Social media, conversation, and writing style

What are some pointers for developing a style guide for writing on the social web or for certain social mediums? I discuss style guidance at length in chapter 7 in my book, which is titled Finding Your Voice. In fact, I read from chapter 7 for my book reading at South By Southwest Interactive last week! Definitely finding my voice on the couch on stage.

If you’re working on a style guide for social media, you might find this collection of links that are all the footnotes from that chapter from my book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. All the references from that chapter are on, but I think the most relevant are the ones I bookmarked very early on:

  • A List Apart: Style Guide – Be concise, reader-centered, and seek clarity. One quotable line from it is “You need to get in, score, and get out.”
  • Writing for the Social Media Everyman | Copyblogger – “The social media everyman is looking for an entertaining diversion, while being receptive to learning something new if presented in an “edutainment” format that ties the lesson into popular culture.”

I think the main points to remember when developing a style guide are to value highly clear, concise, to the point, honest, and attention-getting writing. Social media seekers read and scan quickly and the payment in the web economy is via links which translate to attention.

The Elements of Style turned 50 years old last year, and has sold 10 million copies. Nearly all our copywriting guidelines could be traced back to that original “little” book, an “attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin.” (Quote from an article in The New Yorker in 1957)

Web writing hasn’t changed the basics, rather, the web has increased style’s relevance to successful communication.


  • Techquestioner
    March 25, 2010 - 11:47 am | Permalink

    I think that as more people read more good writers in online blogs, it will influence everyone to write more conversationally, hopefully doing away with that awful, pompous, stilted langugage known as “Academic Writing.’We could all do with a nice clear middle ground that communicates without pomposity and passive voice, but also is a cut above txt abbrevs and profanity.

  • Jason
    April 6, 2011 - 5:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Anne,

    I can’t believe that the Elements of Style is already 50 years old. I read it about a year ago before a large online writing project and the basic concepts still applied brilliantly. It’s definitely recommended for any kind of writing that needs to be crisp and clear. Another book I can recommend is “The Fine Art of Technical Writing” by Carol Rosenblum Perry.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    Jason Scofield
    Wendy Houses Cape Town

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