WATM Style Guide

Your step-by-step guide to writing an awesome WATM article.

Pick the right story:

The first step in creating great content and delivering a valuable experience to our readers (and bringing in traffic to the site) is to write about things that will resonate with our current audience or help grow it. Part of finding those ideas is to tap into the audience by knowing what it likes, find out what its reading elsewhere, and/or pulling the information it will respond to.

Digital journalism and content creation is no longer a one-way street — we don't have the luxury anymore of telling the audience what it wants to see, we have to respond to what they want.

In short, it helps to be your audience. What would resonate with you? What would you like to know more about? What are you reading at other sites? If you follow military/veteran-related news, information and entertainment, then you've already won half the battle of selecting great stories for WATM.

How can we determine what will work at WATM? First, we can look at what has worked already. Dive into the analytics and see what stories consistently did the best and write more like that.

Barring access to Google Analytics, take a look at the number of comments on a story or the impact it made on Facebook and other social platforms. If it brought in a lot of eyeballs and had a good amount of engagement, that's a winner. Do more of it and do it better.

Second, try to figure out what we're missing that you'd like to see more of. If you're living the military content life, then you'll know. More weapons and gear stuff? More war coverage? More influential veterans stories? If you'd read it, chances are a good segment of the audience would too.

Third, break news. There's no better way to earn traffic and audience than to break news that affects them. Whether it's a new uniform policy for the Army, a major change to force strength or a new deployment to a war zone no one knows about, you break it, you win. The one caveat here is that you have to try to answer the "who cares" question — in other words, the more people that care, the better your story will be.

Breaking a story on new rules for Motor T maintenance Marines might not resonate as well as the Marine Corps disbanding the Motor T MOS. See what we mean?

There are certain kinds of stories that will always perform. Look at the Mandatory Fun Podcast's description, for example. There's a reason the podcast "features awesome military stories, weird history, and entertaining military/veteran guests." Everything that performs well with the audience is upcycled into a new format, including podcasts and web video.

In the end, if you're living and breathing this type of content, your gut will nine times out of 10 tell you what'll work.

Article archetypes

There are nine article formats that have proven successful at WATM. The archetypes include:

  1. The laid-back professor
  2. The culture clash
  3. Cool military gear
  4. Hero from history
  5. The pep rally
  6. The fight card
  7. Heartwarming
  8. The listicle
  9. Valor
  10. Debate/anger therapy
  11. News

Read the full article archetypes here >

WATM Style:

Our style borrows directly from the AP Style guide that everyone else in the media works on, with some minor tweaks.

NOTE: Your stories will be published much faster and have to be edited much less if you follow this guide.

Basic guidelines:

  • Abbreviations and acronyms: if it's the first reference, spell it out. Further references can be abbreviated. You don't however, need to go overboard. Acronyms that are in common usage, like DoD, or USMC don't need to be explained. DO NOT insert a parenthetical abbreviation after the first reference.

    • The briefing was held in the Tactical Operations Center on Aug. 16. When the commander addressed his troops in the TOC, he said it was time to defeat the enemy.
    • WRONG: The briefing was held in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) on Aug. 16.

  • Civilian titles: use full name and title/job description on first reference. Capitalize title and do not use a comma to separate it from the individual's name. You can also use non-formal titles like "Pentagon chief Ash Carter."

    • ex: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke today at a press conference.
    • If the title is after the name, it is not capitalized. Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, spoke at a press conference.

  • Titles for military personnel: use the proper terminology for referencing people of other services.

    • Army: soldier
    • Navy: sailor
    • Marine Corps: Marine
    • Air Force: airman
    • Coast Guard: coast guardsman

  • Ranks: For personnel on first reference, use the rank, then drop it completely if referencing back to that person later in the piece. Always use the AP style version, not whatever the branch's version is. Here's the full listing.

    • This means you should never use SGM, CPT, LtCol., etc. Please read and follow the AP Version (which by the way would be Sgt. Maj., Capt., Lt. Col).
    • One soldier, Capt. Steven Hendrix, believes this is a major problem among the ranks. Hendrix also believes that this quote will make a great bullet point for his OER.
    • Sgt. Maj. Evan Banks believes this is a real problem. Banks also told WATM that we need to get our goddamn hands out of our pockets.
    • EXCEPTION: When the sentence begins with the rank, spell out the rank. "Sergeant John Smith is an olympic athlete on the Team USA rowing squad."

