Currently browsing: Blog

Style Corner: One Space Or Two?

The question of whether to use one character space or two after a full stop is controversial for such a mild and unimportant topic.

It is also generational: kind of ‘baby boomers vs millennials’, as so many inter-generational disagreements are.

Don’t ask the Gen X-ers: they will probably just roll their eyes and shrug, as they do with all other disagreements between baby boomers and millennials.

In all seriousness it doesn’t matter too much. Although some advocates for each would argue that the other looks untidy, it is really a matter of fashion. Not grammar certainly, not usage, and barely style. Just fashion.

Which is not to say it is trivial. Content professionals can take it very seriously. Style guides carry opinions on it. It is worth knowing chapter and verse so you can make an informed decision.

But if someone who has decision-making authority over a piece of content – which could be a writer, a content director, an editor or even a publisher – really holds to the other one, let them. It really doesn’t matter. As long as they hold to it consistently and it is an unequivocal feature of their house or individual style guide.

The Pix Simplicity Measure: A New Readability Metric from Prism-Clarity

‘Readability metrics are not worth the paper they’re not written on.’

This was a quote from Professor Geoffrey Pullum at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) annual conference in September 2017, and it’s the only thing Geoff Pullum has ever said that I disagree with.

In November 2016 I wrote a blog explaining the main readability metrics, Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid and the like, and making a case that there is value in these metrics for writers and editors. They’re not sufficient, they’re not even necessary, but they are useful – in context, and if their limitations are understood and accepted.

I put forward this opinion in a 5-minute lightning talk at the same SfEP conference where Geoff had earlier expressed his less complimentary view.

The rest of this blog outlines some of the thoughts behind my SfEP talk, and goes on to propose a new simplified metric (‘the Pix’) to use alongside Flesch-Kincaid. Pix is derived from three measures which are routinely used by Yoast SEO but are not in the Flesch family of metrics.

Style Corner: 16 Tips on Hyphens and Dashes

This edition of Style Corner goes back to the topic of an earlier blog which looked at hyphens and dashes.

Hyphens can cause angst. The rules are, at best, complicated. And hang the rules, usage is complicated too. There is a generational split: older users prefer it, younger users demur.

Hart’s Rules on the hyphen are unusually apologetic and complex. To illustrate, check out Hart’s view on hyphenating noun compounds:

A compound term may be open (spaced as separate words), hyphenated, or closed (written as one word). However there is an increasing tendency to avoid hyphenation for noun compounds.

In this Style Corner we use the Always/Never/Sometimes construct, though this does miss some nuances.

Consistency matters in business writing: developing an Individual Style Guide

Consistency is one of the most important principles in business writing.

As I said in another blog, not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘foolish consistency … the hobgoblin of little minds’, but sensible, pragmatic consistency which avoids upsetting sticklers and distracting non-sticklers among your audience.

Consistency of structure (format) is essential to the impact and effectiveness of business writing; yet is often overlooked. You need to find a way to remind you what formatting elements to use for different types of content, delivering flawless consistency along the way.

Not to mention traditional elements of style, word choices, or problems of any description where you need help remembering the solution.

One of the best ways to achieve these things – and embed a consistent approach to style and formatting in all your business writing – is to develop an Individual Style Guide.