Insight from the Global Team.

Beyond By Beyond

18 Mar 2011 Grammar, Syntax, Punctuation: Writing the Wrongs of Social Media

Back in June, Mashable reported that the writers of the AP Stylebook, friend to journalists and bane to comms students everywhere, has published 42 guidelines and definitions for social media, with changes including the official change from "Web site" to "website" (who really used the former, anyway?)

Today heralds another change, as "e-mail" becomes "email." My own relationship with the hyphen has been on-again/off-again ever since I learned how to break sentences in first grade, but I have to admit I'm a little on the fence about this new decision. To me, "e-mail" just looks nicer, whereas "email" looks like something that should be pronounced "eh-mayil." But that is a matter of personal aesthetics, which can (and often does) change frequently as trends come and go.

Webster's New World Dictionary of Computer Terms

The little inconsistencies and general fussiness of writing for social media follow us everywhere as we continue to circumnavigate the waters of the web. For example, currently giving credit in tweets has been a matter of personal preference. Where others stick the traditional RT, some desktop Twitter clients offer "</via @soandso>" or  "cc @whatserface"  as the default attributions. People have become even more creative with the use of a ">" or, in my case, a double-forward slash like so //. When, if ever, will one method become the main standard practice? Will a day come when "via" is a laughable social faux pas made by parents who just don't understand?

I was reminded of a slightly similar discussion from earlier in the week when Joshua Benton of Nielman Journalism Lab asked: "Should eBook titles be in quotes or italics?"

Note that the question wasn't regarding turning the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird into "To Kill a Mockingbird", but rather the idea those rare exceptions when specific articles or pieces of editorial are available in eBook format. In essence, it became a discussion of the "book-ishness" of writing for the web and the synecdochic nature of long articles vs. eBooks. A good point was raised in a comment by Joseph Dowdy, director of the Global eBook Awards: "Italics are for titles where they CAN be used [...] I can't type italics in this comment area so I would use quotation marks for book titles right here."

Note: My vote was for underlining, but I was rebutted with a "HOW HIDEOUS!" (aesthetics strike again!)

In another vein, this constant evolution of web-writing makes it harder (or perhaps easier) for the pedants in us to point out mistakes when others fail to meet our grammar school expectations. (See this Quora post on whether it's acceptable for bloggers to make minor typos. [Short answer: no.])

In the end, we suppose we can only hope that whatever further changes are made in the style and/or process of writing for social media will make things not only easier for readers, but easier for writers.

Am I wrong? Are you the King of Quotation Marks and we italicizers are your peons? Do you hate my use of parentheticals? Did you find a typo? Shout it out below.

Image from Flickr. No, it's not the AP Stylebook.

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