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Write within the rules of the group by Bob Lory

We often speak of writing "style," which in reality is not one concept but four. I recommended Strunk and White's The Elements of Style as a guide to general or "correct" writing style.

That's the first concept of "style." The other three are:

Group or "our" style

Individual or "my" style

Structural style

Group style is the subject today.

A book you may have to consult much more frequently than Strunk and White is the style manual used by the organization you're writing for, the book whose purpose is to make sure published articles are consistent within a publication or among several publications. In recent years, every company I've worked with has adopted The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual as its bedrock decider on matters of style. Within its 300-plus pages you are told:

o Not to use a comma before the "and" or "but" in a series--e.g., Attendees were Mary, Martha and John.

o To spell out all whole numbers below 10 and to use figures for 10 and above,

o To capitalize Hades but not hell,

o To use gale to describe "sustained winds within the range of 39 to 54 mph (34 to 47 knots)

o That pingpong is a synonym for table tennis, and Ping-Pong is a trademarked name, and

o A lot of other stuff that seems to cover the Universe As We (Should) Know It.

Be aware that the first rule cited above runs counter to Strunk, who felt the final comma was needed to avoid confusion. I find it interesting that several editors I know whose official arbiter is the AP guide are unaware of its comma rule. (I know this because I've had them insert the things in my copy!)

My first full-time writing job was with a department that had its own style guide. Other than specifying how to treat department and division names and job titles, it had only three rules:

1. Follow Strunk re commas.

2. Use "employe" rather than "employee."

3. Follow the AP Guide for everything else.

In the three years I worked for that company, I never got used to either of the first two rules. But I obeyed them. Group style--agreed-upon usage--is not negotiable. Think about it as good communication manners-and not institutional repression (or cramping) of "your" style.

Copyright (c) 2006 Bob Lory

About the Author: Bob Lory's current work is training professional communicators. He teaches a month-long course--one-on-one or in groups of two or three--to help them manage their words and the media in which their words appear.

He's had almost 30 years writing and managing employee communication, public relations, marketing promotion and advertising--for most of these years with several affiliates of a Fortune Five company. During this time he created and led several communication-training programs for professionals from all Western European and most Asia Pacific countries as well as the Americas.

Under the Robert Lory and two pen names, he's written 35 published novels and two short story collections-science fiction, fantasy, horror, action type stuff--"none of which was nominated for any major (or minor) distinction. But more than half of them were translated into French, German and British."

His blog-- --is dedicated to helping "professional scribes and those who want to be."

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