Rail Engineer Magazine Style Guide

Rail Engineer magazine is “written by railway engineers for railway engineers”. So, by definition, it contains technical articles. 

That said, one of the strengths of Rail Engineer is its readability.  Unlike its competitors, the magazine can be read from cover to cover by its readers. This is due to several important features:

  • A consistent ‘house’ style which allows readers to turn the page from one article to the next without a jarring change;
  • Content that is technical enough to satisfy engineer readers, but is at the same time accessible to all types of engineer (including readers from other disciplines);
  • Articles which can be appreciated by non-engineers as the magazine is also read by procurement specialists, PR and marketing executives, recruiters and senior management with financial and legal backgrounds;
  • An objective stance which means that even articles discussing one particular company’s product or service are written from a third-party standpoint and are not too overtly commercial.

To maintain this overall style, every article received is edited to a greater or lesser extent.  The following ‘rules’ are usually applied, although there can always be exceptions when a particular article requires them.  It is good that every writer’s own personality is able to shine through, otherwise the articles just become a featureless mass.

Your target audience

When you’re writing your article, think of these readers:

  1. A drainage engineer in Scotland

  2. A signaller in Cornwall

  3. A senior manager in London

Remember, we have a diverse range of readers, some far from the heartland of the railway and some who live and breathe the industry’s politics.

General approach

Articles should be written in the third person. They are objective reports from an outside observer.  So “I wasn’t asked to visit”, but “Rail Engineer was asked to visit”.  Similarly, “we weren’t shown anything new”, but “the latest new product was demonstrated”.

If there is a particular reason for switching into the first person, such as a personal experience or reminiscence, that’s fine.  But such an approach should be exceptional rather than the norm.

General style

There are several good style guides around on the use of English in articles.  The one we favour is the Daily Telegraph at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/style-book/. It is well written and an interesting read as well as informative.

Particular style elements

These are mentioned in the style guide above, but are worth emphasising.

Bullet points

These should be used sparingly. They are a good way of listing several features, but an article with three or four sets of bullet points becomes ungainly. Try to limit their use or one or maximum two per article, and then only if there are several items to list – just two or three can be incorporated into a sentence.

Punctuation for bullet points – if each line is very short, three or four words, then no punctuation at the end of each line and a full stop at the end.

If each line is longer, but is not a complete sentence in its own right, then a semi-colon at the end of each line and a full stop at the end.

If each line is a complete sentence, then full stops for each one.


Rail Engineer is printed in columns, up to four per page.  Thus a long paragraph on a sheet of A4 looks extremely long when printed in a column.  Paragraphs should therefore be restricted to a maximum of four or five sentences.


These should be relatively short, but not so short as to become ‘choppy’. If a sentence runs to over a couple of lines of type see if it can be split into two.


Anything quoted to our writer happened before publication, so it should be in the past tense.  So Fred said: “This” – not Fred says “That.”. Note colon after said.

All direct quotes take a double inverted comma, and the punctuation ends inside them:

Fred said: “It was a jolly good project and went well.”

Extracts take a double inverted comma but the punctuation ends outside:

Fred said that he was “very pleased”.

Slang terms etc take a single inverted comma, as do quotes within quotes:

Fred said: “Our figures have gone ‘sky high’.”
The project team started with a ‘gung-ho’ attitude.

Remember, the speaker can also follow the quote, with a comma inside.

“It was a good project,” said Fred. “We were all very pleased.”

If using a lot of quotes, vary the word ‘said’.  There are also remarked, enthused, commented, explained, detailed, expanded and several more.


Nothing is more subjective than the use of the comma. There are some quite-complicated rules, but to keep things simple think of them as a natural break or a pause to draw breath. So read your text back and anywhere that you pause or hesitate, put in a comma. Similarly, if you don’t pause, don’t use one.

The project, which had started the week before, was going well. Even though it had been raining, ground conditions were good. In times past, this could have been more of a problem. Now, however, with modern machinery, these difficulties can be avoided, even while working at night.


These have two main uses.  One is to split up two halves of a sentence when using a full stop would be too abrupt – however, always consider whether using two sentences would make it read better as very often it will.  The other is to split up a list of items which already contain commas so to use commas again would be confusing.

Present at the meeting were Fred Bloggs, project manager; Joe Soap, scheme sponsor; Bill Bailey, environmental campaigner; and Tom Cobbley, everyone’s uncle.


Can be used in place of a comma to give emphasis. Use sparingly and – if used in the middle of a sentence – make sure you use two of them.


Hyphenate adjectives if not doing so could be confusing:

The pathway was enhanced by the use of 20 10 metre long sections of fibre reinforced red coloured concrete laid in foot high steps to make a highly visible stair case up to the recently completed 12 car platforms.

The pathway was enhanced by the use of 20 ten-metre long sections of red, fibre-reinforced concrete laid in foot-high steps to make a highly-visible staircase up to the recently-completed twelve-car platforms.


In general, spell out numbers under nine and use digits for 10 and over.  However, decimals are digits every time (seven, 10, 7.1, 6.38) and some larger numbers can be spelled out if it makes the sentence read better.

Thousands are denoted by a comma (1,435mm) and time by a colon – 11:45, 15:26.  (Note – no ‘hrs’ or equivalent). Don’t use k, M or Bn – we aren’t short of space so there is no need for text-speak. 

4,000, six million and 10.8 billion.

Exclamation marks

These can make a point! But they can also be overdone! So please make sure that you use them sparingly!!

