My Choice of Writing Style Guidelines

18:31 Sun 12 Feb 2012. Updated: 23:19 02 Mar 2012
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Stylistic choices I’ve made for my writing.

The Oxford Comma

I didn’t use this when I was younger, which was a mistake. Partly because it seems difficult to consistently omit it, whereas I’ve never found consistently using it to present problems. (I was happy to discover that this is the same stance taken by Garner’s Modern American Usage.) While I prefer the Oxford comma, more important is consistency—mixing and matching between its inclusion and omission can only create ambiguity.

As for the potential appositive phrase[1] confusion, with the classic “my mother, Ayn Rand, and God” example, I would write that only in the three-person case, while favoring “my mother—Ayn Rand—and God” in the two-person case.


The key to the right of 0 on the standard keyboard is a hyphen, and should be used for hyphenation purposes only if other options are available.

The em dash is a separate character, and I favor omitting spaces around it. When restricted to ASCII, I use two hyphens to represent it.

The en dash is another distinct character, and I use it most often for sports scores. When restricted to ASCII, I use a single hyphen to represent it.

The minus sign is also its own character, and I hardly ever use it, and only recently started distinguishing it from the hyphen. When restricted to ASCII, I use a single hyphen to represent it.


Periods at the ends of list items, unless semicolons are specifically called for, and capital letters at the start of each list item.

Spaces After Periods

One. Mostly invisible online since HTML will ignore spaces after the first, but I write everything in monospaced fonts, and it’s one space. Not two, which is wrong no matter what your teacher might have told you. (This is one of the very few places I disagree with PEP-8.)


In keeping with typical American style, I use double quotation marks for the first level. I don’t use straight double or single quotation marks at all, with various Vim shortcuts to make it easy to enter the proper equivalents. (This also means that I can assume every straight single quotation mark in my writing is an apostrophe and can be replaced by a right single quotation mark.)

I favor the British/International English style regarding punctuation in quotations, where it’s only included inside the quotation if it’s actually a part of it:

He described the cat as “very strange”.

Rather than:

He described the cat as “very strange.”

The latter, American, style makes little sense to me, an attitude that probably comes from programming.


I use standard American spelling for the most part, except for inflections and the -er/-or suffixes to some words ending with consonants, such as “traveller” or “worshipper”. This is inconsistent, as I use e.g. “counselor” and a variety of other single-consonant spellings. I don’t like the inconsistency but can’t bring myself to use “traveler” or “worshiper”, as they just feel wrong and as if they should be pronounced differently.

I use “-wards” rather than “-ward” in most cases, which isn’t standard American spelling.

In all other cases I can think of I follow American spelling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more exceptions in my usage.

Title Capitalization

I follow the American “capitalize most words” approach, although not without some confusion.


I spell out numbers up to nine (including zero), and use digits for 10 and up, and for negative numbers. I still forget from time to time whether the switch to digits should be at 10 or above 10, resulting in occasional inconsistency.

I use words rather than numerals where I would precede the number with “a” in speech, e.g. “a dozen”, “a hundred”, “a thousand”.

When dealing with large numbers, I’ll use “million”, “billion”, etc., most of the time, rather than inserting strings of zeros.

I’m inconsistent about using the comma in numbers to indicate thousands. It makes reading the numbers easier, but I don’t like using it for anything less than 10,000—something I should just get over.

If I’m referring to math or code in the sentence, I use digits exclusively. If the context involves numbers above and below 10, I use digits. Scores are also digits, as are years, and decades don’t include an apostrophe before the “s”.


Here’s I’m at odds with Garner and most authorities: I use the typographical ellipsis rather than simple periods, am resistant to placing a space before the ellipsis if I’m not using it for elision, and don’t like adding a fourth dot after an elision to signify the end of the sentence.


Following typical American usage, I’m aggressive about removing hyphens, so will use e.g. “pushup” instead of “push-up”.

I’m inconsistent when hyphenating phrasal adjectives, and instead of writing “credit-card application” as recommended by Garner’s Modern American Usage, would probably write “credit card application”. This is something I need to consider correcting.


No periods, and capitalized throughout, regardless of pronunciation: “NASA”, “CIA”. Where “of” is present as a word represented by the initialism, I won’t capitalize it, e.g. “WoTC” for “Wizards of the Coast”. Those that have become words in their own right, such as “radar” and “laser”, are no longer abbreviations. Where a second letter from a word is present, I don’t capitalize it, e.g. “MSc” for “Master of Science”[2].

There are exceptions, following common usage: “an mp3 file”, “20mpg”.

The first instance of an abbreviation in a piece should explain it, unless it’s extremely well-known.


I use a slight modification of the MLA citation style:

Pages referenced. Author name. “Article name”. Publication name, publication location: publisher, publication date. ISBN: [number].

The difference between standard MLA style and mine is that if my citation is inline, which it is in most cases, I use “first name last name” instead of “last name, first name”.

If the piece is online, its name is a link; the same goes for its parent publication, if any.


This only applies to writing hypertext, but much of what I write is just that. Link text should be descriptive but can remain in context—it doesn’t have consist of the title of the linked piece. If it does not, however, then it must have a title attribute which does contain that title:

It’s clear that two spaces after a period is wrong.

If a title attribute is unavailable for some reason, that should be changed to:

It’s clear from “Space Invaders” that two spaces after a period is wrong.

[1] I had to look that up; my grammar knowledge isn’t developed to the point where I knew that was the term for what I was thinking of.

[2] That I use “MSc” at all is slightly inconsistent, as I should probably be using the more common American “MS”, but in my head that means “multiple sclerosis” and not “Master of Science”.

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