Formats for editorial content – EMBL Communications

EMBL Communications

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Formats for editorial content

We often talk about ‘stories’ and ‘articles’ as if they were interchangeable, but they are not. To ensure that we all speak the same language, Adam has been developing some standard formats for editorial content. These include:

  • Announcement
  • Update
  • Feature
  • Opinion
  • Explainer

Some more on each of these below.

Elements of text

Let’s first look at some smaller elements of text that collectively make up these formats.

Title (or “head”)

A short statement that explains what the content is about. The title should be understandable and should impart information even if read alone. Use active verbs where possible. Puns and word plays are acceptable but not if they risk confusing people. Maximum length: 60 characters


A short teaser that is always shown near to the head. Straps should complement the head and entice people to read on. There is no punctuation at the end of the strap. Maximum length: 150 characters


Writer’s name. Shown only on opinion pieces, updates and features.


Captions help the reader to make sense of an image or chart, explaining what is being shown. Captions must include a credit in round brackets in the format “(Image: Name/Organization)” Note the space after the colon. There is no punctuation at the end of the caption. Maximum length: 255 characters


The main content of an article or piece of text. Word counts below refer just to the body.


Subheadings break up the text into structured, manageable parts. Subheading are informative and entice the reader to proceed through the text. Maximum length: 5 words


The standfirst (sometimes called a kicker) is an introductory paragraph that comes before the body. It is not to be confused with the lead which is an introductory paragraph that leads into the rest of the article. Standfirsts are used only on features and at the editor’s discretion. Maximum length: 100 words



A short piece of text focused on transmitting a key fact, or set of facts. Describes the who, what, why, where, when. Focus on facts, do not interpret them. No reported speech. Neutral voice. No target audience. Maximum length: 200 words


A timely news item which describes the why, what, where and when of a result or event, and its implications. Updates are written for a single audience and are pitched at an appropriate level for them. No opinions other than those attributed to named parties. Maximum length: 400 words


An in-depth treatment of a topic. This could be a specific area of research, or recent developments in science and policy, for example. Three possible lengths, decided by the editor. Features are always written for the general public and contain information boxes that briefly explain specific topics. Maximum length: 1200, 2000 or 3000 words (at editor’s discretion)


An opinion piece by a named writer not affiliated with the EMBL Strategy and Communications team. Must be clearly labeled as opinion. Be sure to make it clear from the strap that this is an opinion piece. This is important for contexts where opinion pieces may be mixed in with updates. Something like “Jessica Davo looks back on the early days of SPIM at EMBL”. Maximum length: 800 words


Explainers are didactic content with a long shelf life that introduce the reader to a topic. Explainers should be date independent – as valid in 20 years’ time as they are now – although they can be added to through time. Maximum length: 600 words