Behind the Scenes

The Redline of March

Overheard on email: Slates copy desk rounds up the month’s style and grammar rulings.

copy editing memo.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock

Each month, copy chief Megan Wiegand sends Slate staffers a memo about the latest issues surfacing from the use of Slate’s style guide. The email also calls attention to one “redline of the month.” With light edits, we’ve reproduced Megan’s March dispatch below.

Hey everyone!

Slate stylebook updates, including several additions and clarifications on military terminology:

ex-Marine: Avoid. Use former Marine or Marine Corps veteran.

grassroots: Not grass roots.

publication names: We no longer capitalize or italicize “the” for periodical titles. Examples: the Cut, the Awl, the New Yorker, the New York Times.

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retired military: A service member should only be called retired if he or she has served 20 or more years and receives full retirement benefits. If the person served fewer than 20 years, use terms like separated, veteran, or former.

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special characters in proper nouns: Avoid. For instance, Arli$$ should be written as Arliss, Yahoo! Sports as Yahoo Sports, etc.

soldier: Someone who serves in the Army. Soldier should not be used as a catchall term for all military members. Be specific (sailors for Navy, Marines for Marine Corps, airmen for Air Force, Coast Guardsmen for Coast Guard), or use troops or service members if encompassing multiple branches or if the branch is unknown.

Twitter lines: Now mandatory. Ideal formatting: Some version of the promo line in sentence casing. By @author_handle: (author handle optional)

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WE TV on first reference, WE after that

* * *

The Redline

Inspired by the New York Times’ wonderful After Deadline blog, the copy desk uses the following section to highlight a redline of the month—one error or style misstep making too-frequent appearances in the magazine. This edition’s focus: image captions.

Any image that isn’t a stock photo—including photos from Getty, Reuters, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, author-supplied images, and so on—should include some details of what’s happening in the image. In addition to being good editorial practice, better captions help with SEO—people get to articles by searching or browsing images (and their captions), so better captions have better searchability.

Here are some recent examples of less-than-ideal captions:

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(Better caption: Bruce Miller of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested on Thursday for domestic violence. Above, Miller during a game on Dec. 15, 2013.)

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(Better caption: Sen. Ron Wyden at a hearing on March 5, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.)

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 (Better caption: Hannibal Buress, noted Internet spirit animal, performs on May 19, 2013, in Culver City, California.)

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 (This could use some more information: Digital spray painting at the new Google store in [location] on [date].)

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However, there are some exceptions where editorial captions just wouldn’t make sense. A good rule of thumb is that if there aren’t any famous/notable people in the image, you can treat the image like you would a stock photo. Examples:

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(Though the photographer’s name here doesn’t need to be in caps.)

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(This could be better—maybe add that it’s from a soccer match in 2012—but it’s otherwise OK.)

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When using an editorial photo like a stock photo, be careful not to incriminate anyone in the image. An example of this done well:

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(The caption identifies the location—H&M—and its connection to the article but makes clear this woman isn’t committing the crime discussed in the story.)

Photo illustrations also don’t need full identifying captions. Solid examples:

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Send questions my way. Thanks!

— Meg

Previous dispatches from Slate’s copy desk:

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