Online Encyclopedia Entry Guidelines

Children singing We Are the World, Lagos, August 1988
Courtesy Quintard Taylor Collection

Basic Encyclopedia Entry Guidelines.

Revised June 1, 2024

1) Each encyclopedia entry should be approximately 500 to 600 words in total (including title, sources, contributor information, etc.).  Always put the significance of the person, event, or organization you are writing on in the first sentence of your entry, e.g., John Smith, the first African American elected to Congress from Idaho, was born in Pocatello in 1953.

2)  Each entry must be your original work.  Do not copy information from other websites such as Wikipedia.  You should, however, review Wikipedia and similar websites to see what has previously been written on your subject.  Consult a variety of text and internet sources.  Even when you are citing your own work as the major source, please submit your entry with at least two additional text or internet sources.    

3) Avoid “editorial comments” or information that cannot be verified in your entry such as “her career was destroyed by white racism” or “he was the greatest athlete, musician, artist, etc., of all time.”  Be precise and specific.  You have only a few words to describe the individual you are profiling.  Use those words carefully and wisely to discuss the person’s history including where he or she was born, the names of parents, where he/she attended college, and his or her accomplishments and significance.  If the individual was married, mention the name of the spouse and whether the couple had children.  Do not use your entry as a forum to provide your opinion of the person’s life, work, or historical significance. 

No encyclopedia entry may be less than 400 words unless specifically approved by the editors.  A short, precise, accurate entry, however, is far superior to a 600 word entry filled with editorial comments, jargon, and vague declarations designed primarily to meet the word count.

4)  Each entry of an individual should have her or his birth date and death in the title, e.g., Jane Tyler Smith (1918-1957). If the individual is known by another name you should write: Jane Smith/Stagecoach Jane.  Be sure to include the name in the entry title that best identifies the individual and that lends itself to precise searches on the web, e.g., Jane Tyler Smith rather than simply Jane Smith. If there is no middle name, list the middle initial.

Full titles of organizations should be used the first time the organization appears in your entry, e.g., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When the organization is referenced a second time, NAACP is sufficient.  Events should be titled as follows, The Omaha Courthouse Riot, 1919. Concepts should be titled as follows: Pan-Africanism.

5)  Please provide at least three sources (books, articles, or Internet entries) including your own work when applicable.  When citing website or Internet sources including articles from printed journals now found online, be sure to list the author’s name, the title of the article, the title of the publication and its date, then list its URL.  NEVER list an URL as your complete citation.  If you are citing a website source be sure the URL is working so that the reader can click on to be taken directly to the sources you used.  In other words, make sure the links work before you submit your entry.  

All sources will appear on your entry just above your name and affiliation which we call your “signature.” Remember, ideally you should have no more than three sources.  Think of these sources as the places where you found the best information on your subject as well as sites for additional information on the persons or events profiled. They are not “endnotes” or citations for your entry text.  

6)  Each entry should follow our standard website style.  That means the entry title is in bold type at the left margin with only the first letter of the name capitalized, followed by relevant dates.  For example: John Smith (1830-1890). Your paragraphs should not be indented.  Instead there should be a single line separating each paragraph.  

Please italicize book titles, movie or film titles, and album or CD titles in your text.  The names of individual songs, for example, The Temptations’ “My Girl” should be in quotation marks

You should italicize only the book title or journal title in your sources. The following examples are written in the style appropriate for the encyclopedia.

For Books:
John Smith, Black History (New York: New Publishing Company, 1999).  

For Articles:
John Smith, “Article in Journal,” Journal Title 54:2 (Fall 2004)

For Websites:
John Smith, “The History of History,” Journal of History, March 1999http://www.JournalofHistory/blackhistory.comIf you cite websites, make sure the link works before you submit your entry. 

There should always be a semicolon between citations, e.g.,John Smith, Black History in the West (New York: New Publishing Company, 1999); John Smith, “Article in Journal,” Journal Title 54:2 (Fall 2004).

7) Always spell out the name of an organization/political entity when it is used for the first time in an entry.  For the NAACP, for example, spell out the name of the organization followed by the initials in parentheses, e.g., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  For all subsequent references in the entry, NAACP is appropriate. 

Remember, visitors are from around the world.  Do not assume that they will automatically know abbreviations which are generally familiar to us.  Do not use state initials such as KY for Kentucky, for example.  Spell out the name of the state each time it is used in the entry.

8) Please submit the entry in a Word file.  Single space your entry and be sure to include your name and your institutional affiliation, e.g., college, museum, public school, or historical society at the end of each profile you write.  If you do not wish to list an affiliation with any organization or institution, you will be listed as “Independent Historian” in that space unless you instruct otherwise.


John Smith

University of Washington, Seattle    

9) Although there will be copy-editing, please do your best to provide an entry that is free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors.

10) Contributors are required to provide a photo of the subject of their entry.  Please send the most interesting image as a jpeg.  If you have not already obtained permission to use the image (our preference) be sure to include the copyright information so that we can request permission.  Most images taken before 1926 are in the public domain as are images from the federal government (The Library of Congress or the National Archives, for example).  If you are unsure, always check to determine the copyright.  

 11)  You are required to provide a brief biography of yourself (no more than 200 words).  Send in your own biography in a Word file.  Your bio will appear on your bio page on BlackPast and will be linked to every encyclopedia entry or article you contribute.    

12)  Send in your personal photo separately as a jpeg.  It must be a head and shoulders shot NOT a full or half body image.  Although we prefer color, the photo can be in black and white.  It must be at least 100 kb so that the image is large enough to be cropped while still showing clearly on the website.  Do not use cell phone images or send in blurry, “soft focus,” or glamour shot images as they are not professionally acceptable.  Avoid cropped images that show part of someone else, images where your face is partly hidden by hats, shades, scarves, etc., images taken in your car, bedroom, at the swimming pool, at the gym, with your relatives, etc.  Such images are inappropriate for  A “head shot” with you looking straight ahead is appropriate.  

Please send the photo and bio before you submit your first entry.

13) If your bio changes because you move, graduate, or switch institutional affiliation, please let the website staff know as soon as possible. We suggest you update your bio annually to reflect any changes in your status.  

Thank you for agreeing to write for BlackPast (