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The Importance of Following a Style Guide

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If you’re involved in any sort of business, you’re bound to create written material that will in some way, shape or form communicate what you’re doing with the rest of the world. To ensure your quality of writing is consistent (especially if you’re dealing with multiple writers and contributors), you need to develop and follow a style guide. If all contributing parties follow the same guide, you avoid sloppiness and irregularity. And no one needs that to distract from the main message you’re trying to convey. With the amount of discrepancies and exceptions within the English language, we need to select the ones that make the most sense to us. And then stick to them.

When developing a writing style guide, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Are you for or against the serial comma?
  • Are you inclined to US, UK or Canadian spelling?
  • How do you prefer to space out your dashes?
  • Do you prefer using contractions like won’t and you’re as opposed to will not and you are?
  • Which dictionary and thesaurus will you use for reference?
  • How do you go about abbreviating words and using acronyms?
  • What’s your stance on capitalization? (Especially pertaining to titles.)
  • How will you write numbers and dates?
  • Will there be one or two spaces after periods?

These questions should be sufficient to get the ball rolling. The most important thing is to stick to whatever you choose as your preferred correct method. If everyone is writing the same way, your communication will be more cohesive. And this way, you have a tailored reference point for anyone editing your documents. Style guides just make life easier for everyone.

Remember that correctness is more apparent with consistency. So, settle on a style and keep at it!

A Breakdown of the Different Types of Editing

2349632625_4eba371b56_zWhen you ask someone to edit a document for you, you need to specify exactly what you want done. Editing takes on several forms that involve varying degrees of time, effort and attention to detail. So, here’s a rundown of the main types of editing so you know exactly what to tell your editor:

Proofreading

This is the most basic form, for when you need a second set of eyes to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Attention to minor errors is prevalent in proofreading. Again, grammar and style is checked, along with things like consistent verb tense, use of numbers, capitalization, punctuation (proper commas, dashes, etc.) and word usage as it pertains to context.

Copyediting

This delves a little deeper into the mechanics of grammar and spelling, and oversees errors pertaining to word usage, style and grammatical consistency. It also looks at sentence structure, organization, flow, formatting, continuity and clarity.

Substantive or Developmental

This type of editing deals with revising the document as a whole. Things like structure, how well it tells a story and whether everything makes sense are taken into account. In this case, we ask whether everything is in the right place and order, as well as whether there is not enough or too much information. Full sentences and paragraphs can be added, removed, shortened or elaborated on.

Formatting & Fact Checking

Editing in this way involves reviewing the document to ensure everything properly adheres to a select style guide; that all names, dates and numbers add up; that everything is sourced the proper way; and that grammar and punctuation are in their correct places. Also, technical details like proper spacing, bolding and italicizing of paragraphs and titles are mulled over.

Now you know that there’s much more to editing than just looking something over. Professional editors are usually well versed in all the above types. Just make sure to clarify what type you need.

The Elusive English Language and its Lack of Phonetics

16617603_sThe English language is known for having an exception to every rule in the book. Thus, not making any sense whatsoever. Words like Colonel, Wednesday, February, sherbet, scissors, laugh, poignant and yacht have been giving native and non-native English speakers a headache for as long as they’ve been around. They aren’t written at all the way they’re pronounced. And there’s no rule to learn to make sense of any of them. You just have to learn to pronounce them as they are. Sorry.

Phonology is a branch of linguistics that deals with systems of sounds pertaining to the relationships between the sounds of language. This is what makes pronouncing words easier. If they’re written the logical way, it makes it easier for us to read them.

Some languages are completely phonetic based. This means that how their respective words are spelled are exactly as they sound — every time, always. This is probably hard to imagine for an English speaker. So, no letters are silent, none have different sounds depending on which letter they’re next to — there is one way and it is always that way. If you learn the alphabet of such a language, you automatically know how to read and write and pronounce the words (despite not knowing what they mean). And all this is thanks to the beauty of phonetics.

English, as you would imagine, is not one of these languages. Many words have been either adapted from or flat-out taken from other languages. Good luck keeping track of all those “rules.” The only thing that can help you make sense of such exceptions is more exposure to the language. Read. Research. Correct yourself when you’re wrong.

Funny that the world’s most influential and widely spoken language isn’t easier to learn. But thankfully, we’re here to clear things up along the way.

Commonly Confused Words

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The following examples are words that are very similar to each other, stemming from the same root and often the cause of confusion as a result. Don’t worry — confusing these words is very common and doesn’t make you horribly wrong because differences are subtle. Thankfully, we’re here to put things into the right context. So from now on, you’ll know the right time to use the right ones.

Continual vs. Continuous

Something that is continual involves a start and stop. Like weather, for example. It will always rain, snow, etc., but it happens here and there. Also things like having a cold, arguing with someone or having to go for jury duty — all of these are continual.

Continuous, on the other hand, is non-stop and never-ending. Things like a regular salary, counting numbers and birthdays. Things that keep coming regularly and won’t cease to stop are continuous.

He’s been battling a continual cough for months.
He continuously receives his hydro bill in the mail.

Reoccurring vs. Recurring

Something that reoccurs happens again with no specific pattern. Someone getting into a car accident twice in a month, for example, is an instance of a reoccurrence. Or if someone repeatedly wins something from a lottery scratch ticket.

Recurring is when something happens over and over again at a regular rate. For example, if someone has the same dream every night. Or something like a cell phone bill (as a recurring expense).

May vs. Might

These two are generally interchangeable. However, some argue that you should use may in instances where something is more likely to occur than something that might occur.

I may go out with my girlfriends on Monday night.
I may buy that purse while it’s on sale.

I might take a skydiving course this summer.
I might take a sabbatical next year to write a novel.

Among vs. Amongst

People often ask about the difference between these two words. And the simple answer is that one is older than the other (has been used for a longer time within the scope of the spoken English word). Among and amongst are totally and completely interchangeable. Although among is used more commonly, amongst is just as correct.

There is a mole among us.
Ted is the one amongst us who has the biggest wine collection.