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Gauging prescriptivism in writing handbooks

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1 Author(s)
J. Mackiewicz ; Dept. of Linguistics, Georgetown Univ., Washington, DC, USA

Although handbooks (those often used as references in business and industry) tend to adhere to traditional usage prescriptions, it is clear that they cannot possibly all display the same degree of prescriptivism. Likewise, people who select handbooks, whether they are writing instructors or professional writers, differ in how much importance they invest in following traditional prescriptions. What is needed, then, is a method to match handbooks to users, enabling writing professionals to select a reference that reflects their views on the importance of adhering to traditional rules. Toward this end, this article describes a study of the level of prescriptiveness of 14 handbooks and provides a method based on this study for gauging the prescriptiveness of other handbooks. This study supports W.E. Meyers' (1995) findings in that it suggests prescriptive usage entries are still prevalent in handbooks. However, handbooks do display some variation in their prescriptiveness, and their prescriptiveness can be gauged by analyzing a sample of ten usage items

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication  (Volume:42 ,  Issue: 1 )