Correct Usage of Terms?

Subject: Correct Usage of Terms?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 11:30:27 -0400


Peggy Lucero wondered: << I've been reading the Read Me First! style guide and find in Appendix C their 7-page rendition of "terms that you *should not use* in technical documentation and terms that you should avoid" Appendix C is entitled: "Correct Usage of Terms" Just wondering, is this the 'most respected' list on this topic?>>

Sun's guide is certainly more respected than Microsoft's style guide, but the terminology may not always overlap. The key thing to remember with either book is that style guides are _guides_, not _rule_ books. They provide recommendations on what has been found to work well under certain circumstances, and the good ones make no claims to be exhaustive references or to be universally applicable.

As in all other reference material, ask yourself two hard questions: "Why did they say to do or not do something? Is that reasoning relevant in my current circumstances?" If you don't understand a guideline, don't apply it blindly; ask (here, for example) why a guideline has been proposed. If the guideline isn't relevant to your situation, or you disagree (based on a good authority) with a recommendation, feel free to ignore it.

<<Alternatively, is there one that is more, well, accepted and established, and considered the definitive word on the topic (or am I a dreamer).>>

You're a dreamer <g>, but the answer to your question is as follows: For general English, any good, current descriptive (rather than prescriptive) dictionary is your best choice for word usage. Not only are they more comprehensive than any style guide can hope to be, they also describe "English as she is spoke" rather than "English as we editors would like to see her spoke". <g> That's important, since these dictionaries tell you how a general audience will understand certain words. For specific technical subjects, refer to a subject-specific dictionary instead (e.g., Dorland's for medical stuff).

The American Heritage Unabridged is a reliable source for American English; I also like Random House Unabridged (though I'm using an ancient version), and Webster's Third International. MacQuarrie seems to be the Australian choice. Not sure about the preferrred dictionaries for U.K. British and (ironically, given that I'm Canadian) Canadian. The Oxford English Dictionary is a word lover's dream, but not a good source for current usage. (Haven't checked whether there's a more current online version.)

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
www.geoff-hart.com
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References:
Correct Usage of Terms: From: Lucero, Peggy

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