Blog editorial guidelines

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that one of my reasons for being embarrassed by my old post on perfect voting was that it violated my modern editorial guidelines for this blog. Jay asked me if I’d written these up anywhere. I haven’t, because they’re mostly informal, but it seemed like a good idea.

I started writing a bit about tone and theme. This got onto a massive digression about the purpose of this blog, the nature of blogging and various theories of mind. One of the theme rules is “Stick to a coherent single thread of argument rather than bringing in everything relevant you can think of” (this is mostly because if I don’t do this the post will end up languishing in the drafts folder for eternity), so this post is only about specific concrete things I do. Much of the tone stuff simply boils down to “Conversational tone with an eye towards persuasion. Lecture if you must, but if you do try to keep it short and entertaining”

  • Be absolutely scrupulous about citations. If something isn’t by me or I’m quoting someone, say that this is what I’m doing. I will occasionally quote without asking permission, but if I do this then I will attribute only if the quoted thing is publicly visible (e.g. something someone said off twitter), else it will be anonymized. Citations of public things should be links to where they were. Citations of offline conversations I tend to make a judgement call for the initial version on making it either anonymous or by first name then ask about their citation preferences for the thing in question (I often do this after initial publication). I haven’t totally sorted out the etiquette here, but the basic goal is cite people as they wish to be cited. Never fail to cite people.
  • Where I am talking about a subject on which I lack sufficient knowledge to be confident about what I’m saying, I should make this clear. This isn’t a requirement for full disclosure of credentials/privilege/etc everywhere ever, it’s simply that I tend to write in a very similar tone whether I’m speculating or actually confident about what I’m saying and I don’t want people to confuse these.
  • The pronoun for a person of unspecified or non-binary gender is they. If a specific person strongly insists on a pronoun that isn’t they, use it, but if they’re OK with they but have a mild preference for a more exotic choice (ze/it/he/she, etc) stick to they. The phrase he/she, him or her, etc. are entirely verboten. Try not to make assumptions about peoples’ preferred gender and default to they if I am unsure (I don’t always do this last one brilliantly). Note: I am not an expert on trans etiquette. I believe this to be correct behaviour. If it is not, I welcome corrections and will take them on board (the one exception is that I suspect people will dislike that I default to they even when people mildly prefer another. I do this for reasons. Those reasons will be readily overcome by strong preferences but not weak ones).
  • Avoid ableist terms. Wacky and outrageous things are not crazy. Ideas which on a moment’s reflection prove to be bad are not retarded. Things that are confused about their nature are not schizophrenic. Failure to be good at details is not having ADD. I do this variably well. I’m not very good at remembering not to use “crazy”
  • Profanity is… not exactly to be avoided, but to be thought about carefully before use. Most profanity has unfortunate connotations, and the few remaining ones I find acceptable I tend to overuse. It’s a lazy rhetorical crutch and it puts some people off if I swear too much, so I try not to on here. I don’t do a very good job on this one. Also note that some posts are explicitly rants designed to blow off steam. All profanity filters are off for these ones.
  • I have a historic tendency towards using ludicrous over the top descriptions/threats of violence to illustrate points (e.g. “people who do that deserve to be set on fire”). Don’t do that, any time ever. I think I’ve successfully censored this trend on here. I sometimes forget myself and do it on twitter. I mean to stop doing that. I think it has its place as a source of humour/blowing off steam (my humour can get pretty dark when I’m in company where I think it’s appropriate), but that place is emphatically not in public on a medium where people routinely use actual threats of violence as a way of responding to voices they don’t like.

I think there are other rules I try to stick to, but these are the only ones I can think of consciously checking for and needing to edit to follow. I generally think they’re pretty good ideas, so I’d encourage you to follow them as well. Conversely, if there’s anything I should be doing that I’ve missed I’d encourage you to tell me.

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7 thoughts on “Blog editorial guidelines

  1. Rich

    “Avoid ableist terms. Wacky and outrageous things are not crazy.” — so “crazy” is to be avoided but “wacky” is OK?

    Why is that? I guess this is because “crazy” can mean mentally deranged; demented; insane, so referring to non-insane things as crazy is devaluing to people who are actually insane. Is that right?

    But if you subscribe to that logic, then “wacky” is surely a no-no? It means [like] a person who behaves as if he had been whacked on the head, so won’t this be devaluing to people who behave strangely because they have been hit on the head?

    Aren’t you going to limit your speech rather strongly if you refuse to use all the words which are similes for disabilities? You’ll also have to keep a very close eye on the euphemism treadmill.


    1. david Post author

      The rule here is relatively simple: Things which are currently used as slurs about disadvantaged groups are verboten. Many things have unfortunate history, but when we’re talking about something that people regularlly and currently struggle with, lets avoid words which are used as a term of abuse against them.

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  3. Michael Chermside

    I just wanted to say that your policy on gender-appropriate pronouns is QUITE well thought-out and I intend to appropriate it. I particularly like your nuanced choice to use “they” even in violation of the mild preferences of the individual, but not in violation of their strong preferences.

    1. david Post author

      Thanks. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time refining it. The degree-of-preferences thing is basically the best compromise I could come up with between a reasonably strong set of opinions about the use of language and not being a dick about people’s preferences. It seems to work pretty well, although I’ve not actually stress tested it on people who prefer non-gendered pronouns and also hate “they” yet, so that edge case is more theoretical than practical at the moment.

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