Submission Guidelines

January 15, 2008

Style Guide

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaela @ 5:07 am

 General notes

Articles written for publication on A List Apart use an informal, conversational tone, though not at the cost of clarity or correctness. Experts require neither excessive formality nor excessive casualness to express their authority. If you write with ALA’s readership in mind and sound like yourself, you’re most of the way there already.

Concise articles with snappy intros

Our article space is intentionally limited to a single page. There is no room for meandering, no space for encyclopedic completeness. You need to get in, score, and get out. State your idea clearly and quickly. If your tutorial solves a problem, state the problem. Don’t warm up to your subject by preceding it with generalizations. You don’t need to tell our readers that Tim Berners-Lee invented the web before getting to your point.

Keep your readers in mind

Experienced web professionals read ALA. If you dumb down your article, you will offend these readers. But our readers come from many backgrounds—a reader who knows all 317 CSS workarounds might not necessarily have heard of Edward Tufte—so take time to define your terms and provide pertinent background information, if only as a link.

On metaphors

Extended metaphors can provide gentle uplift and support, but they make poor lifeboats. Avoid extended cooking and spell-casting metaphors unless you can carry it off in a truly novel and delightful way. They may be apt, but are without question overworked.

Clarity first

Avoid unnecessary jargon, trendy constructions, vagueness, and buzzwords. Omit needless words. Make sure that pronouns point the way to their referents like the tidy signposts they are. Strive for brisk pacing and precise explanation. Limit the use of opaque idioms and pop culture references to non-essential points; no reader should need to be familiar with a particular song or movie to understand your central argument.


Images can be either exactly 540px wide (full-column width) or 260px or less wide (partial-column width). We prefer the width-to-height ratio to be no more than 2:1. So a 540px-wide image shouldn’t be taller than 270px except when absolutely necessary.

Final screenshots must be produced on a Mac, because they look better. If you don’t have access to a Mac, just send us the source files and we’ll take care of it.

PNG, GIF, and JPEG are all acceptable submission formats. GIF or PNG are preferred for images in which text features prominently. (Don’t use JPEG for a gallery of typefaces or a screenshot of a web page.) If you save as GIF, please choose the Perceptual, Selective, or Adaptive color spaces, No Dither, and No Transparency; matte against #fff (white). Please give us high-resolution images; we’ll compress as needed.

Author bios and photos

All final drafts should be accompanied by an author bio and photo. Author bios should be 30 to 40 words long and may include links. They should be snappy, informative, and brief.

Dean Allen publishes the world–wide web sites Textism and Cardigan Industries, and is a frequent writer and lecturer on typography and editorial design. He lives in the South of France. (31 words)

Dan Benjamin is the founder of Automatic, an agency specializing in custom web publishing tools. Dan crafted A List Apart’s publishing system, one of the first Ruby on Rails applications. He is the co-founder of Cork’d and the author of The Hivelogic Narrative. (43 words)

Author photos don’t need to be professional portraits, but should look polished. A List Apart will prepare them for publication, so please send them as un-tweaked files of a reasonable resolution so that we can adjust them and shrink them for final placement. 400px by 300px is a nice minimum size.

House style

In general, we use U.S. English according to the Chicago Manual of Style, with Fowler’s Modern English Usage taking over in tricky situations.

Page titles

With few exceptions, page titles are handled as follows:
Subject of page (in sentence case): Name of Magazine (initial caps)

Web design content and tutorials: A List Apart
XML feeds: A List Apart

When it improves readability, we can alter the format slightly.

About A List Apart
Credits: Who makes A List Apart?

Consistency is important, so you’ll need a good reason to make an exception.

Article titles, headlines, and subheads

Title case article titles (each major word is uppercase). Sentence case article headings (only the initial word is uppercase). Neither take terminal punctuation unless a question mark is required. Article titles do not take the serial comma and use the ampersand in place of “and.” Article headings do take the serial comma and use the word “and.”

Mark up article headings as h2 and subheads as h3 or h4 as needed. Most article headings are conceptually and rhetorically at the same level as each other; avoid unnecessary complexity and mark them up as h2 unless they’re true subheads. h1 is reserved for use as a page header.

Article title or document title
Big, Stark & Chunky

Article header or subhead
Big, stark, and chunky

Inline element casing

Inline elements should be presented in lowercase to maintain consistency with the W3C specs and improve readability.

I then extract the content of the div and add it to the list.

code and var

Variables and properties (see below) should be marked using the var element, while all other bits of code should be wrapped in code tags.

Inline function and method references

Function and method references in paragraphs should always have their associated () unless being addressed specifically as a function or method:

In this section we pass the variable to doSomething() and we’re off to the races.


In this section we pass the variable to the doSomething function and we’re off to the races.

Inline CSS

CSS properties should be wrapped in code. Inline property assignents should not include the semicolon.

