Style guide

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Elements of style

Specific Alexander Technique vocabulary

Inclusive language



Elements of style

Modern Humanities Research Association style

The Poise journal house style is based on the MHRA Style Guide, 3rd Edition. This has been selected in part because it is available free at the MHRA website at https://www.mhra.org.uk/style/. It can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF. Unless otherwise specified here, or if in doubt, use the style specified by the MHRA.

For a wide range of further pointers, covering meanings of words and spelling as well as usages, see the Guardian and Observer Style Guide.

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Layout of text

When it comes to word-processing, different people will have different skill-sets. It is easier for the Poise editors to deal with text with minimal formatting than to deal with text that has been highly formatted using a different approach to ours.

If you're comfortable with using Word styles you might consider using the Word document template developed by us. Otherwise, please keep the number of styles to a minimum, ideally:

  • use ‘normal’ for the text
  • use built-in heading styles for headings, starting at ‘Heading 1’ for the top level
  • use the built-in word-processor tool for inserting footnotes/endnotes (we don't mind which at this point)

 In addition, please observe the following simple guidelines:

Spacing and indentation:
Avoid using spaces or tabs to indent paragraphs, centre text, or justify text, except as noted below.
Allow one space only between sentences.

Emphasis: Use italics: do not use word underline, bold, or uppercase.

Headings and subheadings should be used to divide a longer article into sections. Each heading should be as concise as possible and should inform the reader of the nature of the information to be presented in the sections or paragraphs that follow. It should not end with a full stop.

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Please use the serial comma, i.e. place a comma before and or or in a list, as in these examples:

  1. the bishops of Bath and Wells, Bristol, Salisbury, and Winchester
  2. pass me the knife, fork, and spoon
  3. candles, incense, vestments, and the like

Without the serial comma, the first example would be ambiguous as to whether there is a single bishop of Salisbury and Winchester (as with Bath and Wells) or whether each has its own bishop.

Use left and right single quotation marks (‘...’ not '...')  around speech and other quotations; and left and right double quotation marks (“...” not "...") for any quotation sitting inside another one. (This is the opposite of the usual U.S. style. Note that single quotation marks are said to be easier to read online.)

‘So much for “we’re all in it together” ’, she said.

In another departure from normal U.S. style, but consistent with MHRA style, closing punctuation marks are not automatically included within quotations: it depends on the context, and where punctuation marks might or might not have been in the original, as in these examples:


Go home to your father.
Go home, and never come back.

As reported speech:

‘Go home’, he said, ‘to your father.’
‘Go home,’ he said, ‘and never come back.’

See MHRA Guide section 9.3 for more examples of how quotations and punctuation marks are best combined.

Footnotes and references

The default style is ‘footnotes plus (optional) bibliography’. This is the most reader-friendly approach and is widely used in the humanities. A possible exception might be a piece summarising scientific research — but please discuss this in advance, as a lot of work can be required to switch from one approach to another.

Following this model, the main text contains only footnote numbers numbered sequentially across the entire body of the text; the footnotes (not endnotes) contain the full reference to sources. A footnote may reference more than one source, along with any comments about the sources, as well as amplifying what is in the main text. Abbreviated forms may be used for later references to a work cited earlier.

For formats and other pointers around references and sources see the page Sources and references.

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Other elements of style

UK English spelling is used throughout.

Dates should be written following the format: 5th August 1966.

The format for numbers depends on the context. Use numerals for:

  • page numbers
  • chapter numbers
  • dates
  • statistical / scientific information

Otherwise, use words for numbers up to ninety-nine; and use numerals  for larger numbers, except

  • at the start of a sentence
  • where the number is approximate
  • to avoid using both formats in a single sentence for a single purpose: here, use the same format for both numbers.

For formats of number ranges, note the following examples:

13–15, 44–47, 100–22, 104–08, 1933–39, 1899-1905

Quotations of approximately less than 25 words should be incorporated into the body of your text. 

Quotations of longer than 25 words should be set as block indented quotations, normally without quotation marks. (25 is fewer than many style guides suggest; this reflects the two-column layout used by Poise.)

Do not correct quotations to conform with the Poise house style: reproduce the original text.

Note that text generated by GenAI tools must be presented as a quotation.

Please spell out acronyms the first time they are used and provide the acronym in parentheses directly after. For subsequent references use the acronym only, e.g.,

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT)

Thereafter, use STAT only.

