Research Topics


The U4 Blog

Learning & events

About Us

U4 publication policy

U4 output manual

U4 publication policy

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

This publication is from . Newer material may be available. Please search related topics and keywords.

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
  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 chose 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 may 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 introduces 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, so readers might not be bothered. 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.

Text citations

U4 series are not academic journal articles or theses. It is sufficient to include citations that are essential to document your statements and assertions. Beyond that, the purpose of citations is to give your readers direct access to the sources you've used. Favour in-text links to sources over author-date. It's more user-friendly. Eg, "According to a working paper on illegal logging in Indonesia, the Indonesian government lost an estimated US$ 2 billion in 2006 due to illegal logging, corruption and mismanagement."

Treat any open access version of a text as the primary text. This may be eg pre-publication versions on Research Gate. As a last resort, you can also link to publisher-pages for pay articles and books.

When citing the same resource several times in your text you can add a footnote with the author name. This name has to contain a URL to the source. If you cite more than one publication from the same author, you can add the year.

Some formats do not support footnotes: Topic page texts such as the basic guide, and Medium. Instead of footnotes, you can place the name with the URL in a bracket at the end of a sentence.

If no online trace exists – which is unlikely – use the Chicago author-date style.

Reference list

Every source cited in the text should be on the reference list. Every source on the reference list should be cited in the text.

Reference list style should be simple and short without italics or brackets unless absolutely necessary to make readers understand the content.

Original resource titles vary in case (use of capital letters). To create a clean, coherent impression with our reference lists, we apply sentence case to all titles.

Deloitte. 2016. Report of factual findings on the review of IRRANA program components VTY and HA. Oslo: Deloitte.

De Simone, F. and Taxell, N. 2014. Donors and ‘zero tolerance for corruption’: From principle to practice. U4 Brief 2014:2.

IOM. 2017. Assisted voluntary return and reintegration: 2016 key highlights. Geneva: IOM.

Include URLs for all sources if they exist (including items for purchase). Provide original sources, eg a link to a book on a publisher's website, not on Amazon.

Never include just a URL. Always provide as much info as possible, eg:

  • Author
  • Year written/published/updated
  • Document/page-title
  • Website owner/organisation name

Double-check that links work.


  • 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, and rather link directly to other online sources from the text than providing sources in notes. But do so sparingly. See In-text citations and Links for details. 


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. You may pull more than one from within a 500-word section and none from others. Favour solution-oriented pull-quotes – help give people hope!

  • Be interesting and solution-oriented.
  • Provide rich, important thoughts or info.
  • Pull text directly from the main body or make 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 brief text (1-2 sentences) to describes any collaboration on our publications. U4 agrees that partners who have jointly funded a publication 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.


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)