How to write with style

style

I’ve spent the last three months trying to put together an ultimate Supertext style guide. A super style guide, if you will. And for the most part, I’ve been struggling. So I’m taking a little break to try and figure out exactly what style guides are all about.

A few weeks back, one of our translators got in touch to ask about our use of the 24-hour clock. When I mentioned to her that this was one of the points in the style guide I was putting together, her response was “Good luck with that!” (thanks, Elana!). English is an evolving language, with US and UK spelling battling for ground and new rules contradicting old ones all the time. As I delve deeper into this infinite world of grammatical confusion I’m beginning to realise that a style guide is much more than a list of rules.

More than just “dos and don’ts”

The first chapter of the BBC style guide is “Why does the BBC need a styleguide?” Personally, I was relieved to see that even the BBC had to ask itself this question. And thankfully, they’d thought of an answer: “well written English is easier to understand than poorly written English… This guide is intended as a small contribution to achieving that end.” The Guardian goes a step further to suggest that their style guide is a representation of their values, especially on issues such as gender, race and disabilities. For Supertext, another factor comes into play: our target audience consists of not only native English speakers, but also those who use English as a second language. So clarity is especially important as one cannot assume the audience will be able to correctly interpret mistakes or read between the lines.

Out with the old

A slight digression, but an interesting story broke out a while back about the word “e-mail”. The AP stylebook announced on Twitter that they will now be dropping the hyphen from “e-mail” to “email”. This move was received with a sigh of “finally!” by Mashable, who described the hyphenated form as “antiquated”. The New York Times followed with an editorial on their stance on the matter, namely that they will be keeping the hyphen, thank you very much. Language geeks or not, electronic mail, along with the Internet (or internet) is a word that is used internationally and by everyone, and deserves a discussion, if not a conclusion.

Getting it right

So the Supertext style guide is still in the making, and I’m aiming for a user-friendly, liberal kind of guide that covers more style than grammar, more translation than orthography. Because of the nature of translation, it will probably cover more international aspects than a national newspaper, and I hope to bridge the gap between UK and US English as much as possible. Now the question remains – is it style guide or styleguide?



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