7 style guide rules to remember

Do you know the difference between a ‘pom-pom’ and a ‘pompon’? What about when to use ‘beside’ or ‘besides’? These style guidelines can help.

It’s like Christmas in February.

Recently, a colleague and I were talking about style guides and about the differences among all the style guides we’ve used in our careers. A few days later, he brought in a copy of an in-house style guide he’d used at a previous job.

It’s entrancing to read what’s included in the style guide and why—entrancing to think about the stories behind the entries. (There’s a section in this style guide titled “Pet Peeves.”)

Of course, it’s also reaffirming to realize that others have the same style issues that we do—serial commas, health care as two words, the use of utilize.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

Alumna/alumnae
An alumna is one woman. Alumnae are women.

Alumni/alumnus
Alumni are men and women. An alumnus is one man.

Beside/besides
Beside means (1) at the side of (Sit beside me.); (2) to compare with (Beside Patrick O’Brian, all other authors fall short.); (3) apart from (That’s beside the point.)

Besides means (1) furthermore (Besides, I said no.); in addition to (Breakfast was served with chocolate and tea besides); (3) otherwise (There’s only one car in the parking garage besides mine.)

Peddle/pedal
Peddle means to sell. (Peddle your SEO services somewhere else.)
Pedal means to use pedals. (Pedaling up that hill was easier than I thought.)

Pom-pom/pompon
Pom-pom is a rapidly firing weapon.
Pompon
is a “cheerleader’s prop.”

Collective nouns
Rather than going into rules about singular and plural forms, the style guide offers a concise guideline on collective nouns: “The collective nouns ‘faculty’ and ‘staff’ are singular nouns. If you wish to use a plural construction, use ‘members of the faculty/staff’ or ‘faculty/staff members.'”

Academic degrees
Until now, it’s never been clear to me about how to capitalize and when to use an apostrophe in academic degrees. I now understand it.

Academic degrees are capitalized only when the full name of the degree is used, such as Bachelor of Arts or Master of Social Work. General references—such as bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree—are not capitalized.

Use an apostrophe (possessive) with bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, but not in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science. Do not use an apostrophe (possessive) with associate degree or doctoral degree.

Correct:
He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 2012.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication in 2012.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication in 2012.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in 2008.
She holds a doctorate from Oxford University.

Readers, do you have any new or obscure style guide rules to share?

Laura Hale Brockway is medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. She is also a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.

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