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Writing rules and who makes them: Editor's Notes #392
May 31, 2023

It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
—P.D. James

In this issue:

1. Writing rules and who makes them
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1.Writing rules and who makes them
Have you ever wondered who makes writing rules? I can’t say for sure when the first writing style guide was written or by whom, but I do know that Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755 to fill a need for consistency in written English. Style guides go beyond spelling, but they are all created to bring consistency to a group of publications. Because of this, the rules are made by people concerned with consistency across some part of the publishing world. They are influenced by, but not ordered by, usage in day-to-day speech.

All publishers use a style guide. Most are based on pre-existing guides and focus only on specific differences.

Each English-speaking country has its own take on English, and style guides point out what those differences are. These guides are created by academics, publishers, or governments.

The number of speakers of Business English is overtaking the number of speakers of English as a first language, and various businesses have their own style guides.

International standards and style guides exist to allow academicians in specific disciplines to communicate clearly with each other.

Journalists have their own style guides, as do publishing houses.

Style guides are continually being updated. I learned two styles in my academic life and neither had to tell me how to cite a Web site because none existed at the time. Now I find more writers have to look up how to cite a hard copy of an encyclopedia than how to cite something online.

Because of their size, style guides can be successfully used as booster seats for young children. But for writers who are not specializing, The Elements of Style, lovingly called Strunk and White after the authors, is a good place to start. A paperback copy fits into a pocket. It is clear and concise and still holds its place in this century.

Knowing a little bit about style guides gives a writer a sense of confidence when considering the technical aspects of writing.

If you haven’t explored the world of style guides, dip your toe into the water by checking out your local library and the guides mentioned in Interesting Web site below. You can also find many guides online, so look there as well.

2.Tickled my funny bone
What type of blood does a writer have?
Type O

3. Interesting Web site
The link here takes you to a wealth of information on specific style guides as well as other general information on the topic.

4. Writing prompt
I have personal style guides for things I self-publish to keep me from slithering around stylistically. If you haven’t yet, try writing one for yourself. You can base it on an existing guide, or make one from scratch. It need not be massive, but make note of formatting rules like what shows a new paragraph, when to use capital letters, which numbers will be written out and which can be signified by numerals, straight or curly quotes, which font for text and which for headlines, which font size, how to handle quotes within quotes, which spelling you will use for any word that has various acceptable spellings, and anything else you can think of that might warrant a note on your list. If you are writing a novel, make a special list for the names of characters and places to be sure you are consistent in spelling those.

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