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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Would Anyone Use The Chicago Manual of Style ... and Other Editorial Guides?

In a recent blog post, "Grammar Girl" Mignon Fogarty responds to the question  of the headline about the Chicago Manual of Style. I use Chicago occasionally and value its comprehensive content. But it's only one of several style manuals that sit on my desk for easy reference. Fogarty's column mentions the others:
  • Associated Press Stylebook
  • Garners' Modern American Usage
  • Gregg Reference Manual.
Under the heading "Different Style Guides Have Different Uses," Fogarty writes:
If I had to peg down The Chicago Manual of Style, I'd say that its primary audience is book authors, but as you might have gathered by now, I think Chicago is great for everyone.
I agree. With my background in journalism and public relations, though, my first preference is the AP Stylebook. It's not as comprehensive as the other manuals listed above, but it covers the most common style issues--and it's organized in an easy-to-use alphabetical format. I recommend it for all general uses.

And despite what some people say, especially if they haven't used AP's manual very much, most of its preferences are similar to the preferences you'll find in other mainstream manuals. As Fogarty notes, the AP manual has a online version by subscription, and I'm a subscriber.

I think Garner's excellent manual is the modern-day equivalent of old writing guides by Follett and Fowler. It's also more comprehensive than AP, but like AP it's organized alphabetically. I love that! Highly recommended for everyone.

The Gregg manual is commonly used in offices; its advice on formatting office documents and correspondence is excellent. But it also covers other style matters in a very comprehensive way. Recommended too! And it has an online version as well.

Finally, I've consulted all those manuals (and others) in developing my online resource, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual. Like AP and Garner, I've arranged it in alphabetical order for easy usage.
Fogarty's blog post is featured today, April 20, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, April 19, 2013

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice | A thoughtful critique of The Elements of Style

Wow! What an excellent critique Geoffrey K. Pullum writes in this column, for the Chronicle of Higher Education, about The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

Pullum begins by emphasizing he will not be celebrating "the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe."

And then he goes on to explain why:

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
That's just the introduction. He provides many examples, some in clearly explained detail. I encourage you to read Pullum's column ... and thoughtfully consider his critique. 

I have long had The Elements of Style on my bookshelf. Heck, I even got a hardback illustrated edition of it for Christmas in 2005. Pullum acknowledges some value in some of its advice, and so do I. But it has not been my preferred reference on grammar, word usage, and style for decades. In my blog, I occasionally note some of my preferred writing guides and provide my own advice. I will continue to do so. Stay tuned!

Pullum's concluding paragraphs:
It's sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write "however" or "than me" or "was" or "which," but can't tell you why. The land of the free in the grip of The Elements of Style.
So I won't be spending the month of April toasting 50 years of the overopinionated and underinformed little book that put so many people in this unhappy state of grammatical angst. I've spent too much of my scholarly life studying English grammar in a serious way. English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules.
Pullum is head of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh and co-author (with Rodney Huddleston) of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Pullum's article is featured today, April 19, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

In Rape Tragedies, the Shame Is Ours | And Our Language Matters

The proof is everywhere these days that this old nursery rhyme is not only false but also dangerous: 
Sticks and stones will break my bones, But words will never harm me.
People who work with words for a living know how false that adage is ... or they should know. The words we write and say have power, undeniably. Editors and writers, especially, must do what we can to inform other people about the consequences of misusing and abusing words.

In this article, for example, Jessica Valenti writes for The Nation:

