It has been a while since I actually read a style usage book. As a writer, I read and write constantly, so every book, article, website, brochure, email, and even utility bills I peruse are style manuals of sorts. I always notice what words and style conventions are used in texts I read.
But with the instantaneous pace of writing and publishing these days, there’s much inconsistency when it comes to grammar and punctuation rules, word usage and style, readability standards, and just plane old clear concise writing. There’s not a day go by that I don’t read articles, including my own, that are in need of a copy editor to check for grammar errors and wordiness. Most bloggers and web content writers must write, edit, and proofread their work like lonely housewives in need of help with daily chores. It’s nearly impossible to do it all effectively.
This is where The Yahoo! Style Guide can be useful. It’s one of the only sourcebooks I know that is written—as it subtitle says—“for writing, editing, and creating content for the digital world.” When I purchased the book, I thought I’d simply park it on a bookshelf near my work area, but as started scanning through it, I realized it would be useful for me as a writer to read it cover-to-cover. And quite surprisingly, it is actually a sourcebook that you can read in its entirety. Sure, there were some sections that I scanned because I was thoroughly familiar with the content, but for the most part, the book was not only a good refresher course, but it made me aware of some issues of usage and style that I need to keep an eye on when I write.
I particularly bookmarked a useful ”superfluous phrases” list, marking some of the extraneous and redundant words that sometimes crop up in my own writing. I also like authors’ suggestion for keeping a style word list, for keeping track of how you will use certain words (e.g., p.m. or pm, African-American or African American, screenshot, not screen shot, pull-down or drop-down menu.) The book ends with 40 pages of Yahoo.com’s own word list, which you will find quite consistent with word style usage across the net and in paper publications.
Another section I bookmarked is about using “consistent terminology for your calls to action” (e.g. edit, change, uncheck, deselect, IM, type or enter.) And every writer who post his/her work on the World Wide Web should read the chapter, “Be Inclusive, Write for the World.” The authors of this Guide make good points about how people from different parts of world read words in English differently. They advise, “do not assume that you know who’s reading your website.” They give tips on writing for an audience that is not homogenous. For example, they talk about using “signposts” that help readers see how the parts of a sentence relate. They talk about producing gender-neutral copy, and avoiding slang and idioms that might be unfamiliar to many readers.
Easy to read examples are included on nearly ever page of the Guide, and some chapters conclude with exercises that reinforce the previously covered material.
I know there are other style books (such as the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Stylebook) have been around for quite some time, but this sourcebook should be the definitive guide for writing in general and web content writing in particular.