Sending an Email: Why You Need an Editor

Version 5 of Microsoft’s Style for Technical Communications, which came out in June 2010, changed the company’s style of hyphenating e-mail and writing Web site as two words, capitalizing Web. Henceforth in Microsoft communications, email (a noun, still never a verb) will have no hyphen. Web will now be lowercase, “except when referring to a UI element or feature name, such as Web Slice, or in the phrase World Wide Web.” Website and webpage have become one word, but all other two-word web terms remain as two words.

A Microsoft memo explained; “We’re making this change to Microsoft style to improve consistency across Microsoft content and to align with the evolution of these terms in technological and general usage.” The memo also noted, “Dropping the hyphen from email is a style decision particular to this word. Other e-words, such as e-commerce, will keep their hyphens, and all other words with hyphens will continue to be hyphenated. However, avoid e-words when you can use words without the prefix, and don’t coin new e-words. For example, use commerce and mail rather than e-commerce and email when the context is clear.”

What’s important here is not what policies Microsoft adopts, but that Microsoft is yet another powerful and accepted authority in the field of grammar, style and usage–one of many, in fact. So many well-argued interpretations are on the Internet today that many traditional rules on grammar and spelling are becoming more arbitrary than absolute.

Certainly, in many cases there can be more than one way (or should it be over one way?) to be correct. However, there is only one way to be consistent. Companies, organizations and individuals should set their own style guides for words and phrases common to their communications, and then stick to them. Another pair of eyeballs can never hurt in accomplishing that goal. Hire an editor.

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Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, Editing Tips

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