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Guidelines for Authors: Public Roads Magazine

Interested in Writing for Public Roads?

Check out Writing for Public Roads: How-To Guide! It describes the many available options for writing the magazine and the timelines for submitting content. From full-length feature articles to 200-word summaries, Public Roads has an option that fits the information you want to share.

Writing for Public Roads: How-To Guide (PDF)

For additional information on story idea submissions and general inquiries, see Public Roads Frequently Asked Questions.

Are you ready to write for Public Roads? You can reach us at!

Writing Guidelines and Tips

Public Roads follows a standard procedure in which story idea proposals are presented to the Editorial Board for review and comment. Following approval by the Board, a member of the Public Roads editorial team will help support you through the process, including scheduling your article for a future issue of the magazine.

Once the Public Roads editorial team has scheduled your content, check out the following pointers on drafting your article as well as detailed guidelines for submitting photos and other supporting visuals.

Public Roads Style

Keep the following style pointers in mind as you are writing content for Public Roads.

  • To the extent possible, use plain English and define uncommon terminology. (See for more information.)
  • Write your content in the third person.
  • Write for an educated transportation audience rather than the public, but recognize that not all readers will be familiar with your specific area of transportation expertise. The "angle" you might use for a work zone article, for example, would not focus on educating readers about the dangers in work zones. Instead it would focus on how agencies can set up safe work zones that enable motorists to navigate through them to reduce congestion and danger.
  • Avoid using private company, contractor, and/or product names whenever possible; these mentions could be interpreted as an endorsement. Instead, discuss any technology/innovations in general terms. For example, use drywall instead of Sheetrock.

Article Outline and Structure

If you are writing a feature article, prepare an outline and submit it to the Public Roads editorial team for review and comment to help ensure that your article will touch on the main points and meet its objectives. If your article has more than one author (maximum of four), all coauthors should agree on a final outline before writing begins.

The following pointers may be helpful as you begin to outline your article.

  • Establish the article's objectives. Why do you want to publish the article, and why would the Public Roads audience want to read it? What action do you want the audience to take after reading the article?
  • How would you summarize what you want to say in 30 seconds? This is your main message. This 30-second "sound bite" can become the basis for the article's introduction (the "lede").
  • How do you envision the article's beginning, middle, and end? Structure the article so that it is arranged in a clear, concise, and logical order.
  • Use a "problem/solution" format for the subject matter and tone of your article. Discuss the problem and mention the solution in the introduction to enable managers and senior officials to learn the gist of the article at a glance.
    • What problem(s) or issue(s) does the article discuss?
    • What solution(s)—technology, program, policy, strategy, approach—will help address the problem(s) or issue(s)?
  • Where appropriate, discuss strategies and activities that could benefit other transportation organizations and State departments of transportation (DOTs). Consider including many or most of the following elements:
    • National or regional versus State-specific problems/solutions.
    • The process by which a researcher or agency decided on a specific approach.
    • Cost, time, and labor efficiency.
    • Impacts on safety, operations, infrastructure, congestion, and environment.
    • Timeline.
    • Interagency coordination.
    • Contract changes and incentives.
    • Special or innovative equipment, technologies, or strategies used.
    • Community participation and communications.

Quotations from Experts

Quotations can support your message. The following pointers are helpful to consider as you use quotations to enhance your article.

  • For a feature article, include direct quotations from two to four sources, including reports, publications, and individuals who can provide diverse perspectives and comments to support the ideas and themes in the article.
  • Do not include quotes from the bylined author or coauthors. (It would sound awkward to have authors talking about themselves in the third person.)
  • Use quotations that are problem/solution oriented rather than opinion or politically oriented. Public Roads prefers not to publish opinion statements that cannot be substantiated by corroborative resources. Minimize the use of unsubstantiated opinion statements. When it is necessary to use such a statement, attribute it to a reputable, published source or to a speaker who agrees to be quoted; however, note that the quote may be removed from the article.
  • Provide a written quote approval (an email is fine) from each person quoted in the article, including high-level transportation officials, or provide a Web address of the quoted source for verification. If quote is extracted from a printed source, you may also send a copy of the document for verification. Forward all quote approvals to the Public Roads editorial team.

References and Fact-Checking

Public Roads readers trust the magazine as a reliable, accurate source of information. Follow the tips below to attribute information and facilitate fact-checking of references in your article.

