I studied Technical Writing in college where I was taught how to maintain cohesiveness and uniformity across broad collections of instructional documents.Â The recommended way of keeping track of terminology is to obey a style guide – a list of terms and jargon accompanied by instructions on how and how not to use it.
For all things grammatical there is little flexibility, and so it is best to follow the examples set in industry-standard style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style (for American English) or the Oxford Manual of Style (for Canadian English).
Industry-specific jargon is more recent and is used less frequently, making it unclear as to which terminology is appropriate in specific contexts.Â There are a few ways you can go in such an instance.Â You can decide ad-hoc what phrasing to use, but this runs the risk of being inconsistent compared to other documents written by yourself or your colleagues, and instructions become unclear when you set reader expectations one way and then abandon that standard.Â You can develop an in-house style guide which is obeyed by all writers in the organization, and this is often an acceptable choice that should work well for readers, but you still run the risk of choosing different terminology than the rest of the industry.Â If you’re lucky there exists an industry-specific style guide which is mutually agreed upon by the majority of similar companies as the de-facto standard.
For many years Microsoft made available its own style guide, called the “Microsoft Manual of Style” (aka MMS), freely on its web site.Â This guide was invaluable to technical writers by answering the age-old questions such as “click, click on, choose, select, or tick”, and “log in, log on, login, or logon”, citing usage examples for each term and substantiating its rules with cross-referenced examples and alternative contexts.Â Microsoft’s guide was by no means adopted by even one tenth the PC industry, but it remains the broadest and most respectable style guide.Â It’s a great tool to improve the ease and readability of instructional documentation for using software.
For unknown reasons Microsoft opted to remove the MMS from its website, never to return.Â There used to be an official print version of the book but since its cancellation it is available only at exorbitant prices.Â Luckily I emailed myself a copy of the MMS while it was still available so I’m happy to share it with you here!
Choose here (just kidding) to download the Microsoft Manual of Style.