BBC News style guide now globally available

I do enjoy a good style guide: browsing the alphabetical entries, reading the general advice sections, learning how organisations handle sensitive subjects, and seeing how different publishers treat the same material. What usage fiend doesn’t find this stuff fascinating?

So I was very happy to learn today that the BBC News style guide is now fully and freely available online.  It went public about a year ago but didn’t appear to be accessible outside the UK, except for a PDF which, though generally excellent, dates to March 2003.

The online BBC style guide is searchable and easy to navigate. As well as the usual A–Z it has sections on names, numbers, military, and religion. Its page on grammar, spelling and punctuation offers useful tips on capitalisation, homophones, hyphens, US/UK differences, and timeworn bugbears (“By all means, split the infinitive…”), though it also unhelpfully upholds the dubious that/which rule.

BBC News style guide

So, OK, I have a slightly complicated relationship with style guides. As an editor I greatly value how they help ensure a set of texts is styled consistently to a given standard. But the descriptivist in me recoils at how conservative, arbitrary and wrong-headed they can be. If I had the time and will, I could spend all day refuting certain style guides on Twitter. But that’s a grouch for another day. It’s browsing time.

Tip of the hat to Damien Mulley, whose tweet about the also-newly-freely-available BBC Academy of Journalism alerted me to the BBC’s style guide going public globally. It can also be downloaded as a Word document (44k words in total) at this link.


16 Responses to BBC News style guide now globally available

  1. Vinetta Bell says:

    Thanks, Stan!

  2. Jenni says:

    Many, many thanks for this information. The site is a wonderful resource.

  3. John Cowan says:

    The unpunctuated “ie” and “eg” (pronounced “eye” and “egg”, I suppose?) are really irritating. So is the refusal to give American officials their properly spelled titles: Secretary of Defence (why not Minister of Defence, if it comes to that?), even though American places and organizations get theirs (Department of Defense). And whyever Parliament for Westminster and Holyrood and parliament for all others?

    Signed, Disgusted of New York City

  4. Stan says:

    Vinetta, you’re most welcome. I hope you find it interesting.

    Jenni: Yes, it looks very helpful; an immediate bookmark for further exploration and future reference.

    John: The Guardian prescribes eg and ie too. I’m not a big fan either, but I’m probably a bit more used to them by now than you are. I’ve used them on occasion, but only when unimportant and unavoidable: i.e., on Twitter, when I need to save space and cannot do so otherwise. But I prefer the versions with stops.

  5. I love a good style guide. I’ve already looked up the particular bone I’d like to pick with a BBC sub and I’ll be a lot less irritated by the hyphenated -ly compound adjectives on their website knowing that the BBC doesn’t actually recommend it.

    • Stan says:

      Michelle: It must be slipping past the subs. Most usage guides advise against the practice, I think, except when part of a longer compound modifier (e.g., a formally-agreed-upon document).

  6. Sean Jeating says:

    Bookmarked. Thanks, Stan.

  7. wisewebwoman says:

    Thanks Stan. Also bookmarked.


  8. Garrett Wollman says:

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, how pretty much every style guide has its own peculiar set of fossilized errors and peccadilloes which anyone approaching from the outside would probably consider ridiculous, biased, or just plain erroneous. (I noted particularly the BBC guide’s sections on numbers and religion, but was somewhat surprised they didn’t have anything on Indian names or Hinduism. The numbers section has some particularly silly things. And what does the British press have against the degree sign, anyway?

  9. Stan says:

    Sean, WWW: enjoy.

    Garrett: Yes, it would make an interesting study to identify and analyse the particular fetishes and idiosyncrasies of different style guides. The BBC’s numbers page could also do with proofreading; e.g., there are two minor but conspicuous errors in the short phrase “The oil crisis of ‘73 or whenan adjective is attached”.

  10. Garrett Wollman says:

    I’m sure some of the transpondian oddities have as much to do with the Great British Punctuation Shortage of 1953 as anything else.

  11. bob says:

    What? They recognise that not being able to search it is a problem so their solution is to provide a Word document? Are they not aware that Ctrl-F works just as well in the browser? Why not just have it as a page? Or add a search function. Or at least provide a pdf so I don’t have to pollute my machine with MS bullshit.

    • Stan says:

      Bob: I’m guessing they wanted to provide an offline version of the guide, but I am surprised it was a Word document rather than a PDF.

  12. dw says:

    I’d love to see a style guide on Brit-style noun pileup headlines.

  13. […] BBC News style guide now globally available […]

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