Standards & Guidelines: An Effective Tool for Researchers and think tanks

[Editor’s note: This post was written by Bhavna Sharma, Associate, Communication and Policy Engagement, and Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head Communication and Policy Engagement at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP).]



In most Think Tanks and research organisations, researchers generally focus on conducting research, analysing data and writing reports. Researchers create technical data which is rich and based on evidences, however, they face a setback when they need to address issues like consistency, readability, presentation, use of effective images to name a few.

In most organisations there are established processes and systems to aid researchers to write effectively. It is well-known that for a research organisation results need to be communicated effectively to various stakeholders and intended audience. These outputs could be reports, Policy Briefs, and Opinion article to name a few.

As a result, these outputs serve as a medium of communicating important information, which may provide suggested solutions for policy makers on matters of great importance.

Audience Perspective

Every researcher requires to understand the expectation of an audience. This involves the need for the document, background of the audience, what does the audience want to read etc. Most important, the researcher has to ensure that the audience should be able to read the output without faltering, reading it twice for a better understanding, stopping to recollect  information-reading should be made smooth and easy. How does one tackle this?

To address the above, several organisations have introduced Standards & Guidelines, Templates, glossaries to help bring in consistency, address inaccuracies in grammar and readability issues and most important present information in simple and well-structured manner.

At the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) a well-thought of Standards & Guidelines has been published (the 2nd edition was issued this year), several templates have been put in place and we are in the process of creating a glossary.

Standards & Guidelines

There are many popular Standards and Guidelines (S&G) like the APA Manual, Oxford Manual of Style, Microsoft Manual of Style, Chicago Manual of Style to name a few.


At CSTEP we created a Standards and Guidelines to ensure that consistency in style and formatting within a document and across multiple documents is maintained. It also serves as a reference point for multiple authors creating a report.

For example, in case of report writing pertinent to a particular project, the S&G has a set of instructions which allows the author to design their reports and make them more readable and presentable. It concludes the key elements of a report to include the structure of a report, headings, sub-headings, font size, figures, tables, grammar, bibliography etc.

To ensure that it is used well, we conducted a brief workshop to convey the Importance of using “Standards & Guidelines as a Tool”.

A Style Guide

  • Helps authors to focus on research and writing
  • Explains information in a clear and concise manner
  • Helps authors to reflect, review and write
  • Serves as a reference source for multiple authors
  • Saves a lot of time which goes into formatting, e.g. the way a citation should be presented
  • Streamlines the process of writing
  • Brings in consistency, e.g. format, heading style, bullets
  • Most importantly, ensures professionalism by enhancing the image of your organisation 


An S&G provides a strategy for writing a variety of research outputs like reports, technical research papers, articles etc. for various disciplines and applications. These guidelines takes care that the information compiled after a quality research is worth reading. For a research organisation, good and effective communication through written subject can only improve the research quality and status of the organisation. Therefore an S&G is an important factor, which improves the readability and presentation of the work done by a research organisation.


[Editor’s note: For more blog posts on CSTEP’s experience dealing with think tanks’ decisions read Acknowledging a prominent think tank: the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) in India.]

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. hansgutbrod says:

    I think this is a very good idea, and can greatly simplify things. What we did, in the past, was to identify a role model that did similar work, on a much larger scale and with more experience. For us, at the time, it was the Pew Research Centers.

    This then provided a very simple answer, and though we created our internal style guide, we had a default answer whenever someone had a question on how report should look:
    A) Look at our style guide, and if that doesn’t cover it
    B) check out how Pew does it.

    That’s a simple and very robust approach, and can save huge amounts of work internally. And why not? If there is a think tank spending more than $30 million per year, let them innovate for you.

    Thanks again for this post!

  2. Annapoorna says:

    Dear Hans, Thanks for your comments. Often organisations/Think Tanks who publish several types of reports, spend a lot of time on formatting, brining in consistency, etc. So we identified the needs and the lacunae that the researchers faced while writing. based on this, we brought out a customised Standards & Guidelines.

  3. Kneeta says:

    Very good idea, and not just for Think Tanks. Do style guides cover communication by email as well?
    Thanks for the post.

  4. Annapoorna says:

    No, but this can be included in the S & G. however, at CSTEP, we have defined some pointers for email etiquette, with reference to addressing some one, effectively using the cc option and the Subject Line, when to use attachments and when not to. I can share it with you if you like.

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