5. Mechanics of Writing

Error-free writing entails more than using good grammar. You must also use correct mechanics of writing in your documents. The mechanics of writing specify how words should be used when printed, whereas grammar reflects the form of words and their relationships within a sentence. For instance, if you put a sentence-ending period outside of quotation marks ("You have to stop".) you have made an error in the mechanics of writing, not grammar. An enjoyable book that discusses differences between mechanics and grammar is Dr. Grammar's Writes From Wrongs, by Richard Francis Tracz (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1991).

The mechanics of writing guidelines in this chapter work well for computer documentation, but other style guides may suggest different rules that are equally effective. It doesn't matter which rules you follow as long as you are consistent within your document or documentation set. See Chapter 7, "Constructing Text," for other options you can use.



Writers tend to err on the side of too much capitalization. The chief reason to capitalize a word is that it is proper - not because the word has greater status than other words. A proper noun identifies a specific member of a class, whereas a common noun denotes either the whole class or any random member of the class. For example, King Henry VIII (a particular member of a class) was a king of England (the class itself).

Use an industry-accepted dictionary or other resource to verify capitalization of computer terms. Refer to "Reference Books" in Appendix A, "Recommended Reading," for a list of suggested resources.

When to Capitalize

This question may help you determine whether a noun is proper or common:

    Does an article or another limiting word (such as "a," "the," "this," "some," or "certain") appear before the noun in question?

If so, it is probably a common noun.

Note the difference between the following sentences:

    Use a text editor to change the information in your file.

    Use Text Editor to change the information in your file.

In the first sentence, the article "a" makes it clear that the writer is pointing to no particular member of the group of text editors. Therefore, "text editor" is a common noun. But in the second sentence, the absence of an article or limiting word helps make it clear that the writer is pointing to only one member of the group. In that case, capitalize the proper noun "Text Editor."

In general, capitalize:

      Turn to Chapter 3.

      Turn to the next chapter.

      Control key Escape key

      Use the format utility to divide the disk into slices.

      format enables you to divide the disk into slices.

      The software saves time: You can now press a single key to accomplish what used to take hours of complex calculations.

      Select from two options: Save stores your changes, and Discard erases your changes.

      See Chapter 3, "Using the Mouse."

      Installing a Half-Inch Disk Drive

      Ordering Third-Party Peripherals

      Using a Look-up Table

When Not to Capitalize

In general, do not capitalize:

      Refer to page 45.

      Skip step 3 if you are not installing a CD-ROM drive.

      field-replaceable unit FRU

      direct memory access DMA

      Control-q Escape-m

      Elements of the User Interface

      Using the Numeric Keypad to Enter Data

      Saving Time With ACME Software