necessary. Scare quotes are not needed around idioms or relatively common IT terms. Here are some websites with proper instructions on when to use scare quotes:

3 Erroneous Uses of Scare Quotes

Single Quotation Marks Versus Double Quotation Marks

Grammar Girl on Scare Quotes

Menus and Buttons

References to links, buttons, menu options, and other toggles within a user interface should be wrapped in quotes. In addition, they should be capitalized as they appear within the actual user interface. For example:

To begin, click "Start" and fill in the form.

After opening the campaign, press the "Read More..." link.

When you are done, choose "Save" to confirm all changes.

Keys and Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts, combinations, and individual keys do not need quotes around them. Each key should begin with a capital letter and should be spelled out, if necessary, to prevent confusion. Combinations and shortcuts that involve multiple keys should be joined with plus signs and should not contain spaces around the joining symbol. For example:

If you mess up, press Command+Z to undo your action.

Pressing Tab will indent your line.

Command+A selects everything on a given page.

List Items

If a list item is not a complete sentence, it should not have punctuation at the end of the line. For example:

  • bananas
  • apples
  • oranges

Conversely, if a list item is a complete sentence, it should end in the appropriate punctuation. For example:

  1. Bananas are excellent sources of potassium.
  2. Apples reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  3. Oranges are great sources of vitamin C.

List items should not end in colons, semicolons, commas, or other punctuation not used to end a complete sentence.

Relative and Absolute Time

Try to avoid using relative time frames in your articles. Don't talk about "last year" or "this year" or "in the future." While these articles will eventually be rolled over, they could potentially be in use for many years, and it will make your article sound woefully out of date. Instead of, "Last year, Google rolled out a new search algorithm called Panda," say "In February 2011, Google rolled out a new search algorithm called Panda."

Em-dash and En-dash

Em-dash

An em-dash is a versatile dash that can be used in place of commas, parenthesis, and colons, especially when an abrupt break in thought is needed. It looks like this: — . Contrary to The Chicago Manual of Style, we do require spaces around an em-dash. In HTML, you encode the em-dash by writing &mdash;. In a word processor on a Macintosh, you hold down alt-shift-dash. On a Windows machine, you hold down Alt, and then type in 0151 on the number pad. Be careful not to accidentally create comma splices when using the em-dash, and do not over-use them: they are an alternative to other forms of punctuation, not a replacement.

En-dash

An en-dash is primarily used like the word 'to' but only in cases of a range of numbers or dates, like 1999–2000. It looks like this: – . In HTML, you encode the en-dash, by writing &ndash;. In a word processor on a Macintosh, you hold down alt-dash to create the en-dash. On a Windows machine, you hold down Alt, then type in 0150 on the number pad. Like the em-dash, you do not use spaces around an en-dash.

Grammatical Person

When possible, be consistent in the use of grammatical person, or point of view. If you start an article in one person, stay in that person until the end of the article.

First person describes events as a participant. Sentences from this point of view include the pronouns "I" and "we." Avoid using first person within the body of an article. However, you may apply first person within closing sentences (e.g., "Contact us and we'll help you choose the right solution.").

You'll want to use either second or third person when writing these articles. Second person gives instructions to someone directly, using the pronoun "you." Third person relates events about others with pronouns such as "he," "she," "it," "one" and "they." Mixing these two points of view within a single sentence or passage can create confusion.

Gender Neutrality

When possible, use gender-neutral language. Here are some alternatives to common gender specific terms:

  • mankind → humanity
  • common man → average person, ordinary person
  • best man for the job → best person for the job
  • he → one, you

Passive and Active Voice

Articles should contain a healthy balance of active and passive voice. When the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb, the sentence uses the active voice (e.g., "Businesses prefer cloud storage."). In contrast, when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, the sentence uses the passive voice (e.g., "Cloud storage is preferred by businesses."). The choice of active or passive voice affects the emphasis in the sentence.

When the active voice is used, the beginning of the sentence receives more emphasis. Focus is placed on the doer of the action. This structure generally results in shorter sentences that are more dynamic, forceful, and direct. You'll want the majority of your sentences to use the active voice.

When the passive voice is used, the end of the sentence receives more emphasis. This allows you to minimize or remove the role of the person performing the action. Passive voice typically softens the tone and makes sentences less personal. It also lengthens sentences and often conveys more formality.

Formatting and Submission

Unless otherwise specified all articles must follow these instructions.

You may use any document preparation tools that you wish, but please ensure that your contribution is formatted in conformance to the specific instructions provided below.

File Format

Articles are expected to be submitted as a "plain text" .txt file, with a file name matching the final article title, without any punctuation.

For example: "How to Write a Successful Presstacular Article.txt"

Formatting

Articles are expected to be devoid of any formatting. This includes headers, italics, bolds, etc. Our in-house editors add formatting once an article has been reviewed and accepted.

In the event that you are using Microsoft Word to prepare your submission make sure to DISABLE Microsoft Word's Autoformat features. These features are generally not compatible with content presented through the Internet and are likely to cause distracting rendering artifacts.

To disable Word's Autoformat within your particular version of word please read How to turn off Autoformat options in Word within Microsoft's support knowledgebase.

Article Components

Each submitted article should have the following components:

  • Title: The provided title for the article, you may alter the provided title if you feel such a change improves the article as a whole.
  • Teaser: 2-3 lines designed to encourage readers to click to read the full article online. A "read more" link is automatically appended to the end of every accepted submission after the article passes the review process.
  • Tweet: This field only needs to be provided if we specifically request it for a given article. If requested, a 120 character description of the article that our clients can send out as a tweet to get people to visit the full article (we use the last 20 characters of a tweet to include the article's URL).
  • Article: The full article, append any links used in while researching content for the article for possible citation.

Please make sure to structure the article such that the components appear in the above order.

Article Submission

If you're interested in writing for Presstacular, please email your resume and writing samples to: articles@presstacular.com for review. Submissions should be emailed individually (no zip files).