Rambles styleguide

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This is a general styleguide for words and phrases commonly misused in writing. While much of this guide is Rambles-specific, there are some more common entries about errors which keep cropping up in our reviews. This is in no way intended to serve as a grammar textbook or dictionary ... so please, if in doubt, look it up! However, given that certain mistakes are made repeatedly, there will be a brief section of common errors at the bottom of this page.

Note: Rules are not always written in stone. In some cases, we have selected style rules simply for consistency's sake. You should follow these rules strictly unless they are contradicted by the liner notes of an album or the text of a book you are reviewing. If, for instance, an Irish fiddler is listed on the album as a violinist, call him a violinist in your review.


I am often asked how long reviews should be. Rambles does not impose a specific word count; some reviews can be handled very briefly, while others require a little more exposition. I leave that up to you, the reviewers, to decide on a case-by-case basis. However, do note that your average reader will not wade through a lengthy block of text, so shorter is better than longer in most cases. Make your point and move on! Be wary of redundancies.

On the other hand, don't be so short that readers leave your review without a clear idea what the item you reviewed is about! Some discussion of plot and character is required in book and movie reviews, while music reviews must describe the style of music, instrumentation, etc. And, because we write reviews and not summaries, there must be a subjective element in which you explain the strengths and weaknesses of the item. Always back up your words! Dorothy Parker got away with writing a review that said, simply, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force." But Dorothy doesn't write for Rambles, and she wouldn't get away with that here! You need to explain why the book should be thrown through the wall, not just that it should.

Always send your reviews with the text pasted into an email; don't send them as attachments.

As editor, I have a lot of reviews to read each week, so don't expect detailed feedback on every one! Generally, I will respond with a right-to-the-point "Thanks!" to let you know I read it and everything's fine. If I have questions, I'll ask them. Sometimes I'll offer a suggestion for improving the flow or something, particularly if I see an error that crops up often. However, don't be afraid to ask for suggestions or more detailed feedback! If you're trying to improve your writing in any way or just want my opinion on something, I'll be glad to do what I can to help. Just ask!

Also, never be afraid to experiment or try something new. This doesn't mean I'm open to anything; Rambles has a very good reputation among music labels, publishers and the Internet community at large, and to maintain that rep, we need standards. But I also don't want the site to be boring, which means I don't want all of its reviews to read like they're written from a formula. Stretch your legs a bit and flex your writer's voice. If you have an idea for a unique approach to a review, drop me a line and we'll discuss it. Above all, this should be FUN.


I'll handle most of the coding for your reviews myself; however, it would help me a lot if you took care of a few things for me.

headings - Always make sure you include the following information at the top of each review: artist's or author's name, title, publisher or music label, and copyright year. Tell me what section of the site the review should appear in -- you'd be surprised how similar, for instance, a folk review can sound like a bluegrass review if the writer doesn't include specifics! If the item being reviewed goes into an area with subcategories (fiction, folklore, world music) list the ones in which it should appear. Also include your name as it appears in your byline.

paragraphs - Don't indent them with tabs or spaces; instead, begin paragraphs with a <p>.

titles - Although song titles, poem titles and short story titles are surrounded by "double quote marks," we put book and album titles in bold. Please precede a book or album title with <b> and follow it with </b>.

italics - Try to avoid them, because they don't show up well on all computers. However, if you feel the need to emphasize something in italics, precede the word with a <i> and follow it with </i>.

smart quotes - This is a feature in some word processors that gives quote marks and apostrophes a "curly" look; unfortunately, smart quotes translate into gibberish in html and won't show up properly online. Avoid them!

dashes - Dashes in the text of your review -- to give emphasis to a specific phrase -- should be two regular hyphens surrounded by spaces. Don't usual special-character long dashes, as these too will not show up properly.


accordion - note the "on" at the end, not an "an."

air - a songlike melody usually played slowly in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time.

bluegrass - lowercase.

bodhran - a round Irish drum, typically made of wood and goatskin, although there are synthetic versions that are tunable. The bodhran is played with one double-headed stick, usually called a beater, tipper or stick.

breakdown - fast-paced old-time and bluegrass tunes in 2/4 or 4/4.

