General writing guidelines for articles in English

Find out how to write and edit English-language press releases and news — and how they differ in style, format and angle from texts written in Finnish.
Kuvituskuva näppäimistöstä. Kuvittaja: Ida-Maria Wikström.
Image: Ida-Maria Wikström

Target audience 

Aalto University’s newsfeed articles are for people interested in science and research, art, education, culture and society. Our readers include many members of our community: students, personnel, alumni, partners, as well as potential students. International media also see our press releases and other news via direct links from media services, social media or while visiting our website. 

Style  

Aalto uses British English, which means spelling and punctuation use may differ from organisations or sources that use another style. You can read more about our style here. When in doubt about how to use a word and whether it falls under British or other conventions, look it up at https://www.lexico.com/en (powered by Oxford Dictionaries). 

Headline 

A good headline captures the topic in an interesting way, giving the readers a reason to continue reading. 

The suggested length for a title in English is approximately 8-10 words (60-70 characters including spaces). It’s better to have a clear and concise phrase than break the headline into two parts with a dash or colon. 

Note that, in English, we typically write headlines in the active voice and present tense but shorthand, which means they do not necessarily form full sentences. Using this format will help you reduce the length and bulk of the most important parts of your article.  

  • Top international panel recognises Aalto’s fashion programme  

Not: Aalto’s fashion programme has been recognised by a leading international panel  

Subhead 

Press releases and news always have a subhead, also called a subheadline or subtitle. The subhead complements the main headline with extra information in line with the chosen angle. In this sense, the same words/components should not appear in both the main headline and subhead. 

Since the article appears on the aalto.fi website, it isn’t always necessary to mention Aalto by name here. 

Subheads in English should be maximum one phrase and written in shorthand, like the headline. In practice this means that subheads are not necessarily complete sentences and, unlike in Finnish, do not use periods at the end of the phrase.  

In Drupal, the subhead text goes in both the summary field as well as the lead text field so that it appears in both the news feed as well as in the article itself. 

Main text 

The main text of an article stands by itself; in other words, readers do not need to see the headline or subhead to understand the main text.  

To insert the main text in Drupal, use text component. It should follow the lead text component, that is, the subhead. 

General writing guidelines 

When mentioning the university for the first time, use its full name, Aalto University. Later you can use either ‘the university’ (in lower case) or simply ‘Aalto’. 

The full names of schools and departments should always be capitalised in English. Short forms (i.e., ARTS, BIZ, ENG; ELEC, CHEM, SCI) are not used in articles accessible to the public. To refer to a specific school without using the full official name each time, use simply ‘school’ — always in lowercase.  

Avoid abbreviations in texts. If they are unavoidable, write the full term out upon first mention with the abbreviation in brackets and the abbreviation thereafter. For example:  

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

  • Virtual Reality (VR) 

  • European Union (EU) 

Numbers 1-9 are typically written out (one, two, three). If there are lots of number in the text, they can be listed in numerical form (1-9). 

As a general rule, translate Finnish terms into English. In some cases, it can be helpful to include the Finnish term in parentheses. This is particularly true when a place or concept is referred to mostly by the Finnish term, for example, Tietotekniikan talo or T-talo. 

Always define scientific terms in the text. If you can’t explain a concept, it shouldn’t be in the text. 

Names and titles

Use people’s full names in bold upon first mention in the main text. This applies also to those names mentioned in the headline or subhead.  

Use position titles over academic degrees in English-language texts, as degrees do not translate well. Note that, in English, titles are capitalised when they appear before a full name but not when they appear afterwards.  

  • Professor Matti Aurinko has taken a close look at what that means.  

  • Matti Aurinko, a professor of applied physics at Aalto University, has taken a close look at what that means. 

  • Dr Samantha Smith is looking to make the next breakthrough in solar cell development.   

  • Postdoctoral researcher Samantha Smith is looking to make the next breakthrough in solar cell development.   

Not:  Doctor of Science (Technology) Samantha Smith  

Use the last name only to refer to the same person again in the same text. In English, it isn’t necessary to repeat someone’s position or academic qualification upon subsequent mentions. First names also become unnecessary after the first mention; use his or her last name only. Too many details suggest to the reader that you are introducing a new individual.  

