If you ever want to see writers argue loudly (and who doesn’t?), ask them which writing stylebook is the best. The opinions will be varied, the disagreements will be vocal, and the slap fights will be, well, slappy.
Nothing gets the ire of a writer up higher than someone slamming on their beloved style guide. A stylebook is really just a preference guide for how you want people to punctuate, and spell and capitalize certain words.
Bloggers often get caught in the cross-fire, because we don’t know which stylebook we should use. This is a question I’m often asked, and I always say the same thing:
Bloggers should use the Associated Press Stylebook
I like the Associated Press Stylebook (affiliate link) because it’s a book for journalists by journalists. And since bloggers are really citizen journalists, we might as well use the book the journalists use. Although it was really written for writers who work for the Associated Press, it has been adopted by every journalist except for the New York Times.
While there are no major differences between most of the stylebooks, except on some small ticky-tack stuff, like whether you should use the Oxford comma or whether or not to hyphenate certain words.
I realize there are many style guides you can choose from: MLA (Modern Language Association for English), Turabian (history), and APA (American Psychological Association; social sciences) for the academic world. The Chicago Manual of Style for book publishers, Strunk and White’s Element of Style for general writing, and The Bluebook for lawyers.
While there is the Columbia Guide to Online Style (COS), I prefer the AP Stylebook. The COS is used for citing online sources, and is a style guide for “creating documents electronically for submission for print or electronic publication,” but from what I can see, it’s used more for academic purposes, rather than the real world.
You’re right about some of AP not being suitable for blogs. And where it’s not suitable, it shouldn’t be used. However, my suggestion is that we use the AP Stylebook whenever questions arise about what we should do. How should states be abbreviated? How do you punctuate time of day? Is African-American hyphenated or not? (Old style postal abbreviations, with periods in the p.m. and a.m., and yes.) Plus, some of AP’s style choices, like not using italics, are outdated anyway. The technology is now able to transmit things like italics, but the guide doesn’t keep up. That doesn’t make it a bad choice; in fact, it’s still a better choice than, say, MLA or APA. (And I say that as a six year user of APA style throughout college and grad school.)
As far as whether bloggers are citizen journalists or not, I would submit we ALL are citizen journalists the second we publish our works. We’re protected by the First Amendment, just like pamphleteers were protected 230 years ago. The blog is the modern-day pamphlet. And while some people will reject the mantle of citizen journalist, I think anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a blogger needs to think about their purpose in blogging. Whether you’re publishing recipes, movie reviews, or hysterical screeds against the government, we’ve got the very same protections that the big-J journalists have. We need to take them seriously, if we want to be taken seriously as a form of communication.
@Dave, while content certainly does outweigh style, good writers have already solved that problem and are focusing on the smaller, more persnickety details like style, punctuation nuances, and the little things, like an Olympic swimmer trying to shave a few tenths of a second off their time.
I can see using AP for citizen journalism, but not all bloggers are citizen journalists; they’re not all sharing “news.” Some educate. Others entertain. Even more promote. We should look just at the medium but also the message. That is, what kind of writing are you doing? Who is your audience? What’s your topic? CMS is generally used for books, though not exclusively. Reports, Web sites, journals, and others use Chicago. CMS isn’t for all books, either. A medical book will more likely use AMA. A psychology book, APA.
Style should also take into account your purpose and industry. If you’re writing a blog to convey news, a news style (with adjustments made for the platform) may work. If you’re writing about your product or service, you’ll want a marketing voice and style. If you style your blog like a newspaper, readers may think you’re trying to be something you aren’t. That’s a good way to lose readers.
We judge by appearances. If you dress in a business suit, people will expect some formality from you. If you dress in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, they’ll expect some irreverance. Along with tone and voice, a style guide helps dress your copy in the most appropriate outfit.
One problem with AP for publications other than newspapers is that AP does not take into account different platforms, such as online. In AP style, italics are not used because they can’t be sent through the AP computers (see “italic” entry, p. 127 in the 2007 version). Why would a blogger outlaw italics on his site just because AP’s computers can’t handle it? AP also does not make use of en-dashes (why I don’t know). Does that mean a blogger shouldn’t either? Why would you limit yourself like that? Would you create tables that conform to AP style because that’s what works with AP’s system? Would you not do video or audio because it’s not covered in AP? How would you handle links?
My point isn’t to knock AP. It’s a good style. But you have to look beyond any given style to its purpose. Style is subjective; a lot of AP’s decisions are to make transmitting stories easer and ease publication in a newspaper. Blogs are not newspapers. They are produced on a different platform, with different features, and what ever style you choose should take that into account. To me, if you chose a style and then your exceptions list is longer than the style guide, you’re doing too much work and you’re using the wrong style guide.
I’m familiar with the MLA and APA style guides as a recovering academic but I have to say that I think having something interesting to say is more important than following a specific styleguide, in my experience. Really, if someone comes to your site and accuses you of bad grammar because you’re not matching a specific formalized style? That’s because they don’t have anything better to talk about… :-)
.-= Dave Taylor´s last blog ..Are guest blog entries "works for hire"? =-.
Excellent information! I’m a recovering paralegal who would like to begin blogging subjects of local interest. I need an appropriate stylebook, and your reason for using the AP stylebook makes perfect sense.
Most attorneys don’t give a rat’s derriere about the Oxford comma, FYI. I’m old school and had it shoved down my throat, what with majoring in English. Being consistent in the same document, though, is more important than using it or not.
.-= IndyDina´s last blog ..indydina: @indypaul Thanks for tweeting that link re stylebook for bloggers! It’s very useful to me. And thanks to @indymike for telling me about you! =-.