What Exactly Is Snopes Publishing Style?

Fellow grammar/writing nerds want to know.

Published June 26, 2020

A publication's writing style has nothing to do with fashion or panache (wish it did!). It has to do with how to reference certain words and phrases, such as spelling variations, whether to capitalize certain words, whether to put them in quotation marks or italics, and so on. If you have ever written an academic paper, you may be familiar with Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association (MLA) style, American Psychology Association (APA) style, etc.

Most news publications follow some basic style guidelines, including For the most part, we adhere to Associated Press (AP) style. We refer to exceptions to AP as "Snopes style" because they deviate from AP. Here are a few such deviations:

  • We uppercase major words in story headlines. Why? It kind of looks nicer.
  • We use the Oxford (serial) comma. Why? Our esteemed founder David Mikkelson (arguably one of the godfathers of the commercial internet) prefers its use for clarity's sake. While I think the Oxford comma is needed only in ambiguous sentence clauses, I can live with it. After all, who am I to argue with The Godfather?
  • We follow a modified version of Modern Language Association (MLA) for source citations. Why? Our founder established the protocol many moons ago for himself at Snopes. Going forward, we may follow strict MLA because we could then use software that automates those citations, making our writing more efficient.
  • We capitalize the word "Black" when referring to Black people. We believe Black is a proper noun referring to a specific culture and group of people deserving of that dignity. (AP made the same change shortly after we did in 2020.)
  • We, ahem, don't terribly mind the use of profanities in stories. We do try to keep f-bombs out of headlines and sub-headlines. But our job is to debunk rumors on the internet. And we do that by trying to cite original sources/documents, such as tweets and memes, which can use colorful language. Here's the thing about Snopes: We like to think of ourselves as the people's fact-checker around the globe. We don't put on airs or pretend we're something we're not. We try to write and talk like everyday people. And everyday people occasionally cuss. I'll stop there before I get sent to the back of the classroom for misbehaving.

Doreen Marchionni is Snopes' executive editor/managing editor. She's a big fan of public-powered news agendas and team-based, bottom-up newsroom management.