In our school years we all (hopefully) learned the basic elements of grammar. At its basest level, grammar constitutes the rules necessary for our speech and writing to make sense. For instance, if you simply uttered the phrase “to the” without any context, all we know is that someone or something is, has, or will change in relation to something else. Without knowing what the change is, when it happened, what did the changing, or what the change is being compared to, “to the” holds very little meaning at all.
But if you said, “We went to the store,” someone fluent in English would know that a group of more than one person, including the speaker, traveled to a store, and that this happened in the past. All the necessary ingredients for a coherent sentence are there, and a full thought is sent from the speaker to the listener. That is why grammar is important.
But style is different. No sane person is going to argue that “giraffe chicken flossing” is a reasonable use of English. But the sentence, “The chickens were flossing the giraffes’ teeth,” while a bit absurd, is grammatically sound. But you would also be correct if you said, “Those diminutive galline birds used dental implements to clear food debris from between the molars of their tall ungulate companions.”
In general, you can think of grammar as a formula. Remember your English teacher criticizing your double negatives? Well, technically, a double negative is still correct grammar, even if it sounds stupid. But using the formula logic, these two negatives, when used together, become a positive. (i.e. “I didn’t not know.” = “I did know.”)
In this case, the question has less to do with grammar and more to do with style and usage.
What are Style and Usage?
If grammar dictates every way of phrasing a certain thought where the “word math” adds up, then style is concerned with all the ways of phrasing that thought that aren’t cumbersome or confusing. “I did know” takes less time to decipher than “I didn’t not know.” While both mean the same thing, the double negative adds another unnecessary step to the math, and therefore, isn’t good style.
Usage is the more granular decisions you make about word choice. (Should I refer to my enemy as an “unkempt cow” or a “slovenly bovine”?)
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a set of standards to follow when it comes to matters of style and usage. More specifically, these are standards that a certain niche of writers generally agree should be followed when writing for that niche. You’ll notice that a newspaper article will follow different conventions of style than, say, a legal document. That’s because they follow different style guides.
How do I choose a style guide?
In order to pick a style guide, you need to know your audience. Consider what type of person is going to be taking your eLearning course. What industry are you writing for? What conventions do you need to use to get your point across? If you’re writing an eLearning course for lawyers, you’ll probably want to use a style guide that accommodates that form of writing, as opposed to one used for medical writing.
If you’re company hasn’t already specified a style guide, your own personal preference can also contribute to your choice. Remember, the universe has no hard and fast rule that says “X writers must always use Y style guide.”
Some Popular Style Guides
- The Canadian Style
- Classics of Style
- Chicago Manual of Style
- Elements of Style
- New Oxford Style Manual
- Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers
- AMA Handbook of Business Writing
- Business Writer’s Handbook
- Franklin Covey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication
- Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage
- The Columbia Guide to Online Style
- Web Style Guide
- GPO style manual
- AP Style
- BBC News Style Guide
- Canadian Press Stylebook
- Economist Style Guide
- Guardian Style
- New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
- UPI Stylebook and Guide to Newswriting
- ALWD Guide to Legal Citation
- The Bluebook
- New York Style Manual: The Tanbook
Psychology and Behavioral Sciences
- Political Science Student Writer’s Manual
Science, Technical, and Medical
- ACS Style Guide
- AMA Manual of Style
- Manual of Scientific Style
- Scientific Style and Format
What style guide do you use?
While there is no “right” style guide to use, we hope that this gives you some good questions to ask and resources to try out as you attempt to pick the one that’s right for you. Maybe you’ve already found one that works for you? Which one do you think works best for eLearning? Let us know in the comments below!