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Microsoft Manual of Style : Your Everyday Guide to Usage, Terminology, and Style for Professional Technical Communications Paperback – 30 Jan 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Microsoft Press; 4 edition (30 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0735648719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735648715
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 2.5 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 187,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Developed by senior editors and content managers at Microsoft Corporation.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Cariad Eccleston on 19 Feb. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I was really looking forward to reading this, because I do a lot of UI design and technical writing for my day job -- and so far, the content I've read has been great.

Unfortunately, there are so many formatting problems, it's impossible to read the whole book on the Kindle. On some pages, content flows off the bottom of the page and you can't get to it. On other pages, the content flows off the side of the page. I've uploaded a photo to demonstrate this terrible formatting.

I unfortunately have to recommend the physical copy of this book over the Kindle edition, because this formatting errors make it impossible to read all the content.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hawkeye on 19 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you write support documentation for computer software you must have the Microsoft Manual of Style within reach. The 4th edition is fully updated with a simple layout and very easy to use. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Such an amazing resource for those who write documentation. I'm already improving my writing abilities. Must have book for all technical writers.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dee Vincent-Day on 28 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have the third edition of this manual so was really looking for some guidance relating to writing about windows 8. I opened my book, eagerly seeking out the section about the user interface, my hopes were dashed when I found nothing about windows 8. There is a handy section about windows phone so I guess I am going to have to use that instead.

Considering this edition was published this year, I am extremely disappointed.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Kindle edition is awful 2 May 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although the book itself is fine, the Kindle format is just awful.

Tables are pasted randomly as grey IMAGES of doubtful quality and often are too small to read. You have to tweak the font size setting to get bigger scale, but then font becomes enormous while images become just slightly more readable :(

Dear Amazon, please, update the Kindle edition :(
It is inconvenient and impossible to read it the way it is right now.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Update was needed, partly fulfilled 6 Mar. 2012
By John Wight - Published on
Format: Paperback
My review consists of commentary for three areas of Microsoft's update: (1) the pros and cons of the manual, (2) stylistic considerations, and (3) the need for the manual.

The Pros and Cons of the Manual

1. It is affordable. I have yet to meet someone who paid the full purchase price for the previous edition, which approximated nearly $100 upon release.

2. It includes conventions for documenting newer technologies and content. The standards for documenting XML-based content and mobile technologies will probably be helpful to me.

3. Sensible prescriptions. Although many might disagree with specific style prescriptions, I find the general prescriptions straightforward and well-advised, as described in the section "Principles of Microsoft style."

1. It lacks an electronic version. This is no small detail as the printed book is not in color. I was specifically curious to find out how Microsoft prescribes documenting its new Windows 7 color scheme in its boxes (by default, the boundaries are translucent, showing whatever is behind it). Unfortunately, the book provides no enlightenment. However, I found an advance, sample chapter on the internet, and only then could I determine that Microsoft uses a silver color, and not the default scheme (unless, of course, they are simply using the default scheme over silver wallpaper, in which case the prescription is to change the default Windows wallpaper). Color is important, and that is just one reason why an electronic version is needed.

2. It is decidedly less readable than the previous version. The new edition does not employ spacing as well as its predecessor and the text is often quite small, especially in tables (other reviewers touting more white space are not reading extensively, but looking in cursory fashion at the boundaries of the pages, where this illusion has been successfully presented). It varies font size--often annoyingly so--but in no case is the text ever larger than in the previous version. Lastly, the sans-serif-based font used for the body text of this printed book does not serve it well (again, people often forget or do not know that the appearance of typeface in layout can often be inversely related to its readability, especially in print, as is the case here). This last point must have been an oversight in the printing (this is 430-page book, not a website), or Microsoft's faithfulness to Calibri is approaching a type of zealotry. Also, the paper is much thinner and cheaper in this version. One more: more graphics and non-textual presentation is needed here instead of so much text.

