Some people have very strong opinions about grammar. Oxford comma for life! No dangling prepositions! It’s “grey,” not “gray”! Contrary to popular belief that I’m some sort of ruler-wielding English teacher, I really don’t have strong feelings about most of these grammatical quibbles. My biggest concern is that they’re used consistently within a website and blog. It sets my teeth on edge to see variable spellings within a website–or worse yet, within a single post.
The solution is to create a style guide. That sounds pretty fancy, but what it really means is you have a set of guidelines so everything works together. This doesn’t have to be anything complex or long–it just has to work. Here’s how you can create a style guide of your own:
- Start with a base. The language is too broad to create rules for every contingency just for your blog. Start with an already developed style guide and modify it to suit your needs so you have a foundation to build on. For instance, the Roundpeg style guide is a combination of AP Style and The Elements of Style. You may already have industry-specific style guides that can help you.
- Modify to suit your needs. You won’t always agree with one style guide. For instance, some of The Elements of Style are old fashioned and look and sound strange to modern ears. AP Style has some rules that are just flat out weird, especially with abbreviating state names and the like. Be as maverick-y as you want and follow your own drum. Just keep the beat consistent.
- Have a champion. You need an editor, someone who is in charge of enforcing this guide no matter who’s doing the writing. Heck, sometimes the hardest part of sticking to our style guide is editing myself, remembering when to use the Oxford comma and when not to. Someone needs to be double-checking and making sure everything lines up. That means someone needs to be an editor, which adds fringe benefits like catching all those irritating typos.
- Be flexible. There’s no need to be completely anal retentive about this. Yes, fix the things that immediately jump out at you, but online writing is becoming more and more casual. If it makes sense to break your own rules, do it.
Here are a few things your style guide should cover:
- Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma. Traditionally, there are always commas between all items in a series, as in “buy milk, eggs, and bread.” However in some style systems, including AP Style and our own Roundpeg style guide, they omit the final comma so it reads “buy milk, eggs and bread.” Pick one and stick with it.
- Spaces after a period. Many people who learned to type on typewriters were taught that there must always be two spaces after a period. This is no longer the case and one is typically the standard, but some people like to stick to the old ways. Again, do it consistently and you’re fine.
- Dangling prepositions. Customers often timidly ask me if it’s okay to have a preposition hanging out at the end of the sentence. Allow me to explain my answer with a possibly apocryphal story about Winston Churchill. A woman wrote to Mr. Churchill to chide him for having a dangling preposition in a speech. He wrote her back, saying simply, “Madam, this is something up with which I shall not put!” Torturing your sentences so there’s no preposition at the end of the sentence is a bit old-fashioned, but some people insist.
Everyone’s got their own peeves and peccadilloes–make sure yours are covered.