From Microsoft Writing Style Guide:

normally Don't use to mean often, usually, ordinarily, typically, generally, or a similar term.

Here is examples that I have:

But note that most information that is written in English is available worldwide and should therefore normally use ISO currency codes with a descriptive label.

If you expect your documentation to be used only in the same country from which the telephone number originates, use the national form of the number. Group the numerals according to the format that is normally used in the area or country.

In the glossary, specify your selected terms as follows:

  • Use an initial lowercase letter unless the term normally starts with an uppercase letter.
  • What is the reason to permit using "normally"?
  • Which word would you use in these examples in place of "normally"? "Usually" and "typically" looks inaccurate to me, as well as "generally". Maybe "ordinarily" but I'm not sure; English isn't my primary language.

The examples are from The IBM Style Guide for technical writers.


From the answer by Mozibur Ullah:

I'm not sure why you are suggesting that 'usually', 'generally' and 'typically' aren't synonyms for 'normally'.

Well. As I said earlier, I'm not sure. But here are some excerpts from the IBM style guide:

generally Use to mean “in disregard of specific instances” or “in all instances.” For example, write “Generally, hot-swap devices can be removed and replaced while the server is operating.”

normally Use to mean “in a manner that does not deviate from a standard pattern.” For example, write “The process is running normally.”

typically Use to mean “in a manner or circumstance that conforms to the characteristics of a type or group” or “in typical circumstances.” For example, write “A hot-swap device typically has a handle that you can grasp to remove the device from its bay.”

As you see, IBM do allow "normally", but they don't consider "normally", "generally", and "typically" as synonyms.

  • 1
    Surely the point of this sort of guide is to ensure that the interface or documentation of software is written 1. In a consistent style within a document or software, 2. Is consistent between software on that platform. E.g. if you are making an application for the Mac it should have a “Quit” menu item, whereas a similar one for Windows should have an “Exit” item. What word you prefer in a cross-platform application (e.g. a web application) is a different matter and personal preference, but you will help the user by making distinctions that may not be necessary or valid in general English.
    – David
    Sep 3, 2020 at 15:26
  • Are you asking how these words are normally (!) used in English, or seeking an explanation/discussion of what these style manuals say about them (which may not reflect their use outside the materials that are governed by these manuals)?
    – jsw29
    Sep 3, 2020 at 16:54
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    @jsw29 The second, the explanation. But I'm not completely agree that these manuals use some kind of "unusual" English. And so I don't see real difference between these two options. Of course, I may be wrong.
    – john c. j.
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:02
  • A link to this guide please, so we can tell who it is aimed at.
    – David
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:28
  • 1
    @David The main page: docs.microsoft.com/en-us/style-guide/welcome; the section related to normally: docs.microsoft.com/en-us/style-guide/…
    – john c. j.
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


"Normally" is broadly a synonym for "generally", "usually" and "typically", but they can have nuanced meanings, as Microsoft's guide indicates. In particular, "normally" can mean that something conforms to a particular standard or convention (or "norm"), which may be technical, scientific or social, rather than being something that happens frequently or is due to a characteristic.

Lexico, for example, offers "Conforming to a standard" in its definition of "normal", but also suggests that it can mean "usual" and "typical". By contrast, its definition of "usual" lacks any reference to standards and is given as "Habitually or typically occurring or done"; and "typical" is defined as "Having the distinctive qualities of a particular type of person or thing". These broadly support Microsoft's insistence on specific usage.

In your examples from the IBM style guide, "normally" makes sense:

  • "(you) should therefore normally use ISO currency codes with a descriptive label" implies that this conforms to the standard for good practice: "usually/generally" would suggest that it is most frequently done this way, but not for any particular reason.
  • "the format that is normally used in the area or country" is the format that conforms to the relevant accepted standard for formatting telephone numbers: although, since some countries do not have officially fixed formats, "generally" or "usually" would work here too.
  • "unless the term normally starts with an uppercase letter" indicates that your style should conform to the convention for writing that particular term if one has been agreed: "usually/generally" would imply that the initial capital letter was entirely optional, but more frequently used than not.
  • Thanks a lot, NickK. One another question: is "ordinarily" an exact synonym for "normally"? Are they completely interchangeable? I can ask it as a new question, if necessary.
    – john c. j.
    Sep 3, 2020 at 21:58
  • 1
    I would venture that "ordinarily" is a synonym for "normally" in the sense of "being commonplace", but not in the sense of "conforming to a particular standard". I would put it closer to "usually".
    – NickK
    Sep 5, 2020 at 9:33

Commonly would be a very close alternative to the term normally .

Normally and commonly referring to a frequent , or typical measure of a value. Normally implies accordance the distinction being a rule or condition. While commonly adds value distinction is also shared or mutually accepted.

Possibly this very slight distinction makes the term commonly a bit more appropriate in your application in technical writing.

Routinely or customarily can also be sometimes substituted for the term normally if the value of what is frequent, or common refers to a script, procedure, or order of criteria. This may not be a useful enough distinction in technical writing.

This is my first post on StackExchange and in hindsight possibly I "over thunk" all this "jibber-jabber". Please excuse any implied given impression I'm a excessive "try-hard". Strike from cover at time and place of your choosing.


Personally speaking I wouldn't go to Microsoft for ideas on style.

I'm not sure why you are suggesting that 'usually', 'generally' and 'typically' aren't synonyms for 'normally'.

If you look in any thesaurus you'll see that they recommend these as possible synonyms to use, depending of course, as is usual, on context.


All your so-called style guides are from software houses. These will be in-house guides and not at all guides for the English language as generally used at large in the English speaking world.

Newspapers have style guides, as do universities and magazines ...

Like I've already pointed out the place to go for this information is a thesaurus. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Which FYI is an idiomatic English proverb - if you see the point.

  • I checked style guides for technical writers by Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Apple, and the only one that uses the word "normally" is by IBM. Apple don't use. I agree that when it comes to UI, Apple is the paramount, but their public style guide for technical writers isn't really serious.
    – john c. j.
    Sep 3, 2020 at 11:23
  • 2
    An entry in a thesaurus lists not only the exact synonyms, but also all the words that are sort of, kind of synonyms for the given word, those that can function as its synonyms under some (possibly rare) circumstances, those whose meaning has something in common with that of the given word, and so forth. An entry in a thesaurus does not explain when to use which of these words, and is thus most definitely not the place to go to find out the kind of information that the OP is seeking. It is true, though, that a special-purpose, in-house style manual is not a good source for that either.
    – jsw29
    Sep 3, 2020 at 16:48
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    "Personally speaking I wouldn't go to Microsoft for ideas on style"... "so-called style guides" are snarky comments that projects your opinion over the OP's framed question, prior research, and unstated paths and assumptions that led to this question. It would be fair to challenge unstated assumptions directly, which I think you try to do (the assumption that a style guide is a useful reference), but this answer dances around doing this clearly, and also ignores the real nuance between "normally" and the synonyms. -1 from me, but I can reverse if edited to be objective and clarified.
    – user662852
    Sep 3, 2020 at 18:04

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