The Nitty Gritty
I have hundreds of recipes pinned to dozens of Pinterest boards, so I come across a wide range of offerings. Nowadays, the images have to be perfectly lit and photoshopped to make them look appealing; it’s like sugar in pre-packaged foods… we’ve gotten so used to the artificial visual flavour that if a photo were undoctored in some way, it would be glaringly out of place. But what is often missing is the same attention to detail in the writing. I’ve seen “tablespoon” misspelt a few ways, or the abbreviations as Tbs., tb, tbs, tbsp, T., etc. So which one is correct? And do the forms or the etiquette of choices differ between print and online versions?
I pulled out a cross-section of cookbooks in my library and thumbed through them; I took older, newer, American and British, and I scoured online recipe sites like Betty Crocker; here’s what I discovered:
- When writing a cookbook for a printed version, editors/publishers tend to write out the entire word [tablespoon, teaspoon, cup, pound, ounce, etc.].
- The two most standard contractions for tablespoon are Tbs. and tbsp. They can be ended with a period or not; I would tend to do it so that the contraction looks intentional and not a typo! I grew up learning Tbs. for tablespoon and tsp. for teaspoon. To each his own.
- Blogs that are a collection of recipes, or allow contribution from subscribers, will have a hodgepodge of abbreviations and contractions because it’s simply too difficult to keep on top of such issues. Even professional sites such as Betty Crocker have gotten sloppy about it; for example, they often (but not always) spell out words like tablespoon, and then suddenly revert to contractions for pounds and ounce within the same recipe. Consistency should be the golden standard if nothing else is.
- Recipe instructions are written in the imperitive mood (bake this, stir that, knead this, eat with that, etc.). You’ll never find 1st, 2nd or 3rd person pronouns within the instructions of a recipe; at most, you’ll find them in the short intro before a recipe begins.
- In a printed book, NEVER does a recipe instruction include the ramblings about the cat in the kitchen, or what you changed about the recipe, or what you’re doing that’s unrelated to the topic at hand. If you’re writing a personal blog, that’s a matter of personal preference; I tend to want the recipe itself streamlined to make it easier to read on the fly in the kitchen, but maybe that’s just pragmatic ol’ me. If there are additional notes or something I’ve changed about a recipe for my own blog, I tend to put that in the introduction and not in the actual recipe, but there’s not a set rule – it depends on where it’s warranted or relevant.
As with any kind of writing, some things are a matter of personal preference; at that point, where there is no one grammar rule to apply, the most important thing is to be consistent throughout the manuscript.
If you’re thinking of writing a cookbook (or any other manuscript for that matter!), I would recommend keeping what is called a style sheet; this is used in publishing houses where several people will have the manuscript in hand at some point; this sheet prevents someone else from undoing choices – they can look at the style sheet and know that it was an intentional decision, and leave it; otherwise the risk is that one man’s capital is another man’s lower case, and so on.
As an author, the style sheet is my running list of decisions to keep me on track as I write; it can include sections for punctuation (have I decided to go with British or American English punctuation for things like Mr / Mr.?), unusual capitalisations (for me, one issue was when to capitalise “sir” as a substitute for a proper name – I could always refer to my sheet when in doubt), abbrevitation/contraction choices, etc. It could also include a record of my choice of fonts, spacing between sections, indentations, and so on. I have a section for my “cast of characters” – to remember how I’ve spelled a name, or what I’ve named an infrequent cast member. I might include an abbreviated description of a character so that I don’t give them green eyes in chapter one, and blue eyes in chapter ten. What you can include in your style sheet is endless… foreign terms/spellings, reminders to check validity of hyperlinks, punctuations such as en- and em-dashes, how you’ve written specific gadgets (capitalised or not, hyphened or not, etc.). Below is a basic style sheet template to get you started.
No matter what you’re working on, hone your craft, and keep writing!