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online grammar

Chicago Style Gets With the Online Grammar Times (Singular They, Lowercase Internet & More)

Grammar nerds, hold onto your hats.

On March 23 of this year, Carol Fisher Saller, editor of The Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A section, gave a presentation about some of the updates that would appear in the Chicago Manual’s 17th edition, due out in September of this year.

Among the big news?

It’s about time for these changes:

  • internet will now be lowercase
  • email will lose its hyphen.

Take that Kim Kardashian. Who broke the Internet internet now?

online grammar rules

What The Chicago Manual Is Changing For 2017 (A Win for Online Grammar)

If those two changes weren’t large enough for you, Saller also announced that the manual will begin accepting a singular “they” and that the 17th edition will include citation recommendations for social media posts, like Facebook and Twitter updates.

Each year, editors announce the changes to the Stylebook at the American Copy Editor’s Society annual meeting. This meeting is where the world heard, in 2011, that the Associated Press intended to stop using a hyphen in email.

Here’s a snapshot from that glorious moment:

In 2016, the Associated Press announced that it would remove the capitalization from the word internet. The Chicago Manual of Style has since announced its intention to adopt these styles.

Here are just a few of the notable changes from the recent meeting:

Gender Changes

Many of the recent changes revolve around what QuickAndDirtyTips.com calls “gender-related entries.” Here’s a breakdown:

  • Her, his. Before, AP style required writers to use he when a gender was unknown. Today, it’s acceptable to use they, them, or their.
  • Singular they. One of the largest changes, the AP Stylebook has recently begun to accept the use of they as a singular pronoun. This is especially useful in places where his or her would be overly clumsy or confusing. The only exception is when the phrasing would suggest there is more than one person.

Additional Changes

Additional, non-gender-related changes include the following:

  • Autonomous vehicles. Thanks to the rise of autonomous technology, the AP Stylebook has taken up a guide for how to refer to them. Instead of using the word driverless, however, the correct method is to use the term self-driving, unless the vehicle can only do some of the driving, in which case it should be called semi-autonomous.
  • Fact checks, fake news. “Fake news” may well be the term of 2017! Because there’s been such a sharp uptick in the use of these terms, the AP Stylebook now recommends using fake news in quotation marks to refer to deliberate falsehoods. The Stylebook also recommends not labeling individual news items as fake news that are disputed. Obvious enough, right?
  • Flyer, flier. Thanks to the new AP changes, you’re now a frequent flyer rather than a frequent flier. This change is due in large part to the fact that flyer is more common in both American and British spelling.
  • The Oxford comma. Today, clarity is more important than anything else, especially when viewed from the AP Stylebook’s standpoint. While the standard style has generally been to avoid the serial comma, the guideline now is to use it, but only where it’s needed for clarity.
  • Virtual reality. Like autonomous technology, augmented reality has become a major fixture in modern society. When you refer to it now, the AP Stylebook says it’s fine to use VR on the second reference, as long as you spell out virtual reality the first time. What’s more, you may use AR to refer to augmented reality, on the second pass only, though.

Why Updated Grammar Rules Matter to the Online Creator

If you don’t write, or read, or interact with content of any kind, this might not seem like a big deal!

To everyone in the content and online marketing communities, however, this is massive news. While online grammar has long since accepted these new realities, traditional grammar guidelines have seen them as “wrong” until very recently.

Now that the recognition is formal, though, it frees online writers up from being looked down upon by grammar professionals across the web and print media. It also helps standardize digital content and ensure that it matches up with print media.

Are the Stylebook and the Manual of Style Two Different Things?

If you’re flashing back to a time when you had to map sentences in high school grammar, it’s okay. Grammar can be a confusing and often overwhelming topic, and wondering what the heck the difference between the Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook is doesn’t help matters.

Here’s some clarity: they’re two separate entities.

Here’s what grammar.yourdictionary.com has to say about the separation:

“The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are very different guides for two very different groups of people who make their living with the written word. The Chicago Manual of Style is by far the larger reference work, with over 950 pages. The AP Stylebook has only 330 pages. The Chicago Manual of style is the guide for authors, editors and publishers of books, periodicals and journals. The AP Stylebook is the prime reference for those in the news and public relations fields.”

The fact that both entities agree on many of these changes means an enhanced sense of cohesion for writers everywhere!

A Good Day for Grammar 

The recent changes on the part of the Chicago Manual do one thing: help unify online and print writing for the sake of journalists and copywriters everywhere. By syncing grammar rules with digital grammar style, they help reduce confusion and make good writing easier for everyone.

The print version of the AP Stylebook will be available May 31, 2017.

While this guide is updated annually, the Chicago Manual of Style is updated less frequently, and the last update was in 2010.

Check back with both entities regularly to stay on top of future updates!

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Your Quick & Dirty Internet Grammar Guide: 12 Important Rules to Start Using

Everybody seems to be multitasking these days.

While you’re composing work emails, cruising social media, and tapping out blog posts, you’re also sipping coffee, listening to podcasts, and reading the news.

But here’s the thing: Since you’re trying to do it all at once, you’re probably accomplishing the most basic versions of these tasks. Because of this, your grammar is suffering.

