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AP Stylebook Reveals New Tech B2B Marketing Guidelines: WTF?

Posted by Bill McRae

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for 2015 is newly released, and with it a list of updates and revisions to what is considered proper and correct in written American English.

Why should tech B2B marketers care?

Well, it turns out that having a set of guidelines to inform your word and style choice can be extremely handy in today’s fast-changing world.

Pity the journalists who had to write the first stories on June 1 about Bruce Jenner’s gender reassignment and re-identification as Caitlyn. Is the former Olympian now formally referred to as him or her? Debate about which pronoun was correct briefly lit up social media when the AP initially referred to Caitlyn as he. It didn’t take long (later that day) for the AP to come up with a more sensible standard usage: use the pronoun preferred by the transgender individual.

Guide to a Changing Language, and Evolving Culture

Tech marketers rarely encounter such quizzical language usage choices as those presented by Jenner (and if they do, they should consider seeking help from McBru's crack writing services team). But every day they face the challenge of writing clearly and persuasively about technically complex subjects. Technical marketing writing is littered with perplexing abbreviations, neologisms, and hyperbole, and having a recognized set of rules to guide language usage maintains a common standard of communication, and literally keeps everyone on the same page.

The AP Stylebook is the most commonly used reference guide for grammar, style, usage and spelling in journalism and tech B2B marketing writing in the U.S., and its annual edition serves as a waypost of English language evolution. Its yearly-changing rules about what’s proper and what’s not in written prose always sets up howls from language purists and shrugs from other people who communicate as best they can with the living language of English.

As a marketer, you want to reach the broadest possible audience as clearly as you can. It pays to follow the tried-and-true rulebooks of language, even if they seem out of date. For a language as vital and fast-moving as English, it’s important to have an established model for what is considered standard usage.

Language is a rule-based system, and when the rules cease to hold, the assurance that everyone has a common understanding of written language also begins to fray. If you don’t already know the rules, then the AP Stylebook is your friend. Use it liberally.

After all, there are people out there who notice whether or not you know how to use proper English. According to a New York Times article, human resources executives ranked “writing skills” as the number one ability missing amongst entry-level job applicants. Even if you aren’t looking for a job, knowing how to write clearly is important, and that means following the rules.

WTF Goes Mainstream

This year’s list of stylistic and vocabulary changes to the AP Stylebook offer little to create dust-ups with language nerds. And making arbitrary changes to formal language isn’t really the AP’s purpose.

According to David Minthorn, the AP Stylebook’s co-editor, “We don’t normally make style. We reflect usage, in our view. We’re not trying to get ahead of the game. When we make a change, almost always it reflects the reality of language use and what’s happening in vernacular speech or idiomatic speech or in the case of social media, popular social media terms that are having an impact.”

For instance, according to the 2015 AP Stylebook, it’s now proper to use “favorite” as a verb, as in favoriting something on Facebook. “Meme” also made the cut, as “a piece of information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that’s shared verbally or transmitted widely, often in social media.”

Of interest to us here in thirsty, pagan Oregon, Wicca and Wiccan are now included in the stylebook’s religion section, and are capitalized in all uses. “Craft breweries” is now the preferred term for what we used to call brewpubs.

Abbreviations and acronyms are where the AP registers some of the most notable changes in propriety of usage. It’s now permissible to use BLT (for the sandwich) on first usage, and for the first time, according to NPR, it’s considered proper by the AP to use the abbreviation WTF "if necessary to convey a meaning or mood."

While that term might not seem exactly appropriate in formal English, it’s good to remember that the now innocuous term “snafu” started out as a World War II military abbreviation meaning “Situation Normal: All F***ed Up.”

Like Caitlyn Jenner, like the culture it describes, the English language usage keeps evolving. It’s good to have a guide.

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