Like many of you, we often wrestle with questions of style for the web.

While we appreciate the guidance of style guides, we’re always tracking the latest challenges to what they preach. After all, language does evolve. And while we’re not afraid to break with convention, turning the status quo on its head can be risky.

At the end of the day, it comes down to balance and judgment. And that’s why we feel super sure about our latest web writing recommendations for you.

2 Rules to Challenge?

Here are the new additions to the Aha Style Guide and why we think you should consider adding them to your style guides, too:

  1. Numerals: It’s among the AP rules drilled into our heads: Spell out numbers below 10, then use numerals for numbers 10 and above. While the rule may still be useful for print (and we challenge that idea, as well), we don’t believe using words instead of numerals follows best WEB-writing practices. (Yahoo’s style guide agrees, by the way.) Numerals provide page anchors and pull in readers. Readers also scan web pages for information, and numbers offer key content for industries like healthcare, financial services and insurance. Why not make it easier for users to scan and understand what they read? At Aha Media, we’re now using numerals all the time. Well, almost all the time — when you hire us and still use AP style for numbers, we promise to respect your wishes and your reasons.
  2. A singular “they”: Here’s a construction many of us have seen (or even used) before: “When your child’s spine is shaped abnormally, he or she may experience back pain.” As a stand-in for any potential patient, the child does not have a name or gender, and the writer doesn’t know how to handle the pronoun. Enter: “he or she,” “his or her” or a backslash between the pronouns. The problem?  All of them read awkwardly and lack polish. Some writers have taken other tracks — composite pronouns (s/he, hir, etc.) and, more recently (or so it would seem), the use of “they” as a singular pronoun in place of “he” or “she.”

That’s a step too far for us for 2 reasons:

  • We don’t feel there’s wide enough acceptance or awareness of doing it that way, yet.
  • We never want to trip up readers and draw attention away from the content.

So what’s a content creator to do? There’s almost always a way to write around the pronoun. Take our earlier example. Why not make it: “An abnormally shaped spine may cause your child to experience back pain.”

As we said, language is constantly evolving. Keeping up to date with changes in style will give you a leg up on your competition, so you can stay in touch with your audience.


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