Worse than that, it seems we’re throwing grammar to the wind. Our emails and texts have no punctuation, no upper cases – everything seems to flow in one run-on sentence peppered with acronyms such as SML, LOL, and OMG.

Social networking and digital communication lack grammar, but they’re not the only culprits. Many popular blogs and websites also throw grammar out the window.

However, just because poor grammar is used more frequently doesn’t mean it’s right.

In fact, bad grammar can negatively affect the performance of your content:

  • Failing to take the time to create great – grammatically great – content shows you’re not bothered about quality.
  • If you don’t care whether your website’s grammar is spotless, visitors may assume you take the same lackluster approach to your product or service.
  • Poorly used grammar hinders a website visitor’s ability to understand what you’re trying to say or sell.

The result: Visitors can’t decipher your message, which leaves them confused and annoyed.

What happens next?

Those readers will cut their losses and head off to a website that makes more sense.

That’s not good for you – or your brand.

In other words, grammar matters. That’s why this 12-step online grammar guide is here for you.

Your Quick Dirty Internet Grammar Guide

Your 12-Step, Quick and Dirty Internet Grammar Guide

If your content looks like it was written by your hamster scurrying across the keyboard, you’re going to struggle to get real traction. Here are 12 hard and fast rules to web content writing, punctuation, and grammar that will help tighten up your skills.

Bad grammar can negatively affect the performance of your content, leaving your audience confused and annoyed. Get it out of the way ASAP with @JuliaEMcCoy's 12-step internet grammar guide. 🔖 Click To Tweet

Let’s get right into internet grammar nitty-gritty!

1. Semicolons

According to author Kurt Vonnegut, the first rule in creative writing is to not use semicolons. They ‘represent nothing,’ he says.

That’s a pretty strong opinion. However, blogs just don’t need them. They alienate readers and make you, the writer, look pretentious. (Why didn’t you just write two sentences, or use “and”?)

According to author Kurt Vonnegut, the first rule in creative writing is to not use semicolons. They 'represent nothing,' Blogs don't need them. Instead of using it, just write two sentences or use 'and.' @JuliaEMcCoy on #internetgrammar Click To Tweet

2. Exclamation Points

Overuse of exclamation points makes writers look cheesy. Stay away from them.

If you absolutely feel the urge to use them (and please, please keep it to one at a time), never put an exclamation point at the end of one paragraph and then the beginning of another. In fact, here’s a new challenge: Limit yourself to no more than two per page.

Overuse of exclamation points makes writers look cheesy. Stay away from them. If needed, try to limit yourself to no more than two per page. - @JuliaEMcCoy on #internetgrammar Click To Tweet

3. Quotation Marks

“Always put punctuation inside quotation marks,” she said. That’s the rule of thumb in American English.

“Leaving punctuation outside quotation marks, like this”, is inappropriate in most cases. Exceptions exist in British English, but those only apply to your writing if you’re actually a Brit.

Image: Language Editing

Always put punctuations (periods and commas) inside quotation marks. That’s the rule of thumb in American English. - @JuliaEMcCoy shares her 12 #internetgrammar rules to start using. Click To Tweet

4. Parentheses

If you’re writing a sentence and feel the need to use parentheses (usually to make a comment or aside), the punctuation goes on the outside of the closing parenthesis.

If your parentheses will end the sentence, the punctuation still goes on the outside (just like this). Don’t use too many parentheses, either.

If you’re writing a sentence and feel the need to use parentheses, the punctuation goes on the outside of the closing parenthesis. The same rule applies when your parentheses will end the sentence. - @JuliaEMcCoy on the 12… Click To Tweet

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5. Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks have nothing to do with grammar, but any discussion of internet grammar has to include them. If you write a blog and talk about a certain website, blog or business, hyperlink to them. Always, always hyperlink to your sources.

Not really related to grammar but remember: Always, always hyperlink to your sources. - @JuliaEMcCoy on the 12 #internetgrammar rules. Click To Tweet

6. Hyphenation

I touched on this earlier, but let me reiterate. If you’re not sure whether to hyphenate a word, take a second to Google it. You’ll usually get the answer pretty fast. Always do this fast double-check before you hyphenate – eventually, your Google-sourced knowledge will become second nature.

Tip: If you’re not sure whether to hyphenate a word, take a second to Google it. You’ll usually get the answer pretty fast. - @JuliaEMcCoy on the 12 #internetgrammar rules. Click To Tweet

7. Capitalization

Grr, this is a pet peeve of mine.

Do not capitalize insignificant words (and, of, the) in titles and subheadings unless they’re the first word in the phrase. While I’m on this point, there’s no need to capitalize the main keywords in your content, either. DON’T do it, people.

For instance, if you’re trying to use the target keyword “social media management,” you don’t need to capitalize it. It’s just awkward. Look at this sentence:

“These ten Social Media Management tips can get your Internet campaign soaring.”

See how it draws attention to the fact you’re keyword stuffing? It’s totally unnecessary.