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Specific Alexander Technique vocabulary


Note that all concepts in the Technique are in lower case, e.g. primary control, inhibition, direction, hands on back of the chair, whispered ‘ah’, etc. A concept should only be capitalised if it is for the purpose of making a distinction between two meanings, e.g. an author may chose to use ‘inhibition’ to indicate a physiological meaning and ‘Inhibition’ to indicate a specific usage of this process in the Technique. In all such cases it the difference has to be clearly explained.

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The following are written as single, un-hyphenated words:

  • coordinate
  • endgain
  • psychophysical

The following words are hyphenated:

  • mal-coordination
  • re-education
  • non-endgaining
  • hands-on (as in ‘hands-on work’)
  • semi-supine
  • means-whereby (when used as an Alexander concept)

Note it is: ‘head–neck–back’ (with an en-dash, rather than a hyphen), not head/neck/back. (A forward slash indicates either/or.)

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Individual terms

'monkey’ / semiflexion: The term semiflexion (noun) or semiflex (verb) is preferred to ‘monkey’. Recommended usage is to include an explanation the first time it is used, e.g.

when going into semiflexion (aka ‘monkey’)
when going into semiflexion (a position of mechanical advantage)

If using the term ‘monkey’ it should always be in quotation marks in order to indicate it is a nickname.

F. M. Alexander: Do not use ‘FM’ or ‘FMA’ for ‘F. M. Alexander’. Preferred usage is to use ‘F. M. Alexander’ (note the spaces) the first time he is mentioned, and then ‘Alexander’ subsequently (unless you need to distinguish from ‘A. R. Alexander’ or others with the same surname.) The exception is where the nickname ‘FM’ might have been in actual use in the context being written about:

So he said, ‘Why did FM not talk about this?’ And I said, . . .

Alexander Technique / AT: Use ‘Alexander Technique’ with capitals (or ‘Technique’ if it is already clear what is being referred to) when referring to the entire technique we know as the Alexander Technique; use ‘technique’ with no capital when referring simply to a method or means, as in

Alexander’s technique for preparing himself for a lesson.

If you use the abbreviation ‘AT’, do so only after the Alexander Technique has been introduced.

. . . and has since become known as the Alexander Technique (AT) . . . A 100 years later the AT is now firmly established in music schools . . .

means-whereby / means whereby: Distinguish between ‘means-whereby’ as an Alexandrian concept (hyphenated) and ‘means whereby’ in normal usage. One can write ‘Pay attention to the means-whereby.’ But not ‘Pay attention to the means whereby.’ If ‘means’ and ‘whereby’ are not hyphenated something has to follow the ‘whereby’ (e.g. ‘the means whereby you obtain your end.’).

students / pupils / trainees: Be very clear what is meant by ‘student’, ‘pupil’ and/or ‘trainee’. Some authors use ‘students’ for students on a training course, other use ‘students’ for pupils, and ‘trainees’ for students on a training course. It should be clear from the context or it needs to be defined. The preference is to use ‘student teachers’ rather than just ‘students’ for people learning to become teachers of the Alexander Technique, and ‘pupils’ otherwise. The use of ‘trainee’ for student teachers is not desirable as it implies a passivity (being trained) that gives a wrong impression of what is involved in learning to teach.

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Inclusive language


Acceptable and appropriate usages continue to change. Some usages are not only contestable but in fact highly contested. Sometimes, every possible option has a drawback.

The broad principle to be followed is that authors should choose words that as far as possible don’t reinforce harmful stereotypes or assumptions, don’t marginalise people, and don’t deny or disrespect their individuality, choices, or culture.

Starting from this position, we have consulted resources that seem to subscribe to similar principles and claim some authority in the field: the results are below. Authors are advised to explore more widely if the issues seem relevant to their particular piece: many sets of guidelines can be found on the world-wide web along with discussions of particular words and phrases. 

We respect authors' preferences where there is no clear consensus on what is appropriate amongst those who are working towards inclusivity; but in those cases, we ask authors to explain their choices.

Among the general resources, consider

None of these is, however, to be treated as authoritative. Similarly, the context in which terms are used can have a bearing on what is acceptable and what is not. Given the speed at which usages have changed and the lack of consensus about what is appropriate, there will be many cases where the author's choice, backed up by their reasoning, will be respected.

If in doubt about an intended usage, please contact Poise and we can discuss the options.

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Identity generally

Refer to people in the terms that they themselves would choose, if known. For example, people might prefer to be described to as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’; they might prefer ‘person of colour’ or ‘black’ or ‘Black’; or ‘Chinese’ or ‘Asian’. (For an instructive example of how people's preferences can differ see Ask the OEDI: Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx - Which is Best?)