Railway specific comments


The rail industry is inconsistent, using both metres and chains, so we have adopted a flexible approach.  However, in general, we use miles for long distances and metres for shorter ones such as tunnel bores.  The abbreviation ‘m’ can mean both metres and miles, so spell those two out (four metres, 500 miles). However, km and mm are acceptable as abbreviations – remember there is no space between the number and the symbol (48km not 48 km).

A tonne and a British ton are almost identical so use tonnes wherever possible.

Symbols (units)

These are a mixture of upper and lower case, so beware.  The common ones are 25kV AC, 750V DC, 1,000kW, 27GHz, 11km, 25.4mm.  Note, there is no space between the digits and the symbol (15km not 15 km).


For some Reason, the Railway Industry likes to Capitalise Everything. We don’t.

So proper names, people and companies, are capitalised as are some projects. Job titles are not, apart from some Government ministers, so the Secretary of State for Transport has a private secretary.

Andrew Haines is chief executive of Network Rail, while Martin Frobisher is Network Rail’s group safety and engineering director.

Geographically, Newcastle upon Tyne is in the North, but Newcastle-under-Lyme is to the west of Stoke-on-Trent (and check whether a city name like this has hyphens or not – Ashby de la Zouch does not, Stratford-upon-Avon does).

Station names are capitalised, but the word station is not, similarly with bridges and tunnels (Paddington station, Dinting viaduct, Severn tunnel).  There are Up lines and Down lines, Fast lines and Slow lines, and the main routes in the country are the West Coast main line (WCML), the East Coast main line (ECML) and the Midland main line (MML), amongst others.

In the South East, the Thameslink programme includes the reconstruction of London Bridge station, while Crossrail’s main tunnel starts to the west of Paddington station, close to the Great Western main line.

Some companies, which are proper nouns, like to lose the space between words as a matter of style (DeltaRail, VolkerFitzpatrick), which is acceptable.  However, watch out for cynical PR ploys to make the company stand out excessively and dominate the page – telent sticks out like a sore thumb (lower case AND in bold text) while even HOCHTIEF and EBILock can detract from the flow of an article.  These are styles which are perfectly good for logos but, when we are referring to the company or product, we are giving it a name which is a conventional proper noun (Telent, Hochtief, EBI Lock).

Similarly, article titles and sub-headings (crossheads) in Rail Engineer only have the first word capitalised unless it includes a proper noun.


Unless a date is crucial to the article, be vague.  If a conference happened on 25 August, and we don’t print the report until December, the article looks out-of-date.  However, if it was ‘a recent conference’, there is no harm done.

Similarly, if a bridge was lifted in on 24 April then say so, but if we don’t use the article for a couple of months this may also get edited out, depending on the exact timing and context.

Dates are given without a ‘th’ and with the month in full – 4 July, 20 September, 25 December.  And always date before month, never “September the 24th”.

Old equipment was made in the 1960s or the 1970s – never the 1960’s.  That’s a genitive (of the 1960s).

Other symbols

Various extra characters can be included in text.  If you don’t know, they can often be accessed on a PC by holding down the Alt-key and entering a four digit code. These include © (Alt+0169), ® (Alt+0174), ° (Alt+0176), ± (Alt+0177), ² (Alt+0178), ³ (Alt+0179). Foreign accents can be found in the same way – go to the Character Map in the Windows All Programs / Accessories / System Tools folder to find them (I don’t know about Macs – sorry). è, å, ü can all be found this way.

The two odd ones out are 2, as in CO2, which is a subscript 2 and can only be done by selecting the character font, and € which is Ctrl+Alt+4 – all at the same time.

Don’t use superscript for ² as it messes up the formatting, use the proper character.

By the way, we only use ® or TM once for each protected name in each article.  If the company put s it in every time the rest will be removed.  Once protects the name, repetitions just look clumsy.


These can be a nightmare.  However familiar you are with an acronym, or you feel that colleagues are, there will be someone somewhere that doesn’t know it.  So define everything.  You will not be blamed for defining an acronym that readers know, but you will be cursed for not explaining one that they don’t.

Remember that your target audience is a drainage engineer in Scotland.  Unless, of course, the article is about Scottish drainage in which case your reader is a signaller in Cornwall. That’s not to make any comment on Cornish signallers or Scottish drain experts, but they are far from the centre, away from the heartland of the railway where projects such as Crossrail and MML electrification may be familiar, and from a totally different engineering discipline.  However, these are the people who read your article so define every acronym the first time you use it.

It doesn’t matter whether you use the acronym and then spell out the definition in brackets, or vice versa, but do it the first time you use it unless that is in an article title or sub-heading.  In that case, define the acronym the first time it appears in plain text. Remember also the rules on capitalisation – acronym definitions are not necessarily capitalised.

Other errors (we all make them)

Its and it’s – its means of it, as in “he opened its door”, while it’s means it is – “it’s a new day”.

There and their is an old chestnut. As is ‘bear the brunt’ (bare means strip, bear means carry), similarly ‘too much to bear’.

Even a UK-English spell checker can allow some US-English words through.  All those –ize words for example (categorize  – it is categorise for us).

You need to ensure that you don’t have to insure your car.

Effect is a noun (the effect was…) while affect is a verb (the state of the track affected the ride).

Enquiry comes from the verb ‘to enquire’. Thus “he made an enquiry about the state of the project” or “she enquired what had happened”. Inquiry is an investigation – “RIAB is making an inquiry into the derailment”.