The Canadian Style
The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing
Dundurn Press Limited
in co-operation with Public Works and Government Services Canada
Whether you need to improve your writing and editing skills, or
need a supplementary guide to increase your understanding of the
Canadian English language, The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing
and Editing will be the expert fit. Some scholars would insist
that you should read a lot of books and/or take a course on writing
to learn how, but you could easily sharpen your skills with this
one book. If you have lots of time on your hands to read, don't
let me deter you, but I am in praise of all writing guides that
are time savers, easy to use and non-exhaustive in content.
An impressive component of this guide, is its inclusion of chapter
fourteen: Elimination of Stereotyping in Written Communications.
Informed by the 1982 Government of Canada document entitled Elimination
of Sexual Stereotyping, and the 1990 Fair Communication Practises,
this guide updates the reader on how written communication should
reflect principles of equality. Firstly, it suggests the reader
eliminate the use of male pronouns to signify the non-specific he
or she, and eliminate the use of feminine or masculine pronouns
to characterize animals, events, ships, cars etc. Secondly, this
guide touches on the identification of groups. Be aware of
the current self-identification preferences of racial and cultural
groups in Canada,(1) is the best suggestion, since the names
often change with each wave of liberation movements. Though a short
chapter, it was a fair attempt to begin correcting stereotypes and
biases which constitute barriers for certain individuals across
Canada. And why not begin in a medium than has a wide reach.
Of equal importance, this guide points to the need for achieving
clarity within written communication. Reiterated in many ways thorough
the chapters, it makes an example of itself and communicates this
point clearly. Clarity is especially important for documents that
are used to inform the public about government policies, programs
and services. Consequently, communication professionals are called
to adhere to this guide. Written in co-operation with the Public
Works and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau, a standard
has been set.
The Canadian Style suggests the first step in communicating
clear ideas is to use plain language, without jargon or expressions.
Then, consider your audience. Ask yourself, who are you writing
for, and write for their ears. Next, write clearly and concisely.
All these elements calls to mind the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid)
motto that was drilled into me in grade school. Many teachers might
have had a similar guide on their bookshelf as a reference to build
catchy sayings for their students to remember. And if they didn't
they should get their hands on this one. Remember the jingle i
before e except after c or when sounded as a as in neighbour and
weigh.(2) The Canadian Style did not miss including
it, to outline one of the most common spelling mistakes. Try repeating
the jingle to yourself, once or twice, and there will be no mistaking
how to spell receive again.
How is your use of punctuation? The Canadian Style indicates
that business and personal correspondence go either of two ways
with the usage of punctuation; over usage or under usage. However,
both can have the same confusing affect on the reader. And in that
situation it suggests the sure test is again, clarity. If the punctuation
within a sentence does not result in creating crisp ideas, then
it needs to be rewritten with less punctuation. This is where using
commas is the default punctuation. Yet, do not be afraid of using
all the different types; ellipsis points, commas, semicolons, colons,
parenthesis, square brackets or apostrophes. This guide will help
you graduate from one to the other with ease.
Lastly, The Canadian Style would have been incomplete if
it did not include French typographical rules. Specific to Canada,
a lot of English documents contain French-language words,
phrases, names, titles,(3) etc. And it is significant that
they are presented correctly. Even if your French is poor, the reader
can understand the basics of writing a document with French content
through this guide. However, the basics are all that is given. So
consider a French course if your skills need to encompass more than
the use of acronyms, abbreviations and an overview of accurate punctuation.
As a testament to the usefulness of The Canadian Style,
I briefly found myself double checking with this guide as I wrote,
fearing it, a stern figure that would eventually point out my mistakes
(teacher like). However, it turned out to be more of a close friend.
One that will always be within reach to help steer you from common
mistakes. Every writer needs such an aid, especially if it means
the liberation of one's writing style.
1. Dundurn Press Limited, The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing
(Canada: Dundurn Press Limited in co-operation with Public Works
and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau, 1997), p. 259.
2. ibid, p. 57.
3. ibid, p. 289.
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