Reasonable Writing

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by: Shannon Hames

There have been times that, while taking my editing class, that I have read rules of grammar or editing that cause me to worry I won’t be able to remember them.  I read them and think to myself, “This is a lot to store upstairs.  What if I forget?”  Then I read the rule again and think about it and realize that many of these rules have rational foundations – that I can reason them out instead of just memorizing.  Here are a few examples of what I came across while researching this topic:

  1. Titles: Capitalize formal titles only when they precede an individual’s name. If the title falls after the name, then it’s lowercase. So: President Barack Obama is running against Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.Doesn’t that rule make sense when you think about it?
  2. Web site or website. In 2010, the AP made “website” one word instead of two words.  When I reason this out in my mind, I just remember that the old way had it as two words but as progress is made, we tend to simplify things so now, it’s one word.
  3. Email. Another recent change: Drop the hyphen in email. (Before 2011, AP style said to write “e-mail.”) Reasoning: the same as above.  Through time, we simplify.
  4. Numbers/numerals. Write out numbers one through nine, and use figures for 10 and above. The rationale that helps me remember this is the small numbers (one through nine) are small words to write.  After nine, when the numbers start going into double digits, they become too cumbersome to write.  Therefore, we use numerals to save our sanity.
  5. Toward/towards. AP style follows the American English form, toward. In British English, towards is preferred. The same goes for forward, backward, upward, downward, etc. The rational thought that helps me to remember this is that in England, things are more formal and, between toward and towards, the more formal word is towards.

Sometimes, just taking a few moments to consider a rule and think about how you might file it in your mind is a good way to seal the rule mentally.  When we read rules or just skim them, we may forget or have to re-visit the rulebook over and over.  For me, it makes sense to just take a moment to think about how and why a rule is presented.  By processing this way, the rule tends to stick in my mind permanently and the only thing I ever need to worry about is reading updates from the rulebooks.

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