B/R Copy Editing Cheat Sheet
Everything you need to know about the Bleacher Report editing process, served up in bite-sized portions...
- Prose Style
- Copy Style
- Formatting and Presentation
- Media Slots
- Spell Check
- Editor Feedback
Emphasize short paragraphs and short sentences wherever possible. Anything we can do to trim verbiage will improve the reader experience on Bleacher Report. Long blocks of text make readers lose interest. Short paragraphs keep them engaged.
As a general rule, every article should be able to pass the "Look Test"—you should be able to visually scan through it without running into any oversized text chunks. Any block longer than five or six lines should sound alarm bells in your head. Most paragraphs should contain between one and four sentences. While an occasional graf of that length is acceptable if there is no obvious place for a paragraph break, it should be a very rare exception to the rule for a paragraph to extend beyond five lines. Even this one is a bit too long; we could have included a paragraph break before "While an occasional."
For an in-depth discussion of "Why Prose Style Matters," visit the Bleacher Report Blog.
For a clinic in proper sentence and paragraph length, see "Dear Alex Rodriguez...Don't Blame Derek Jeter," by Dave Metrick.
For a detailed analysis of Bleacher Report's stylistic approach, refer to the Methodology section of the Editor's Tips.
For further reading, check out "The 10 Commandments of Internet Writing" from WebProNews.com.
As laid out in the Bleacher Report Stylebook...
In general, we want to spell out zero through nine and use digits for 10 and above. We also want to use the construction "No. 1" instead of "#1" or "number one." See the Stylebook for details and exceptions.
We want to use em-dashes (—) instead of double-hyphens (--), en-dashes (–) or any other form of dash. The em-dash is the longest type of dash and is created by typing SHIFT-OPTION-(dash) on a Mac keyboard and ALT-0151 on a PC (hold down ALT while typing 0151 on the numeric keypad).
(NB: If you're working on a PC without a numeric keypad, you'll have to copy and paste em-dashes as necessary. Here's one to get you started: —)
There should be no spaces on either side of the em-dash. Proper formatting looks like—this.
We want to spell out “percent” instead of using the percent symbol (%).
We want to use double quotation marks (" ") instead of single quotation marks (' ') except for instances of (a) a quote within a quote or (b) a quoted term in a headline.
Commas and periods always go “inside,” and not “outside”, the “quotation marks.” Other forms of punctuation depend on the context. For example, is the quote a question, or is the sentence a question? If the sentence is a question that happens to end with a word in quotation marks, the question mark goes after the end quote. If the quote is a question itself, it's only logical that the question mark goes inside the quotation marks. (“Got it?”)
All paragraphs should be flush with the left-hand margin, never indented.
In articles with a number of game, team or player capsules, it's important to include double line breaks between individual entries and to BOLD capsule subheadlines while deleting line-ending colons or hyphens. Subheadlines should observe either headline case or sentence case; either is fine as long as the article remains consistent throughout.
The proper formatting for subheadlines in articles with multiple sections of text is as follows:
Intro text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text.
Second paragraph of intro text text text text.
Subheadline No. 1 (BOLDed, No trailing colon or hyphen)
Capsule text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text.
Second paragraph of capsule text text text.
Subheadline No. 2 (BOLDed, No trailing colon or hyphen)
Capsule text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text text.
(NB: To achieve the standard format, you should press the return key twice before a subheadline and once after a subheadline. Each "[line break]" in the example above represents the line break created by a single press of the return key. The result should look like this old article by Kevan Lee.)
This format should be used for Q&A articles as well, with questions treated like subheadlines. Boldface the answerer's name as well. This interview with John Thorn by King Kaufman serves as a good example.
Note that three asterisks may be used in place of a double line break and subheadline if the writer elects to break up sections without naming them, like this:
If you have subheadlines within a subheadline—aka "child" and "parent" subheadlines—boldface and underline the parent subheadlines in the piece so the reader can understand the organization.
