Several jobs ago, I worked with a wonderful woman who was wise, funny, well-organized, full of ideas on how to improve the instructional and file-specification documents we were updating.  However, she and I clashed on a few simple stylistic issues.

She hated the word “you” when writing user guides and job aids.  “We’re not writing marketing pieces.  These are technical.”  But we’re addressing someone and guiding them through a task.  “It’s a technical task.”

“Why are we saying this is a user’s guide.  It’s a user guide.”    It was written for the users.  But besides the plural, what’s the major difference?  “It just sounds better.  USER guide.”

“We should write email as e-mail [with a hyphen].”  Why?  “It just looks better.”  What do the style guides say?  AP has it as email.  “We’re not journalists.”  How does the Chicago style guide have it?  “Don’t know.  Here, I just looked it up on Webeter’s Collegiate online.  It says e-mail.  When you’re not sure, always go with what the dictionary says.  We should all have a copy.”

So all of us in documentation got a fresh copy of Webster’s Collegiate so we would all write “e-mail” the same way.  And I think that was the only contested word or style issue for which we used it.  My daughter inherited my copy when I left that job.  

For those of us who write in the online world – no matter if it’s instructional design or marketing or technical writing – we need to use and spell words consistently.  So to help us, Beth Dunn has written The Content Creator’s Master List of Commonly Troublesome Words, where you can also download a free copy.  Is it the final word?  Maybe.  It might keep us from turning to expensive solutions just to resolve a couple of style or usage issues.

(h/t:  Jay Garmon)

UPDATE:  And speaking of stylin’. . .

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