Introduction to Style Guides

Style GuideAs a professional writer, style guides are part of the job.

Clients may have their own guides, or at least their own ideas for guides. Clients may be willing to defer to you and whatever your style is. Whichever scenario, it’s good to know what a style guide is and to have one for your own business.

The focus of a style guide is to provide guidance on usage when more than one possibility exists; it isn’t so much for distinguishing between correct and incorrect grammar.

Business can choose style guides and dictionaries to follow for most word inquiries, but there are always words or phrases – do I capitalize this or not? Does this need to be hyphenated? – that come up over and over. Individual style guides track these types of things.

I generally follow Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster Dictionary. A majority of my clients go with what I recommend, but I do have a few that use the AP Style Guide and prefer the Cambridge Dictionary.

With your own style guide, you present yourself (your brand) in a consistent way. And when you have staff, or other writers helping you with content, the style guide helps ensure that everyone uses the same tone and remain consistent with your writing. A style guide saves time and resources by giving answers to questions that come up about preferred style.

Even though clients may go with your preference, every company is different – their branding, their voice, their tone – everything is unique to each business.

Style guides are for the ‘exceptions’ – those things that fall outside the chosen manual of style and dictionary (or to clarify which reference to use).

Examples of items in my style guide — regardless of what CMS or Merriam say, I go with “Internet” vs “internet” and “Web site” vs “website”. Some clients prefer the lowercased options. I’m also in favor of the Oxford (serial) comma – meaning a comma after every item in a list.

Other things to include in a style guide are specifics about:

  • Headings in general — how they are capitalized
  • Lists — whether they are capitalized at the start and if/how/when they are punctuated
  • Numbers — when they should be spelled in full, in particular
  • Rules for headings of chapters, figures, and tables — as well as how to number them

Style guides are not long documents — as most rules and examples are found in the dictionary and manual of style chosen. A good rule is 4-5 pages, max – Arial, 12pt font, double space between items. Keep it clean, simple, streamlined. As you add to it, you may reorganize it — if you have other people use it, you’ll find more items to add quickly.

My style guide a simple Word do and is only a couple of pages long, as are the ones created for clients. I bold terms I want to leap off the page, but otherwise it’s simple text on a white page. (Nothing says it has to be typed, either.)

Do you have a style guide for your writing? Have you created one for a client before? Do you think a style guide is a useful document for your business?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

10 thoughts on “Introduction to Style Guides

  1. Style guides are important as are the Dictionaries used for spelling. Collins and Macquarie are with some words very different to others. One of the problems I often face is that even computers will change spelling from English to American. Not that this always presents a major problem. But words like labor and labour. In Australia Labor is a political party so any reference to labor could mean a connection with them. Whereas labour clearly means manual effort. Colour, honour, theatre, – we all know there are many but I have learned I must be consistent. For example I realize if I make it realise – same with all the se,ze words consistency is important. Thank you for the post.

    • Seem to remember learning something along those lines at the Army’s NCO Academy! 🙂

      “Fake it till you make it” is also a common motto/mantra at the military academies which train our young officers.

  2. I am always referring to the guides! Must be an old core value leftover from being raised by a mom who taught school for 47 years… I still flinch when I run into a preposition at the end of a sentence…

    Excellent post.. Thank you

    Kind Regards – K

  3. I find that if I let my editors (wife and mother) update the Word Dictionary I do best with my consistency. Not sure how you would handle that when working across multiple PCs though.

  4. Yes.But usually for my regular or new advert clients. I customize advert proposals for medical and non medical clientele to promote their Practice insofar such entities are neither alcoholic nor tobacco business,I also use style in my impromptu writings online. Thank you Lisa for your presentation style. I like it aesthetically . Gbemisoye Tijani Ibadan 26/7/16

    Sent from my iPad

  5. Ps: still on style even with simple mobile devices far less sophisticated as the edge or galaxy series i confess herewith I used to become suddenly creative and linguistically eclectic when I m texting difficult or generous clients or those who have become consistently a patron with easy empathy. For instance, I likened one to a Woodrow Wilson of the USA and this is not an embellishment of his help.In just half a decade he had boost my business life beyond ordinary.Whereas maybe I couldn’t have encountered him as a mentor within a global fellowship that ‘s In itself expensive to ordinarily maintain annual membership — how much more if you equally want to be a voluntary consistent recognizable giver towards serving humanity globally. *I had packaged delivery of the medical stationery where his company advert ,an HMO,has been published and had considered it luxuriously cheaper to deliver it in an hotel where a big AGM is holding ,12 hour journey by road,half hour by flight from the federal capital city where I could have parceled the publication with ‘Everything Office’ wrapper.He appreciated it all.He s a very corporate yet not productively officious doctor with other specialist certifications germane go business and financial management-public health inclusive.He loved the packaging even without opening the real advert data boldly designed and lay out in appropriate font and color background: receive healthcare in your neighborhood …,we pick the bill Abridged Gbemi Tijani aka MST Ibadan 704pm

    Sent from my iPad

  6. Pingback: Writing Links Round Up 8/1-8/6 – B. Shaun Smith

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