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Doin’ it your own way

As a result of my job and my interests I follow a lot of logophiles, copywriters, proof readers, and harmless drudges through my social media accounts. One group among those I follow are the style guides for various different media organisations organizations, people whose job it is to ensure that writing appearing under the name of those organizations conforms to a common standard. These accounts are very popular; popular enough in fact to have spawned an extremely funny set of parody accounts that send up the more arcane parts of their house styles.

There is nothing unusual about an organization having a style guide. We have one here at OUP, if you are a regular reader here you may have noticed its influence in our use of the Oxford comma and the -ize ending rather than -ise in British English. Whether I am writing reports as part of my day job here in the Oxford Dictionaries office or writing pieces for this blog, I have frequently been corrected on these matters by my colleague who wields her proof reader’s red pen on my work. I have no complaints over this; when writing here I become in a small part the voice of OUP rather than a private citizen so it is important that I speak with that voice rather than my own.

It is thus encouraged for my proof reader to enforce the OUP style guide on my formal writing here at work. But I would not welcome it at all in the unlikely event that she did so for my informal writing, or for my writing outside work. In that writing I am speaking with my own voice rather than that of my employer.

I find it to be a shame, then, that I see other style guide followers online treating them as an oracle, an arbiter of all grammatical conundrums. Sometimes they are providing extremely necessary basic writing advice like that you’ll find in our “Better writing” section, but more often they are fulfilling their mission of providing their house style over an alternative style which is not significantly less valid. Following this advice is a necessity for people writing for the organizations in question but leaves me feeling that a spark of individuality is being extinguished for those who are not bound by the house rules.

So by all means consult an online style guide for help with your writing. They are staffed by extremely good writers and their advice will always be of excellent quality. But remember that your writing is an expression of your own individuality and if your output is not destined for the particular newspaper, press agency, or website whose style guide you are consulting, then you are quite within your rights to reject  the advice given and to retain that little bit of individuality.

After all, language evolves through the individuality of those who use it, and wouldn’t the lives of we logophiles be boring without that?