Story: Te Ara – a history

Page 7. Writing and editing

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Te Ara entries are a first port of call for anyone interested in the topics they cover. They are essentially an overview and contain the most salient and up-to-date information required for a good understanding of the subject. Visual resources provide more details, and links to further, more in-depth sources are given.

The level of detail varies between entries, but all are supported by solid research, mainly using secondary sources. In cases where topics did not have much secondary literature, primary research was necessary, so Te Ara entries broke new ground. Examples were the ‘Pets’ and ‘Anniversaries’ entries.


All entries are written in plain, authoritative English. Simple words are preferred over complex ones to cater for a general audience. Many of the entries cover complicated topics, and Te Ara makes them accessible to non-experts.

Plain English suits Te Ara’s website format. Entries are divided into pages (known as subentries) of up to 700 words, and these pages are divided by clear subheadings. This format makes the text easy to read on screen.

Topic boxes

All Te Ara entries have topic boxes (of which this is one), which sit alongside the main text of an entry. They contain quirky and funny information, or something relevant to the topic but not needed in the main text. Suitable topic-box stories were precious, and writers seized upon potential gems during the research process.


Entries have been written by in-house writers and external experts. In-house writers were employed based on their subject expertise and ability to write about topics simply and clearly.

Science experts were employed to work on the themes Earth, Sea and Sky, The Bush and The Settled Landscape (2004–7), while historians worked on the Economy and the City, Social Connections, Government and Nation, Daily Life, Sport and Recreation, and Creative and Intellectual Life themes (2007–14).

Writers’ meetings

Every couple of weeks Te Ara writers got together to discuss the entries they were working on, to solicit suggestions and solve problems. The collective knowledge of the writers was considerable and diverse, and meetings were typically full of good suggestions. Many eyes pored over Te Ara entries before they were published.

In-house writers usually chose which entries they worked on, unless it was obvious that a topic should be covered by an outside person with extensive expertise. Expert authors lend extra credibility to entries – well-known authors include former prime minister and constitutional law expert Geoffrey Palmer, historians James Belich, Judith Binney and Ranginui Walker, and scientist Trevor Worthy. All externally written entries were checked by in-house writers for accuracy and completeness and to ensure consistency of style.


Te Ara’s small team of editors were employed for their ability to edit for the web, general knowledge, attention to detail and technical facility. Editors copy-edited entries and captions for flow and sense, ensuring that they were written in clear, accessible, plain English and that they conformed to Te Ara house style. The editors made sure that entries were grammatically correct and free of typos and spelling mistakes, and that Māori words were correctly macronised.

The case of the missing capitals

When draft entries were sent to external authors for review, there were many complaints about the lack of capitalisation of book and film titles. A lower-case style was adopted in Te Ara to be consistent with the house style of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography. That style was drawn up by the dictionary’s original copy-editor, Brigid Pike. She based her decision on the Chicago manual of style’s preference for minimising capitals in titles of persons and institutions, which was then extended to bibliographical style.

These staff also wrote the blurbs and short stories which introduce each entry. The blurb is a teaser intended to whet a reader’s appetite; the short story is a condensed version of the entry. Written in simple language, it is aimed at younger users or readers for whom English is a second language – or those who simply want a quick overview of a topic.

Editors worked on not only Te Ara entries and accompanying captions, but also Te Ara’s blog Signposts, leaflets, invitations, books, other material for the site, and the text components of resources produced in-house such as maps, diagrams and graphs.

They were also responsible for ‘production’ – uploading material to and negotiating the site’s content management system. They made corrections and updates to entries as needed, both during the pre-publication review period and after publication.

How to cite this page:

the Te Ara team, 'Te Ara – a history - Writing and editing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 May 2022)