Breaking the law: Which style guide rules do you refuse to follow?

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Editors and writers often take on the role of enforcer when it comes to our company’s (or client’s) style rules. Whether we use the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, or a house style guide, we can explain, cite, and apply the rules with ease.

But sometimes even the enforcers want to break the rules. Think carefully. Are there any style guide rules that you refuse to follow? Any style standards you will not adopt? Is it a rule that just recently changed or one that never made sense to begin with? In my own work, I routinely break three rules. They are:

“More than” versus “over”

This was one of the first AP style rules I learned when I worked for my hometown newspaper in high school. Over is a preposition and is used to refer to spatial relationships. The space shuttle flew over my house. More than should be used with numerals: “I refuse to pay more than $ 5 for an app.” The two words should not be used interchangeably, as in, “I refuse to pay over $ 5 for an app.”

In March, the Associated Press announced that more than and over are both acceptable in all uses to indicate a greater numerical value. I understand this change was made to bring AP style in line with the other major style guides, and that the “more than” rule is historically only a preference, but I’m ignoring this change. Perhaps I’m becoming less flexible as I get older, but “over $ 5 for an app” seems wrong.

Serial comma

I have used, and will always use the serial comma. I know the pros and cons. I know which style guides call for the use of the serial comma and which style guides don’t. I’ve written about the serial comma. I’ve argued with co-workers about the serial comma.

I use the serial comma for one very simple reason: to avoid ambiguity. Consider whether a serial comma in this sentence would make its meaning more clear: “Please state name, age, sex and housing requirements.”

Titles

The AP Stylebook rule to capitalize titles that appear before names, but not after names, has caused me nothing but trouble. Everywhere I’ve worked, this rule has been incorporated into our house style guide. And everywhere I’ve worked, we get push back on this rule. People, particularly those at the highest levels, insist their titles should always be capitalized.

So I’ve given up on enforcing this rule. Beleaguered, out of patience, and in the interest of “picking my battles,” I now always capitalize titles.

Fellow style guide enforcers, which rules do you refuse to follow?

Laura Hale Brockway is writer and editor from Austin, Texas. She is a regular contributor to PR Daily and the author of the grammar/usage/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.  

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