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How Important Are Style Guides?

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  • I've been hearing a lot of debate recently about whether or not style guides are important for video game writing. Those in favor of reliance on the guides say that they improve any type of writing and we should always be striving to reach the same heights as other media. Opponents claim that style guides are more critical for "highbrow" writing and don't really fit into the tone of game journalism.

    I can see both sides of the issues, so I'd like to get some opinions around here. I know that sites like The Escapist and Gamasutra basically demand "style guide" writing because of their tone and who the audience is, but are they as useful for more mainstream sites (1Up, GI, IGN) who try and maintain a more conversational and casual voice? Do you write with your copy of The Elements of Style within reach or do you see guides as more of a luxury only needed by writers at certain outlets?

  • hey there brad. not to show too much of my newbie status here but what are style guides? I'm interested about all facets of game or other journalism and would like some feedback if I am going to get into this.  Thanks for yours.

  • "Highbrow?"  That's an interesting distinction to make.

    Whether we're writing about video games or French cinema, the fact remains that we're writing.  We are practitioners of the science and art of composing meaningful phrases, sentences, paragraphs and so on; so if for nothing else than for the sake of our own self-respect, we have something of an obligation to at least look like we know what we're doing.

    Tone is an entirely separate issue from correct "style."  A writer who believes he can achieve a "conversational tone" by ignoring basic principles like punctuation and capitalization is a writer that readers will not enjoy reading.  If game journalism requires a casual tone (and I think saying so is denigrating to the culture), it also requires readability and focus.  Journalism is, after all, the communication of ideas.  If you have abysmal "style," your ideas will be muted, or worse, discredited.

    As for style guides...well, they're useful for achieving good style.  I don't use one, because I don't need one for my purposes; I write for myself.  And in any event, I've internalized the most important rules of writing, so that even when my work violates certain rules (like starting a sentence with a conjunction*), it still comes across clearly.  The bottom line is, if you've written a series of good sentences which progress logically, then you've done a fine piece of writing.

    *I'd just like to say that there is absolutely no good reason that a sentence cannot begin with a conjunction.  The same goes for ending with prepositions.

    You should read my Blog.  This week: once again, a Poetry JAM!

  • ChiaPett666:

    hey there brad. not to show too much of my newbie status here but what are style guides? I'm interested about all facets of game or other journalism and would like some feedback if I am going to get into this.  Thanks for yours.

    Basically style guides are handbooks of sorts that mostly lay out the finer points of writing in a grammatically correct manner. As Dav was mentinoning, they remind you of obscure things like not ending sentences in prepositions. They've also got more practical uses in everyday writing, such as demonstrating proper uses of punctuation (my personal bugaboo is commas), and help improve sentence structure.

    Obviously they sound like patently great things, but some people don't like style guides because they feel they make writing overly technical, emphasizing the wrong things about writing. The argument basically goes if you're obsessing over things in a style guide your actual content may suffer, sort of one of those issues where you're missing the forest for the trees. A lot of it is a matter of how closely you want to follow the textbook definitions of sentence structure, punctuation, voice, etc.

  • I believe that if you don't pay attention to the technical aspects of writing, it shows, and it will make others seriously question the degree of professionalism you use. If you want a blog--or article--that feels like a Facebook wall post then by all means, ignore the basics, but if you want a piece that really makes others take you seriously and believe you know what you're saying, then ignoring grammar and style is a grave mistake. I can't tell you how crazy it makes me when blogs ignore punctuation, capitalization and sentence structure fundamentals! Obsessing about style isn't practical, but ignoring it will probably get you flamed.

  • I do a lot of writing on Newsvine, and I'd have to side with the argument that a style guide is definitely needed in any user driven online forum. It establishes a standard that we can effectively hold everyone too. Obviously we don't need to be the 'grammer cops' and you'll run into some younger or less experienced writers that are unaware of their mistakes (and how unfortunately common they are), but it would serve as a good constructive community baseline guide to implement or at least garner majority support for the idea.

    Another way to look at this is that the gameinformer.com site has a multi-tiered level system in which a user can be called upon or placed under review to become a sort of staff writer. Users wishing to become a staff writer will most likely have to follow a style guide. Conversely, I've noticed a lot of forum thread posts to be mundane and rather unintelligent questions serving nothing more than what I'll call 'point dumps' (a close ended question that a use can get 5 points without really making a valuable contribution to anything), so if the community were to be in favor of a style guide it would be prudent to also consider fostering threads that require more than bulleted subjective lists and closed answers.

     

    CAUTION: Shawn's blog increases the risk of intelligence.

  • PheonixDav:
    *I'd just like to say that there is absolutely no good reason that a sentence cannot begin with a conjunction.  The same goes for ending with prepositions.

    That's because those are grammar myths (for the most part). Usually, the only time that prepostion at the end rule is enforced is with someting so hideous as "at". "Where are you at?" It makes me shudder....

    If you have a question about things like that, I generally tell people, or rather, challenge people, to find an alternative method of stating the same thing, such as "Where are you?", or the equally correct "At where are you?"

