Debatabase style guide


Broadly speaking the tone of these debates should be closer to a quality magazine than to an academic journal. The target readership should be considered to be an intelligent person with some grasp of global affairs but not a subject expert. Likewise, where relevant, the information should not be needlessly geographically specific. The purpose of debatabase debates is to create a definitive resource that aims to be as informative as possible, with a long shelf life, so they can be used for years to come. Current issues may be used to illustrate a wider point, for example: the charging of Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks could be used as an example while discussing phone hacking (localised to the UK) or, ideally, in a wider debate on the ethics of the media, or whether the press needs regulation. As a point in itself it would not serve, it is an issue that dates too quickly, but it will help the tone of your points to include popularly reported issues. It will tie in with the journalistic, accessible tone we are hoping to create.   


IDEA is an international organisation, therefore the users of the website are international as well. As such everything should be written in American-English. The easiest way to do this is to change the spell check option on whatever word processor you are using, into American-English, and that will change everything for you.


Citations should be regular. Keep to the academic format. We would prefer if you kept to the MLA format or as illustrated below but we recognise what you learnt may vary according to where you have studied, indeed what you have studied. In that case, as long as they are all presented in the same way and the necessary information is included, that would be acceptable. A footnote should always include the author, the source, the date of publication, who it was published by, the year it was republished (i.e the version you are using) and the page number. With regards to the internet, if there is not a date when it was published or last edited include the date that information was accessed. Concerning internet sources, there may not be all the information you need, but try to include as much as possible. These debates are meant to be as informative and accessible as possible. This means we want readers to be able to see where we got our information and to be able to use the debatabase debate as a starting point for further research.

These are a few example of form:


Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice, 1813, Penguin Classics 2003, p. 5

Shaw, Malcolm N., International Law 4th ed., Cambridge University press, 1997.

Multiple Authors

Stent, Angela and Shevtsova, Lilia, ‘America, Russia and Europe: a Realignment?’, Survival, vol.44, no.4, (Winter, 2002-03), pp.121-134

If more than two authors:

Napolitano, Janet et al. ‘Administration Officials announce U.S.-Mexico Border Security Policy: A comprehensive response & commitment’, The White House, 24 March 2009,

Journal Article

Papandrea, Mary-Rose, ‘Under Attack: The Public’s Right to Know and the War on Terror’, Boston College Third World Law Journal, Vol.25, Issue 1, pp.35-80,


Brown, Chris, ‘Human rights’, in John Baylis and Steve Smith The globalization of world politics 2nd ed., Oxford University Press 2001, pp.599-614


Levin, Bernard, 'Fat Ladies are Phantoms of the Opera Now', The Times, 23 January 1976, p. 14

If online:

Beaumont, Peter, ‘Failure of Syria peace plan ‘risks wider regional conflict’,, 30 June 2012,


The World Factbook, ‘Guatemala’, Central Intelligence Agency, 21 February 2012,

In all cases with a url feel free to hyperlink the citation rather than having the url separate.

You may also wish to use a short form and only have the long form in the bibliography. Please note do not use ibid when spreading footnotes over points as the reader may not have multiple points open and may not read the points in order.

If you are still uncertain, there are numerous sources on the internet offering an idea of what a good citation ought to look like:

Things to keep in mind:

  • Whenever you use an acronym or abbreviation for the first time put the words in full, in brackets, immediately afterwards. For example P.G.C.E. (Post-graduate Certificate of Education), however this is not necessary where it is more commonplace, or routine, to use the abbreviated form – Phd, USA, UN etc.
  • Avoid humour. Even if it’s the best joke in the world, humour dates quickly and tends not to travel at all. A good rule of thumb on both humour and slang is “Would I use this in an essay?”.
  • Avoid using ‘They’ as a gender-neutral pronoun, use ‘he’, ‘ she’ or ‘s/he’ instead.
  • Please note that “54% of people in my country” does not equal “54% of people in the world”. Statistics such as these should either be global figures or be used in such a way as to make it clear to which country they pertain.
  • Avoid needlessly technical terminology – do you really need to say ‘hypothecated’ or will ‘ring-fenced’ do just fine? Where technical terminology is essential, it should be accompanied by a concise definition.
  • Avoid rhetorical questions and the passive voice.
  • Write in the third person – “It can be argued that…” rather than “I would argue that”.
  • Avoid truisms, hyperbole, verbosity and tautologies. Be very cautious of the use of dialect, regionalised terms or cyberslang. Remember that not everyone reading these debates will have English as their first language – or even their third or fourth – so brevity and clarity are the order of the day.
  • Hopefully, it goes without saying that swearing and discriminatory language of all kinds should not be used. Please remember that even the phraseology of friendly rivalry between nationalities may not be taken that way and is likely to cause confusion to most people from neither nation (Kiwi, Yank, Pommie/pommy, Canuk etc.)