Do not capitalize insignificant words (and, of, the) in titles and subheadings unless they’re the first word in the phrase. Don't capitalize the main keywords, either! ⛔ @JuliaEMcCoy on #internetgrammar rules Click To Tweet

8. Web and Internet

Whether “internet” is the first word in your content or the third, technically it’s a proper noun. Five years ago, every instance of “internet” was capitalized – today, not so much.

Similarly, “web” (as in “world wide web”) is not capitalized unless it’s the first word in a sentence (e.g. “World wide web”).

'Web' and 'internet' are not capitalized (unless they're the first word of your sentence). 💡Know more about @JuliaEMcCoy's 12 #internetgrammar rules. Click To Tweet

9. Commas

People tend to either overuse or underuse commas. In my opinion, you should never, ever be afraid to use them. In truth, I probably delight in them a little too much. They add pauses to your writing that help the reader slow down and take in your meaning. (If you disagree, I’d love to know why in the comments.)

Don't be ever afraid to use commas. They add pauses to your writing, helping the reader slow down and understand your message better. 💭 @JuliaEMcCoy on comma usage. Check out here the rest of #internetgrammar rules! Click To Tweet

10. Numbers

The single-digit numbers, one through nine, should always be written out as words, but you can write double-digit numbers (10 and above) using numerals. You knew that, though, right?

Tip: The single-digit numbers, one through nine, should always be written out as words, but you can write double-digit numbers (10 and above) using numerals. 🔢 @JuliaEMcCoy on #internetgrammar rules Click To Tweet

11. Spacing After Periods

Once upon a time, when people still exclusively used typewriters, a convention in writing was to double-space after the closing punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.

The double-space was needed because of monospace typesetting – each letter got the exact same amount of space, whether it was a wide “m” or a slim “i.” As a result, the end of some sentences could get lost without that extra tap on the space key afterward.

Since most people today are typing on computers, that rule is totally outdated and unnecessary. Instead, always single-space at the end of sentences after the closing punctuation.

We're not using typewriters anymore so remember: Always single-space at the end of sentences after the closing punctuation. ❗ @JuliaEMcCoy on spacing after periods #internetgrammar Click To Tweet

Image: Cult of Pedagogy

12. Rephrasing Keywords for Grammar

Love them or hate them, keywords are essential for SEO. However, the keywords you’re presented with (from that list a keyword research tool probably spit out) are NOT set in stone.

That means you don’t have to use them as-is, especially when they’re grammatically incorrect.

Yes, you can play around with keyword grammar so it makes sense inside your sentences and paragraphs.

For example, “coffee shop Boston” doesn’t have to stay in that robotic style. You can add prepositions, conjunctions, or punctuation to help make it flow with correct English – like “an awesome coffee shop in Boston” or “If you want to visit a coffee shop, Boston has tons of great ones.” You can even switch up the word order, like “Visit this Boston coffee shop!”

For a detailed lesson on rephrasing keywords for grammar, check out my video, How to Use Long-Tail and Awkward Keywords in Your SEO Content:

The keywords you’re presented with are NOT set in stone. You don’t have to use them as-is, especially when they’re grammatically incorrect. Play around with keyword grammar so they make sense in your sentences. ⚽@JuliaEMcCoy on… Click To Tweet

Bonus: Examples of Common Internet Terms and How to Spell Them

Of course, not everyone is going to agree on internet terminology. However, it’s a good idea to find one correct usage for each common internet term and stick to it consistently.

1. Website

At first, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook stipulated “web site” should be spelled as two separate words. However, over time, the two words merged into one, and now “website” is a slightly more common usage (though both are technically correct), according to Grammarist.

2. Online

Then there’s the word “online.” The AP Stylebook states there’s no hyphen in this word, but there are those who spell it “on-line” whether it is being used as an adverb or adjective. (I don’t recommend using this spelling – it’s pretty dated.)

3. Email (and Other E-words)

Surprisingly, the word email is written “e-mail,” with the hyphen, in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, but they include the spelling variant “email,” with no hyphen.

In 2011, the AP Stylebook dropped the hyphen altogether. That means the correct style is “email.” (Interestingly, the AP also dropped the space in “cell phone,” so today, you use a “cellphone.”)

In just about all cases where the “e” stands for “electronic,” you’ll see the usage of lower case “e” and a hyphen in most dictionaries. Some instances include e-learning, e-commerce, and e-business. However, you can drop the hyphen and the word will still be grammatically correct.

Want to learn how to speak like a pro online? Check out @JuliaEMcCoy's internet grammar guide plus some examples of common internet terms. Click To Tweet

Is Good Grammar Going to Fade into Oblivion?

The short answer: absolutely not. While more people are using poor grammar online, it’s not going to make good grammar disappear.

Whether you’re writing a status update for your Facebook social media marketing or creating content for blogs in an effort to gain backlinks, the quality of your writing is important.

We still need good grammar in content writing, publishing, and online writing: white papers, books and ebooks, blog posts, press releases – these all require stellar sentence construction.

Most of all, using proper punctuation and grammar means high-level audiences are more likely to trust you and regard you as an expert in your field. On the other hand, if you neglect them, potential clients won’t take you seriously.

Don’t drop the ball. Good grammar online does matter for your reputation, your brand, and your business.

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