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Things Changed–Is Your Style Guide Up to Date?

While you have been busy working, some of the rules of writing evolved, and the University of Chicago Press released a new Chicago Manual of Style. Take a look at the changes below to determine which ones you need to adopt. Then update your company style guide to be sure everyone is writing consistent, up-to-date pieces.

For this post, I consulted The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), published in September, The Associated Press Stylebook 2017 (AP), Garner’s Modern English Usage (Garner’s), which was published in 2016, and Microsoft Manual of Style (Microsoft), published in 2012.

1. Words with web are no longer capitalized and are sometimes closed up: website, webmaster, webcam, and webcast, but web address and web browser. AP, Garner’s, and Microsoft recommend webpage, but Chicago still prefers the open web page. AP (effective 2016), Microsoft, and Chicago use the lower case web as a short form of World Wide Web, but Garner’s uses Web for that purpose.

2. You can stop capitalizing internet if you follow Chicago—or AP, which changed its approach in 2016. However, Garner’s and Microsoft still capitalize it.

3. The ever-present word email should be lower case and closed up. That’s according to Chicago, AP (effective 2011), and Microsoft. Garner’s lists three versions—E-mail, e-mail, and email—noting that “The unhyphenated email is unsightly, but it might prevail in the end.” (Might? It certainly will!) Other e words are generally not capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence or in a heading, and they are hyphenated: e-book, e-reader, e-commerce, e-form, e-learning.

4. The word voicemail is closed up according to AP (since 2016) and Garner’s. However, Microsoft and Chicago render it open: voice mail. Chicago doesn’t single out voice mail for discussion, but its rules on compound words call for the word to be rendered open.

5. Using they as a singular pronoun has become acceptable in some cases. The Washington Post argued in late 2015: “Allowing they for a gender-nonconforming person is a no-brainer. And once we’ve done that, why not allow it for the most awkward of those he or she situations that have troubled us for so many years?”

AP chimes in on the awkwardness issue. In its 2017 edition, AP states, “They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.” For example, to avoid revealing an individual’s gender, this their is acceptable: “The employee believed their safety could not be guaranteed.”

Chicago now states: “While this usage [they, them, their, and themselves] is accepted in those spheres [speech and informal writing], it is only lately showing signs of gaining acceptance in formal writing, where Chicago recommends avoiding its use. When referring specifically to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun, however, they and its forms are often preferred.”

Garner’s recommends its careful use: “Where it can’t be avoided, resort to it cautiously because some people may doubt your literacy.” And Microsoft advises, “Although . . . they for a singular antecedent is gaining acceptance. . . . Whenever possible, write around the problem.”

Note: The singular they always takes a plural verb, just as you does.

6. Over = more than for quantities. In 2014, AP joined Chicago and Garner’s in accepting over as synonymous with more than. Example: “She has over 20 years of experience.” AP describes over as “acceptable in all uses to indicate greater numerical value.” However, Microsoft still recommends more than for quantities; it uses over “to refer to a position or location above something.”

7. One space—not two! This isn’t a recent change. As far back as 2004, virtually all style guides have dictated one space after end punctuation and colons. If you are still using two, it’s time to adapt. Remember what happened to the dinosaurs.

8. In the 21st century, there’s no reason to render a number both spelled out and in figures—not even in contracts. Consider these redundancies: “You may cancel the contract within three (3) days” and “A deposit of $250 (two hundred fifty dollars) is due upon signing.” In the very old days, numbers were repeated to prevent them from being altered, according to attorney Bryan Garner. And back in the days of fuzzy carbon copies, spelled out numbers were easier to read. Today there’s no need for them.

I shared the changes above with a friend who wrote back: “I prefer eLearning. It still seems an unsettled question.” Not to me! With so many things unsettled in the world, I’m going to defer to the style manuals and get on with my life.

How about you and your editorial team? Do you follow the advice of a well-respected style guide? Or do you go it alone?

If you want to work on your proofreading and punctuating skills, try one of my online self-study courses.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

One comment on “Things Changed–Is Your Style Guide Up to Date?”

  • Dear Lynn,

    I’m not in an editorial team but while reading this, one question kept coming to my mind. How does one chose which style guide to follow? Should I be consistent and follow always the same one?

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