Where a preference is not known – and unless the context indicates otherwise – the term used should be as specific as possible with regard to sex, nationality, etc. For example, in referring to a woman, or someone who is known to identify as a woman, use ‘she’ and ‘her’ unless the person concerned prefers a different usage.

At the same time – and most importantly – there is no obligation to assign identifying characteristics such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or the like unless the context makes it desirable to do so, and/or the individual would like it to be specified.

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Nationality, ethnicity, ‘race’

Much of what appears below can be considered advisory rather than stating absolute rules.

‘Race’ is regarded as a socially-constructed abstraction rather than a biological reality. This is not to deny biological difference, but to recognise that most discourse couched in terms of ‘race’ has failed to acknowledge the impossibility of defining meaningful boundaries between the so-called ‘races’, despite being used to justify racist policies and behaviours. If there is cause to use the term (typically in discussing historical views and opinions) it should normally be placed in quotation marks. This is not necessary if it is already embedded in a quotation or if the context already makes its status clear (e.g. use race thinking not ‘race’ thinking to describe the practice of seeing things through the lens of race).

‘People/Person of Colour’ is an acceptable usage for the time being. It should not, however, be used as a kind of euphemism for ‘Black’, in cases where the legacy of African slavery sets the context; similar considerations apply where any specific form of experience is under discussion, e.g. the experience of people of South Asian heritage in Britain, or of Latin American heritage in the United States.

‘Black’ (capitalised) is preferred to ‘black’ in order to reflect the particular oppression experienced by Black people as a group — in white cultures, at least — in the wake of the African slave trade.

In most cases, ‘white’ should not be capitalised, in order to avoid associations with white suprematism; and ‘white people’ is preferable to ‘whites’ or ‘Whites’.

For reasons given above, avoid ‘mixed race’. Use ‘mixed heritage’ or simply ‘mixed’ (once the usage is clear).

Of possible relevance when writing about Alexander's Australian heritage, note the following sources in respect of First Nations Australians:

The last of these has the clearest discussion, but the site itself uses a number of terms. ‘First Nations people of Australiaseems to be the best of the various terms currently in use.

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Sex and gender

As the most pervasive discrimination in language has historically rendered women invisible, male pronouns should never be used to indicate a generic ‘person’ (i.e. when discussing people generally); nor should ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’ — capitalised or not: instead, use ‘humans’, ‘humankind’, or simply ‘people’.

The terms ‘s/he’ and ‘he or she’ to describe generic individuals are best avoided: such usages reinforce a  binary view of gender that increasing numbers of people find inappropriate. However, such terms may be appropriate where it is clear that it is biological sex that is under discussion.

The use of the singular ‘they’ when talking about an actual or generic individual is acceptable. Often it is tidier to refer to generic people, so that the ‘they’ follows longer-standing grammatical rules: ‘When I first meet a pupil, I ask them ….’ might be ‘When I first meet pupils, I ask them … .’ But note that in some contexts this might be misleading, implying that there is a roomful of pupils not a single pupil.

Authors may still prefer to use ‘she’ to indicate a generic person, as this retains its rhetorical force as a challenge and riposte to deep-seated patriarchal attitudes; the usage should however be explained.

Avoid ‘-ress’ words (e.g. ‘actress’) that imply that there is a female version of the real thing, unless the individual concerned chooses to be characterised in that way.

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Sexual orientation

‘LGBTQ+’ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, plus other sexual identities such as pansexual, asexual, and omnisexual and is a widely-accepted general term to refer to persons who are ‘beyond the binary of cisgender and heteronormativity’. Note that the ‘T’ for transgender is included because gender is so fundamental to judgements made about sexual orientation. This does not preclude authors from using extended or reduced versions of ‘LGB…’ if the context warrants it.

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Disability, health conditions, and age

Following guidance on the UK NHS ‘Inclusive Content’ web-pages, it is preferred to say things like:

  • people living with a disability
  • people with diabetes
  • wheelchair user

…rather than using terms such as:

  • afflicted by
  • suffering from
  • victim of
  • confined to a wheelchair
  • handicapped
  • diabetic person
  • sick or diseased person

It is preferred to use terms such as 

  • mental health condition
  • mental health problems

...rather than describing someone as mentally ill.

It is recommended to avoid terms such as

  • elderly
  • middle aged
  • OAP
  • old age pensioner
  • pensioner
  • senior
  • senior citizen

The terms ‘older people’ or ‘older person’ might be used in discussing issues or vulnerabilities that rarely affect younger people and where a contrast is being made, but preferred terms refer to actual age groups such as over-65s, over-75s, over-80s.

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On other pages

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