Then we set color: #000 and go on about our business.

Or you can say:

Then we set color to ”#000” and go on about our business.

…if you prefer.

If you’re discussing width or height in general terms, don’t use code. If you’re referring to the width or height property, use code:

We then set the width to be 200px.

We then set the width property to be 200px.


  • If any item in a list (ordered or not) forms a complete sentence, all items must begin with a capital letter and end with a terminal punctuation mark.
  • If no items in an unordered list form a complete sentence, skip the capitalization and terminal punctuation.
  • If the items in the list complete an unfinished introductory sentence, end all but the last item with a semicolon, add an “and” before the final item, and finish off with terminal punctuation.


Choose link text that concisely indicates the nature of the linked document. Do not link terminal punctuation. Prefer shorter links to long ones. Link to well-established websites rather than to ephemeral ones when possible to decrease link rot.

Avoid blind links: if, for example, you link a few words in the middle of a sentence to a book page on, provide title text so that the reader doesn’t have to follow the link to understand your cleverness.

Alt-attribute text

Accompany each illustrative image with alt-attribute text that concisely describes the image for those who cannot see it.

Good: Illustration showing the overlap of divs A and B after floating div A.
Bad: Image showing example.

Alt-attribute text uses sentence-casing.

Title-attribute text

You may attach title text to some markup elements to convey additional information. Many web browsers display this information when the user’s cursor hovers over a link. A useful title attribute for an outbound link might read:

The results of PLAIN’s 2004 study on plain English in legal documents.

Title-attribute text uses sentence-casing.

Code blocks

Code blocks should have a line length no longer than 51 characters (including whitespace). When this forces a line of code to wrap, you should mark it with a » and comment in the preceding paragraph “(Line wraps marked » —Ed.).”

We use a standard two-space indentation for lines. Each nested line is indented two spaces from the parent. A wrapped line is not indented on the wrap.

Control structures such as parentheses require spacing on the outside only

if (foo  bar) {   // do something }

An opening curly brace should be on the line of the command that uses it. The closing one should be on its own line (or if it is part of something like an else statement, on the line with the else

if (foo  bar) {   // do something } else {   // do something different }


if (foo  bar) {   // do something } else if (foo  rae){   // do something different }

CSS blocks

In addition to following the above format guidelines, CSS blocks should be written with each property on a different line and with each selector on a different line.

p {   color: #000;   font-weight: bold; } em, strong {   font-size: 1.1em; }

Punctuation details

  • Acronyms and abbreviations: Use the acronym element to include the full meaning of any acronym (an abbreviation that is pronounced as a word) and use the abbr element for abbreviations that are not pronounced as words. When in doubt, use abbr.
  • The ampersand: Avoid the use of the ampersand except in article and page titles.
  • Citations: The titles of books and other major works as well as the titles of magazines and newspapers are marked up with the cite element. The titles of articles and other short works are enclosed in quotation marks.
  • Commas: Use the serial comma (the comma preceding the “and” before the last element in a list) except in headlines and subheads.
  • Company and publication names: Capitalize the names of companies according to each company’s preference unless they begin a sentence, in which case they must be capitalized. Do not capitalize or otherwise emphasize the definite article before the name of a publication—even the New York Times.
  • Em dashes: Put a space on either side of the em dash in all inline uses to help distinguish the mark from the hyphen for on-screen reading. Use the en dash instead for enumerated date ranges.
  • Hyphens: Hyphenate compound noun phrases used as adjectives unless the noun phrase is so popularly used that hyphenation appears awkward. Do not hyphenate compound adjectival phrases whose first element is an adverb. And remember—as the man said, “If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.” (The man being, in this case as in so many others, the Oxford University Press style manual.)
  • Quotations: Position punctuation according to Chicago rules (periods go on the inside, etc.). Use block quotes instead for more substantial quotations. Use the correct (“curly”) symbols, not a double prime. Preferred encodings are available in Appendix A. As nice as they are, single quotation marks are not used in A List Apart except to demarcate quotations within quotations.

Capitalization details

The words “internet,” “net,” “web,” and “website” should be capitalized as seen here (which is to say, not capitalized) when they’re found in sentence-cased text. E-mail and e-commerce take the hyphen, but not a capital “e.”

When using title case, capitalize the first, last, and all other major words. Lowercase “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” and “nor” unless they are emphasized in a particular heading.

A New Hope for Embedded Fonts
Arguments For and Against FIR Strike Back

When a headline-style heading includes a hyphenated phase, always capitalize the first element. Capitalize the second element unless it is an article, preposition, or any of the coordinating conjunctions noted above. Exception: if the first element is a prefix like pre-, post-, or anti-, or if the phrase is a written-out number, do not capitalize the second element.

When using sentence case, capitalize only the first word and proper names.


Filed under: Uncategorized — michaela @ 5:05 am

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