3. It is too long and includes irrelevant issues. Though the descriptions are concise, and even sparse, much of the content categories are unnecessary. This edition has grown considerably, but includes information on best practices for blogging, SEO optimization, as well as the propriety of shaking hands in international settings. These are all important, but are better treated in other publications for audiences with slightly different or broader roles than the technical communicator. It is better to treat core standards in depth than to present all possible issues with generic, possibly trite, recommendations.

Stylistic Considerations

On one hand, Microsoft has a tendency to over-prescribe a bit, in my opinion, on a few, trivial issues of style. For example, the new edition asserts that using the article "the" should be restored in all cases as it did in yore, and that the use of the pronoun "that" should likewise regain its status of being a fundamental syntactical ingredient. This, it asserts, helps with a world-wide audience. In reality, these are organization-specific decisions, with no real over-riding linguistic basis to account for the variety of contexts in which you may write.

On the other hand, disputations or debate of specific stylistic descriptions are generally not very useful or meaningful. Perspectives will always differ--and they always should--to some degree. For proficient communicators, the questions are mostly moot: after some time, you develop good judgment for what is needed in your organization, which should trump allegiances to published prescriptions.

Further, such questions are especially moot if you are a contractor with no tenure at any specific organization. In this case, the business reasons for an orthodox adherence to MMOS will almost surely outweigh any linguistic considerations for deviating from the manual. As experienced contractors know, those who hire technical communicators often do not have the most informed basis for judging their work, even if they think they do because they memorized a specific prescription from their college composition course. As a result, if you have no instruction otherwise, and if you rigidly follow the manual, any employer taking issue with your final choices is essentially taking issue with Microsoft. Whether you like it or not, Microsoft is the defacto (a word the manual expressly proscribes for being "non-English") authority for Windows-based products, and even for software documentation in general. So you can end your disputes with project managers, engineers, marketers, and management by simply quoting chapter and verse and then handing them the customer service telephone number to Microsoft Corporation (which is not toll-free). Encourage them to take up the good fight and effect global change. No one can genuinely criticize you for following these recommendations, absent any others. You will need the latest edition of MMOS on hand to keep this argument tight.

Overall, I find the stylistic prescriptions to be generally well-reasoned and sensible for the proper purposes and contexts of using a published standard.

The Need for the Manual

Microsoft has done an admirable, if not excellent, job in this endeavor to standardize technical publications. Over the span of decades now, they have demonstrated persistence and focus on an enterprise that probably has not provided much direct revenue. They have collected, organized, and fashioned important and useful conventions in our field. Their work has benefited their products, the products that interact with Windows, and the overall state of technical documentation.

Excluding outside factors, I rate this publication as 3.5/5 stars. But Amazon's options do not allow such parsing. Having to decide upon a whole number, I round up to 4 stars because of the good will and sustained efforts Microsoft has taken in this endeavor.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Great Update to a Technical Publications Standard 6 Feb. 2012
By Will Kelly - Published on
Format: Paperback
As a technical writer, the Microsoft Manual of Style is the first style guide I reach for when I am a working on documentation project when the organization doesn't have a corporate style guide. Now, Microsoft has published the Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th Edition that includes some timely updates documenting how Microsoft's editorial style is adapting and changing to meet new technologies.

The Microsoft Manual of Style is a soup to nuts guide to the Microsoft style for writing technical documentation. I like its holistic approach that includes principles of Microsoft Style, web content, international audience considerations, writing about user interface guidelines, and writing procedures. It rounds out with a well-documented usage dictionary. The Microsoft writers and editors behind this edition have put together a solid guide that can serve both experienced and novice writers alike even just to help resolve stylistic arguments during the writing and editing of documents. Some notable updates in this edition include how Microsoft handles writing about mobile phones, gestures, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and for international audiences.

Chapter 2 Content for the web could really benefit from some screen shot examples from Microsoft web properties to show examples. It also is light on Community-based content coverage. Sparing my feelings as a technical writer, I realize community provided content is playing a role in documentation and support. Unfortunately, I've had my issues with community provided content as a user seeking support online for technical issues. The body of practical knowledge on managing community provided content seems scant in my opinion and I was hoping to see some substantive guidance on editing and managing such content in this edition of the style guide.