    But, for the most part those rules rank up there with the 'rule' of "i before e, except after c". Veiled weirdness it is.

    CAUTION: Shawn's blog increases the risk of intelligence.

  • Shawn:

    Another way to look at this is that the gameinformer.com site has a multi-tiered level system in which a user can be called upon or placed under review to become a sort of staff writer. Users wishing to become a staff writer will most likely have to follow a style guide.

    I thought I saw something like that in one of the early posts once the new site went live. I may have been imagining it, but I thought Andy or someone mentioned that eventually they'd be posting writing guides for those who are looking to get published on the front page.

    I do agree with everyone who has emphasized issues such as capitalization and proper punctuation, I heartily agree that everyone needs a solid grip on the fundamentals. The issues I'm more unsure of are things like how many folks honestly care if you used a comma when you should have used a semi-colon, or vice-versa? Does anyone really care about those lesser-known rules?

  • Brad Hilderbrand:

    I thought I saw something like that in one of the early posts once the new site went live. I may have been imagining it, but I thought Andy or someone mentioned that eventually they'd be posting writing guides for those who are looking to get published on the front page.

    I do agree with everyone who has emphasized issues such as capitalization and proper punctuation, I heartily agree that everyone needs a solid grip on the fundamentals. The issues I'm more unsure of are things like how many folks honestly care if you used a comma when you should have used a semi-colon, or vice-versa? Does anyone really care about those lesser-known rules?

    Well... I guess the best way to look at that is to ask if people actually care about standards compliance on a website. If you know anything about web creation then standards compliance is of extreme importance as it accounts for the pages displaying properly or displaying all messed up. The content and point may be the same, but the details are integral to reception. The difference between good and good enough is in the details, right? So, no - I don't think people will care at first because they'd be largely unaware of their mistakes and chalk it up to "everyone does it."

    I think perhaps you could answer that yourself if you follow this line of logic:

    The front page is the face of the site. 

    Improper format and style exhibit flawed content.

    Who wants to be represented by flaws?

    Would users want to be represented in flawed manners? Would other users wish to be represented next to flaws on equal terms?

    Dos it now matter? Yes. Will people care? In time.

    CAUTION: Shawn's blog increases the risk of intelligence.

  • I have a confession to make; I am addicted to the semi-colon.

    You should read my Blog.  This week: once again, a Poetry JAM!

  • I think that commas should always be secondary to stuff like full sentances (a complete thought) and, that it should pass as long as you can understand the point the person is trying to get across. So, commas and simicolons don't really apply if you just want to get a point across.

    Style is just that STYLE it's the person wrighting something that has to decide what they want to do as long as it works.

  • carlton Jones:

    ...f like full sentances (a complete thought) and, that it should pass...

    It makes me chuckle, that in a conversation about proper written grammar and the use of commas, you mis-used a comma :D Of course, it's my opinion that if you don't have at least a working knowledge of proper grammar, then perhaps you shouldn't be writing ( of course, perhaps i'm not holding myself to that standard either, I didn't know that "where are you at?" is not a correct way to ask a question... just as a complete aside to the discussion, how IS that supposed to be phrased? "Where are you located?" ?)

  • I'd guess that most, possibly all game mags and blogs do have some kind of style guide, if only to main consistency among their articles (i.e. "video game" or "videogame"; adding a comma in before "and" in a list or not; rules for acronyms; the list could go on and on), but it's probably not anything hardcore like the Associated Press's stylebook. Style guides aren't as nearly as poncy and high-brow as they're cracked up to be (although the people who overzealously enforce grammar rules may be).  I once asked one of the bigger games blogs if I could volunteer to do coverage for them at E3, and they told me thanks, but  E3's environment would not be the time or place for me to learn their style, rules, etc. So yeah, style guides are important. Very important.

    By the way, there is a videogame style guide available here. Can't say if anyone in the industry uses this though.

    Something I would like to see a decision on is "video game" or "videogame". "Video game" is in the dictionary and the AP Style Guide, but I've seen "videogame" being used in other publications (and in the videogame style guide mentioned above).

     

    ______________________________
    bibbity-bloggity-boo

  • I know that N4G makes you take a test if you want to be a contributor and it touches on things like style, format and content. I don't think that GIO and N4G are so similar in purpose that GIO would or would implement a style guide but I do not think that they'd barr anyone from making a style guide to be used by those who wish to take their game to a new level so to speak.

    Personally, it would be great to see given that 'monkey see monkey do' is a common trait of social sites. It could be viral and the content presentation could flourish among content depth.

    CAUTION: Shawn's blog increases the risk of intelligence.

  • David:
    Where are you located?

    The other thing I notice a lot of is "Off of the table", as opposed to the correct "off the table". It's little things that some of us pick out and can be real sticklers about but all in all I think that a majority of the community feels that as long as the content is understood, they're happy to read it. Still, I'd like to see a style guide implemented or at least a format guide, but I'm not going to press the site about it. Most people come here for leisure, apparently.

    CAUTION: Shawn's blog increases the risk of intelligence.

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