Contributor Guidelines

Our goal with these guidelines for authors and editors of the In the Trenches™ online article series is to give you clear guidance on how to write your article so that it meets our requirements.

Good writing is hard work! We’ve done our best to make these guidelines simple and straightforward. But in case you have questions along the way that are not addressed here, your editor will be happy to answer them as well as provide feedback as you progress in writing your article.

I. Writing Style

Online articles in the In the Trenches article series are intended to be complete introductory guides to just about any topic of interest to busy nonprofit-sector practitioners—much more than just a basic overview. They are authoritative and cover what a beginner should know to get started and rapidly progress in the subject. In the Trenches articles will even attract those who already have a grounding in the subject but want a refresher or reinforcement of what they’ve already learned.

Start with the Fundamentals and Go from There

In the Trenches articles are easy to read. No matter how challenging or complex the subject, they communicate clearly and enable the reader to easily find the information that’s needed. The article should be written with the fundamentals at the beginning, then progress to more complex aspects.

Remember, You Are the Authority

If you have been chosen to write an online article in the In the Trenches article series, it is because you are a recognized authority on the subject matter. You are the authority for the article. If you find yourself citing or quoting other authorities with any frequency, you are probably straying from the basic posture of you as the authority.


In the Trenches articles have a distinctive voice. The following guidelines should help you write with desired voice.

Write Conversationally. When you speak across the fence with your neighbor, you do so with simple, straightforward sentences. Even sentence fragments sometimes. That’s how you should write your article—as if you’re speaking conversationally with a friend. If you find that you’re writing long, complex sentences, you’re probably straying from the voice of the In the Trenches article series. Break them up into simpler sentences—but not so simple as to insult your reader. Also, remember that In the Trenches articles are not written for an academic audience but for an audience of busy nonprofit-sector practitioners. Please do not use footnotes or endnotes, or lapse into “academic-speak.”

How Not to Write Conversationally

We once received a manuscript with this gem of a sentence:

To deal with this dilemma, I find the best surrogate for empirical measurement is the collective assessment of expert opinion.

Huh? While it is probably fine in academic writing, it’s not exactly conversational! This could be written conversationally any number of ways. Here’s a possibility:

If I can’t research it myself, I can instead consider what the experts are saying and see if they’re in agreement.

Keep in simple and conversational!

Writing conversationally makes even a complex subject easier to understand. The great thing about an informal writing voice is that you really don’t have to learn it. It’s how we speak in everyday life!

To Contract or Not to Contract? That’s the Question. It’s okay to use contractions. ’Nuff said!

Three’s a Crowd. Write in the First and Second Person. As with everyday conversation, write in the first person. Refer to yourself as “I” and collectively to yourself and the reader as “we.” It’s okay to refer to the reader in the second person as “you.” Avoid writing in the third person. Save that for academic writing and love triangles. In this guide, we use “we” in the sense of “we, the editors” of CharityChannel Press. We are writing in the plural first person. If you are coauthoring an In the Trenches online article, you will probably want to use “we” in the same way.

Oh, You Charmer, You! In the Trenches articles are fun and upbeat. Besides a light and informal approach, the use of charm and wit can make your writing shine. As with good seasoning, though, use it sparingly and to taste. Overuse can get in the way and detract from readability.

Use of Humor. Use of humor in the form of dry wit is a great way to stay in the voice of the In the Trenches article series. If it comes up naturally, use it. But don’t force it. When using humor, keep this in mind: You’re writing for a large, diverse audience. Keep it clean and nonracy.

By “humor,” we mean humor that is consistent with the fun, upbeat voice that is required for all In the Trenches articles. Avoid other forms of “humor,” such as gallows humor, humor that demeans individuals or groups, or humor that is in any way hurtful or negative or could lead to angry readers storming the publisher’s offices.

Slingin’ Slang. Slang is okay if it would ordinarily come up in conversation. It’s more than okay if it’s used in the subject area you are writing about. Careful, though; slang for the sake of slang should be avoided, as it just comes across as forced and phony.

Define Important Terms and Concepts

Think back to when you knew little or nothing about the subject you are writing about. Even basic terms and concepts were unfamiliar, right? Now that you are a seasoned expert, don’t assume the reader is familiar with them. Define terms and concepts as you go.

Use Examples, Stories, and Anecdotes

Examples, stories, and anecdotes are a great way to make sure the reader will grasp the point.

Good Grammar Still Applies

Keeping things conversational and loose doesn’t mean that anything goes. The rules of good grammar still apply.

The Chicago Manual of Style

In matters of style, look first to these Author Guidelines. If the Author Guidelines don’t cover a question, look next to The Chicago Manual of Style. Besides the book version, there is an online version at Tip: There is a thirty-day free trial available for the online version.

Although in most cases we follow Chicago style, here are a few exceptions:

  • No hyphen in “email.”
  • Capitalize the first word after a colon if what follows the colon could stand alone as a sentence (same as AP).
  • Spell out “okay.”
  • Our dictionary is

We know from experience that many authors and editors are more familiar with AP style than with The Chicago Manual of Style. If this describes you, we’ve identified the things that are most commonly seen in article submissions.

Notable Differences Between AP and Chicago Style

If you’re familiar with AP style but not Chicago style, here is a cheat sheet, of sorts, covering some of the more common differences:

  • Numbers through one hundred are typically spelled out, like this: “There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet.” Here are two important exceptions: When using numbers in charts, use numerals, and percentages should be written as numerals, like this: “2 percent.”
  • Serial commas (aka Oxford commas) are used. Example: “The English alphabet contains twenty-six letters; not twenty-three, twenty-four, or twenty-five.”
  • Most compound modifiers are not hyphenated after the word they modify.
  • Very specific, restrictive guidelines regarding bulleted lists. See Chicago Manual of Style Sections 6.124 Vertical lists—punctuation and format and 6.125 Vertical lists punctuated as a sentence.

Masculine and Feminine Pronouns

Although it’s covered in The Chicago Manual of Style, there is one area that commonly confronts authors and vexes the editors who love them: use of masculine and feminine pronouns. Should you use he, him, and his; she, her, and hers; he or she, s/he, or alternate from he to she and back to he? With a large and diverse reading audience, any choice is likely to upset someone or, at least, distract some readers. Please follow the recommendation of The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style to “write around” (our words) the problem rather than plow straight into it and only end up irritating some of your readers.

He, Him, and His; She, Her, and Hers; “He or She”; S/he? From experience, we know that authors often struggle with a decision on pronouns such as his and her. Should you use he, him, and his; she, her, and hershe or shes/he?

When referring to an actual male or female in the text, it’s okay to use he or she, as fits the gender of the person.

But what about the generic use of such pronouns? That’s where it’s tough. Because this comes up so frequently, please follow the advice of The Chicago Manual of Style in this regard:

5.221 Maintaining credibility
Discussions of bias-free language—language that is neither sexist nor suggestive of other conscious or subconscious prejudices—have a way of descending quickly into politics. But there is a way to avoid the political quagmire: if we focus solely on maintaining credibility with a wide readership, the argument for eliminating bias from published works becomes much simpler. Biased language that is not central to the meaning of a work distracts, and in their eyes the work is less credible. Few texts warrant the deliberate display of linguistic biases. Nor is it ideal, however, to call attention to the supposed absence of linguistic biases, since this will also distract readers and weaken credibility.

5.222 Gender bias
Consider the issue of gender-neutral language. On the one hand, it is unacceptable to a great many reasonable readers to use the generic masculine pronoun (he in reference to no one in particular). On the other hand, it is unacceptable to a great many readers (often different readers) either to resort to nontraditional gimmicks to avoid the generic masculine (by using he/she or s/he, for example) or to use they as a kind of singular pronoun. Either way, credibility is lost with some readers.

What is wanted, in short, is a kind of invisible gender neutrality. There are many ways to achieve such language, but it takes thought and often some hard work. Consider these strategies to “write around” the problem by avoiding awkward overuse of he or she or an unintentional emphasis on the masculine.

Use the plural rather than the singular:

The conscientious editor must address his authors’ concerns.


Conscientious editors must address their authors’ concerns.

Eliminate the pronoun altogether:

The conscientious editor must address his authors’ concerns.


The conscientious editor must address authors’ concerns.

Use the second person rather than the third person (our favorite):

The conscientious editor must address his authors’ concerns.


As a conscientious editor, you must address your authors’ concerns.

II. Formatting Your Article

Your submission will be in a Microsoft Word file (either .doc or .docx), formatted as follows:

Font and Size. Set up your MS Word document with Georgia 12-point font and with one-inch margins top, bottom, left, and right.

Spacing of Lines and Paragraphs. Set line spacing for multiple at 1.15, and set paragraph spacing at 0 pt before and 12 pt after. Do not select the box that says “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.” Do not add a second return between paragraphs.

Alignment. Everything in your manuscript is to be flush left. This includes text heads and subheads, paragraphs, and all other elements. Do not center or right-justify anything.

Periods. Use only one space, not two, after a period and before the next sentence.

Bulleted List Formatting. Use Word’s bullet function for unordered lists.

Numbered List Formatting. Use Word’s line-numbering function for ordered lists.

Page Headers. Do not use page headers.

Pagination. Include automatic page numbers in the lower right of your manuscript, in the footer section. Do not include any other text in the footer.

Emphasis. Use italics when adding emphasis. Avoid using other methods, such as underlining, bold, capital letters, or all caps, for emphasis. Formatting other than plain text and the use of italics for emphasis will likely be removed.

URLs. We know it’s inevitable that you will be tempted to toss in the occasional website URL. If you must, please do so sparingly, since nothing makes an article appear to be outdated faster than a no-longer-valid URL.

Please keep these requirements in mind:

  • Wherever Possible, Avoid Deep Linking. The best way to ensure that a URL remains valid is to cite the website’s home page, where the reader can then find the resource, rather than deep-link to a page that might be moved or deleted after your article is published. In other words, it is much safer to link to than deep-link to
  • Omit the “www” Unless the Site Doesn’t Respond Without It. When typing the URL, omit the “www” from the web address, then test it to make sure that the website responds. If, and only if, the website doesn’t respond unless you include the “www,” include it. For example, you would cite Google this way: When testing just “” with a browser, the Google website responds just fine (it resolves to
  • Avoid a Trailing Slash. Do not include a trailing slash in a URL. So “” is okay, but “” is not.


If requested, your editor will provide you with detailed image submission guidelines based on the images you intend to include. If you need images adjusted, we can do that. Just ask your editor.

Generally speaking, though, the following will apply to images:

Mode. Images should be RGB color or grayscale.

Size. Pixel-based Images should be 72 dpi, sized to no more than 700 pixels wide.

File Types. Acceptable file types are .jpg, .gif, and .png. If you have a file type other than these, please check with your editor before submitting.

File-Naming Convention. Please name each image file according to this convention:

[Author Last Name]-[image number].[file suffix]

Example: Greenhoe-01.jpg

How to Designate Images in Your Article. Do not embed images in the article document. Rather, insert placeholder text where the image is to be placed and upload the image file separately to the Publisher system (see below for more information about the Publisher system). Here is how to create the placeholder:

Here is the placeholder syntax:


Type: [Type of figure, such as “Photograph” or “Illustration”]

File name: [File name]

*** END ***

Here is an example:


Type: Photograph

File name: Greenhoe-01.jpg

*** END ***

Here is another example:


Type: Illustration

File name: Lysakowski-04.png

*** END ***

Word Count. We're particularly interested in articles that are in-depth and thoughtful — even groundbreaking. Articles should be at least 2,000 words; we would even welcome articles that approach or reach the length of a chapter in a book. In many cases we will publish articles in multiple parts, such as Amelia Kohm's five-part series that was kicked off with Let’s Use Florence Nightingale’s Secret Weapons.

Heads and Subheads. Heads and subheads are headings within a chapter, and they are written in title case. They help break up blocks of text, and they enable the reader to anticipate where the discussion is heading.

A head should be bolded and no more than ninety characters. Drop down a line to start the discussion under the head.

A subhead should be bolded and no more than forty characters. The text starts immediately after, on the same line.

Heads and subheads are the only heads permitted. There are no sub-subheads, for instance.

Tables. Tables can be useful and are commonly included in In the Trenches articles. The easiest way for you to create a table is to use the table-creation feature in Word and simply place the table in the article in its correct place. When providing a table, bear in mind that the reader could be reading your article from a desktop monitor, a smartphone, or anything in between.

When providing a table, bear in mind that the reader could be reading your article from a desktop monitor or from a smartphone, and anything in between. Please minimize the number of columns and try to keep the number of rows down.

Numbered and Bulleted. Numbered and bulleted lists are useful for showing information that is related. They can also help the reader find the information when using your article as a reference.

Numbered lists, more formally called ordered lists, are used when there is a specific order to be followed. Bulleted lists, formally called unordered lists, are best when the information follows no particular order.

When using a list, introduce the list with a brief discussion about it. Avoid simply creating a list without any kind of an explanation leading up to it. A list is best introduced by a complete grammatical sentence, followed by a colon.

When creating a list, please use the numbering or bullets feature of your word processing program.

III. Submitting Your Article

Please log into our behind-the-scenes Publisher system at Upload your article.

If you are unfamiliar with our Publisher system, be sure that you have been accepted as a contributor. If you haven’t yet applied to become a contributor, please submit the application to join our Contributor's Panel at An editor will be in touch with you promptly, and will walk you through the process.

Or course, you are welcome to contact us from our contact page at or to phone us at (949) 589-5938. We’re always happy to help!