14

I want to say:

Please, check out our handbook/knowledge base.

...but it can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Please, check out our (handbook/knowledge) base. — as if there is a "handbook base" and a knowledge base.
  2. Please, check out our handbook/(knowledge base). — the meaning I'm after.

I thought that maybe I should put spaces around the slash to better separate the two choices:

Please, check out our handbook / knowledge base.

...but I'm not sure that does it. I checked out The Punctuation Guide on the topic and it didn't answer my question.


Is it possible to convey the right meaning with a slash, or should I just avoid it altogether?

  • 3
    Probably not a fit for this site because punctuation is more a matter of style – maybe checkout the writers stack exchange? But I usually just put spaces around the slash when one or both sides are multiple words – Unrelated Sep 30 at 16:24
  • 4
    As you are offering a choice, nothing stops you from writing handbook or knowledge base. And no, readers will not feel they must choose and never check both. – Yosef Baskin Sep 30 at 16:32
  • 1
    This is an important question to have answered as someone who writes in the English language, but I agree that it is not something this site is designed to answer. – gen-ℤ ready to perish Oct 1 at 3:36
  • 1
    Two options, other than those mentioned: write knowledge base / handbook instead. Or: avoid /, e.g. handbook (or knowledge base) – Stefan Oct 2 at 6:40
  • 1
    But with "knowledge base/handbook," that could be interpreted as "knowledge base or knowledge handbook" so it really doesn't fix the problem at all. – Andrew Ray Oct 2 at 17:51
23

The FAQ of the Chicago Manual of Style advises:

If the slash divides two words, there is no space. If it divides two phrases or sentences (or a single word from a phrase), it requires a space before and after. Please see CMOS 6.106.

Since knowledge base constitutes a phrase, you are correct about padding the slash with spaces:

Please consult our handbook / knowledge base

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  • 6
    But does every style guide give the same advice? How many general readers are totally au fait with CMoS? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 30 at 19:29
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    @EdwinAshworth Who cares how many readers are "totally au fait" with CMoS? Style manuals describe what works well in practice with readers. Just like dictionaries describe usages of words. If I provide a definition from Webster's dictionary to someone for their publication, their readers don't have to be "totally au fait" with Webster's to understand what the word means. – Greg Schmit Oct 1 at 12:55
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    @EdwinAshworth Using a slash with spaces would not confuse anyone even remotely familiar with English, so I don't know where you're getting your 80% figure. You're not depending on the reader knowing the style rules, we're relying on the usage being obvious, which it is. – Greg Schmit Oct 1 at 17:11
  • 5
    @Edwin OP asked about guidelines for writing and this answer provides one, but you complained that readers would have to be familiar with CMoS and then claimed 80% of people would be confused by this usage. My point is that you're wrong that the reader would have to know CMoS and you're wrong that this usage would confuse 80% of people. We might just have to agree to disagree. – Greg Schmit Oct 1 at 21:19
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    I have never heard the Chicago Manual of Style getting seriously questioned within the scope of AmE. Unless you find something really questionable in there (which this isn't), it should be fine for Gnawme to use it as the sole point of reference in this answer. – Panzercrisis Oct 2 at 18:44
12

All the possibilities you envisage are bound to be ambiguous for at least some of the readers, although the last solution of using spaces appears rather good.

There is the alternative of using a hyphen: handbook/knowledge-base; hopefully the readers would make the difference with "handbook-/knowledge-base".

Note: hyphens are used freely enough in English and they tend to be used increasingly.

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11

There is an ambiguity in using the "/". It may connect the alternative forms of your information as a handbook (which, for example, might be paper) and as a knowledge base (which might be digital).

If this is the case, I suggest not using "/". It may be easily replaced by "handbook or knowledge base" or (even better, with no ambiguity) by "knowledge base or handbook"

Or does "/" merely connect the names of your information, being one thing that you describe with either of two names (for example, your handbook is only published online and you also describe it as your online knowledge base)?

In this case why use two names for the same thing? Better to use one name and not confuse the reader.

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  • Good advice. Could go even further: "Please, check out our handbook or our knowledge base". But, given how the question title was phrased, I believe the author wants to use the slash. – Ramon Melo Oct 3 at 5:27
7

You can rely on the reader to interpret it correctly. "Knowledge base" is a common term. "Handbook base" makes no sense.

I think it's fine to leave it as "handbook/knowledge base." The odds of misunderstanding are very low.

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0

Increasingly I find knowledgebase used as a single word..

Google's definition panel (apparently powered by renowned dictionary press Oxford Languages) proposes it as an alternative to the spaced version, even if Google itself asks you "did you mean knowledge base?", and one only has to hit google books for the phrase to see it's been used in print without a space for a very long time.

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0
  1. I have struggled with this for long and continue to struggle especially when I think that it could be mis-understood.

  2. So, I use hyphens when necessary and skip them when I think that the term/usage is known to the reader or if it can be reasonably expected of the reader to have knowledge of such a term.

  3. I definitely use hyphen when I think that the word/s following the last word after the last slash might be used with the word preceding each slash.

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