  • Credit facts and statistics to appropriate sources, preferably a U.S. Government agency or report, and include a reference directly in the body of the article text, including the name of the study or report if applicable.
  • Use an abbreviated form for in-text citations, including the name of the organization that published the material (e.g., "According to FHWA's Corporate Management Plan" or "the Indiana DOT How to Construct a Highway in 20 Days user guide indicates that…"). Do not say, "In a North Carolina study..." Instead, say, "In North Carolina's How to Build a Highway in 90 Days study…"
  • For all cited or referenced facts, statistics, reports, etc., please provide exact Web addresses (where available) to facilitate fact-checking and verification of sources. If a Web address is unavailable, be prepared to fax or scan and email a PDF of the appropriate page with surrounding content to the editor when requested. Because Web pages are frequently overwritten with new material, it is a best practice to save a PDF or hard copy of any websites that you reference to support your article. That way, you will be prepared in case a question arises before or after publication of your article. If information cannot be verified, the Public Roads editorial team will suggest that you recast your text or remove the unverifiable information.
  • Check the accuracy and spelling of all organizational names, program and publication names, and trademark and service marks. If an editor/fact-checker cannot easily locate the information online, you may be asked to provide a specific Web address, a PDF scan of the source material, or other documentation for verification of accuracy.

Note: Public Roads does not print references (except in the abbreviated, in-text format indicated earlier), endnotes, or footnotes in the magazine. (However, at an author's request, references may be posted in the online version of Public Roads.)

Photos and Other Visuals

Public Roads aims to present content in a visually engaging way. To engage readers, be sure to submit visual content along with your text. Follow the tips below as you select photos and other supporting visuals.

  • For a feature article, provide at least six to eight high-resolution digital photos or graphics measuring at least 4 by 6 inches each at 300 dots per inch (dpi).
    • Please provide original source files, either in JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) or Tagged Image Format (TIF) format, and not embedded in Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint®. For any images of publication covers, please send original PDF files.
    • Note that images pulled from official U.S. Government websites are not typically the appropriate resolution for use in magazine publishing. When shooting digital photos, ensure that the camera is set to take shots at the highest resolution possible.
    • The images that you provide should be interesting to view; support and illustrate the ideas, themes, and activities referenced in the article; and, whenever possible, show people in action. Ensure that all visuals show safe and appropriate actions, such as workers who are wearing hardhats and safety vests and bicyclists wearing helmets while riding.
    • If you submit photos for consideration as front and/or back covers, they should be at least 8.5 by 11 inches and vertically oriented.
  • Include detailed captions for all visuals, including photos, figures, illustrations, graphs, maps, charts, etc., that explain what is shown and clearly identify the relevance of the visuals to the subject matter of the article. These will be printed to the side of the image.
  • Keep 508 compliance in mind. (See for more information.)
    • In addition to captions for the printed version of Public Roads, submit alternative text (i.e., 508-compliant) captions to make the images accessible for online readers using assistive technology.
    • Ensure that all graphs and tables have clearly marked labels and refrain from using color as the only differentiator of information. If color is critical to the data in the graphic, please ensure images are appropriately labeled and captions correspond to the labeling.
  • Identify ownership of the image and obtain permission for all copyrighted content.
    • Provide an appropriate photo attribution (photographer's name and/or company) or source (Government agency name) for all visuals.
    • Obtain permission to use any copyrighted material before your text goes into layout. A Usage Request Form-Copyrighted Material document must be completed for each non-USDOT or FHWA image that will be used in layout. The form is available at or from the Public Roads editorial team. If, for any reason, that form cannot be completed, you can obtain permission via email using the following language and forward the email permission to the Public Roads editorial team for their records:
      1. How we can use it (e.g., one time or unlimited use) and any restrictions:
      2. Attribution (such as): © 2019 Florida Department of Transportation
      3. The name and contact information of the person granting permission:
      4. This paragraph:

        I represent that I have authority to grant the requested permission, and hereby grant to the U.S. Government, and others acting on its behalf, a paid-up, nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license in using the copyrighted image in the manner indicated in the attachment to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and perform publicly and display publicly by or on behalf of the U.S. Government.

  • Obtain model releases for all images that include recognizable individuals who are not USDOT Federal employees. Please include a signed model release from the individual(s) providing permission to print the image. The form is available at or from the Public Roads editorial team.

FHWA Technical and Policy Review

Public Roads feature articles undergo a formal technical and policy review involving staff from FHWA headquarters, the Resource Center, and division offices in all States discussed in the article. The goal is to ensure that statements in the article are technically accurate and do not contradict official FHWA policies at the national or State level. The Public Roads editorial team will coordinate this review for you and share any reviewer comments with you to be addressed.

Questions? You can reach us at!

For more information, contact:

TaMara McCrae
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
Office of Corporate Research, Technology, and Innovation Management
6300 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101
United States