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1.1: The Rules Will Change

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    Key Concepts

    Skilled writers follow generally accepted rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation, but the rules for writing evolve.

    Although there is no single source for official rules, media writers adhere to conventions for grammar, spelling and punctuation so they can communicate clearly to mass audiences.

    This online guidebook helps you understand writing conventions used by journalists, especially for grammar, spelling and punctuation.

    This is sometimes frustrating, though, because of three conflicting concepts about American English:

    1. You should follow the rules for language usage.
    2. There is no single source for all the rules.
    3. The rules will evolve.

    For a brief perspective on how writing styles evolve, study the following presentation slides by using the forward button or clicking on sections of the control bar. To enlarge any interactive presentation in this guidebook, click on the lower-right full-screen option (arrows).


    If you’ve studied works by Geoffrey Chaucer or Williams Shakespeare, you may already recognize that English language usage evolves over time and sometimes varies depending on location. For example, here’s text from Chaucer in the late 1300s.

    Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
    Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;

    Translation: Once, as old histories tell us,
    There was a duke who was called Theseus.

    And if I were writing a sports story today for a British audience, I could describe a team’s defence with a c instead of an s in American defense.

    Some countries, such as France, have an academy that publishes an official dictionary. In American English, however, our dictionaries mainly describe how people today use the language. This explains why @ is now included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary along with folx. If you don’t believe me, look it up.

    So why bother with writing conventions at all? Why do we need to follow rules if they aren’t official and they are always evolving? 

    For journalists, it’s all about the audience. Journalists write for the masses, so we shouldn’t invent our own rules.

    As best we can, we try to follow professional standards set by the best writers and editors. Some people in our audience may even judge our credibility based on our writing skills.

    Speaking of evolution in writing, why can’t we just let artificial intelligence (such as ChatGPT) evaluate and fix our grammar? 

    Much like technological advances of the past, especially the printing press and the typewriter, AI tools will no doubt affect the way we read and write in the future. However, one can argue that AI makes the content of this OER text even more valuable for those who are willing to study language closely. To understand and appreciate the pros and cons of using AI tools for writing, you need to analyze syntax, sentence structure and word usage. This text may even give you a foundation for considering improvements to future AI writing tools.

    No doubt, you could use an AI writing tool such as ChatGPT to complete many of the assignments in this text. I highly discourage you from doing that because you won’t learn anything about language usage. Also, AI writing is, by design, boring and predictable in many instances.

    Your journalism instructors want you to learn the grammar, spelling and punctuation standards that professional journalists follow in their writing. We hope this online guidebook becomes a valuable resource to help you achieve that objective.



    1.1: The Rules Will Change is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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