Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP)

 Writer's Guidelines for The Next STEP  

The Next STEP is a newsletter of the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP).
For more information, see
For the index to previous issues, see

Do you have a story idea that you think would interest our readers? Or would you like to write stories for our newsletter?

If so, we invite you to contact us!

We welcome articles and article ideas from the community!

(1) If you just want to share your idea, email it to our editor at STEP[at]

* This might be a news item, question, alternative technique, topic idea, or a local success story.

* It's great if you can include any key supporting information - what is the source of the article, who do we contact for information about the project, etc. This makes it easy for us to move into action.

* We will acknowledge receipt of your email and consider it for publication.

* If you have a question or problem that you're trying to solve, please note that we will let you know if we have the answer on-hand, but otherwise we have limited resources and are unable to do research for individuals. You can look for more information on this website And stay tuned to future issues to see if we cover your topic.

(2) If you want to write an article for us, email your interest and/or story idea(s) to our editor at STEP[at]

* We love to include new voices and different perspectives. It doesn't take too much time to write these articles. They're short, and you can help others, spread your information, and be visible in the community.

* You can suggest article ideas or look at our list of ideas below to see ones that strike your interest. Or let us know that you're interested and we can talk about topic areas that might be fun for you and meet our needs.

* Once you email your interest, we will contact you to talk further.

* IMPORTANT: Please get our ok before working on an article for us, so you won't be disappointed if it doesn't fit our needs.

* You might find it helpful to review the information below, which describes our periodical, the style of our articles - and includes a list of topic ideas from our readers, to inspire you!

Thank you for your interest in participating in this community project for a healthier world for everyone!

The Editorial Team of The Next STEP


Here is more information about The Next STEP newsletter, including about our process, style, and story ideas. We hope this information is helpful to you and answers most questions. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask!

STEP is a project of the City of Sebastopol, produced by local volunteers as a contribution to our community. We produce a 2-page newsletter, The Next STEP (TNS), which is distributed in all City of Sebastopol water bills. TNS educates people about the risks of common household toxics and what the less-toxic alternatives are. Our mission is to reduce local use of, and exposure to, toxics. We also distribute the newsletter on the web and by email (PDF). We're now entering our seventeenth year of this exciting and innovative project. For more information, including back issues, see All articles are written on a volunteer basis, to contribute towards a better world for all.

The Next STEP is produced 6 times a year. The issues are Jan/Feb, March/April, May/June, July/Aug, Sept/Oct, and Nov/Dec. Our production month is the month before - e.g., Feb, April, June, Aug, Oct, and Dec. Get us your ideas by the first week of that month. We go final about mid-month. If a topic is timely and relevant, we can sometimes fit it in closer to the deadline.

TNS is mailed in water bills to reach most City of Sebastopol residents. It's great to be able to talk to a mainstream audience - and this is an important part of our style. We want to bring mainstream people useful information about toxics issues.

A key factor is our limited space. We have one double-sided page, which is about 1.5 pages of space, after graphics, etc. So articles are short! A typical article is about 250 words. We often have shorter information boxes, announcements, and quick information (50-150 words). We sometimes have feature articles on key topics that are longer, say 500 words, with 800 words being quite long.


Get the readers' attention quickly

People are getting this in their mail and are busy. We like to start with a friendly introduction that connects to people's daily lives and concerns. The first paragraph brings them in, lets them know something matters, and offers some benefit for them to read on. "Did you know that this product you use daily is toxic? ... Did you know that you can solve this problem without toxics?" If you have a fun catchy title, that's great too!

Use language that is friendly and direct, while professional and accurate

We like to talk in a way that's friendly, helpful, and on purpose - so people feel that they can relate while getting the information they need. It's also important to us to keep a level of accuracy that keeps the skeptics satisfied, while avoiding writing that feels formal or scholarly.

Offer helpful actions that people can do

We prefer not to give a problem without at least mentioning a solution. What actions can people do? What are the alternatives? What's the next step they could take, the phone number or the website, the exact ingredients? Give people enough information to take action or get more information. And indicate the benefits of the alternative - when it's cheaper, easier, prettier - because some people think you need toxics for those outcomes, when usually you don't.

Be inspiring - "you can do it, and it's worth doing"

Even when we bring up important negative information, we seek to express it in a positive constructive way. We face the truth, but don't want to leave people just feeling depressed. Be cheerful while also realistic about people's real lives.

Stay accessible to a mainstream audience

We avoid positioning that fractures conversation and connection. We feel that people of all political stripes can find common ground on key issues, such as having a safe and healthy community. We seek to meet at that common ground, while gently introducing people to ideas they might not find in mainstream press. Therefore we never demonize pesticide users - the approach of "Did you know...?" avoids that. And we don't demonize nature - this is just about managing our relationship with it.

Focus on serving the reader

You can talk in third person, reporting about a situation; second person, letting the reader know what you (the reader) can do; or first person, if you want to share your experience about using toxics or alternatives. Whatever the style, focus on being factual and helpful to the reader. We're not writing opinion pieces unsupported by facts.

Give source information

We like to include source information when possible - to give credit to others'work, a way for readers to get more information, and credibility that our information is factually supported. If much of your article's information is from a few sources, you can just list the website or the book name and author at the end.

No advertising

Our goal is to provide information that empowers constructive action. Because we're a City publication, we don't want articles that feel like advertising. However, you can do an article that gives good information and have a brief bio paragraph at the end that briefly describes your activities and gives contact information.

Our focus is on toxics and alternatives in all areas of our lives, including gardening, housecleaning, building maintenance, and green building. Many of the article ideas listed below are from our readers, and we like to do articles that serve our readers' needs.

