Your Own Words: Got Style?

Welcome to another edition of “Your Own Words.” This time I thought I’d throw a list of links at you; send you on a wild and webby chase straight through all the clutter available on the Internet; and mark a trail to all the gold that’s there. But rather than simply dumping them on you, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to explain why each link has made this list.

So, in paragraphs to come I’ll name the greatest language resources there are. I’ll point you to each one’s home on the web. And I’ll briefly list my reasons for their inclusion.

English is not an easy language. There’s exceptions to every rule. And the distance between the good word and exactitude is often a long journey. And while I’m sure you have more links about coding in your collection than you know what to do with, maybe a few on language have been overlooked.

Neglect language and all the fancy scripts and graphics in the world will not sell a widget or make the average visitor care a lick about your vacation pictures. Make language a priority, however, and they may stick around to view, or to buy…

So, without further ado, here’s my list of the finest language sources available on the web, and a few that aren’t. I’ve even divided them into bite-sized categories for you: Theory, General Reference, Design & Editing, Style Guides, and Books. Make them your friends and visit them frequently, and I promise you’ll notice more power in your prose, more tone in your text, and more snap in your style.

Theory

Useit.com
http://www.useit.com/

The Obi-Wan Kenobi of web usability, Jakob Nielsen has put together this rather austere, yet extremely valuable site. His Alertbox column has been delighting web usability fans and practitioners since 1995. Why not put his research to work for your site?

Web Pages that Suck
http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/

Vincent Flanders is the keeper of WPTS, perhaps the finest collection of How-Not-To’s available anywhere. This well- designed and always current site showcases transgressions ranging from Pretentious Front Pages to Free Backgrounds to the ever-popular “Mystery Meat Navigation.” Worth checking out.

Contentious
http://www.contentious.com/index.html

Contentious is Amy Gahran’s fine clearinghouse for all things related to writing and editing for online media. Her articles are excellent and she does a great job relating the news of the day as it affects content producers and consumers. Subscribe to the newsletter!

Reference

Merriam-Webster OnLine
http://www.m-w.com/

Think dictionary. Think Merriam-Webster. It’s that simple. And their collegiate dictionary and thesaurus are both fully- searchable and available here. Get the Free Dictionary Button. It’s all free and you have no excuse.

The Elements of Style
http://www.bartleby.com/141/index.html

A classic! William Strunk, Jr. describes for you in no uncertain terms the qualities that make up fine writing — and those that make up… well… This is a must-read if you want to learn the finer details of composition in the English tongue and learn it quickly. And be sure to check out the other fine works available free at http://www.bartleby.com.

Design and Editing

Yale Web Style Guide
http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/manual/

“…few existing resources have attempted to approach Web page and site design as a challenge that combines traditional editorial approaches to documents with graphic design, user interface design, information design, and the technical authoring skills required to optimize the HTML code, graphics, and text within Web pages.” That about says it all, doesn’t it? If possible, you should consult Yale before you design. But if you can’t, do yourself a favor and test your site against it afterward. You owe it to yourself.

Edit-Work
http://www.edit-work.com/index.html

Here’s another fine resource for translating the writing and editing skills you have into online content that works. Here you’ll find strategies for editing online and a skeletal style guide to get you started. While it’s not too current, this site is still a great source of ideas for bringing those pages of yours under control.

Style Guides

Creating Your Site’s Style Guide
http://www.webreview.com/1998/02_06/webauthors/02_06_98_6.shtml

Got style? Got consistent style? If you’ve mentioned email and e-mail in different places at your web site, then you must read this article. You must impose standards on your language, your layout, and your graphics or feel the wrath of the finicky visitor. Get started with your site’s style guide today and grow its future.

Books

The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1572318902/o/qid=991661057/sr=8-1/ref=aps_sr_b_1_1/002-1131772-6347239

No, Microsoft didn’t invent style. And no, they don’t get the last word on everything. But if you’re looking for a starting point for your own style, there’s perhaps no more comprehensive effort in the field of online style for content, software interfaces, and technical communication. Use it verbatim. Use it as to start debate. Use it to prop a table leg. But ignore it at your peril.

The Chicago Manual of Style
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226103897/qid=991661087/sr=1-1/ref=sc_b_1/002-1131772-6347239

Designed for writers and editors in print media, but packed with information for everyone, The Chicago Manual of Style houses an exhaustive amount of information on any style question imaginable. You shouldn’t be without it.

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0877797099/qid%3D991661119/002-1131772-6347239

Get it online, sure. But get the hardbound edition too. Prop it up on your desk. Sift through its pages. Breathe in that pulpy aroma and be the wiser for it.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
by William Knowlton Zinsser
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062735233/o/qid=994074334/sr=2-1/102-9440032-7117751

Simply the best writing on simplicity. Zinsser’s common-sense approach to straightforward writing sounds fresh even after repeat readings. Buy a good highlighting pen and mark the passages that really send you. This is a classic.

Conclusion

So there you have them. I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the finer language resources on the web. And I hope you’re able to use them to strengthen your skills both online and elsewhere. Thanks for reading!

This article is a re-post of a column I wrote for the Netmaking newsletter in 2004. While the technology and uses of the web have changed significantly since then, much in the way of content development–the actual processes by which writers create for the web–has not. This column is being re-posted here for archival purposes, and in the hopes that it may be of some use to fellow writers out there. My Norwegian friends at Netmaking [English] are still going strong and doing great work with the eZ publish platform. I encourage you to check them out.

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