Re: Style Manuals

Subject: Re: Style Manuals
From: "Marie C. Paretti" <mparetti -at- RRINC -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 Feb 1999 11:36:18 -0500

I have to agree (not for the first time!) with John Posada and Lisa Comeau
on this one. As I've said before, what's important in all of this too me is
the user - the person who reads the manuals I write. My goal is not to
reinvent the wheel but to use terminology that they are familiar with and
make what I write as easy to understand as possible.

When I'm teaching grammar, I call that dot at the end of sentence a period.
Why? Because that's what the people who wrote the handbook call it. When I
give someone directions to my house, I tell them to turn on Ardmore Street.
Why? Because that's what the people who planned the town chose to name the
street I live on. When I want my users to select a choice from a list named
File at the top of their application, I say "From the File menu, choose..."
Why? Because MS (or someone - don't really care who) named those lists
"menus" and that's how my readers think of them.

Language is a set of *agreed upon* terms (sounds/symbols, etc.) that refer
to objects/concepts/etc. Grammar is a set of agreed upon rules for
combining those terms into coherent syntactic units. You can make up your
own terms, and your own grammar (James Joyce, anyone?), any time you want,
but that may not be in your reader's best interest. On the other hand, MS
(or any other software manufacturer) does not control everything. If I
think their term is confusing and I have a valid reason for using a
different one, I do. But *only* if I have a valid reason.

People on this list refer questions to the MS Manual of Style when those
questions are about common terms used to describe user interface behavior
on software that runs under MS operating systems. Why? Because MS has names
for lots of things that appear on such user interfaces, and they've set up
a common way of describing and talking about them. Strunk and White, the
Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook, the McGraw-Hill Handbook for
Writer's, Diane Hacker's A Writer's Reference, etc. etc. (I own lots) do
not, anywhere, tell me what differentiates a screen from a window from a
dialog box. Nor do they tell me whether to click or click on a button. The
MoS provides me with a baseline standard for those things. Do I always use
it? No. But then again, I split infinitives long before the OED declared it


Marie C. Paretti, PhD
Recognition Research, Inc. (RRI)
1750 Kraft Drive, Suite 2000
Blacksburg, VA 24060
mparetti -at- rrinc -dot- com

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