The Associated Press and other news organizations are updating their style guides to allow for more gender-neutral options since that’s the reality of where we are in late 2015. These updates are essential since the last thing the news should do is offend the subjects of its reporting.
It brings to mind though the…complicated… relationship I’ve always had with such style guides, particularly as they relate to online writing. Many times over the years I’ve had someone come to me about a blog post that’s already been published and tell me “Well this isn’t in AP Style,” to which I’ve usually replied with some variation on “OK…It doesn’t really need to be.”
This attitude probably betrays my early days publishing on the web, where many of us had a “post first, correct later” approach. It was better to be messy than to be polished because hey, we were all figuring this out and doing it in the gaps between everything else we were doing. That has changed somewhat over the years. Now the expectation seems to be that anything published will have gone through revisions and editing and five layers of approvals.
Which means there’s a place for style guides, even the same ones that your PR colleagues down the hall are using to produce their press releases. Stated even more clearly, it’s incumbent on producers of web content to be aware of how these kinds of editorial style guides are evolving.
It comes down to this: I don’t believe you can break the rules – indeed I don’t believe you should be allowed to break the rules – unless you know what those rules are. I know half the sentences in this post don’t start like an English professor would prefer. I know the rules, I just choose not to follow them. I can if I want, but that sounds boring.
When I edit someone’s blog post I’m not concerned with devotion to a style guide. I’m more concerned with allowing the voice of the person who’s written the post to come through. Are they angry? Sarcastic? Call and reasoned? Too often worrying about making sure you’re hitting all your style points gets in the way of that, at least in my experience.
Again, I’ll admit this is a holdover attitude from the wild west of the social web. But I’ll take a passionate, unique voice over one that is technically correct any day of the week and twice on Sundays.