Beyond that, there are no hard and fast standards...but keep in mind that presentation does matter—and that you should take care to make articles look as professional as possible. Also, always be sure to review an article on the live Article Page after you've submitted revisions to ensure that all formatting changes translate correctly from the editing module.
A Note About Short Subsections: As an exception, note that short, informational subsections of no more than five total lines of text apiece (on average) in the editing interface may be moved to the same line as the bolded subsection, separated by a colon (like this).
A Note About Spacing Short Subsections: Multiple instances of this in the same area may be spaced out with single line breaks, like these last two paragraphs. Like with subheadlines, the bold lead-in text may be presented in headline case or sentence case as long as the presentation is consistent throughout the article.
NB: Some formatting problems occur because of errors in an article's underlying HTML code. These problems generally cannot be fixed through conventional textual editing. If you ever encounter a pesky formatting problem, highlight the problematic text and then use the Clear Formatting Tool under the Format drop-down menu of the Editing Toolbar. The Clear Formatting Tool will reset the background formatting for the selected text for everything beside hyperlinks and should thus resolve most stubborn formatting issues. If that still doesn't do the trick, file a report in the Site Performance Log.
As a quick side note, the Force Re-Cache link in the pencil icon's drop-down menu (in the "hat" atop the site) on every live article page may be used if your formatting and/or other edits—including general text edits—don't seem to be taking hold. One click will force the site to manually grab the latest version of the article if, for some reason, it didn't do so properly when you submitted your edit.
There are two distinct features of a “good” Bleacher Report headline: (a) proper style and (b) compelling substance. It’s important to cultivate each of them in every article we edit.
All words in a headline should be capitalized, with the exception of articles (“a,” “an,” “the”), coordinating conjunctions (“and,” “but,” “or”) and prepositions of four letters or fewer (e.g. “in,” “vs.”). Note that short nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs (“is,” “it,” etc.) SHOULD be capitalized. Same goes for the first and last words of a headline—they should always be capitalized, regardless of the part of speech.
- Improper Headline: “This is Not how You Capitalize A Headline”
- Proper Headline: “This Is How You Capitalize a Headline”
Use colons—not hyphens or dashes—to separate different parts of the headline. Also note that headlines should never end in periods or exclamation points, although question marks are acceptable.
- Improper Headline: “Headline Formatting — This Is Not How You Do It.”
- Proper Headline: “Headline Formatting: This Is More Like It” or “Headline Formatting: How Hard Is It?”
All numbers in headlines are presented in digit form. This rule applies even to (a) numbers under 10 and (b) numbers at the beginning of headlines:
- "4 Reasons Brett Favre Should Retire"
Limit headlines to, at most, the length of the headline field in the editing module. Doing so enhances their compatibility with search engine displays and puts a check on verbosity. The ideal maximum length is roughly three-quarters of the headline field. On a similar note, use single quotation marks rather than double quotation marks to help make sure headlines fit into certain programming modules like the ones you see on the front page. As a general rule, emphasize concision wherever possible.
All game preview and recap headlines should begin with the two team names (away team first) separated by "vs." and followed by a colon. Note that college teams should use the school and sport name and save the team nickname for any reference to the team in the subsequent text, which should describe what follows in the article. To wit:
- “Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs: New-Look Habs Snap Road Skid in Toronto”
- “Tennessee vs. Alabama Football: What Crimson Tide Fans Should Look For”
A descriptive, keyword-rich headline (on top of full keywords in the opening paragraph) will help an article reach the broadest possible audience. With that in mind, it’s important that all titles cater both to search engine algorithms and to the actual human beings who do the searching.
Note that most headlines these days for Featured Columnists, Lead Writers and Breaking News Team writers are written by highly trained assignment editors. Because of this, we ask that copy editors leave those headlines' wording intact unless an error (fact, spelling, grammar, style) makes it necessary to revise.
