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A Note from the Editor: Writing Articles for American Ancestors magazine

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
Lynn Betlock

Lynn Betlock
Managing Editor

Last week I wrote about value of genealogical article writing and offered some opinions on approaches and topics. This week I describe the article process at American Ancestors and provide some suggestions of what to do and what not to do.

Many people submit articles and article proposals to American Ancestors, generally via email at We review the submissions, sometimes ask for more information, and select a few for publication. Once an article is selected, we agree on a deadline with the author, schedule the piece for a particular issue, and assign a word count. The author signs a letter of agreement.


Next, the article goes through an initial edit, which can be quite substantial. The author might be asked to supply additional information, clarify material presented, or delete sections. Two more editors review the article, which is then formatted in the publishing software we use for the magazine. The author is asked to supply relevant images and if additional images are needed, staff members find them. A number of proofreaders (usually three or four) review the article toward the end of the process, and the author receives a PDF of the completed article to review a few days before press time.


View the writer’s guidelines for American Ancestors magazine.


Pitfalls to avoid:


  • Don’t submit an article tailored for family members without some rewriting.
  • Don’t use pet names (i.e. “Nana” or “Grandpa”).
  • Don’t use placeholders (brackets or an xx) to signify that information is missing and will be filled in later.
  • Don’t send a word processing file that presents challenges. Microsoft Word is best.


Practices to follow:


  • Familiarize yourself with a magazine’s articles before you submit to the publication.
  • Space is at a premium in a print publication; think carefully about what to include.
  • Ask yourself, “Would readers enjoy this article if they were not related to the subjects?”
  • Ask someone not familiar with the story’s cast of characters to read the article. If your reader has a hard time following the story and keeping track of who is who, reevaluate how you’ve presented the material. 
  • When you cite sources, use a standard modern style and be consistent. We use the Chicago Manual of Style or the online Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide.
  • Don’t embed images in the text. Generally embedded images aren’t usable; images should be emailed separately.


After you finish your article, set it aside for a few days and read it once more before you submit it.

Posted by Jean Powers at 08/26/2011 08:10:00 AM | 

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