Monday, February 17, 2014

The Style Guide

Do you ever consider how your favorite magazines and newspapers get their voice? Each is unique, the New York Times doesn't read like the Los Angeles Times, or the Telegraph.  The Economist reads like no other newspaper on Earth.  Vogue doesn't sound like Allure, although they cover the same ground.  They read the way they do because of their style guides.

As perhaps you remember from your high school Strunk and White "The Elements of Style" a style guide is a writer's road map to good usage.   Each news source, as well as many professional organizations and corporations codify how they will express themselves in print.  The intent is to disguise the author's voice so that the publication speaks with one voice.  

If you enjoy words, many style guides are on-line and make a great read.  My favorite, perhaps due to the newspaper being my favorite read is the Economist Style Guide.  The first paragraph from the Introduction explains their philosophy.

"The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible. Keep in mind George Orwell's six elementary rules ("Politics and the English Language", 1946):
  1. Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
  4. Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm)."
A newcomer is BuzzFeed.   "Our perspective reflects that of the internet at large, which is why we hope other sites and organizations across the web will find these guidelines useful. This style guide will be updated regularly to ensure it remains relevant and responds accordingly to changes in language and common, casual usage."

The Buzzfeed style guide is wonderfully inconsistent, and covers territory adults rarely dwell but still it is an enjoyable read and your children may be impressed what you've learned. regularly publishes a list of useful on-line guides.  Their criteria for a useful guide is, is it "sensible".  Their list of the top English language style guides is here. They all make for fun reading.



GSL said...

Very surprised to see The Chicago Manual of Style not listed as I've often seen prominant writer's and editors mention it as their bible. I have the CMOS 15th Edition and of course the Struck and White.

Janet said...

I echo GSL; I'm a writer and copy editor, and The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is what all major publishing houses and most consumer magazines use. CMS and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

I've never heard that a style guide was intended to muffle an individual writer's voice; instead it's intent is to make the output (magazine/book) consistent in the way it treats things like capitalization. My first copy chief at Oxford University Press underscored the need for consistency---it prevents confusion and if you've made a mistake, it's easier to correct.

I use the CMS 16th edition. And I love spending time with Fowler's, although he's considered old fashioned.

LLP said...

I liked a book entitled "Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies." CMS, S&W... all have their place. Fun to see difference of opinion. Maybe one's preference for "style" rules of grammar reflect bone's taste in other subjects with "rules"?