Home Previews & Reviews The Elements of Tech Style: The Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th Edition

The Elements of Tech Style: The Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th Edition

Before he narrated the audio book of his children’s literary classic, “Charlotte’s Web,” (downloadable at Amazon’s Audible.com), or did a stretch writing for The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, E.B. White took on the challenge of rewriting “The Elements of Style” a manifesto on English language usage originally authored by White’s Cornell college professor, William Strunk, in 1918.  “E.B.” described the precedent as a  “forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.”

Perhaps White’s most famous Web-spinning spider named “Charlotte,” (having since being hired to crawl the Bing and Google Webiverse), would be first to adorn the question: “How have the “Elements of Style” changed in the past forty years? How have personal computing and online publishing transformed our culture’s written communication?” and “Do we require an altogether new Style Manual on how to write in the digital age?” Thank you, Charlotte, for those observations!

“Strunk and White” has had its progenitors, the first work being succeeded by the Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, respectively, in annotating the “rights of  writing.” But  in the past 24 months, two cyber-age style guides have arrived on the scene. The “Yahoo! Style Guide” earned the distinction of being the first of its kind to  simultaneously launch in print and digital form, including  as an “iBook”.  Now, Microsoft has relaunched its new edition of the “Microsoft Manual of Style,” a guide to usage, terminology, and style for professional technical communication.

The most conspicuous question about this or any “standards” volume,  is whether a corporate entity like Microsoft or Yahoo, (which the U.S. Supreme Court gave a “voice” under the Bill of Rights in 2011), should be able to define how we write about, talk about, or think about personal and business computing?

The language of a culture, corporate or otherwise, reveals its strongest held beliefs and the way it sees the future?   So what does the Microsoft Press publication, the “Microsoft Manual of Style,” reveal about the society it seeks to define?

This guide to language  arrives at a time where words alone no longer express the totality of computer-based communication, and, indeed, the literal form might be an endangered species. For the first time, terms for “gesture-like” flick, pinch and tap have made their way into the general vocabulary of technical communicators. When it comes to “use interface syntax,” Microsoft references “ribbons, menus and toolbars.” “Ribbons” were introduced as a component of the Microsoft Office Fluent user interface in Office 2007.

Often times, the proprietary nature or “ownership of a technical term” will determines its usage. For example, Java is the object-oriented programming language developed by the Sun Corporation. JScript is the Microsoft implementation of the “ECMA Script” scripting language, an open standard. The Style Manual advises “Do not refer to it as “Javascript,” which is the corresponding implementation by Time Warner.

The word “App” has recently come under fire  as it has been argued as a trademark by Apple, for example, in the term “App Store,” as was contested by Amazon.com. Microsoft’s style manual considers “App” to be an abbreviation for application in some Microsoft products and services, including cloud applications and programs downloaded to phones. “Web Apps” are considered the correct usage for online companions to Microsoft Office. of all things.

In setting the tone for the Microsoft “Style and Voice,”  the manual recommends an “attitude” that is at once “Inspirational, Responsible, Empathetic and Supportive.” Thus, the guidebook instructs: “Don’t minimize complexity” and “Don’t imply omniscience.”   The manual meets that standard on both counts.

In a dictionary-like page layout, there are 4 pages devoted to describing the various forms of  the ambiguous “Cloud” computing terminology.  But rather than read this in print, your reviewer would love to see the guide produced either as an “App” or as a “Web service” whereby “dropping the cursor” inside a term would summon the corresponding definition from the “Cloud.”  Point well taken, accepting the premise that the Microsoft manual of Style ought to “inform” our everyday writing about Microsoft technologies, why not integrate those suggestions into the composition and editing process itself? Clearly  Microsoft does not lack for the necessary programming talent to integrate such a publication into our workflow?  Therefore, it is simply a matter of usage.  In this cae, how is the Microsoft Manual of Style  to be best utilized?

In the final analysis, the Microsoft Manual of Style is a definitive  reference no Web-savvy industry observer or Tech writer should be without.  Seattle24x7 gives it Five Latte’s for Steam, Flavor and Inspiration.  [24×7]