  • Quotations: There are a few different ways for quoting someone. Note that punctuation should always be inside the quotation.

    • You should never use: XXXX was quoted as saying, "I said this." or XXXX stated: "Here's the quote." These are flimsy ways of quoting someone that are never used. ALWAYS lead the sentence with the quote. In some circumstances (sparingly), it's ok to use XXXX added: "Here's my quote."
    • Here is how someone should be quoted:

      • "I am giving a quote for a story," said Brian Davis, a former Marine infantryman. "I like turtles."
      • "I am giving a quote for a story," Brian Davis, a former Marine infantryman, told WATM. "I like turtles."
      • "I am giving a quote for a story," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. "I like turtles."
      • When quoting a person again in the story, structure the attribution "Smith said," not "said Smith." Think in your mind "he said" rather than "said he."

  • States and Countries: When referencing the United States in a headline, always use US with no periods between letters. In a post, write it as U.S.

  • Spacing: Always use single spacing after sentences. Never double.
  • Exclamation points: Use sparingly. Unless a person is actually yelling, DO NOT USE IT!
  • Adverbs: Use sparingly. Unless it's in a quote it is rarely necessary to use them.
  • Percent: Spell out "percent," do not use "%" unless it's in a headline.

    • The Pentagon says defense spending will decrease by 20 percent over the future year defense plan.

How To Write A Good Story:

Half the battle starts with getting people to click the link (which is usually shared on Facebook). That's why it starts with a clever and catchy headline. Headlines should be sentence case, and should give the general idea of the story. If you need to quote an item in the headline, use single quotes (' ') in lieu of double quotes (" ").

Good Headlines:

Here's how Hollywood legend Dale Dye earned the Bronze Star for heroism in Vietnam

6 Weird laws unique to the US military

Terrible Headlines:

Soldier Gets Court-Martialed

Weird UCMJ laws

Read the full Headline guide here >

Now write your Story

So now that you have a good idea, enough research, and good headline, you need to open the piece strong. The first sentence needs to catch the reader so that they want to continue on. Would you read a piece that started with, "It was a dark night on Camp Pendleton"...?

No, you wouldn't. It needs to be interesting, and the opening line should hint at what is to come: Officials at Camp Pendleton are saying that a dark night at the base is partly to blame for drunk driving.

Read other stories on the site and in the news to see how other writers do this. The worst thing that you can do is get the reader to click the link, and then bore them at the first sentence.

While traditional news writing basics still hold true today, many new writers often overlook one important aspect.

Most stories need to answer the fundamental questions of who, what, where, why, when and how. But another very important question is "who cares?" This is a basic part of what's called in news parlance a "nut graf" — usually the third or so paragraph that explains the importance of the story, or the context.

Use the other posts on the site along with this example story to construct yours:

An Example of a Good Story:

Shocking headline that will get someone to click the link

LEDE: It's not every day that an editor at WATM reads an entire story without making a change, since many stories need minor edits and others need much more. But the site recently released a style guide to make sure the posts are top quality, sources confirmed on Monday.

SUPPORTING QUOTE: "It's basically a way to make sure that we are writing in similar styles," said Paul Szoldra, executive editor of WATM. "We want our writers to have their own voice, but also to conform to similar styles of news writing like in this article."

NUT GRAF: Some writers have been writing without the use of a "lead," or an attention-grabbing sentence. Others have forgotten to use quotes from both sides of the story, or have had spelling errors.

The worst, however, are the posts that are completely boring. When this happens, a little kitten dies.

"You've got to think of the kittens," said Robert Smith. Smith is a part of a growing trend of writers who see very few edits on their articles.

"When I see an article from a select few writers, I usually know that I don't have to rewrite it, or add in a whole lot more," said Szoldra. "It definitely saves a lot of time."

Szoldra also says that it's a good idea to explain "inside jokes" so that anyone in any military branch can understand any post on the site. The key he says, is that articles need to be accessible to a wide audience.

"This is B.S.," said John Smith. "I want a damn raise if you're going to make me actually spell things properly."