Quotes 

Aalto uses single quotation marks, following the most typical British style. Punctuation (i.e., commas, periods, exclamation points and question marks) is placed within quotation marks. Double quotation marks ― like those used in Finnish or American English ― only appear to indicate quotes within quotes. 

  • ‘Policy makers often portray enterprises as passive players when it comes to sustainability,’ says Salmivaara. 

  • ‘That’s precisely what we expected!’ he adds. 

  • He replied, ‘that’s precisely what we expected.’ 

  • ‘That’s correct,’ he explains. ‘It’s precisely what we expected.’ 

  • “That’s precisely what we expected,” he told me, though I was convinced we’d get another finding,’ Smith explains. 

Note that, while rarely needed, double quotation marks in English (“”) differ from those used in Finnish.  

Contractions 

Contractions add fluency to the text when used appropriately. If you’re unsure of when or how to use them, it’s best to omit contractions but be aware that, depending on the text, the result can be harder to read. Contractions are especially useful in quotes, because people use them naturally when they talk.  

  • I’ve, we’ve 

  • you’re, we’re 

  • shouldn’t  

  • can’t 

  • aren’t 

Commas 

Commas are used differently in English. They mainly work to separate distinct ideas and, so, help the reader make sense of the information provided. In quotes, place commas inside quotation marks. See Oxford Dictionaries to learn more about comma use. 

Common errors made by native Finnish speakers include placing a comma: 

  • before ‘that’: It is clear, that -->  

  • outside of quotation marks: ‘The alternatives are fantastic’, explains Smith. 

Hyphens and dashes 

There are three similar punctuation marks in English, each with a different function.  

A hyphen (-) joins words or parts of words together. Note that, depending on their position in the sentence and how they are used, sometimes these terms will appear without hyphens (consult Oxford Dictionaries for further information).  

  • up-to-date  

  • sixty-six 

Note that hyphens are not used in English for compound terms like seminar or project names. Their full names are instead capitalised.  

  • WDC seminar 

  • Design for All project 

Use an en-dash (–) for dates and intervals. Programmes like Microsoft Word typically convert these from hyphens automatically.  

  • 3–4 weeks 

Em-dashes (—) are used to highlight or mark off information, typically in place of commas. Use spaces around em-dashes to facilitate online reading. 

  • These are two very different understandings of what entrepreneurs can — and should — do,’ Kibler says. 

Headings in the main text 

Use headings in the body of the text to help readers along from one topic or theme to another. A good heading is concise, information and interesting. Try to make all headings within the text roughly the same length. They should be written in a style that fits the text. 

Make a heading in Drupal by using Heading 3 style. 

Image captions

Image captions play an important role in a news article. They present interesting details from the piece, the main theme, what the photo is about, or who is in the photo, in addition to providing credit to the photographer. Note that, in English, there are no spaces around the slash. 

  • Photo: Kaisa Kuvaaja/Aalto University 

Fact boxes 

As needed, you can use a fact box, which offers readers additional information, after the main text of the article and contact details for more information. 

Don’t add a long fact box to a short news article. Try to keep each element around the same length. Use titles and add sources, as required. 

In Drupal, create a fact box by using the table tool. Use bullet points or number, depending on your need. 

Contacts for more information 

At the end of a press release, add contact details for at least one of the people cited in the text who is prepared to answer questions from the media.  

The English and Finnish versions do not have to list the same person or people. In the case of collaborative work, list the Aalto-based contact first. 

Be sure to use an internationally recognisable format by adding the country code to the phone number! 

Mikko Mallikas 

Postdoctoral researcher 

Aalto University School of Business 

Email: [email protected] 

Phone: +358 40 123 4567  

Author information 

Add the author of the news piece to the author field in Drupal or at the end of the text in italics. 

  • Text: Tommy Smith 

Visuals 

Each news article has at least one visual element, either a photo, image or infographic. If a photo hasn’t been specifically taken for the article, you can choose something from Aalto’s material bank  (materialbank.aalto.fi). 

At Aalto we don’t use images from external image banks. Avoid using images with logos. 

Be sure to read guidelines on how to use photos from Aalto’s visual library. Remember to also add an image caption with credit to the photographer or illustrator.

Guidelines for writing different types of articles

How to write a news article

Brush up on your news writing in English to catch the readers’ attention.

Kuvituskuva mobiililaitteista. Kuvittaja: Taru Happonen
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