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Style Guide

Submission Information

We accept articles from a wide range of experts in the field of national security law and policy. For ease of editing and collaboration with authors, we much prefer to receive submissions via Google Docs or Word.

Article Types

There are two main types of article we tend to run at Just Security: (1) crisp explanatory and analytic pieces geared toward a broad audience; and (2) deep dives that examine the nuances of a particular legal issue.

As you write, please keep in mind that our audience is broader than just lawyers. It includes congressional staff, policymakers and experts, and national security journalists. A large part of Just Security’s mission is educating this broad audience of decision-makers and influencers about all of the important issues we cover. We receive regular feedback from this group of time-pressed readers that one of the things they value the most about Just Security is our ability to quickly get to the heart of, and explain, complex issues.

Articles falling within the first category we mentioned above are intelligent and thought-provoking yet accessible to our wide audience. They should strive to identify an angle about an important topic that is being overlooked in the public debate. They should be written in a snappy manner that makes them enjoyable to read — they don’t need to be terribly long, 800 to 1,200 words is often plenty. Don’t be afraid to have fun with such pieces (or even be a bit strategically flippant). In fact, that’s encouraged. These articles tend to be our most widely read. They therefore play a huge role in growing our readership and influence.

A few examples of this type of piece can be found below. These include both analytical pieces and posts that are meant to flag or introduce a particular issue.

The second category of articles is also intelligent and thought-provoking, but they are not necessarily as accessible as the first group. They tend to be deep dives into legal and policy matters. They are also the type of article on which we built our name. They can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 words. A few examples of these posts can be found below.

Writing Style

All Just Security posts should conform to American English spellings and language conventions. Due to our status as a resource for a broad audience, we follow a modified version of AP Style. When in doubt, that’s your best source for stylistic guidance.

Your opening paragraph (or lede) is in many ways the most important of your post. It serves as your advertising and is where you must convince our very busy audience to read your full post. A large majority of readers will leave after the first paragraph, unless you give them a very good reason to stay. As such, your first sentence should be written in simple, snappy prose that interests or excites. You should also find a way to explain your argument, either in your very first sentence or immediately thereafter in the lede paragraph.

Do this by stating a condensed, snappy version of your argument that frames the rest of the post, where you can build supporting evidence and explore your argument in depth. Below is an example of how not to do this. The author’s attempt to frame the discussion fails to explain why a busy reader, unfamiliar with this case should care about it.

In Humpty Dumpty v. The Wall, the Supreme Court explained with respect to the Anti-Egg Terrorism Act of 2002, “we understand Congress’ grant of authority to use force against suspicious communities of eggs in the War Against Egg Terror to include the authority to detain such eggs during the duration of the War, consistent with law of war principles.” In recent weeks, lawyers representing five ornate eggs in Fabergé v. The Wall have asked the administration to release their clients on the grounds that the War Against Egg Terror is both ridiculous and has been brought to an end by the President’s acknowledgment of the end of the conflict. It is worth examining what law of war principles have to say about the eggs’ arguments and when they should be released, given that their detention has arguably been for security reasons.

A more effective way to frame a post about the newer fictional case would be much simpler and more direct. Something like: “We are now more than a decade into the War Against Egg Terror, and a new petition raises serious questions about the US’s policies of indefinitely detaining eggs. It squarely asks a federal court of appeals to address whether, given the President’s statements that the conflict is now at an end (and how ridiculous the war is), their clients should be released from detention.”

While you must promptly let readers know the gist of your article, please do not do so by saying “this post examines” or “this contribution to Just Security will look at.” We’ve received lots of reader feedback suggesting we were overusing this phrase. The following screenshot from The New Yorker sums it up well:

Style-Guide-Example

Avoid complex and jargon-laden sentences. We want to reach policymakers and thought leaders who don’t necessarily have a legal background. The key to our success is explaining nuanced and complex issues in a straightforward manner. Think of all the times you’ve read a news article that fails to properly explain the issues despite being featured in a serious publication. Our site offers the chance to explain these issues properly in an easily accessible way.

Please avoid using Latin phrases unless absolutely necessary. While terms like certiorari, habeas corpus, and amicus brief are acceptable, using terms such as inter alia, jus ad bellum, jus in bello, or even amici is not the clearest way of communicating with our audience. In any case, we do not italicize Latin phrases. This is due to the fact that we italicize publication names and wish to avoid confusion.

Post Titles

A good title quickly sums up the gist of your post in a way that grabs the reader’s attention. It doesn’t always need to explain all the nuance of your piece. It says, “here’s what this is about,” as plainly yet interestingly as possible. (Our lengthier, more jargon-filled post titles have been described to us as “impenetrable” and we have been told they don’t always convey the relevance of the article, even when the post is incredibly important. Ouch!)

