About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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People studying literature rarely say anything that would be of the slightest use to those producing it.

Paul Graham



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 11/20/2014

Totals
Posts - 2315
Comments - 2503
Hits - 1,684,899

Averages
Entries/day - 0.56
Comments/entry - 1.08
Hits/day - 404

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 3:31 AM Pacific


  11:35 PM

One way in which you can make editorial choices is to rule by analogy. For example, given how often we see the term username in casual writing (emails, specs, stuff written by non-writers), documentation writers will sometimes ask "So, is it username or user name?" There are various ways to research this question: consult a dictionary; consult a style guide; see what the precedent is in existing materials for your audience. If none of these resolve the question satisfactorily, you can fall back on the analogy method: it's first name and last name, so unless someone can convince me otherwise, I'll rule for user name.

I had a similar question recently about the term runtime. Programmers will often write that something or other occurs at runtime. When I got the question, I consulted the usual sources. If those had failed me[1], I'd reason that analogous phrases are at design time or at compile time. Ergo, at run time.

I emphasize that editorial reasoning by analogy should come only after other oracles have been consulted because there are times when established and accepted usage goes against analogy. For example, analogy alone might tell you that if it's folder name and volume name, it should also be file name. And indeed, that's how file name is entered in the Microsoft style guide, where they trouble to point out that it's two words.

However, in the Apple style guide, they list it as one word (filename). Because this might go against intuition (or analogy), they add this to their entry on filename:
Note the treatment of these similar terms:
    device name, host name, pathname, user name, volume name
There are lots of terms that might lend themselves to this type of analogy: homepage or home page? web site or website? If you can't find an authority to give you an answer, find terms that seem to be built on the same pattern, and then follow that.

[1] In fact, our usual sources explicitly dictate what analogy would otherwise have suggested.

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