Style/Grammar Tips Email to Digital Hippos Writers

This is an email I sent to our writers at Digital Hippos refreshing them on some of our style/grammar standards. I’m posting it here for portfolio purposes.

Hey everybody,

Here at DH, we love that you all have your own voices and we want to continue to nurture that. However, there are certain elements of our style guide that, as an editor, I can’t help but notice are going unheeded. Therefore, I thought it wouldn’t hurt for us to all have a little refresher in the DH style guide. I think it’ll make all of our lives just a bit easier. 😉

Obviously not all of these points are going to apply to each and every one of you. So just go through and try to take notice of the things that do apply to you.

Spacing: AP vs. MLA

At DH we use a slightly modified version of AP style, which means we put one space between sentences, not two. I know, I know — school drilled this MLA thing into all our heads as kids even though nobody in the real world uses it outside of academia. But it’s time to leave behind the trivialities of schoolhouse fantasies and embrace the brave new world of single-space stops!

Numerals
One through nine are spelled out; 10 and up are written as numerals.

Dates
For dates, we only use numerals — no -st, -nd, -rd, or -th. In other words: January 24, 2011 as opposed to January 24th, 2011.

Commas
This is a tricky one because serial commas do have their place in avoiding confusion. In our style, there are no commas before conjunctions. So you’d say, “First, Second, Third and Fourth” instead of, “First, Second, Third, and Fourth.”

However, “My parents, Ayn Rand, and God” sounds like it has a much different (and correct) meaning than, “My parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Use your best judgment to avoid confusion, but most of the time go by the style guide, which again would be, “First, Second, Third and Fourth.”

Hyphen (-)
Use hyphens to connect compound adjectives before a noun. For example, a “full-time job” is different from a “full time job.” A “full-time job” means you have a job that’s full time, but a “full time job” means you have a “time job” that is “full.”

A hyphen is not used for a compound adjective that comes after a noun.

Dash (–)
A dash is used, basically, when you’re interrupting yourself. If you add information to the middle of a sentence, for example,

“I walked to the house — which was red, by the way — and knocked on the door.”

Or to indicate an abrupt change in a sentence,

“Don’t just knock on the door if you expect anyone to answer — use the doorbell instead.”

Basically, it’s a way to break up two separate but related ideas within the same sentence.

Quotation Marks
Periods and commas go inside quotation marks.

Titles
Games, movies, shows and albums are italicized, always. Song titles go in quotation marks.

Ellipses
Ellipses are three dots (…) used to indicate a pause or to indicate an omission, especially in a quote.

If you’re using an ellipsis for a pause, remember that it’s three dots and then a space (… ) or four dots if it comes at the end of a sentence (…. ) — the period does not merely become a part of the ellipsis!

If you’re using an ellipsis to show an omission, then do a space before and after to show where the omission is ( … ).

If an omission comes after sentence, then it’s a period, a space and the ellipsis (. … )

(Remember: we use a modified version of AP style. In actual AP style, an ellipses is a space, three dots, and another space [ … ].)

Meta Keywords
Remember: list your meta keywords with a comma, but NO SPACES. For example, if you wrote about a new Mario game for the Wii, the tags would be:

“Mario,Nintendo,Wii,…”

NOT

“Mario, Nintendo, Wii, ….”

Meta Description
Your meta description is just that — a description of what your article says. Basically, it should be a one or two-line summary of your point/your thesis so the reader has an idea what to expect going in. It should grab the reader’s attention while also setting a tone.

Image Description/Title
All images need a description, but the Title is the actual caption that shows when you hover over the image. So if you want a title/caption, be sure to write one yourself. But you don’t have to write one at all. (You do need to write a description, though.)

“OK” or “Okay”?
In AP, OK is correct. Actually, it’s correct all-around; OK is an abbreviation of an old Germanic (I think?) word, and “okay” is the mutant deviation.

Semicolons
Semicolons are basically a cheat. They allow you to make run-on sentences without actually being run-on sentences by allowing you to connect two separate (but ideally related) main clauses without a full stop. For example,

“I can’t play video games today; I have a lot of work to catch up on.”

You could go a few ways with that sentence:

“I can’t play video games today. I have a lot of work to catch up on.”

