Most important grammar to include?

Subject: Most important grammar to include?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 12:26:47 -0400

Melissa Alton wondered <<This other guy and I are creating
a document with standards, guidelines and grammar rules for
a department of techies. I've been assigned the task of
deciding what grammar things to include in this static paper
document... So, what do you guys think are the most
important things to include?>>

In my experience, in-house style guides generally get roundly
ignored by the authors who most need to use them.
Nonetheless, creating them is important for those who must
edit the documents, and they serve as an invaluable reference
for editors and new authors (whom you might just catch early
enough to train them before they develop the same bad habits
as the existing authors).

Even though I'm an editor, I'd have to say that my opinion is
pretty much irrelevant in this matter; it's far more important to
spend some time thinking about the specific needs of your
"department of techies". For example, if you're the editor for
that group, and you find that the authors are constantly
confusing "comprised" and "composed of", put that into the
guide; better still, spend 5 minutes and one visit explaining
the difference to them rather than correcting it for 120
minutes per month because you thought you were saving
those 5 minutes. (Do it at a staff meeting, if you can arrange
that... then you're spending 5 minutes in total, rather than 5
per author.) If they constantly misspell "Microsoft" as
"Microsloth", put that in too. If they have the spellchecker
from heaven and never submit documents with spelling
errors, don't waste any time dealing with spelling. If everyone
overuses passive voice and certain types of jargon, emphasize
that; in some cases, you may be able to provide them with a
custom macro that solves some of the problems for them
(e.g., a global search and replace that replaces all instances of
"on the basis of" with "based on").

If you're not the editor, and thus don't have direct experience
with the biggest problems that you're trying to solve, there are
a few other tricks you can try. First, speak to the peer
reviewers to find out what sorts of things _they_ are always
correcting. Speak to the authors themselves and find out what
questions they waste the most time trying to solve on their
own. Pick up any good style guide (I like the Chicago
Manual of Style, aka "Chicago" and Sun's "Read me first")
and run through the detailed table of contents: pick out the
things that you consider the most common problems in your
organisation (e.g., if you never do literature citations, skip
that part of Chicago). And never forget that most beloved
phrase of all: "For all issues not covered in this guide, see
Chicago or Webster's Collegiate dictionary." Anything you
can solve by referring to a standard reference is much more
effective than trying to reinvent the wheel yourself.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Though the editor is the author's ally, she should never forget that
she is also the reader's first line of defense."--Shoshanna Green

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