CDs - not "CD's"

Celt, Celtic - capitalized (and pronounced with a "k" sound unless you're referring to a Boston basketball team).
Celtic - the general term for the various musics and cultures stemming from Irish, Scottish, Welsh and other related roots. Be specific if necessary, otherwise stick to the broader term.

compact disc, floppy disk - make sure you're using the proper spelling.

Dixieland - capitalized.

fiddle, violin - the historical differences between the two instruments were always slight and have vanished with time. The only distinction between them now is the style of play; typically, a fiddler plays folk music while a violinist plays classical.

Gaelic - capitalized.

harper, harpist - refers to style of play. Typically, a harper plays folk harp, a harpist plays classical.

hornpipe - originally an English dance dating from the Middle Ages, played more slowly than a reel in 2/4 or 4/4 time.

instruments - are not capitalized in most cases. Words like banjo, uilleann pipes and piano are common nouns. Capitalize only when there is a proper adjective preceding the instrument (Scottish bagpipes, French horn) or if there is a specific manufacturer listed as part of the name (Stradivarius violin, Fender guitar).

jig - a type of Irish dance tune, usually in 6/8 time.

new age - lowercase, for the same reason jazz and folk music are lowercase.

polka - a lively dance tune in 2/4 time. The style originated in Eastern Europe in the early 19th century.

reel - a popular type of Celtic dance tune, usually in 2/4 or 4/4 time.

rock 'n' reel
rock 'n' roll

Scotch - a fine whisky drink and a popular adhesive tape. When referring to modern music, people, culture, etc., use Scottish or Scots, as in Scots-Irish. (Only call a person Scotch if that person is Scottish and uses the term himself.)

slip jig - a type of Celtic dance tune, always in 9/8 time.

songs - have words. People sing them. Don't call something a "song" if it's an instrumental piece. Other words work fine, like tune, piece or number, or be specific if you can: jig, reel, polka, air, etc.

strathspey - a dance tune closely related to (but slower than) the hornpipe and reel, usually played in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The style originated in northern Scotland.

uilleann bagpipes - lowercase. The uilleann pipes are the Irish cousin of the Highland bagpipes. Instead of inflating the bag by blowing, the piper has a bellows tucked under one arm to inflate the bag under the other, a distinction which allows the piper to sing while playing. The uilleann pipes are softer than their Scottish counterparts and are usually better suited to group playing.

U.S. - not "US"; use the periods.

violin, fiddle - see fiddle entry.

whiskey, whisky - a source of much inspiration among Celtic musicians, it therefore appears in a lot of Celtic songs. Unless otherwise specified, spell it whisky when referring to Scotch; otherwise, use whiskey.


btw - shorthand for "by the way" in email. Don't use it or similar Internet jargon in your stories.
email - no hyphen.
Internet - capitalized.
URL - is technospeak. Avoid turning stories into alphabet soup. Use website or Internet address instead.
website - one word, lowercase.
World Wide Web - capitalized, when referring to the Internet. But since no one ever calls it that anymore, don't fret about it.


  • Use quotes around the titles of songs, essays, short stories and such. Book, magazine and album titles should be bold-faced. (See the section on HTML coding above.)

  • When using quotation marks, use "double quotes," not 'single quotes.'

  • "Commas and periods go INSIDE quotation marks," the editor said.

  • An ellipsis separating two parts of one sentence is a series of three dots ... surrounded by spaces on either side. An ellipsis at the end of a sentence trails off with four dots....

  • Dashes -- which are used to set one part of a sentence off from another -- are made with two hyphens surrounded by spaces.

  • Apostrophes and dates - when referring to a decade like the 1970s, there is no apostrophe. An apostrophe is only required if you're referring to something belonging to a specific year (1971's top seller) or if you're dropping off the century, in which case the apostrophe precedes the numbers ('70s and '80s). Never refer to "music from the 70's" ... it's wrong.


    a lot - two words, never "alot."
    all right - two words, never "alright."
    century - not capitalized ("17th century music," "early 20th century revival")