Titles should be both explanatory and as concise as possible. This is key for several important reasons including readability, keeping the site aesthetically clean, and for sharing your post on social media. For example, people are more likely to quickly tweet posts with shorter headlines since these titles will not be automatically cut off by the 140-character limit on Twitter.

A few examples of good headings can be found below. We will work with you to come up with a good title for your post.

Post titles should be capitalized according to the AP Stylebook guidelines. These rules basically boil down to: Capitalize every word that is longer than 3 letters, as well as all verbs, nouns, and pronouns regardless of length. It is important for all post titles to follow this format to ensure consistency across the site.

Also, please shy away from italicizing words (including case names) in post titles (but only in post titles). When readers attempt to share posts that have italicized words in the title, various bits of HTML code are included in auto-generated tweets.

Links, Footnotes, Honorifics & Italics

Please, no footnotes. Use links instead. We are a digital publication, and links are the standard practice in this domain. They provide readers with a faster, easier route to your reference materials. And please insert your links directly into the text instead of having them stand alone in parentheses; we will check them to make sure they work. Try to limit links to fewer than three or four words of text, and generally link to any given source only once in the post. If you need to link to a specific page within a PDF, we can help you do this.

We use an honorific or title only on first mention. After that, the individual’s last name will suffice. We also use the shortened version of titles; think “Sen.” instead of “Senator.”

We italicize the titles of publications, websites, and court cases in our pieces.

Specific Words & Abbreviations

For individuals whose names have been translated from a non-Latin alphabet, we generally conform to the most widely used spelling or, if known, the spelling preferred by the individual. Other words that are commonly found on Just Security (and our conventions for them) include:

  • al-Qaeda
  • al-Shabaab
  • Anwar al-Aulaqi
  • Backdoor (e.g., “backdoor search”)
  • Counterterror, counterterrorism
  • DOJ, DOD
  • Executive Order 12333
  • Guantánamo
  • Internet (capitalized)
  • Islamic State

For the abbreviated names of statutes and bills, we do not capitalize every letter. For example, we write “the USA Freedom Act” and “the Patriot Act.” This is done for readability (and so that it doesn’t appear as if we’re yelling on the Internet; no one likes that guy).

We generally use the abbreviations found in AP Stylebook. For states, we use the abbreviations found here (all others should be written out).

Use Rep. or Sen. for lawmaker titles. Follow AP style to denote their state and party affiliations. For example: (D-Mass.), (R-Okla.), and (I-Vt.).

Governments, Government Agencies & Committees

Write United States, United Kingdom, and United Nations on first reference. They can then be abbreviated as US, UK, and UN.

Use “State Department.” On first reference, use “Justice Department” or “Defense Department.” After that, abbreviate as DOJ or DOD. There is no need to define the acronym.

FBI and CIA can stand alone as acronyms, but use National Security Agency on first reference.

Capitalize the I and C in Intelligence Community on first reference when discussing the official 17-member US Intelligence Community. After that you can abbreviate as IC.

Congressional committees, UN bodies, and other official organizations can have long and convoluted titles. It’s okay and encouraged to condense these titles. For example, you can write, “the Senate Intelligence Committee” and include an abbreviation in parentheses after the first reference that reads something like “(known by its acronym, SSCI).” The same is true for organizations like the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence or the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security. These can become the House Intelligence Committee and the UN Group of Experts on Information Technology and Security, or even the UN Group of Experts on Cybersecurity.

Punctuation, Capitalization & Symbols

No periods between letters in abbreviations. So, United States becomes “US” and “DOJ” is the shortened form of the Justice Department.

Please don’t capitalize non-proper nouns or adjectives such as “administration” or “congressional” unless they are the first word in a sentence.

We believe in the Oxford comma and in using semicolons in complex lists. We also place periods and commas inside quotation marks.

As a rule of thumb, if a symbol isn’t listed on a keyboard, don’t use it. A large part of our mission is accurately conveying complex ideas to busy policy professionals and journalists who don’t always come from a legal background. Symbols break up the flow of an article and make it tougher to follow. For example, say “Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” instead of 50 U.S.C. § 1861.

Don’t use paragraph symbols to refer to specific sections of documents you cite in your articles. If you must refer to a specific paragraph, find a way to work this into your text by saying something like “in paragraph 8 of the complaint.” If you can’t find a way to do that, then place the reference in parentheses. For example, write “(para. 8).” Please use these references sparingly.

When using em dashes — like this — please place spaces on either side of each dash. Do the same for ellipses, but do not put spaces between the periods (e.g., “James said, ‘I will go … to the store today.’”).