In the past, many writers, unless they worked in creative marketing roles, were bound by the strict rules and regulations of style guides. There was very little flexibility when it came to punctuation, sentence structure, capitalization, etc. The rules were the rules. If you didn’t follow the rules, your editor would make sure you did before your piece went to print. This often resulted in archaic or awkward-sounding sentences. Other times, a writer's unique voice or style was stifled in the name of grammar.
Then along came the internet. Online spaces were flooded with writing—webpages, blogs, ebooks, digital white papers, online ads, tweets. Digital content largely replaced printed content. (When’s the last time you saw a 15-page, printed document?) Most companies have moved the bulk of their writing online. Because the platform has changed, and the way people engage with text has changed, the rules have changed.
The internet has freed many writers from the stricter publishing rules of the past. (For example, if this article was printed in a newspaper, a proofreader would probably have insisted on capitalizing the word internet in the previous sentence—an archaic rule that the AP Stylebook finally got rid of this year.) But luckily, on this blog, I am free to capitalize at will.
Like this post, a good chunk of writing now goes public without being checked against the formal rules. For many writers, this new reality is freeing. Content can be less rigid. Informal language can be used for effect. The syntax of a sentence can be unconventional to allow for a clever, clickable hashtag. And contractions—we can finally use contractions!
Because writing is being crafted for new environments, editorial professionals are now asking questions that would have been clearly answered by a style guide in the past. Should we use the first person to make us seem more relatable? Can we skip the formal citations so we don’t scare people away and disrupt the flow of the text? This new world requires both writers and editors to think in new ways.
While digital platforms have opened the door for more creativity, they have also presented a host of new problems. The most obvious problem is that if editors aren’t enforcing strict rules, there is a greater likelihood that writing will be marred by typos and confusing language. After all, most grammar rules still exist to produce a clear, concise flow of ideas. And in some cases, you still need to follow all the formal rules to maintain credibility or get your writing published in a certain forum. So writers and editors still need to be able to recite the formal rules in their sleep. However, they also need to be able to explain when it might be beneficial to break those rules.
All these changes have obvious implications for businesses. Businesses now need to hire adaptable writers and editors rather than rigid ones. They need to find professionals who are versed in style guidelines but understand that every piece of writing need not be handcuffed by the rules. It's a new challenge for those who are in charge of staffing editorial departments, but it doesn't have to be an impossible one. When hiring an editorial professional, ask the right questions during the interview process. Figure out how well your candidates understand the rules that govern the editorial world. Then dig a little deeper to find out how they feel about breaking the rules. It will help you find the right fit.
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