"Open Mike" is this site's editorial page, which frequently wanders off topic. It appears only, but not always, on Sundays.
Every responsible publication has a style sheet.
What's a style sheet? It's a set of institutional guidelines for the presentation of formatted material—mainly, the verbal material. Every time a consistency issue comes up, an editorial decision as to how to handle it is made, and then, assuming all goes smoothly to plan, that's the way it's done from then on.
Some such decisions that need to be made, for example:
Are italics or quotation marks used for movie titles?
Is "ƒ/11" written thusly, or F11, f/11, f11, ƒ/11.0, or some other way?
Is it "12 mm" or "12mm"?
Is it "RAW," "Raw," or "raw"?
Are you going to use periods after initial letters, for instance in "U.S." and "U.K.," or not?
And so on. And on and on—there are literally hundreds of items on any given publication's stylesheet. (Even if most of them reside in one person's head—e.g., mine—and aren't actually written down.)
A publication's style doesn't have to accord to one of the standards such as the Chicago Manual of Style. They can, or they can devise their own. Some use a standard but with certain deviations.
Different publications have different rules about conformity. At one publication I worked at, an editor could override the style sheet if he or she deemed it advisable. At another, the rules were very rigid and could not be broken by anybody for any reason (for example, one rule there was that a widow line—the last partial line of a typeset paragraph—had to contain at least two words. Never mind if the one word was a long word like "disproportionate" or the two words were short ones such as "it is," the two-word rule was inviolable).
Note that style is not the same as copyediting, although the two are related. Copyediting just cleans up written language and makes it conform, more or less, to standard grammar. And both are different from proofreading, which refers to going over the material to make sure there are no typos, misspellings, or typesetting mistakes. TOP has no copyeditor and no proofreader, although helpful readers sometimes alert Yr. Hmbl. Ed. to errors.
Some publications have notoriously quirky style points. For instance, the New York Times still uses titles and surnames (Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones) rather than first names or unadorned last names for named persons, which has not been common elsewhere in America for decades. The New Yorker uses quotation marks for book titles, which is wrong, but it has done it for many decades and it continues to observe its own tradition. (The current editor, David Remnick, got rid of many of that magazine's quirky style points along with its delightful old-fashioned font, but maintains that one.)
(Referring to a company or a publication as "it," as I just did, was also old-fashioned editorial practice, one that TOP adheres to because the opposite sounds fey and puerile to the ear of Yr. Hmbl. Ed. There is no monolithic "they" at a place like Canon Inc.; everyone answers to someone and no one is making decisions alone, much less all together. But I'm unusual in this regard.)
The Atlantic divide
A frequent cause of confusion and error is the many differences between British and American typography. A few examples:
"Mrs Smith" is proper in the U.K., while in the U.S. it would be "Mrs. Smith."
Commas are placed within the quotation marks when a quote is contained in a sentence in the U.S., "like this," but outside of the quotation marks in Britain.
A long dash is set as an em dash with no spaces in America—like this—but in Jolly Olde it's typeset as a half space, an en dash, and then another half space. Since half spaces aren't common or easy on computer keyboards, this gives rise to the use of full space / hyphen / full space "dash," like this - which is both wrong and ugly on both sides of the Atlantic. At the very least, those aping British typesetting should use full space / en dash / full space – like this, even though that's not quite correct.
There are many differences between British and American typesetting. It's good to stick to one or the other and not mix them up randomly.
It used to be that the Internet held itself above such details, but I notice lately that more and more sites are using conventional editing practices and fewer and, thus, fewer and fewer of them read like they were written by high school sophomores.
Conforming to a stylesheet isn't a requirement. It simply makes the publication easier and smoother to read for those loyal readers who regularly peruse it—it's a courtesy to readers. That's a good enough reason to make the attempt in my book.
Mike the Ed.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Joe Holmes: "Oh man. You think Mac vs. Windows was an ugly debate, or Nikon vs. Canon? Start asking people to weigh in on the serial comma, or whether a question mark belongs inside the quotation marks!"
Mike replies: There are no arguments when it comes to site style. As Michael Reichmann once memorably said about running one's own website, "It's good to be the King." Of course the kingdom is small and its borders inflexible....
cfw: "'High School Sophomores'? You are too kind. More like 7th graders with a solid 'C' average."
David Miller: "Your intentions are honourable, sir. (My spelling gives away my English heritage—and the em dash reveals the linguistic schizophrenia which is the Canadian's lot in life.) I think standardization of style is essential within any publication…if only for the pleasure of tossing it to the four winds and shocking or irritating your readers from time to time. As a copyeditor and former proofreader—and hand type setter, if you can believe it—I find TOP to be admirably consistent and usually quite free of typos. Bravo!"
Mike replies: Thank you! I am a terrible proofreader, so I put in a lot of time hunting down those typos.
You might be interested to know that I had an opportunity to photograph the last hot lead press in Washington, D.C., and missed it—by three weeks. Before that happened, I did get 500 letterpress business cards for $50, however, which was cool.
"According to ASA standard PH2.12-1961 'The symbol for relative apertures shall be ƒ/ or ƒ: followed by the effective f-number.' ƒ/11.0 or ƒ:11.0 with the hooked italic f. [We always use ƒ/, but I never use .0. —Mike]
"As for capitalization of file formats, if you want to make sense it is TIFF or TIFFs, when talking about .tif files but never TIFF files and JPEG or .jpg files but never JPEGs because you should always capitalize acronyms. Americans never seem to capitalize FIAT or SAAB for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino and Svenska Aeroplan AktieBolaget respectively. The usage of all caps RAW for raw files is truly WTF IMHO."
JK: "The problem when you become professionally involved with style sheets is that you (by which I mean 'me') can easily become a total bore on your choice of pet peeves. One of mine happens to be that 'f/' for aperture. I used to do work for a few camera companies in Japan, where the rather odd convention is to use an upper-case F, e.g. 'F2.' Now I suppose that's fine if you're writing in Japanese, but if you're creating materials in English for the international market, it just looks bizarre and wrong. Most of the clients I dealt with eventually came around to understand that. But there was one that never did, instead always insisting on changing every 'f/' to 'F.' And now, years later, I see they're still doing it. Sigh...."
Mike replies: Barbarity. :-)
Sven W: "Whether it's writing a blog, taking a photograph or skiing down a slope, a lot of technical details need to be addressed to make it look effortless!"