Staying Ahead of Style Guides

Staying Ahead of Style Guides

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Were you delighted by the ruling on Internet by The Associated Press Stylebook? Effective June 1, 2016, Internet became internet, no longer capitalized. Though many reacted with trepidation, others have desired this change for the last decade or so. Susan C. Herring wrote in Wired last year that “the lower-case version will eventually win the day . . . driven by age-old principles of language change.”

Because certain patterns are predictable, you can stay ahead of the game by altering style before it becomes convention.



Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.

Following popular usage helps publications appear progressive but won’t serve ones aiming for a buttoned-up style. Departing from the dicta of style guides is best done with the client, employer, and publisher on board and when it supports the tone and mission. (See the In Style column “Consistency vs. Flexibility” in Copyediting’s February−March 2015 issue.) Here are examples of safe style departures:

  • Closing compounds. The typical progression for compounds is hyphenated, open, closed. Google’s Ngram Viewer bears this out, as seatbelt and rollercoaster rise and seat belt and roller coaster dip.
  • Not overitalicizing non-English words. Consider your audience before italicizing non-English words not in your dictionary. For example, leave Sanskrit names of asanas in roman for yoga magazines and Spanish words in roman when italics might distract.
  • Using portmanteau words. Chances are you don’t blink at spork, emoticon, or mockumentary. A coinage becomes accepted when usage is wide and sustained, so if it works, use it.
  • Breaking patterns. It’s nice when style is consistent across the board, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you resisted email because it deviated from e-book, but the latter has been falling out of favor, with ebook rising steadily on the Ngram Viewer.

Pedants and sticklers may not like it, but some will find fault even when spelling, grammar, style, and usage are correct. Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.

Consistency vs. Flexibility

Consistency vs. Flexibility

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

In The Gregg Reference Manual, William A. Sabin said this of applying one style to all circumstances: “It is the impoverished person who meets every situation with the same set of clothes.” Copyeditors are charged with enforcing consistency, but new editors have a tough time knowing when to be flexible.

Adopting a hybrid style is often the solution.

We can manipulate style to bring out the best in each type of project without abandoning house style. In theory, the ideal is to follow one style with broad application. When people ask me which style to use across different media, they’re hoping for one style for everything—websites, brochures, press releases, blog posts, and so on.

In reality, adopting a hybrid style is often the solution. One option is to use Chicago style for company materials, Chicago with AP-style punctuation for websites and e-books, and AP style for press releases.



Avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective.

Factors that influence style departures go beyond assessment of words on a page. Copyeditors can be purely pragmatic and choose rules that are easier to learn or are more deadline friendly. Other reasons to deviate from established style include aesthetics, a desire to control an element’s prominence, a glaring overuse of a style rule in certain passages, and limitations that make the existing style unsustainable.

On an invitation, you might capitalize occupational titles where you would not in a press release. In a magazine ad, you might omit periods after calls to action where you would not in a magazine article. The intention is to avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective in that particular situation.

As copyeditors, we have a wealth of options for controlling how ideas are presented and consumed. It’s more realistic to strive for consistency within one context, one article, one series. Be willing to change style when another is more appropriate for the effect you want.

What’s in a Logo?

What’s in a Logo?

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Applying style to a trademark, brand, or company name is tricky when it’s not obvious what the company itself thinks. Are those caps decorative? What if self-references in the text are styled like the logo or nothing jibes? Resolve to be accurate and consistent in the face of rampant creativity with these practical tips.

First, be clear about which name you are researching: product, brand, store, website, subsidiary company, or parent company? For example, Lionsgate is a brand and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. is the corporation.

Don’t expect the logotype design to mirror the name; it’s art, more or less.

Don’t expect the logotype design to mirror the name; it’s art, more or less. For example, it’s macy*s in the logo but Macy’s in textual self-references. And logos often change, while the names do not. Maybe you don’t care if it’s AP, Associated Press, or The Associated Press, but pin down the name before styling it.



For trademarks, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style recommend consulting dictionaries, USPTO, and INTA. For formal company names, AP points to NYSE, Nasdaq, or SEC filings, while Chicago refers you to “a corporate website or other authoritative source.” Of course, check the style guides themselves, too.

If corroboration is lacking between outside sources and self-references in the copyright, legal language, or running text, look for clues on key website sections (e.g., About page) as well as press releases.

Owners, ironically, aren’t always that familiar with their own properties and often perpetuate branding inconsistencies.

Don’t give too much weight to one iteration when the spelling, punctuation, or cap style could be a contribution from, say, the web developer. Owners, ironically, aren’t always that familiar with their own properties and often perpetuate branding inconsistencies. Interpret decorative elements, such as asterisks and bullets, on a per-logo basis.

At some point, investigate popular usage via Google, especially by mainstream media. Choose a style with enough integrity to be sustained across a wide range of applications, and write it down.

Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

As a reader of Macworld, I am accustomed to reading sentences and headlines that start with iPhone or iPad—with the lowercase initial letter intact. Though some may consider this a defilement, capitalizing the first word of a sentence, in certain cases, is negotiable.

Most language guides recommend recasting the sentence so that brand and company names with a lowercase initial letter are tucked away, but this isn’t always practical. In real life, you have space limitations, touchy clients, grammar-doubting bosses, and expectations to “clean up” an unedited piece that has already been laid out and approved.



Awkward cases support the need for more give.

Thankfully, language guides usually provide an “in case you can’t reword” option. As expected, many default to capitalization, including The Associated Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and The Yahoo! Style Guide. However, according to Chicago, brand or company names spelled with a lowercase letter followed by a capital, like eBay or the i– prefixed trademarks by Apple, “need not” be capitalized.

For headline style, some guides that veer away from lowercase sentence beginnings support retaining a brand’s or company’s lowercase initial letters within a headline (e.g., Gregg, Yahoo! Style): Protect Your iCloud. For all-cap headlines, Chicago recommends overriding the lowercase letter, and Macworld capitalizes every letter but the lowercase letter (iOS CENTRAL).

Further complicating capitalization is the use of figures, which many of us have been trained to spell out (and capitalize) when starting a sentence. AP Stylebook has long made years an exception to this rule (1967 was the Summer of Love). But what about 3M? 7-Eleven? A generic abbreviation, like 3D?

Awkward cases support the need for more give. Otherwise, you may find yourself equally dismayed by sentences leading with IOS, K. d. lang, or Three-D.

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