Style Guides and Writing Today Part 1

Category: Tech Writer

One of the most overlooked contributions of the Internet to the world today is the freedom to write and publish. Everyone now has the opportunity to write and share their stories and ideas to the world. Two decades ago, would-be writers shyly kept a sheaf of yellow pad with unintelligible scribbles shared only to their nearest and dearest who would never LOL(sic) at their efforts at a short story or poem. Today, writing is no longer categorized to feature/creative and technical writing. Thanks to Twitter, Amazon Kindle Direct, Smashwords, blogs, e-mails, websites and yes, worldwide access to every imaginable type of code, everyone is emboldened to clack/tap away at a keyboard or touchscreen and in milliseconds find their words/code published and readily available to the world.

In this day and age of 140 character "tweets", marketing material composed of HTML5, Flash, and PHP, freely editable wikis, and articles composed mostly of 600x400 PNGs or JPEGs, what are style guides for? Are these books and guides reserved for the professional or the industry adept? Are they remnants of the golden age of writing back when Encyclopedia Brittanica was beloved and children lugged around several books on their backs instead of a laptop or tablet?

A style guide is one of the best tools of any writer - professional or otherwise. There are style guides specific to an industry, institution or field such as aeronautics, education, publishing, politics and IT. The BBC has separate style guides for BBC Radio and BBC News. National Geographic, Discovery, Novell SUSE and IBM have their internal guides for technical communicators. Microsoft has several style guides for user interface, code and documentation. The bible (and this author's personal favorite) of most publishing professionals is the immortal Chicago Manual of Style, an unwieldy, comprehensive but truly indispensable tome.

The Internet is a fun place to write because it's so easy to shift from one tone to another. The web is a great place to address a different audience daily and writers can be free of any restrictions to tone or voice. For example, Linux articles at Unsolicited are aimed squarely at the Linux enthusiast or novice. Rants about the idiocy of Doc Ock as Superior are for the disgruntled, true and honest Spidey fans. However, the Internet is also a great place to improve rhetoric, grammar and language usage. And a style guide does have its place even in the wild, wild west of the Internet where 7-8 characters and symbols of random text constitute a story or question.

Continued in Style Guides and Writing Today Part 2


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