The change in tone in this edition of the style guide is quite refreshing. While it is easy to nerd it up on what is right or wrong when it comes to writing style, this edition breaks down many stylistic decisions as Microsoft style versus Not Microsoft Style.

This latest edition also has a fresh new design, which is cool to see since the design of the last couple of editions seems to bleed together in my memory. There is more white space and a new font from previous editions, which makes adds a lot to the style guide.

I recommend the Microsoft Manual of Style because this edition has some nice and timely updates. Previous editions of the Microsoft Manual of Style have also served me well and the guide is helpful to writers and non-writers alike tasked to write technical documents. The guiding principles set out in this edition of the style guide can help writers of all experience levels.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Invaluable to anyone who wants to be a better technical writer 21 Mar. 2012
By Ben Rothke - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), now in its 16th edition, is the de facto a style guide for American writers. It deals with aspects of editorial practice, grammar, usage, document preparation and more. It's just one of many style guides for writers.

The Microsoft Manual of Style, just released in its 4th edition, attempts to do for the technical writers what the CMS has done for journalists and other writers.

A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field. The implementation of a style guide provides uniformity in style and formatting of a document. There are hundreds of different style guides available - from the EU Interinstitutional style guide, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, to the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law and many more.

Microsoft's goal in creating this style manual is about standardizing, clarifying and simplifying the creation of content by providing the latest usage guidelines that apply across the genres of technical communications. The manual has over 1,000 items, so that each author does not have to make the same 1,000 decisions.

Anyone who has read Microsoft documentation knows it has a consistent look, feel and consistency; be it a manual for Visual C#, Forefront or Excel. With that, the Microsoft Manual of Style is an invaluable guide to anyone who wants to better the documentation they write.

For example, many writers incorrectly use words such as less, fewer and under as synonymous terms. The manual notes that one should use less to refer to a mass amount, value or degree; fewer to refer to a countable measure of items, and not to use under to refer to a quantity or number.

Style guides by their very nature of highly subjective and no one is forced to take accept the Microsoft style as dogma. The authors themselves (note that the book was authored by a group of senior editors and content managers at Microsoft, not a single individual) note that they don't presume to say that the Microsoft way is the only way to write. Rather it is the guidance that they follow and are sharing it with the hope that the decisions they have made for their content professionals will help others promote consistency, clarity and accuracy. With that, they certainly have achieved that goal.

The book is made up of two parts; with part 1 comprised of 11 chapters on general topics.

Chapter 1 is about Microsoft style and voice and has basic suggestions around consistency, precision, sentence structure and more. The chapter also has interesting suggestions on writing bias-free text. It notes that writers should do their best to eliminate bias and to depict diverse individuals from all walks of life in their documentation. It's suggested to avoid terms that may show bias with regards to gender, race, culture, ability, age and more. Some examples are to avoid terms such as chairman, salesman and manpower; and use instead moderator, sales representative or workforce.

The manual also notes that writers should attempt not to stereotype people with disabilities with negative connotations. It suggests that documentation should positively portray people with disabilities. It emphasizes that documentation should not equate people with their disability and to use terms that refer to physical disabilities as nouns, rather than adjectives.

The book takes on a global focus and notes that since Microsoft sells its products and services worldwide, content must be suitable for a worldwide audience. For those writing for a global audience, those sections of the manual should be duly considered.

The manual also cautions authors to avoid too many technical terms and jargon. The danger of inappropriate use of technical terms is that people who don't think of themselves as computer professionals consider technical terms to be a major stumbling block to understanding. The manual suggests whenever possible, to use common English words to get the point across, rather than technical one.