To see what we've covered in the past - and consider how your idea might relate to that - see our article index at


Toxics information

"Did you know that this product you use daily is toxic? Here's the evidence of the specific harm it can do." It's ideal if you can end with a mention of alternatives and/or how to get more information.

Alternatives information

"This method or material is a great alternative approach to avoid toxics." It's great if you can start describing the usual approach is and how it's toxic, then give the underlying idea/principles of the alternative, then specific examples of its use. This takes people into action!

News updates

What's going on in our community (future or past) that relates to toxics? This can include reports of events, government policies, court rulings, specific action alerts, etc.

Success stores

People connect to stories of success. We'd love to offer more examples of people or groups who successfully reduced their use of toxics and/or who use alternatives, inside or outside, including schools, businesses, groups, or individuals, especially in Sebastopol. What did they do and how did they do it? Give people the experience of how this less-toxic approach is successful and beneficial for this person (fun, costs less, kids can play in yard, etc.). For schools, we're also interested if these activities and information are integrated into school curriculum.

We like to include topics that connect with the issues that people are having at that time. This can relate to seasons; holidays; going back to school; and gardening activities. What toxics do people use at that time of year, and what are the alternatives? What actions can people do to avoid needing to use toxics (e.g., putting plants in the right place at the start). Here are some ideas we've thought of - we invite you to think of more!


Fresh start, resolutions - rainy season, ants


Starting your garden right - slugs - spring cleaning


Outdoor activities and pests. Maintaining garden.


Harvest and setting up your winter garden


Back to school





How to clean these without toxics: sinks; toilets; hardwater stains; and teacups


Organic ways to deal with peach leaf curl?


Boric acid. Why it's better. How it works. Some common applications.

Safe home

Information on toxics in building materials and home furnishings, and alternatives

Urban issues

What are the rules if my landlord wants to spray? (We can give you leads on this one.) What rights do we have to intervene in a neighbor's use of toxics?

Examples of local people using alternatives, including individuals, schools and businesses

See description above in "Success Stories," under Common Formats.

Here are some story ideas, to stir your inspiration. These are from our surveys of topics readers would like us to cover.


Description of the risks of a common toxic, with mention of alternatives. List of most common toxics and related level of health risk.

Handling weeds

Crabgrass/Bermuda grass. Thistles. Blackberry plants, permanently. Weed management in gravel driveway (not garden).

Handling insects/animals

Ant invasions in house after rain. Environment friendly ant stakes for outside. Dealing with a nest of yellow jackets, or finding a way to live with them. Dealing with termites, including in-depth on nontoxic treatments. Fleas and ticks. Keeping out and managing or getting rid of snails, slugs, and earwigs in garden. Methods that are as effective time-efficient and economical as snail bait, ant traps, and systemics. Natural pesticides for controlling gophers - can we use gopher snakes?

Maintaining a household

How to kill moss on roof. A list of commonly-used household products eg. toilet bowl cleaners, and alternatives. Info on natural cleaners and ingredients. More effective tips re: stains, and removing scum in bathroom. Review of best cleaning products & where to buy. Dishwashing Liquids/Dishwasher soap - what's less toxic or alternatives. Product to clean wood floors and air spray for household odors. More info in disinfecting. Whitening agent for old porcelain sink. Shampoo recipes.


Companion planting. Compatible plants esp. for shade to reduce pests/snails. Eliminate/natural control of coddling moth from apple trees. Keeping roses healthy - getting rid of aphids, leaf curl & mites. How to keep pests from planter boxes - step by step instructions - will a copper rim work?, etc. Information on shade trees for street areas - deep roots - little mess etc.

Alternatives, general

Info on natural/good pesticides/alternatives. Ideas/tips on things we might already have on the shelf. Examples of healthier products for pest problems. Formulas of natural solutions. Non-toxic household repairs stuff, like oils for butcher block counter top conditioning or non-petroleum grease for squeaky hinges, etc.

Toxics disposal

Where and when do we get rid of toxics. Schedule for toxic waste pickup. More help in special recycling locations - flourescent tubes and electronic equipment.

Green building

How cities can support alternative building practices! [NOTE: Perhaps look at SF's approach for ideas?] Toxics in construction and how to minimize/eliminate effect. More details about what to do w/ leftover paint. Pressure & related wood toxics. [NOTE: This also relates to setting up garden boxes and rails. The real issue here is that there are few good alternatives.]

Toxics and the environment

Examples of effects of toxics on the environment. Info on the Laguna watershed & how what we do in our driveways and yards affects it. How toxics contaminate our groundwater & local ecosystems [NOTE: This is valuable for us to do, since we are in the water bill, our initial reason for being. See article we did in issue III/4, p2, on water into ecosystems. We're open to new information/angle on this.]

STEP's mission is to support Sebastopol citizens in reducing their toxic use and exposure,
creating a healthier and safer Sebastopol for everyone.

Newsletter Editor and Layout: Patricia Dines

Newsletter Editorial Team: Patricia Dines and Jim Gleaves

Newsletter Design Concept and Logo Design: Lyn Bouguereau

STEP Founders: Michael Black, Patricia Dines, Rebecca Dwan, Jeff Edelheit, Nan Fuchs, Craig Litwin, and Larry Robinson.

STEP, P. O. Box 1776, Sebastopol CA 95473


This page is on the Community Action Publications (CAP) website because we participate in and support the STEP program and want to make additional information available about its activities.

For more information about organics and other alternatives to toxics, see our Toxics and Alternatives Resources Page.

For information about Sonoma County and area toxics, organics, and environmental and political information and action, see our Sonoma County Resources Page.

Information courtesy of:

"Information Empowering Action for a Better World"


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and supports the health and well-being of yourself,
your family, our community, and our world.
If it is, please let us know. It makes us happy to hear!

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to our community, for our planet!

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Page last updated 2/14/17.