Doing It in Style Guides
After a period of time at the start-up for whom I work, I’ve decided it’s time to create a style guide. With the revenue sugarplums dancing in our heads, maybe I can convince the assorted VPs of our need to hire a second technical writer eventually. A style guide would help break in, or maybe just break, the untamed new person. No longer would he or she struggle against the bridle of “Do it because I do it that way.” The style guide offers me the cover of “Do it because it’s in the style guide” (because I do it that way and put it in the style guide that way). Too much exposure to the marketers, and suddenly I am crafty.
So, instead of relying upon guidance from previous employers, which meant falling into the “Do it because it’s in the style guide” (because I do it that way because all of my previous employers did it that way, so I put it in the style guide that way) trap, I struck out to research style guides, delving into the obscure and Byzantine style guides developed by true geniuses in their fields.
Some of the results startled me.
Ever had to look over a press release devised by your marketing department? Or worse, have you seen them in print and wondered what fluke or computer virus introduced random capitalization into their text? It’s no fluke. Here’s the exact rule, courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Style Guide for Prose Writers:
4.5 proper Capitalization in sentences or Fragments
When Writing, use Judiciously your friend the Capital Letter to add emphasis to Common nouns, adjectives, and verbs to discriminate and add Emphasis to Key Concepts.
Before I discovered this, I had suspected I uncovered an instance of someone hacking apart a sentence devised with the camelBackNotationMethod, favored by developers for method and attribute names. Little did I know it was codified! Forget the bold and italics offered by modern convenience when you have the Capital letter.
Sometimes, unfortunately often when proofreading my own work, I come across that sentence that features not only a dangling modifier, but a dangling everything. You know, the sort of
I usually expect the writer has been deflected from his or her duty, whether a subject matter expert had to actually write some software, a salesman had to actually cold-call a potential client, or an overworked technical writer actually had to play defense in the important mid-morning foosball game. I understand how hard it can be to pick up where you left off, if you can even remember that you left off in the first place. So I often excused the offender with a pointed bit of Nogglesque humor that has alienated me from peers everywhere. That is, however, until I encountered the Official Manual of William Carlos Williams Style:
Sentences and pro
So much depends
upon the brea
king point of your sentences and lines.
ious use of improper grammatic
al constructions lends
greater reader comprehension as
the greater reader paus
es to ponder
As you can see, people who prefer this style guide want their sentences to wander off down the misty street like the end of a noir movie. This style empowers the end reader with more questions than answers, and formulating questions starts the learning process. A bit heady for me personally, but the style exists, and resides in 10 point Helvetica somewhere.
I even found the software developer’s favorite guide, the Elements of Riboflavin Style. The popular Riboflavin Style of writing is that to include the verb “to be” two times each to be clearer. Before this, I assumed it was weak writing, but now I know that the Riboflavin Style is officially sanctioned and that it leads to a healthy manual metabolism and mucous membranes in the gizzard.
My research yielded a harvest more fruity than my wildest imaginings. Essentially, I can carve my own foibles, such as overuse of the word “Judicious” just because it sounds like a combination of Judicial and Delicious, into the style guide. Once I compose it, I can rest assured the style guide will stand, a HumaBrian Stone for the masses, or for the technical writer or intern I can acquire. The style guide will exist not just for now, but for all time, or at least until half way through my farewell luncheon, or until someone has a better idea.