Writing for Planet Earth
A guide for authors
- Hints on writing
- Formats for articles and news items
- Format and style for pictures
- How to submit an article
We are always looking for interesting news stories and features about NERC-funded science, but please don't send unsolicited articles as we can't guarantee to publish them. Discuss your ideas with The Editors first.
Our features are written by our scientists and staff, whether they be professors, PhD students or administrators. If you are NERC funded and would like to write for us, we would like to hear from you. We will give you every editorial support you need.
Planet Earth is a magazine for anyone interested in environmental science. It covers research sponsored by NERC or carried out by our staff. Our readers come from universities, schools, industry, politics, the media and the general public.
We want Planet Earth to be accessible to anyone who picks it up. So the language is everyday English - and that doesn't mean dumbing down. Plain language reflects clear thinking. Do not assume that because many scientists read Planet Earth they will understand the jargon in your specific area.
We also want to inspire people to find out more about science. We believe this is best done by bringing the scientists into the story.
Please write in plain English, without technical jargon: if any creeps in we will take it out. If you have to use a technical term, explain what it means. Please avoid acronyms.
One way to get the right level of language is to imagine that you are trying to explain your science to a 14 year old. If you worry you'll be patronising, remember that this is the reading age of The Times and The Guardian. This may mean using sentences rather than one or two technical words, but this is fine.
Focus on your main findings, points, theory or evidence.
Although your methods and how you achieved your great discovery are vital to you as a scientist, this is not something a general audience needs to know in detail. But do include your personal experiences and opinions: we love to read about the challenges of fieldwork in remote places and the excitement of a new discovery in the lab.
Provide a hook to hang your story on. A topical issue is always good.
Explain why your work is relevant. People want to know what it means to them. Even if your work is a tiny part of a giant jigsaw, tell people which jigsaw you are working on.
Start with your main finding or point and tell the whole story in the first sentence or so. Use the rest of the article to add colour and more detail. Sum up at the end, repeating your main point.
Write as you would speak. Keep the language punchy, clear and colourful. Imagine you are sitting in a bar or standing at a bus stop explaining your work to a stranger with no science background. Write down exactly what you would say and tidy up the punctuation later.
Articles are up to 1000 words, but can be as short as 200 words. They provide a broad overview of a topic. They do not dwell on details or methods, but should discuss the wider significance or applications of the work.
The style should be informal. Include personal experience, comment and even humour to make the article more accessible (after all scientists are human too).
Please provide contact details (address, telephone number, email address and relevant web page addresses) for readers requiring further information.
What is news? News is something that makes you say 'well I never!', or something you would tell your family about when you go home. This could be news that is of general interest (like the remote sensing data helping to discover why bodies from a bridge disaster in Portugal were swept all the way up the coast to northern Spain). We also run news stories about science achievements, new buildings or kit, prizes won, and events organised.
News items are up to 500 words; the shorter the better. Unlike articles they are written in the third person.
eg 'Four scientists were rescued last week after their research ship ran aground on the reef they were studying.'
Not 'It was a windy night and we were all very frightened as we heard a terrible grinding noise and salt water spurted through the hull.' (This kind of experience is better off in an article detailing the adventures of a marine biologist, which are welcome in Planet Earth).
Expect to see your new items severely edited. We have to try to fit in as many as we can.
If you are writing about research that has not yet been peer reviewed or published, please alert the editors to topics that are sensitive, controversial, or may cause public alarm or embarrassment to NERC.
Images that look great on your computer screen often simply aren't good enough for print. To avoid problems, please read the following points. If in doubt, please ask.
- We prefer digital files in RGB TIFF or JPEG format and at least 300 dpi. If your digital camera can't take pictures at more than 3 megapixels the pictures will probably not be suitable for printing.
- If your pictures are too large to email, or if you are unsure of the size, please send them on CD. We need CDs formatted for use on any computer, not just PCs, as our designer uses a Mac.
- Make sure you tell us who took the picture so we can print the right credit.
- It is your responsibility to get permission to reproduce any copyright materials.
- It's also your responsibility to make sure health and safety regulations are not being contravened in the image.
- We cannot use photographs embedded in Word or PowerPoint files.
- Avoid graphs or tables of data.
- For articles please send up to four pictures, including at least one of the author (preferably doing research in the field or lab).
- For news please send up to four pictures, preferably of the news story's main focus. If the focus is a bit of kit, or a building, try and get a picture of it with some people relevant to the story alongside. If it's research, then let's see the researcher.
- Good pictures are: action pictures with people in them, facing the camera and close enough so that you can see their faces; close ups of plants, insects, animals, bacteria etc; good landscapes.
- Bad pictures are: posed groups standing outside buildings, pictures of people taken from far away, pictures of groups of people standing around exhibitions boards or listening to someone talk with their backs to the camera.
- Please include brief, relevant and interesting captions, including names of people, species, etc.
NB Unless you ask us not to, we will keep a copy of your pictures in our image library for possible use in future NERC publications.
If you have any questions about pictures please contact NERC's designer Candy Sorrell.
We don't accept unsolicited articles. If you have an idea for an article contact The Editors.
The editors will probably make some stylistic changes and may shorten the article. Unless the editing is truly trivial, you will be consulted before the story goes to print. Most editing is to put the writing into plain accessible English and to remove detail that will be interesting only to a very few specialists.
There are spring, summer, autumn and winter issues. The editors set individual deadlines with authors so that text can be edited, laid out, and slotted into the most appropriate place in the schedule. We welcome articles and ideas throughout the year. We're also happy to plan several issues ahead - so if you have a great story but it won't be ready for almost a year, it's not too soon to talk to us.
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
We look forward to hearing from you!