What makes a usage guide? (part 2)

A little over a month ago, I posted a survey on this blog, asking you which genres you think usage guides are most closely related to: dictionaries, spelling/punctuation guides, descriptive grammars, popular writing on language, handbooks on writing or style guides. It appears that of all of you who responded to this poll, the majority felt that usage guides were most like style guides. In addition, a fair number felt they were most like handbooks on writing. The full results of the poll are here.


You will remember that I did not explain what I think usage guides are, and that I only provided the terms of these genres without giving a description of them, which left this open to your own interpretation. This was intentional, as I don’t want to influence your opinions.

To get a clearer picture of your ideas of what defines usage guides, I have planned a short series of polls, all very short. The following looks at another aspect of what makes a usage guide; it is also from the perspective of their content. Please take the poll and tell me what you think usage guides should primarily deal with.

About Robin Straaijer

I am a linguist and EAP trainer, working on English prescriptivism and Standard English. Lover of photography and comedy.
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2 Responses to What makes a usage guide? (part 2)

  1. To my mind (yes, I read the article by Edmund Weiner …), usage guides should deal with grammar (not one of the choices listed), AND lexis, AND pronunciation, AND spelling, AND punctuation/capitalisation. That leaves us with a problem: Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, which is of course a usage guide too. So do we have subcategories to the genre that are not “all-in-one”, as Busse and Schroeder label them?

    • Thanks for your comment Ingrid! I didn’t include ‘grammar’ on purpose since it’s one of those terms of which is used to mean somewhat different things — often referring to almsot any aspect of the language. What falls under ‘grammar’, in your view? Does it include syntax, for instance?
      Usage guides deal with all of the topics in the poll, and also with lexis (word choice); what I’m interested in is getting people’s ideas on their relative importance.
      I think take a book like Eats, Shoots and Leaves is not so much a subcategory of the usage guide, but rather a separate, more specialised type of work, in the same way that a spelling guide or dictionary is.

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