Sunday, 12 February 2012
Editing by analogy
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, 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: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.
device name, host name, pathname, user name, volume name