Dr. Judith M. Newman


Style means all kinds o' things.

At its grandest, it means everything about your way of presenting yourself in words, including grace, clarity, and a thousand undefinable qualities that separate good writing from bad. At its narrowest, it includes mechanics such as spelling, punctuation, usage, and grammar.

Questions about style have no definitive answers, only competing standards used in different places. There are differences in spelling and punctuation in various countries. In fact, each publishing house develops what it refers to as "house style"—the choices about (mostly minor) matters that it sets on its own. Newspaper publishers, for instance, often use different rules than book publishers do. It's not a question of which is "right" or "wrong"; you need to learn to suit your mechanics to the forum for which you're writing.

Be aware that there are a good many differences within written language, just as there are in spoken English. Words and constructions vary a good deal in what we read. It's important to become aware of the "standards" of usage expected of a proficient technical writer; to become sensitive to the style demands of the typical genres used in technical writing.

The best way to sensitize yourself to style is to read widely the kinds of material you find yourself having to write so that you develop a feel for what is acceptable.

There are a many well established references on style. Some of the major ones are now available online.

Online Resources

Click here to find links to some of the more significant online resources on style.