Writing Tips & Style Guide

Here are some general rules that you should follow while writing for Massive. Please tattoo them all on your brain:

  • Simplified is not the same as inaccurate. Pick one or two official science jargon words to use per piece. Explain the rest of them in plain English 
  • Avoid word and sentence structure repetition within sentences and paragraphs. Stories don’t continually rehash — they are primarily linear
  • Avoid exclamation points — your enthusiasm needs to show through your word choice, not through overwrought punctuation
  • Don’t use the passive voice — make sure each sentence has a subject taking action
  • Use subheads within the piece sparingly. Unlike the distinct, uniform sections of scientific studies, the need to divide a story into sections tends to be indicative of a lack of narrative throughline — that is, a lack of story. So the goal is to write in a way that makes them unnecessary. 
  • All this work is for naught if nobody knows you wrote a piece. So: promote all your work across your social channels. We will do this too, but your professional and personal connections need to see it directly from your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts too.
  • Introduce the researchers like people, not like peer-reviewed authors. That is: they have first names, last names, specialties, and affiliations. There is no person, at least nobody I’ve heard of, who either lacks a first name or is named “et al” or “and colleagues.”
  • Triple-check names, affiliations, dates, and sources. One innocent mistake will make readers doubt everything else you say.

Massive Style Guide

This is a regularly updated list of the rules we follow to make Massive's writing style consistent:

Adverbs: Don’t follow them with hyphens. “newly refurbished kitchen,” not “newly-refurbished kitchen”

Attribution (of researchers): Include lead study authors’ first name, middle initial if provided, and last name, field and affiliation. Don’t include honorifics (Dr., Professor, etc.) i.e. “Steven A. Goldenberg, a gastroenterologist in Bloomfield, CT”, not “Dr. Steven A. Goldenberg, MD”


Degrees (academic): No periods in degree titles that come after someone's name (Rachel Dreyer, PhD; Emma Clune, RN). Do put periods on honorifics before names (Dr. Steven Goldenberg) but, in accordance with the Attribution (of researchers) entry, they should be used rarely.

Dashes: n-dash with spaces on either side

Dates: Write out the months, then the number — “September 12,” not “Sept. 12th” or that crazy thing they do in Europe, 12 September 🙅

Emojis: Yes.

Jell-O (for the trademarked product); jello (as the generic term)

Measurements: General measurements in US/Imperial units. Data taken from a study should be the same units used there. If it’s metric, also convert to US. 

Metaphors & similes: They can be useful on occasion, but your go-to explanation should be straightforward (or, in the words of writing teachers everywhere: show, don’t tell). Metaphors often add an unnecessary layer of complexity for the reader

Numbers: AP style: write out one through nine. Numerals for 10 and above. Numerals for ages (“the 6 year old had six apples”)

OK, not “okay”

Oxford commas: We use them. Because we can. That means in a list, like apples, bananas, and pears, there is a comma before the “and”

Percentages: It’s “1 percent,” not 1% or one percent. Numerals and then write out the word. 

Possessives that end in "s": put the apostrophe at the end (it's Chris' pen, not Chris's pen)

Rainforest: one word

Spaces: One space between sentences. Never two.

States: Write out if sole mention; use two-letter state codes if part of a longer location

  • He moved from Missouri to Indiana”; “He moved from Columbia, MO, to Indianapolis, IN”


  • Book titles, Journal titles, movie titles, magazine titles: Italics — Moby Dick; The New Yorker; Journal of the American Medical Association; Jaws
  • Articles, chapters, etc (one level down from top-line titles): double quotes — “This is the title of a study about optogenetics,” The Journal of Optogenetics that I Just Made Up

US, no periods, is the abbreviation for “United States”

Word choice: Follow the KISS rule. Would your non-scientist friends understand the words and concepts you’re using? If you aren’t sure they would, pick new ones or explain in simple language

Last updated September 13, 2017