Minnesota Political Roundtable Guides
This Guide is divided into two pieces:
1. The Editorial Guide, covering the scope and content we are looking for
2. The Style Guide, covering the mechanics of writing and posting, and
In general, the mission of the site is to promote Progressive candidates, issues, and values. The strategy for doing this is to engage both activists and people who are not normally invested in progressive politics by presenting intelligent, respectful arguments. The tactics for any particular issue or candidate are up to the writers.
This the Editorial Policy of Minnesota Political Roundtable. These statements are primarily how this site is distinguished from other sites and how we define “quality”.
Know our audience
Minnesota Political Roundtable exists to craft, refine, and promote a consistent progressive message. Most of our readers are from Minnesota, but we do already have readers from across the world. Many are busy and do not have a lot of time or desire to read in a lot of depth.
Eyes on the Prize
By staying focused we can keep a high level of passion and hopefully a unique intellectual perspective. Writers and this site will regard progressive and Democratic candidates positively yet remain respectful of their opponents. You may want to take a strong stand and fight, but talk to the editor first. Even bad press is press, so if you want to engage Republicans it should be on target, hard to refute, and not personal.
Heart and arm and brain
Strong writing has a compassionate appeal to the heart, some facts and figures for the head, and a clear course of action that tells the reader how they can make a difference.
Caution with labels
Avoid labels like “Pawlenty is just plain mean” in favor of “Pawlenty targeted the most voiceless, the vulnerable, and those who lacked the power to fight back.” The difference is that the reader makes the judgment, keeping them engaged in the writing. If you feel a point has to be hammered home, leave it to your summing up.
Never assign motives
Back to “Pawlenty is just plain mean” – you don’t know that for a fact. He may not care at all, which is completely different, or he may have an even more evil scheme that you don’t know about. Unless someone says, “This is what I am thinking” in an interview it’s best to stay away from statements of motivation. Questioning motives, such as “Is he just mean?” is always acceptable.
Keep it real
Politics that is relevant comes from a conflict that started somewhere else – the economy, the culture, and generally in people lives. Whenever possible, relate what you can back to the situation that made the politics happen in the first place. In addition, the reader wants to agree or relate to what you write, so make it relevant. “Why should I care?” and “Is this worth a read?” is probably always in the reader’s mind.
Turn down the noise
The heated rhetoric of anger and revolt helps the party that is out of power and out of favor. We are in charge and we will be judged by our ability to get things done. Turning down the noise makes it easier for us to keep it real and stay positive.
Politics is not a spectator sport
Many sites are devoted keeping score on who is winning whatever games are being played. Minnesota Political Roundtable is not another ESPN wannabe staring at the same field, we are the YMCA recruiting people to lead healthier lives.
Politics is about improving people’s lives
Can I get an “Amen”?
This Style Guide describes the mechanics of writing for Minnesota Political Roundtable. The primary overall standards can be found as a collection at http://erikhare.wordpress.com/writing-guide/
Short but complete
Generally, a strong piece will be between 400 and 800 words. This is not set in stone. The reader is comfortable with a certain length and clarity by convention in the blog world, and while we can push it should be only when necessary.
The automated twitter and facebook feeds will be only the title, so catchy is critical. 100 characters maximum. What’s in the title is very important because that’s the most powerful place for keywords in searches with google, yahoo, etc.
All pieces will be displayed on the front page with a teaser paragraph of about 55 words. This means you should be careful about what you write at the beginning of your post. Suggestion: after you have published take a look at the live site. If what you see on the main page doesn’t make sense or doesn’t grab the reader, go back and fix it and hit “update.” If you want an image on the front page, put it on the first paragraph and small enough to fit, about 150 pixels tall, on the left.
The overall tone should be conversational, using short paragraphs, simple sentences, and common words. Perfect grammar is not essential, but spelling is important.
From time to time, you may want to center your piece on a key phrase that is repeated to drive it home. This is a time honored practice in political writing, but it has to scan like poetry to work well. One way to be sure is to read it aloud.
A good, strong edit
Editing your own stuff can be very difficult because you know what you mean. Even great writers need an editor just because it’s another pair of eyes! Please contact the Editor if you’d like suggestions on how to improve your writing.
Active, strong voice
Active verbs must be used in place of passive ones as often as possible. Sentences should be constructed as “subject-verb-object”, especially with key points. If you want to more about passive voice vs. active voice, contact me or see the online writing guide.
Each piece should engage the reader and draw out conversation that continues into the comments. Use of rhetorical questions and other devices is encouraged.
Search Engine Optimization
While writers are not required to make each piece SEO, attention paid to key phrases for the purpose of drawing traffic is encouraged. These should be continued in tags. Make sure use a lot of “tags”which help the reader find your article on Google. Make sure you use words found in your story (and not other words not found in the story). Also, make sure you categorize your story so the reader can find your story in the categories listing (listed in the sidebar).
While the blog world demands quick bites of information, some works need a lot more space to explain them. Occasionally, it will make sense to break a post into a series of smaller pieces that stand alone. This may require a complete re-write and new organization. Talk to the editor about how to do that, as there are no great ways to make it work well for the reader. But we do not fear long pieces, we just want to figure out a format that works for everyone!