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The Economist style guide

Although The Economist, a British weekly, is not a research journal, its writing is often praised for its clarity and precision. How does the The Economist manage this week after week?  Part of the credit must go to its style guide [1], the 10th edition of which was published a few months ago. Large parts of the guide are also available on the newspaper's website.

The Economist Style Guide devotes more space to the craft of writing - the choice and arrangement of words - than most other style guides do. See the opening lines of the book: "Only on two scores can The Economist hope to outdo its rivals consistently. One is the quality of its analysis; the other is the quality of its writing [...] The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought." The first section of the book is devoted to advice on writing clearly, concisely, and accurately. The second section highlights important differences between American and British conventions relevant to writing (spelling, punctuation, usage, and syntax), whereas the last section is a compilation of miscellaneous information, useful as a ready reference.

The guide's insistence on clear writing is seen throughout the book and often takes the form of warnings and terse advice against using fashionable terms, which are often vague. Here are some representative entries. "Venues  Avoid them. Try places." "Viable  means capable of living. Do not apply it to things like railway lines. Economically viable means profitable." "Factoid  A factoid is something that sounds like a fact, is thought by many to be a fact (perhaps because it is repeated so often), but is not in fact a fact."

If you are writing a grant application, an article, or a report - anything for a broader readership in fact - you will certainly find The Economist Style Guide a helpful companion.

[1] The Economist Newspaper. 2010. The Economist Style Guide: the bestselling guide to English usage. 10th edn. London: Profile Books. 264 pp.



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