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Style Guide

Notes on how to write/edit Commonplace pieces
Published onDec 19, 2022
Style Guide

For Authors

As a publication, Commonplace discusses the digital infrastructure, policies, and cultures needed to distribute, constellate, and amplify knowledge for the public good. Our mission is to publish viewpoints around what the culture(s) and subsequent future(s) of knowledge should look like toward collective action and broader advocacy. We welcome and encourage experimental forms of media on topics that push the boundaries regarding scholarship and publishing, ranging from philosophical to practical.

An article is a different animal than academic or technical paper. In a typical manuscript, you must give ample background to draw your reader in, allow them to fully understand the issue, and then guide them to show how your work is novel. This approach doesn’t work with articles. You must get the attention of your reader in the first few sentences (if not the first). By the time you give as much background and supporting evidence as you would have in a journal article, you’ll have lost your audience. Consider stating your thesis early on, before moving into background material. Don’t bury your leads. This article by Morgan Housel describes this attention grabbing well (in addition to some other concepts we agree with).

When considering the audience, think about why they have chosen to read your piece (see our About page for more details on this). Make this easy for your reader by having topic sentences for your paragraphs and lead each idea to the next.

Use headers (H1, H2, H3 hierarchies) to organize the thoughts (and make it easy for readers to use our Contents feature). Don’t overload your pieces with jargon, but don’t be afraid to use technical words that help the reader understand the points that you are making, as long as you clearly define them the first time you use them.

As you research and write, read around on your subject. Never present a single paper/report as authoritative without cross-referencing it to other work in the field. If there are controversies or differences of opinion surrounding your subject, report them fairly. Simplifying the topic is almost always necessary, but never mislead by omission.

Don’t lose your voice and tone though in all this though! We are here to share your stories to our growing community so the you must shine through. We’re also most interested in your unique opinions and experience. The news is covered elsewhere, we’re here to get the processes and perspectives. Even though we detail our editorial process below (which we encourage you to look over), we strive to maintain and only improve your voice and message.

Style Guide

  • Loosely follow Chicago Style, but very flexible

    • Regional spellings and grammar vary! This is great!

    • Just be on the look-out for run ons, comma splices, and misuse of the em dash (hyphens =/= em dashes, and em-dashes are often overused because they are pretty)

  • Oxford commas are necessary. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  • References/notes come after punctuation

    • example.1

    • example,”[NO_PRINTED_FORM]

    • using footnotes or reference option is up to the author’s discretion, but must be consistent or easy to distinguish if they’re using both

For Commonplace Editors

Guidance on Abstracts/Submissions

General submissions

  • In general, we accept most pitches because we’re able to provide suggestions for the direction of the full piece.

  • When giving feedback, think about the readers of Commonplace: folks who have interest in publishing, open scholarship, libraries, and the practices and cultures surround these and related topics. Draw on the author’s expertise and experience: what do they know that others can learn from? What perspective are you interested in learning more about? What hasn’t been covered yet by other outlets?

Series abstracts

  • These have specific themes that have been outlined in a call for submissions. Check and make sure that it understands the assignment, is not merely an amplification piece for their platform, and speaks to the prompt(s).

  • All submissions will be discussed by Commonplace editors and Series Guest Editors before decisions are made.

Structural Edits

This is for first complete drafts. Read (or at least skim) the full draft first before reading critically. Then go back and:

  • Identify thesis and see if the flow of ideas follow and stay on track

    • Can you identify the main point(s)?

    • Does the progression of paragraphs make sense? (consider creating a reverse outline)

    • Do the paragraphs start with a topic sentence?

    • What is the through-line?

    • What does the concluding paragraph leave you with? A conclusion? Call to action? Does it follow the argument of the article? 

  • Find room for improvement

    • Is there enough evidence (when provided)? 

    • Are the jargons and acronyms clearly defined?

    • Are the claims justified and not overstated?

      • We are not a platform where people share about their platform/technology. They can speak about a topic through the lens of their organization and experience, but the article must tap into something bigger.

    • If there are claims that are uncited, is it a reasonable jump from the existing evidence to the claim?

    • Any interactives/images/multimedia that could be added?

  • Make inline notes and comments

    • What lines really pop out and make you think?

    • What parts do you have questions/confusion about?

    • It’s okay to do some rearranging of sections and paragraphs, just make a note that you did (and why)

  • When giving comments to authors, describe why you’re making the edits and give guidance as to what you’re looking for in particular. State what you think the thesis is and see if it’s the same with what they intended. Also, make sure you share what you like about the piece and what they did well with :)

  • This type of editing can be repeated until everything is clear and beautiful

Content Edits

Once the draft is structurally sound, it’s time for some detail work. Put your English Grammar cap on and do a close read.

  • Are there grammatical errors?

    • Subject/verb agreement

    • Punctuation

  • Are there any sentences that are too long and/or unclear? 

    • Passive voice —> find opportunities for active verbs

    • Run-ons

    • Jargon

    • Optional: Did you read the post out loud to catch any awkward sentences?

  • Do images have captions/alt text?

  • Do the links work?

  • Design

    • Line break or CP blob after each section before each new H1

    • Subsequent headers (H2, H3, …) do not need spaces/line breaks

  • Follow style guide

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