The good thing about a style guide is that it's always right. It's your view on how things should be done - well, apart from observing rules of grammar and spelling (although sometimes spelling does offer a little leeway).

But it's the guide that you expect your colleagues to work to, whether they agree with it or not. The style guide now available to readers on the College of Journalism site isn't the first to be made publicly available by the BBC. More than a decade ago, former radio newsroom editor John Allen crafted a splendid work - still available online - the principles of which still hold good. It defined the craft of writing, the flow of words, the potential ambiguity of language, and why writing for broadcast is a skill of its own. It reminded us: "Listeners and viewers look to the BBC to maintain high standards. It is a responsibility that should be welcomed by a public service broadcaster."

However, some things have changed; these days the BBC is very much a publisher. That has been the case since the 1970s with the computer-generated summaries of Ceefax, but the output now encompasses websites, mobiles and other digital outlets and social media, as well as the vast amount of text to be found on our TV screens.

So, while the News style guide is aimed at all our journalists, some will use it more than others. It doesn't deal with the nuts and bolts of getting our stories or how we pronounce our words; there should be - and are - other places for that. This guide is about how we present our information, how we ensure our language is appropriate and accurate, and how we aim to achieve consistency across our various outlets. We focus a lot on the nitty-gritty that is important for any text writer: when to use capitals and hyphens, how to describe countries and places, how to spell people's names when alternatives exist, what the technology of various platforms will allow.

But we also recognise that the BBC is a broad church and a story told on the News website is likely to differ from one on Newsround or Newsbeat, or even Newsnight. Colleagues in TV will have their own view on whether ‘chief executive’ should have initial caps in an on-screen caption; it's horses for courses.

In the process of developing this guide, we have made choices and I don't expect our audiences to agree with them all. In that, we are no different from any newspaper, website or news agency style guide. But I hope you will find throughout this guide the impartiality, integrity, fairness and honesty that should be the cornerstones of our journalism, as set out in the Editorial Guidelines that inform all BBC output.

For some time, as print has become a key part of our portfolio, we have felt that we should show our workings like other august publishers around the world - the Telegraph, the Economist, the Guardian, Associated Press. I'm sure many viewers, listeners and readers will get in touch to share their own views (there will be a blog on the NASA/Nasa argument in due course!).

And it is a guide - we'd like everyone to adhere to it but deviation is not a hanging offence. (And, yes, we don't mind starting sentences with ‘and’). I hope you find it useful and by all means compare it with others in the public domain. Like them, our guide is an evolving work, constantly under review, and I have no doubt that input from our audiences will shape it as it continues to develop to reflect our vibrant and ever-changing language.

BBC News style guide

Comments

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by Charles Miller

    on 26 Jul 2013 14:48

    Hi Michelle. I'm the blogs editor here. Just to say that unfortunately the rest of the website (apart from the blog) is only available on subscription outside the UK (for reasons to do with the BBC licence fee). Maybe you could get someone to send you a printout - or come and see it back in the UK! Thanks for your interest anyway.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Michelle Summers

    on 19 Jul 2013 21:35

    Hello Ian - I just came across a reference (and recommendation!) to the BBC News style guide on http://newsgame.co.uk/96/style-guide-basics/ - unfortunately the link to the BBC style guide (which is the same as the one in your article above) is not available outside the UK. A bit disappointing to say the least, as I'm a Brit teaching a writing course in South Africa for a semester and it would have been lovely to share it with the students here.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by The Scribe

    on 3 Jul 2013 08:59

    Noticed that some international media (the BBC especially) use lower case (except the initial letter that is) for acronyms unlike what we are used to, (e.g. FIFA spelt as Fifa). Is this part of the new style in writing?

    Sam, I've always understood the rule to be upper and lower if you can say the word (Aids, Fifa, Ofsted, Mori) and all upper case if you can't (FA, NASUWT). Some companies deliberately adopt perverse ways of writing their names to make them more memorable (eBay, adidas), and I think we usually humour them. Unless Ian rules otherwise...

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Michelle Brown

    on 2 Jul 2013 08:57

    Ian, thanks for a great resource - I coordinate a few writing and journalism projects at a university in South Africa and I'm sure it'll prove very useful for us. If only our local broadcaster would produce material like this!

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Sam

    on 20 Jun 2013 14:17

    Noticed that some international media (the BBC especially) use lower case (except the initial letter that is) for acronyms unlike what we are used to, (e.g. FIFA spelt as Fifa). Is this part of the new style in writing?

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Acrobatty

    on 20 Jun 2013 13:15

    One mistake that really gets my goat is when reporters/presenters etc. use the phrase, "one pence". It's particularly common on Budget Day, when you'll often hear something like, "the price of beer is going up by one pence". Perhaps that'll find its way into a future version of the style guide. We can always hope.

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