Web writing style guide

Active or passive voice?

Try to use the active voice whenever possible. But remember there are times when it is better and less accusatory to use the passive. For example:

Active: You fucked that job right up.
Passive: The job was fucked right up.
Active: We made some serious fuck-ups.
Passive: Some serious fuck-ups were made.

Apostrophes

Use apostrophes to indicate possession. For example:
Your daughter’s face is ugly.
Your son’s intelligence is low.

More examples of use:
Your sisters’ pimps’ cars – More than one sister, more than one pimp.
Your sister’s pimps’ cars – One sister, many pimps.
Your sister’s pimp’s cars – One sister, one pimp.
Your sisters’ pimp’s cars – More than one sister, but just one pimp.

Capital letters

Keep everything in lower case unless it is a proper noun. For example:
There are many shit-rag magazines written by and for morons, and Heat Magazine is one such magazine.

Similarly, use lower case for government and the people involved in them. For example:
Most of parliament were involved in the expenses scandal.
Many world leaders are warmongering sociopaths.

Colons and semicolons

Colons introduce something: an idea or a list. Semicolons separate complete but closely related sentences. For example:
I know you won’t understand this; you are a complete dolt.
I only get drunk on week nights; I like to be hungover on someone else’s time.

Commas

Use commas to link words in a simple list. For example:
Life is futile, boring, brutal and short.

Use commas to cordon off extra parts of the sentence. For example:
The reporter, instead of covering the court case, was fucking an unpaid intern in a stationery cupboard.

Note that the traditional rule of not using a comma before ‘or’ or ‘and’ is not rigid. You may need it to avoid ambiguity. An Oxford comma can be used when the last item in a list contains the word ‘and’. For example:
The fat bastard has eaten too much ice cream, pizza, and fish and chips.

Everyday words

To get your message across use plain English as much as possible. Avoid official-sounding terms. Here are some examples and their plainer alternatives:

equitable = we’re screwing you
elected member = sociopath
expedite = make you redundant
expenditure = the money we’ve wasted
henceforth = I made a mistake and I’m blaming you
in lieu of = we’re not paying you
utilise = exploit

Dates

Write dates in full using the ‘dd month yyyy’ format. Do not write days, unless absolutely necessary. For example:
The London Olympic Games will be a shambles as of 27 July 2012 (not 27th of July 2012).

Speech marks

Use double quotation marks to indicate direct speech, or words quoted. For example:
Tony Blair said of Iraq: “Their weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing.”

Time (writing the time)

Write the time using numbers, without punctuation and using a 24 hour clock. For example:
I wrote this between 1630 and 1700 on a Friday afternoon instead of doing what I’m paid to do. Before I got this job, I signed on the dole every Tuesday at 1030.

Tone

Speaking or writing, we should always strive to be clear, concise and compelling. Web writing should:

  • Allow people to waste time on the internet without using their brains.
  • Allow people to copy and paste without crediting the author.
  • Be easy to make knee-jerk reactions to.
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6 Responses to Web writing style guide

  1. mieke says:

    I missed the bit where you allowed for easy skimming of the text so I didn’t actually have to read the whole thing

  2. McKinley says:

    This post is educational and fun. Thank you, Rich.

  3. recoder says:

    Thanks. It’s a product of frustration: I spend a lot of time at work revising style guides that no-one ever reads because they’re completely bland.

  4. Ray says:

    So, Lynn Truss’ excellent book ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ seems to have become ‘Tits’ toots and beavers’.

  5. Guy says:

    This post is brilliant!!

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