Women and girls are the ones expected to carry the shame of the sexual crimes perpetrated against them. And that shame is a tremendous load to bear, because once you're labeled a slut, empathy and compassion go out the window. The word is more than a slur—it’s a designation. ...
Calling a woman a slut sends a message that it’s open season: you can harass her, malign her, ruin her life. It’s the same kind of dehumanization that assumes women aren't people, but bodies there for men’s enjoyment—whether they consent or not. ...
[I]n reality, rape jokes are still considered funny, women are told that what they wear has some bearing on whether or not they'll be attacked, and the definition of rape is still not widely understood. That’s why we still hear qualifiers like “date,” “gray,” “forcible” and “legitimate”—because so many don't understand that all nonconsensual sex is rape.
Valenti's article ends with a personal story about a 15-year-old girl who killed herself after being raped. But here's the conclusion of this article for me, a statement that the language we hear or use or accept or allow about sex, women, rape, and violence doesn't just influence the victims of rape in tragic ways. It also helps encourage boys and men to become rapists ... violent criminals:
Society makes it very easy for rapists to get away with rape. For example, a rapist may target an intoxicated woman not only because she'll be easier to attack, but because he knows she'll be less likely to be believed. That’s why whenever we blame a woman for being attacked—when we speculate about what she was wearing, suggest she shouldn't have been drinking or that she stayed out too late— we're making the world safer for rapists.
And this is how it’s come to be that in our culture, it’s more shameful to be raped than to be a rapist.
I know women also rape, and same-sex rape happens as well. The causes and consequences of that violence are appalling and tragic. We must be equally sensitive in the language we hear, use, accept or allow about those crimes. 

I wrote a related commentary on this topic in April 1991 and updated it after 9/11: 
Words can and do break bones: on the misuse of language.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Recognizing the best and worst in clear communications | Center for Plain Language

The Center for Plain Language recognized the best and worst examples of clear communication during an awards ceremony April 16 in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit organization presented its 2013 ClearMarks and WonderMarks awards to government, nonprofit and private organizations.

The ClearMark Awards are given to the best plain-language documents and websites. A panel of international experts judges the entries following a strict set of criteria. Revised documents were judged on not just the quality of the final document but also on the quality of improvement.

The March of Dimes won the ClearMark Grand Prize for its Thinking About Your Family’s Health brochure. Here are other ClearMark 2013 winners.

WonderMark Awards are given for the least usable documents. According to the center, they are the sort of documents that make us shake our heads and say: “We wonder what they meant. We wonder what they were thinking.”

The 2013 Grand WonderMark Award went to Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. for a The New Yorker magazine ad. Here are other 2013 WonderMark winners.

The Center for Plain Language wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable. It supports people and organizations that use plain language, train those who should use plain language, and urge people to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use.

The center's website provides more information about using plain language. You also can learn more about it at my website, Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.
Articles on the plain-language awards are featured today, April 18, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Language Evolves: A timeline of how terms come and go from the AP Stylebook

Some recent changes in the Associated Press Stylebook have sparked some controversy, especially among people with a political interest in the terminology. I've been involved in one such discussion--about illegal immigration--in a LinkedIn group of editors.

I've also posted blog items about the recent changes:

With a headline noting correctly that "Language Evolves," this article by Zach Dyer for Journalism in the Americas, provides some useful background on AP's process for adding and revising style entries. The article also links to an interactive timeline of selected AP style changes by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Dyer writes:
While the Stylebook dictates the proper placement of a hyphen, it also influences how the media speaks about large groups of people, from those with mental illness to people who enter a country illegally.
Quoting AP Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn:
We want to avoid labels for people. Often it takes more words to describe an action […] but it’s more precise.
Dyer's article is featured today, April 16, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

'Citizens deserve clear communications from government' | Federal Plain Language Guidelines

The guidelines provided here are produced by and for employees of the U.S. federal government. But I recommend the advice in them for people who want to write and edit clearly and concisely in all fields--from health care, engineering and law to education, social service and business. 

You can read the guidelines on the Web or download them as PDF and Word files.

The guidelines Introduction begins:
The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from government. We first developed this document in the mid-90s. We continue to revise it every few years to provide updated advice on clear communication. We hope you find this document useful, and that it helps you improve your writing — and your agency’s writing — so your users can
  • find what they need,
  • understand what they find; and
  • use what they find to meet their needs.
Also, I provide more advice and information on plain language at Garbl's Pain English Writing Guide. It covers the process in seven steps:

  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.
The federal guidelines are featured in the April 14 issue of my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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