While reading last week’s New Yorker, in which two of my favorite writers had articles about two of my least favorite people (Jeffrey Toobin on Arlen Specter and Ken Auletta on Lou Dobbs), I noticed a small advertisement toward the back of the magazine:
One of the great benefits of freelancing is that I can work from anywhere. Having to lug around style manuals, however, hinders my mobility. So the ad got me thinking about electronic style manuals: might they make it easier to travel?
Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks about this new product:
- It only is available online. So if you are going to rely on it, you need to have Internet access.
- Annual subscriptions cost $25. As the hardcopy costs $35 (with free shipping) on Amazon.com and the manual is not updated every year, the website is more expensive.
- My copy of Chicago—as I’m sure is the case with many other writers and editors—is dog-eared. I’m not sure how to replicate that timesaver online.
Chicago, however, is available as a CD-ROM. I figured that format might better suit my needs as it’s only a one-time purchase and it doesn’t require Internet access.
Then I read the feedback on Amazon.com: “The software implementation permits users to read only a single numbered paragraph of the book at a time: those who know the print edition will readily understand that having to click one’s mouse repeatedly to move from paragraph 17:148 to 17:149 to 17:150, each occupying just a few lines on separate screens, is an unbelievably cumbersome way to use this essential reference tool.”
So much for not having to cart around the big orange book any more.
Other style manuals have been similarly clumsy in their electronic formats. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, which I reviewed earlier, comes with a CD-ROM, but it does not work on Macs and most reviewers have deemed the disc useless. And while The Economist’s Style Guide is available online, other than The Economist I don’t know of any publications that use it.