The book provides thousands of suggestions on how to write better documentation, including:

do not use hand signs in documentation - nearly every hand sign is offensive somewhere
do not refer to seasons unless you have no other choice - since summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in the southern hemisphere
spell out names of months - as 3/11/2012 can refer to March 11, 2012 in some places and November 3, 2012 in others
use titles, not honorifics, to describe words such as Mr. or Ms. - not all cultures have an equivalent to some that are common in the United States, such as Ms.

Chapter 6 is on procedures and technical content and explains that consistent formatting of procedures and other technical content helps users find important information quickly and effectively. In the section on security, the style guide notes not to make statements that convey the impression or promise of absolute security. Instead, the writer should focus on technologies or features that help achieve security; and suggests to be careful when using words such as safe, private, secure, protect, and their synonyms or derivatives. It is best to use qualifiers such as helps or can help with these words.

As noted earlier, the style guide is simply a guide, not an absolute. In the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, author Lynne Truss write of terms that are grammatically incorrect, but so embedded into the language, that they are what she terms a lost cause. With that, the style guide has the pervasive use of the term all right, as opposed to alright.

According to, although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing. My own preference is that alright is clearer and ultimately more concise. In this guide, I found that Microsoft's preference for all right to be distracting.

Differences aside, part 1 provides vital assistance to any writer that is interested in writing effective content that educates the reader in the clearest manner possible. The book is the collective experience of thousands of writers and their myriad sets of documentation. The book provides page after pages of unique information.

Part 2 is a usage dictionary that is a literal A-Z of technical terms, common words and phrases. The goal of the usage dictionary is to give the reader a predictable experience with the content and to ensure different writers usage a standard usage of the same term. Some interesting suggestions in the usage dictionary are:

access rights - an obsolete term. Use user rights
collaborator - do not use collaborator to describe a worker in a collaborative environment unless you have no other choice as it is a sensitive term in some countries. Specifically, being a collaborator in a third-world country can get one killed.
email - do not use as a verb. Use send instead.
master / slave - do not use as the terminology, although standard in the IT industry, may be insulting to some users. The manual notes that its use is prohibited in a US municipality.
press - differentiate between the terms press, type, enter and use, and to use press, not depress, hit or strike when pressing a key on the keyboard
Some of the terms suggested are certainly Microsoft centric, such as:

blue screen - they suggest not to use blue screen, either as a noun or a verb to refer to an operating system failure. Use stop or stop error instead.
IE - never abbreviate Internet Explorer; always use the full name

Say what you will about Microsoft, but any technical writer who is serious about being a better writer can learn a lot from the writers at Microsoft. Microsoft is serious and passionate about documentation and it is manifest in this style guide.

Microsoft has been criticized for their somewhat lukewarm embrace of open source. With the Microsoft Manual of Style, Microsoft is nearly freely sharing a huge amount of their intellectual capital. At $29 for the paperback and $10 for the Kindle edition, the manual has a windfall of valuable information at a bargain-basement of a price.

This guide is a comprehensive manual for the serious writer of technical documentation, be it a high school student or veteran author. In fact, to describe the guide as comprehensive may be an understatement, as it details nearly every facet of technical writing, including arcane verb uses.

Many authors simply write in an ad-hoc manner. This manual shows that effective writing is a discipline. The more disciplined the writer, the more consistent and better their output. Anyone that wants to be a better writer will undoubtedly find the Microsoft Manual of Style an exceptionally valuable resource.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Well done 30 Jan. 2012
By M. Helmke - Published on
Format: Paperback
This style guide surprised me, in several good ways. First, the layout uses more white space, a clearer typeface, and is slightly easier to read than most style guides. It isn't that the others are bad, but that this one is better. I also like that Microsoft does not label their examples as "correct" or "incorrect," but instead uses the terms "Microsoft Style" and "Not Microsoft Style." While it should be understood that this is the ultimate meaning of "correct" and "incorrect" in the books from IBM and Sun, Microsoft comes across as both authoritative and humble at the same time-an impressive feat. Unique topics include writing with accessibility in mind, for content reuse in ways that allow those with non-traditional needs to be able to use the information.
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