Or

“I can’t play video games today because I have a lot of work to catch up on.”

They are also used to separate items in a long, complex list, where commas wouldn’t get the job done.

OK, now on to some more general writing tips.

Long Paragraphs

Generally a no-no in AP and web writing. Again, something we learned from that damn MLA was that paragraphs had to be a minimum of four sentences long.

Lies!

A paragraph only needs to last for as long as you stay on a given subject. It could be as little as one sentence long, but ideally no more than five or six sentences.

If a new sentence touches on even a slightly new subject, you should just make it a new paragraph. I can use myself as an example here, after looking over my Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom article. I wrote:

… That’s why Teotle needs Tepeu to distract enemies, to traverse small or narrow areas, even to find him food. A typical combat scenario goes something like this: Tepeu commands Teotl to push a crumbling wall down on some unsuspecting baddies, alerting their nearby friends. While Teotl wrestles with the behemoth shadow monster, you swat the smaller foes away from him so he can focus on the main threat. When your enemies are at their breaking point, you deliver a devastating team attack to fell the horde. When it’s all over, Teotl sucks up and purifies their dark souls so they can’t respawn. Like The Lost Vikings or, to a lesser extent, Trine, Majin is a full co-op experience boiled down into a single-player adventure.

When I could have broken it up better. For example,

… That’s why Teotle needs Tepeu to distract enemies, to traverse small or narrow areas, even to find him food.

A typical combat scenario goes something like this: Tepeu commands Teotl to push a crumbling wall down on some unsuspecting baddies, alerting their nearby friends. While Teotl wrestles with the behemoth shadow monster, you swat the smaller foes away from him so he can focus on the main threat. When your enemies are at their breaking point, you deliver a devastating team attack to fell the horde.When it’s all over, Teotl sucks up and purifies their dark souls so they can’t respawn.

Like The Lost Vikings or, to a lesser extent, Trine, Majin is a full co-op experience boiled down into a single-player adventure.

Repeating Words
This happens a lot in this kind of writing that we do. We overuse the words “The game…” or “The movie…” or “The album…” at the start of each sentence or bit of criticism. But there are a lot of other words to use: “title,” “series,” “franchise,” “feature,” “film,” “record,” “medium,” “pastime,” “hobby,” “experience….”

But this happens a lot all over. It’s easy for any of us to fall into. Our brains are pretty simple tools, really, and they like patterns so much they tend to not even notice them. So just keep an eye out for it.

Self-Editing
Never doubt the value of reading your own work and writing a second draft. I find that coming back to a piece just the next day, with fresh eyes, makes a huge difference. Of course, this is why we have editors — fresh eyes can better catch the typos and style/grammar quirks that are bound to pop up in any article.

But an editor can only do so much, as we don’t like to go mucking about too much with your sentence structure and what you’re actually trying to say.

Unfortunately, there are times when a sentence or a thought is just too muddled and we kind of just have to do our best to fix it. The tragedy is that a second look and a small re-write could have made the sentence better and maintained your personal voice.

So remember: 90% of writing is re-writing.

Remember: Reviews are Inherently Subjective
If all a reader wants is information about a product, they can read ads, check out clips or play demos. You aren’t campaigning for anything or writing ad copy — you’re only selling your point of view. Express your thoughts and defend your opinions, but any information that doesn’t support your point of view or provide basic context for the reader doesn’t belong in your article.

That means the list-like rundown of a game’s each and every feature, the beat-by-beat summary of a movie’s plot, the music… well… this isn’t as much of an issue for music. But it’s a HUGE issue for games writing, where we all tend to get mired in exposition before we get to actually supporting our arguments. That’s because games are big, unwieldy, complex beasts that need to be wrangled for the un-informed reader.

Just try to be selective about what information to include and how much to trim.

P.S. Breaking Rules is Fun!
But ignoring the rules isn’t the same as breaking them, and you can’t break the rules unless you know and understand them. That’s just something I always try to keep in mind for myself.

Thanks for all your hard work, everybody! With your help, DH continues to grow and grow and grow and there’s a bright light on the horizon for us all. So keep up the good work and happy writing! 🙂

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