That said, these principles are still important to learn for headlines by other writers, and copy editors are encouraged to make use of the Subpar Headline Log if such a headline appears to feature poor SEO or word choice. (Again, note that grammar errors should be fixed.)
Impressing the Search Engines
The best search keywords generally come from the following three categories, ranked here according to their effectiveness in generating search engine traffic:
1. Personal Names (first AND last names wherever possible)
2. Team Names (city AND nickname for pro teams; school AND sport for college/HS) and Events
3. Divisions, Conferences and Leagues
To put those principles into practice...
- Poor choice of keywords: “Irish Eyes Are Weeping”
- Better choice of keywords: “Notre Dame Football Drops the Ball”
- Best choice of keywords: “Charlie Weis, Notre Dame Football Drop the Ball”
Because keywords at the beginning of a headline are weighted more heavily than those at the end, you should order keywords according to their effectiveness. So personal names should come first, followed by team names and events and, finally, divisions, conferences and leagues.
- Poor use of keywords: “NBA: Boston Celtics Ride Paul Pierce to Finals Win”
- Better use of keywords: “Boston Celtics Ride Paul Pierce to NBA Finals Win”
- Best use of keywords: “Paul Pierce Leads Boston Celtics to NBA Finals Win”
Attracting the Searchers
Even the most search-optimized headline will fall flat if it fails to impress potential readers. With that in mind, you should aim to inject Specificity, Readability and “Clickability” into every title you edit.
Each of these criteria is explained at length in “The Art of the Headline 2.0” on the Bleacher Report blog. The following examples provide shorthand illustrations of the key points:
- Vague headline: “MLB Prospects: You Will Know Their Names Soon”
- Specific headline: “Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria Lead Wave of New, Exciting MLB Prospects”
- Awkward Headline: “NBA Draft, No. 2 Pick: Miami Heat Sitting Pretty”
- Readable Headline: “Miami Heat Sitting Pretty in NBA Draft with No. 2 Pick”
- Bland headline: “NBA: Nets Acquire Yi Jianlian From Bucks”
- Clickable headline: “With Yi Jianlian, Nets Primed for Great Leap Forward”
Note that full keywords won't always be employed by headline writers on the site for the sake of clickability. Pay attention to any pop-ups when you edit an article to see if the writer's headline keyword usage is to be left alone. All Featured Columnists, Lead Writers and members of our breaking news team work with assigned headlines and thus need only have their headlines edited for mistakes in the typographical, grammatical and factual departments. ("Headline grammar" of omitted words to save space is OK—ask your supervisor if you're uncertain about what's acceptable within that realm.)
To see these principles in action, check out the sample headlines in the B/R Headline Revisions spreadsheet.
For a more in-depth discussion of headlines, see "The Art of the Headline 2.0" on the Bleacher Report Blog
For further reading, check out Copyblogger's "How to Write Magnetic Headlines" series.
Always be sure that every article has a picture in the "primary" image position—i.e. the space filled by B/R's built-in photo module.
All improper images embedded within the body of the text should be deleted. An improper image is one that shows up as a picture while editing (i.e. NOT an official media slot) without being explicitly referenced by the author in the article. Never move or delete an orange or yellow bar in the middle of an article, as those denote properly implemented B/R media slots.
As a general rule, use actual images instead of team logos to maintain a "professional" look across all articles. Grainy, truncated or otherwise distorted pictures should be removed and replaced. Exceptions include photoshops by the writer and images of charts/graphs, etc. All embedded videos, podcasts and polls are perfectly acceptable as long as they do not cause any formatting issues on the live page.
Most B/R articles should have (a) a league tag (e.g. NFL, MLB, College Football, etc.); (b) tags that correspond to the players and teams on which the article is centrally focused; and (c) tags related to predefined broader categories (e.g. Sports & Society; College Football Polls; Humor).
If a player or team is mentioned only in passing, he/it doesn't merit a tag. Our goal is to keep tags (aka "article topics") as relevant as possible in order to allow Bleacher Report users to find the content they're looking for. If you were searching for articles about Derek Jeter, for example, you wouldn't want to read a piece that only discussed him briefly...and so that piece shouldn't have a Derek Jeter tag.
