I Have No Style
by Jake Poinier
When I say I have no style, I’m not talking about the fact that t-shirts and shorts are the dress code for my freelance writing and editing business. What I mean is that I’ve worked for companies that adhered to everything from the Associated Press and New York Times style guides to the Chicago Manual of Style – and even in-house guides that took precedence over all of the above.
Here’s my take: It doesn’t matter to our readers, other than grammar scolds who are looking to catch us in a slip-up. Pick a guide, any guide. Choose your own style, as long as it’s not something a little too precious (like those who think writing in all lowercase makes them e.e. cummings, which it doesn’t). If you’re writing for a scholarly audience or someone you need to impress, be more formal.
As a writer and editor, my main focuses are consistency and clarity.
- If I start doing something a certain way, I want to maintain it throughout a piece or series of works. For example, I was recently editing a book for someone who occasionally alternated between using “Mt.” and “Mount,” when talking about “Mt./Mount Everest.” Either is acceptable, depending on which authority you listen to; but I believe it’s distracting to use them interchangeably.
- Which brings me to clarity. We’ve all seen the Facebook post contrasting the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” (dinnertime) and “Let’s eat Grandma” (cannibalism). You’ve heard people rant about ending a sentence with a preposition – but I tend to agree with more even-keeled folks like Grammar Girl that usage is dependent on other factors. And don’t get me started on the Oxford comma, because the truth is that I just don’t care that much as long as the meaning is clear.
To me, grammar requires understanding how well you’re conveying your message to a given audience, rather than adherence to a rule for the sake of language purity. Advertising copy couldn’t exist without breaking convention, nor would a classic rule-shattering novel such as James Joyce’s Ulysses – and our world would be poorer for it.
A freelance corporate copywriter and editor since 1999, Jake “Dr. Freelance” Poinier is the author of The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid and Help! My Freelancers Are Driving Me Crazy, available in print and ebook versions on Amazon. He can be reached at advice@DearDrFreelance.com.