May 26, 2017

The Style Guide – what it is and why your organization needs one (really).

If you’ve worked in publishing or in media – or anywhere else where writing is the main activity – you’ve probably had to refer to a style guide. But even if writing isn’t your main business, your organization can benefit from having a clear, concise resource to guide people’s writing style.

Style guides aren’t about “correct” grammar and spelling, but about ensuring consistency of style and usage. For example, your documents are going to look awfully unprofessional if some of your staff are using American spelling while the rest of them are spelling like Canadians. Do you work in “B.C.” or “BC”? Do you send “email” or “e-mail”? Small stuff, yes – but we all know that when you’re trying to present an aura of competence and polish, details count.

Your style guide should be created with your users in mind and focus on the details most important to your business. If you create lots of reports, set up guidelines for headings and sub-headings, capitalization and titles. Agree on the spelling of the words you use the most. Decide whether you want to use the Oxford comma, contractions or abbreviations. To get buy-in, keep it short and easy to use (a table of contents is essential).

Most importantly, make sure your style guide is a group project that is never quite finished. Have a variety of people involved in the process so that several options are examined and everyone can live with the final decisions. And be prepared to review it regularly, because it’s guaranteed that new terms will keep coming at us: someday soon, we’ll all be deciding whether or not “LOL” is a real word.

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