Bottom line: Less is more. Make sure every tag really deserves to be there. As a general rule, very few articles should have more than seven tags.
While tags don't play a vital role in generating reads for an article, sport, league and team tags are crucial in (a) filtering content to sport-, league- and team-specific audiences; and thus (b) generating appropriate visitor traffic for sport-, league- and team-specific articles.
As such, it's especially important that we as editors ensure that all articles feature correct sport, league and team tags. We don't want pages cluttered with unrelated or tangentially related content. On that note, league-wide articles and other stories focusing on multiple teams (e.g. season previews, power rankings, etc.) should never feature team tags, and no article should ever feature more than one team tag.
The following administrative tags are added during the submission process and should be ignored by editors: Opinion, Preview/Prediction, Fantasy, Breaking News, Game Recap, Rankings/List, History, Stats.
In the case of game previews and recaps written with an emphasis on one of the teams, only the emphasized team merits a tag. An example: Erick Blasco’s “Heat Breakdown: The Decline of Shaquille O’Neal,” which reviews a game between the Heat and the Knicks but focuses exclusively on the former and thus should be tagged with "Miami Heat" but not "New York Knicks."
For a look at the minimalist approach in action, see David Williams' wide-ranging "The BCS Championship Game from Hell," which references a hundred-some players and teams but only merits three tags.
Always use the site's built-in spell-checker when you're done revising an article. It's vital that we be perfect on spelling issues.
The B/R spell-checker has been customized to include the first and last names of most high-profile athletes. Always check these names in the course of your routine spelling corrections.
When editing articles by non-American authors, always defer to variant spellings of English words. For example, an article from a British author about his “favourite” football club is acceptable; we shouldn’t revise the spelling to “favorite.”
If you’re ever in doubt about a variant spelling, visit Wikipedia’s extensive entry on “American and British English spelling differences.”
All questions about spelling, hyphenation and capitalization for sports-related words and phrases should be directed to the B/R Sports Usage Dictionary.
Always use the Editor Feedback field to describe your changes to a writer.
Bleacher Report is a community project, and it's important that writers know there's a real person on the other end of the editing process. Anything we can do to personalize the exchange is a plus—and leaving positive, supportive Editor Feedback can make a crucial difference.
One caveat here is that we should withhold praise when praise is clearly not deserved. If the article seems to violate one of B/R's Content Standards in a noteworthy way or just plain reflects poorly on the site despite your best editing efforts, please simply say "Thanks, [author name]" before stating a summary of changes. That should include any changes you made to remedy a violation (especially sourcing fixes), but editors shouldn't confront writers about concerns over potential plagiarism, offensive content, controversial content or anything else that merits a Mayday flag.
(As soon as you realize an article represents a noteworthy risk, please report it using the Mayday protocol, as emailing firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP will improve the turnaround time. A moderator may even be able to reply and let you know you can stop editing due to plans to remove the article.)
All Editor Feedback should mention at least two specific changes when the corresponding article required at least two changes—and unless an article is quite short, that shouldn't be a hard bar to meet). With all that in mind, here's an example of some informative and encouraging Editor Feedback for a solid article:
Good slideshow, Daniel. "Slightly better results" doesn't need to be hyphenated, as we don't hyphenate after -ly adverbs, but "luxury-tax threshold" should be hyphenated as a compound adjective. I spaced out the player subheadings in your latter slides, per B/R style. You misspelled "acquisition" on one occasion (I added the "c"). I also removed a serial comma from your Expiring Contract slide. Ages need to be doubly hyphenated as adjectives (27-year-old), typically when it's "year" instead of "years." Also, I added a link to the quote in the fifth paragraph—please make sure you make it clear where you got any quotes. Nice job on this. Very thorough. Keep up the good work!
Other resources in Bleacher Report's Online Editing Library: