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U4 publication policy

U4 output manual

U4 publication policy

Rules and details about length, formats, and compulsory sections in U4 publication series.
7 February 2022

This publication policy includes rules on length, sections, and formats for U4 publications. We have marked which sections are optional. The rest are compulsory.

See also:

Digital first – writing for online media

U4 follows a digital first strategy. This is to reach as many readers as possible. It saves us the time we used to spend on print-layout work.

Applying our publication policy ensures that texts work optimally for online reading.

Reading from a screen is different from reading on paper. It requires lighter language. People read on screens when they have questions and need answers fast. Or they read out of general interest on their phone. Accessible texts are easy to remember, share, and apply to own work.

Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.

Word and character limitations

It's important to respect the rules on how many words or characters a section can have. Our online templates rely on this.

Not sure how many many characters with spaces your text has? In the Word program, click on 'word count' in the tools menu or in the bottom bar.

Publication check list

Before submitting a text for publication, please check that it complies with the policy for each item.

Compulsory items

  1. Short version (for U4 Issues, Reports and other texts longer than 3000 words, excluding U4 Helpdesk Answers)
  2. Title
  3. Standfirst
  4. Lead text
  5. Main points
  6. Author(s)
  7. About the author(s)
  8. Keywords
  9. Main text (including citations)
  10. Reference list
  11. Pull-quotes
  12. We also recommend

Optional items

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Methodology
  3. Abbreviations
  4. Photos
  5. Tables and figures (graphs and charts)
  6. Testimonial
  7. Partnership – joint publications

Short version

A synopsis of the full text. Give busy readers a quick foundation with the most important information from the text. We aim to give these texts extra promotion, posting them in Medium.

  • Use sub-headings
  • 1–2 pull-quotes
  • If someone other than the author writes the short version, use a neutral, impersonal style.
  • If the publication author writes the short version, personal style is welcome.


  • Replicating academic references from the publication in the short version.


700–1000 words.


Many readers choose whether to read your text, solely based on your title. Devote enough time to make it work. Start with a working title, and end up brainstorming a smashing title with a colleague. Get inputs from the comms team if you’re stuck.

  • Keywords appear first in long titles
  • Includes pain points and solutions
  • Tempt the audience – make the text’s value to them clear
  • Accurately reflects the content
  • It gives meaning when it stands on its own
  • It’s a statement, not a question
  • Capitalise only the first word, first word after a colon, and proper names


8–14 words / max 70 characters with spaces.

Titles perform best online with this length.

Split titles

Do you need a long, split title? Include words that people most likely search for in Google in the first part. The last part will have less visual emphasis than the first.


A quick promo-text for newsletters and social media. Not part of the publication itself.

  • What is the article about?
  • Tell people what they will miss out on by not reading the text


  • State the obvious
  • Use abbreviations/acronyms or jargon
  • Write 'this paper discusses...'


 170–200 characters with spaces

Lead text

Reveal the news up front! Briefly sum up the main findings, recommendations, and lessons. Pick one or two points in your message. They must highlight importance, relevance, benefit and implications for development professionals.


  • Introduce abbreviations in bracket (do it in the main text only)
  • Insert links, footnotes, or citations
  • State the obvious, eg 'Corruption leads to many problems.'
  • Use framing phrases, eg 'This Brief looks at…'


50–70 words / 400–500 characters with spaces

Main points

This is a bulleted section for time-poor readers to see upfront if the text has what they need. It also helps readers quickly share it, or apply the knowledge in their own work.

Write two–ten main points, with eg

  • New information/findings
  • Promising approaches
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Lessons learned
  • Implications
  • Recommendations
  • Must-knows for development professionals (try to expressly mention eg aid donors, development actors, practitioners, or policymakers)


One or two succinct sentences per point.


Place full names in the order they shall appear.

About the author(s)

  • Affiliation/employer
  • Experience
  • Link to one website with profile, eg employer, LinkedIn, etc. (optional)
  • Photo (optional)


Max one brief paragraph per author


One paragraph (optional)


U4 has a pre-set keyword list. We may swap given keywords with existing equivalents. We can add new keywords to our list if appropriate.

Keywords give readers shortcuts to resources on similar issues as the publication they’re viewing.

Keywords must:

  • Make sense as stand-alone words
  • Be in English
  • Be a feasible search term
  • Likely apply to several resources
  • Include countries, and regions if applicable

Aim for five–ten keywords (not including 'corruption' / 'anti-corruption')


Optional section – only for long texts (U4 Issue/Report). This is an expandable section in the online publication that people have to click to read. In print versions it will come after acknowledgements.

  • Make a clear statement of the research question
  • Explain your research methodology


Max 200 words

Main text

Please read the style guide before you start writing.


  • U4 Brief 1,500–3,000 words
  • U4 Issue 3,000–10,000 words
  • U4 Report 5,000–15,000 words
  • U4 PEN 1,000–3,000 words
  • Short version of Issue/Report 700–1,000 words
  • Blog 700–1,500 words
  • Helpdesk answer 3000–7,000 words

Clear paragraphs and organisation

Write clear paragraphs.  It’s good to always start your paragraph with the most important sentence. Then explain or elaborate on that sentence. This way a reader will be able to grasp the most relevant content from your text, just by reading the first sentences of your paragraphs. Make sure paragraphs aren’t too long – seven or eight sentences is quite long already.

To give you an idea, the previous paragraph is five sentences, and scores an A on the tool. See the U4 style guide for more information about readability.

Organise your text in a logical presentation. Make your main points clearly and stay focused on them. Following each controversial or new theoretical assertion, give illustrating examples – real or hypothetical.


Always include implications for development policymakers and practitioners, eg promising approaches, pitfalls to avoid, lessons learned, etc.


Varied texts are more attractive to your readers. Try to mix it up a little! Alternate longer paragraphs and sentences with short ones. Use synonyms if you tend to repeat the same words. Use the thesaurus.

Sections and subheads

Offer subheads that introduce your reader to something they will learn from the paragraph. “Introduction,” “Background,” “Kenya,” and “Conclusions” are empty subheads. Fill them with meaning!

To illustrate:

  • “Introduction”          “Five country case studies with diverging conclusions”
  • “Background”           “The initial stages from planning to start-up”
  • “Kenya”                     “Two projects in Kenya that improved participation”
  • “Conclusions”          “Include xx for better outcomes – but questions remain on yz”

Levels and numbering

  • Up to two levels of subheads in texts up to 3000 words (Briefs, PENs, Helpdesk answers)
  • Longer publications can have up to three levels.
  • Apply heading styles to all subheadings (heading 1, or 2, or 3)
  • Do not number sections or subheads – our digital platform does not support it yet.


  1. Capitalise only the first word of a subhead, the first word after a colon, and any proper nouns.
  2. Do not attach notes to subheads.

Bulleted and numbered lists

  • Capitalise the first word.
  • Include a full stop if each point is a sentence.
  • Do not use semi-colons.

Tables and figures (graphs and charts)

Think twice before you make a table filled with text. Reserve tables for numbers, and use few columns. Large tables can be nearly impossible to render on mobile platforms. Our platform only supports simple tables.

If a table or graph is the best way to communicate a point, please:

  • Submit original excel or powerpoint files, etc., so we can optimise them for web. Sometimes we also have to edit them – eg for language translations.
  • Number them.
  • Give them descriptive titles.
  • Use this format:
    Table 1: Overlap between restrictive civil society legislation and MSI membership.
  • Include the source – with a link if it exists.

Text boxes

Indicate text that should appear in a text box by writing <Text box start> before the section, and <Text box end> after.

Text callouts

If you call attention to a figure or section elsewhere in your text mark it with a yellow highlight so we can include in-text links.

Page numbers

Our pdf-generator adds page numbers automatically.


U4 adheres to the highest scholarly ethics, and authors are responsible for complying with the citation rules that are widely agreed within academia. See our quick guide to help you remember when to cite sources and when to use quotation marks.

When and how to cite and use quotation marks

The rules on when and how to cite are fairly straightforward and widely agreed within academia. However, rules are subject to interpretation, so authors and editors must exercise judgment as well. Basically, you can divide material into four categories:

1) 'Common knowledge'

Knowleldge that is known and accepted by most people and/or authorities within the relevant discipline or field of discourse: No citation needed.

Examples: Corruption is harmful; the earth is round and revolves around the sun; Biden won the 2020 election with 306 Electoral College votes.

In the latter two examples, of course, there are people who dispute these facts. You have the Flat Earth Society, and the political equivalent of it in the form of millions of people who believe that Biden didn't win. But the broad consensus among the relevant authorities (scientists; electoral officials) is that these facts are true. The consensus in each case is so broad and well established that there is no need to cite a particular source.

2) Your own original ideas or data

Your own ideas or data expressed in your own words: No citation needed.

Ideas may be considered your own even though they build on, draw on, or are influenced by other people's ideas. No idea is 100% original. The question is how much you are intellectually indebted to someone else, and this is a judgment call. If there is significant intellectual influence, it is safest to offer a citation such as 'Building on the work of Brown (2004), I argue that ...'

3) Someone else's ideas or data summarised or paraphrased

When you build on the ideas or data from others, summarised or paraphrased in your own words: You need a citation, but not quotation marks.

If you write something that is largely based on someone else's work, or draws extensively on it, you need to cite the source even if none of the words are identical. Presenting someone else's ideas or data, even in your own words, without acknowledging the source is a violation of scholarly ethics. If you paraphrase or summarise the material without using quote marks, make sure the wording you use is sufficiently different from the source.

4) Someone else's ideas or data expressed in exactly the same words

When you use someone's ideas or data with the exact same words they used: You need a citation AND quotation marks, most of the time.

Quote marks

The quoted material can be a word, a phrase, a sentence or sentences, even a paragraph or more. Quote marks are almost always needed if you quote an entire sentence or more than one sentence. When just a few words are identical to the source, then it's a judgment call whether you need to put those words in quote marks.

Quote marks are more important when the words used to express the idea are unique to the source – that is, somebody else wouldn't have said it in the same way. Quote marks are less important when the words, although identical to the source, are generic in the sense that most people would have expressed the idea in the same way. This is sometimes the case with statistics, for example: Oil accounts for 95% of Sudan's exports (World Bank 2021). Maybe the Bank used those words, but almost anybody presenting that statistic would use those words or words close to them. So a citation to the data source, without quote marks, is sufficient.

When you do enclose words in quote marks, those words must match the source exactly. One of the things thorough editors do is trace every quotation to its source, if they can access it online, and make sure the author copied the words correctly. According to one editor working for U4, least 50% of the time, they didn't (speaking of all authors, not specifically about U4 authors who are usually more careful).

Examples where quote marks and citations are needed

Here are a few examples from U4 publications of statements that DO need quote marks in addition to a citation:

  • In 2010, the Somalia Common Humanitarian Fund was established as a CBPF ‘to allocate funding for the most urgent life-saving interventions in Somalia’.

    [This is formal language from a mission statement. Words matter in a mission statement, so it's important to use the exact language they used, in quote marks.]

  • Barrett (2005: 2) correctly opines that the effect of perceived corruption should not be underrated, as corrective measures require both ‘marketing a non-corrupt image and rebuilding the legitimacy of, and confidence in, the system’.

    [The quoted part is more than just a couple of words, and the language that Barrett used to express her idea is an important aspect of her intellectual contribution. It's not just what she said; it's the way she said it. Another author wouldn't have written it the same way. So the quoted passage needs quote marks as well as a citation.]

  • The opposition figure Kizza Besigye said that Museveni ‘cannot be pretending to fight corruption because he is at the apex of state corruption in Uganda’ (Kasasira 2019).

    [Same reasons as above. Here Kasasira is quoting Besigye, who has used quite colorful language.]

  • According to Heeks (2011, p. 1), most anti-corruption initiatives fail. He claims it is because of overly large ‘design-reality gaps’: that is, a gross mismatch between the expectations built into the initiatives and the on-the-ground realities in the context of their deployment.

    [Although 'design-reality gaps' is just three words, this is a term that Heeks himself coined. It is original to him, and part of his intellectual contribution. Thus it needs to be in quote marks.]

The following sections present U4’s citation and referencing format, which authors are required to follow unless another approach has been agreed with U4 editorial staff.

Citing standard sources

Author-date citation

For standard sources, create an author-date citation. Standard sources include:

  • Books/ book chapters
  • Reports
  • Briefs
  • Working papers
  • Journal articles
  • Dissertations/theses
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Newspaper/magazine articles
  • Blog posts
  • Government documents (many of them)

Basically, if a source has an author or authors (person or organisation), a title, a date of publication, and a publisher, it can be cited by author-date.

Place the author-date citation(s) in a footnote
If the footnote contains only a citation or several citations, and no other text, do not put the citation in brackets (parentheses).

If the footnote contains a citation embedded in a text sentence, place brackets around the author and date, or just the date, depending on the sentence.

Do not include a URL in the footnote, they are for the reference list (see below).

Examples of author-date citations in footnotes

  • One author
    Borel 2016, p. 92.
  • Two authors
    Grazer and Fishman 2015, pp. 12–13.
  • Three authors
    Eder, Lang, and Rudolf 2017.
  • More than three authors
    Teo et al. 2019.
  • Several citations in same footnote
    McCulloch and Piron 2019; Laws and Marquette 2018.
  • Several citations with same author and year
    V-Dem 2020a, 2020b, 2020c.
  • Citation embedded in a sentence
    For a general analysis of how elections can be rigged, see Cheeseman and Klaas (2018).

    This has only reinforced the party leadership’s dominance in anti-corruption proceedings (Li Li and Peng Wang 2019).

Reference list

Author-date citations must correspond to entries on a reference list. Every source cited by author-date in the text should be on the reference list, and every source on the reference list should be cited in the text.

Before you submit your paper, check spelling of all author names and source titles to ensure they are identical to the original. Check that all links work.

For brevity, U4’s reference style includes only essential information: author, date, title, and publisher.


For an author who is a person, use the family name plus initial of the given name. The author may also be an organisation.

If the author-date citation used the organisation’s acronym, begin the reference list entry with the same acronym, followed by the full name in brackets. This enables readers to quickly match up the author-date citation with the corresponding reference list entry.


Use the year of publication. Do not put brackets around it. Omit access dates.

If online material does not identify the year of publication, you may substitute the current year if the material is still available online.

For journal articles, add the volume, issue number, and pages (not abbreviated) following the journal name.


Use sentence case for all titles regardless of style used in the original source. That is, capitalise only the first word of the title and subtitle, plus any proper names within the title.

Do not use italics on the title.


Embed a URL for the source in the title. If possible, link to a source’s website landing page and not to the pdf file. Provide original sources, such as a link to a book on a publisher’s website, not on Amazon. Include a link even if the source is for purchase or behind a paywall. Favour open-access versions if several alternatives exist.

Double check that the link works.


Identify the publisher briefly. If an organisation is both author and publisher of the work, you do not need to repeat the name twice. Omit geographic place of publication.

Examples of standard reference list entries


Vathi, Z. and King, R. 2017. Return migration and psychosocial wellbeing. Routledge.

Edited volume

Amundsen, I., ed. 2019b. Political corruption in Africa: Extraction and power preservation. Edward Elgar.

Chapter in an edited volume

Kamp, M. 2003. Between women and the state: Mahalla committees and social welfare in Uzbekistan. In The transformation of Central Asia: States and societies from Soviet rule to independence, ed. P. Jones Luong, 29–58. Cornell University Press.

Report, brief, working paper, fact sheet, etc.

Kenny, C. 2006. Measuring and reducing the impact of corruption in infrastructure. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4099.

IMF (International Monetary Fund). 2015. Making public investment more efficient.

U4 publication

De Simone, F. and Taxell, N. 2014. Donors and ‘zero tolerance for corruption’: From principle to practice. U4 Brief 2014:2. U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute.

Journal article

Barnes, T., Beaulieu, E., and Saxton, G. 2018. Restoring trust in the police: Why female officers reduce suspicions of corruption. Governance 31(1): 143–161.

Dissertation or thesis

Jones, D. A. 2016. Vitamin or poison? Wasta and politics in Jordan. PhD diss., Rutgers University.

Speech or conference presentation

Camdessus, M. 1998. Money laundering: The importance of international countermeasures. Address to Plenary Meeting of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, Paris, 10 February.

Chrysantina, A. and Sæbø, J. I. 2019. Assessing user-designed dashboards: A case for developing data visualization competency. Paper presented at 15th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries (ICT4D), Dar es Salaam.

Interview (begin with name of the person interviewed)

Hames, D. 2016. Why I’m joining the fight against corruption. Interview by Jameela Raymond, 2 September. Transparency International UK.

Article in a newspaper or magazine (if no named author, use publication as author)

Schütte, S. A. 2019. Why fix KPK when it is not broken? Jakarta Post, 27 September.

Economist. 2017. Beware the taxman: Tax authorities are the latest tools of repression in Africa 30 September.

Government or intergovernmental document

Ministry of Ecology and Environment. 2017. The Belt and Road ecological and environmental cooperation plan.

European Parliament. 2021. Resolution of 10 March 2021 with recommendations to the Commission on corporate due diligence and corporate accountability. 2020/2129(INL).

Web page or text on a website (use author-date only if it has a title)

WWF (World Wildlife Fund). 2018. Overview of WWF’s work on forests. Transparency International. 2022. What is corruption?

DHIS2. 2021. DHIS2 software overview.

Blog post

Ceballos, J. C. 2021. The promise of a carbon tax and the threat of corruption. U4 Blog, 1 November.

Abeysooriya, S. 2020. Data governance is essential to cyber security. Start It Up (blog), 6 January.

Video or podcast

DHIS2. 2020. Applying AI to combat pandemics: DHIS2: Information for action. YouTube video.

ICRN (Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network). 2021. Michael Johnston on syndromes of corruption and how to tackle them. Kickback: The Global Anticorruption Podcast, episode 64.

Source in a non-English language (adding an English translation of the title is optional)

De Mauleón, H. 2022. Un nuevo capítulo en la narcopolítica. El Universal, 2 February.

KPK (Komisi Pemberarantasan Korupsi). 2006. Memahami untuk membasmi. Buku panduan untuk memahami tindak pidana korupsi [Understand in order to eradicate: Guide to understanding criminal acts of corruption].

Two or more sources with same author and same year

GHLE (Group of High Level Experts). 2015a. Analysis of the judicial system in Albania.

GHLE (Group of High Level Experts). 2015b. Strategy on justice system reform.

Citing non-standard sources

Some sources that do not fit the categories in the text box above are not well suited to author-date citations. In most cases, you should put information for these sources in footnotes and omit them from the reference list. Such sources include, among others:

  • Laws
  • Decrees
  • Constitutions
  • International conventions
  • Court rulings
  • Legal briefs
  • Databases
  • Maps
  • Illustrations
  • Personal communications.

Websites cited as websites, as well as online material that lacks an identifiable author and title, should also go in footnotes.

Examples of footnote citations of non-standard sources

Footnotes and endnotes

Footnotes or endnotes with lengthy text do not work well online.

Keep notes to a minimum, both in length and number. Write all vital info into the main text. 


In publications over 3000 words, or if you use many abbreviations. Include a list of abbreviations.


We welcome photos for the cover and the inside of publications. All photos must comply with U4's photo policy.


Suggest one pull-quote approximately per 500 words in short texts (eg Briefs), or every couple of pages in long texts. You may pull more than one from within a 500-word section and none from others. Favour solution-oriented pull-quotes to help give people hope!

  • Be interesting and solution-oriented.
  • Provide rich, important thoughts or info.
  • Pull text directly from the main body or rewrite into a short version.


Max 200 characters with spaces


(Optional) A quote from a peer-reviewer about how this paper is useful, brings new knowledge, etc. For promotional use.

Sign with name, if the reviewer agrees. Or with position eg 'GIZ programme manager', 'Lecturer at London School of Economics'.


Max 200 characters with spaces.

Partnership – joint publications

We can show partner-logos and a brief text (1-2 sentences) to describe any collaboration on our publications. U4 normally agrees that partners who have jointly funded a publication with us can also publish it in their own series.

We also recommend

Guide the readers to three top-pick readings on the topic of your text. You can select from your references, U4 resources, or other resources. Provide links.

For each resource we recommend that doesn’t already exist on U4’s website, please add context and summarise some main points with relevance for donors, eg:

  • What’s in the resources that is helpful to know
  • What’s new or unique
  • What are the main points, recommendations, implications, pitfalls to avoid, etc.

(The purpose of adding this information to recommended resources is that it's U4’s role to help readers decide whether the resource is relevant for them before they click on it. These recommended resources will also show up in general searches on the U4 site.)


The U4 publication policy is an evolving document. If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch with Kirsty.


    All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

    This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)