Your guide to having style

Is it “don’t” or “do not”; “can’t” or “cannot”? Can a subhead be a question? Is the hyphen necessary in “non-essential”? What’s the plural possessive of your company name? Is it even OK to modify the company name? These questions – and more – can pop into a writer’s head within minutes of working on your content.

The fastest way for writers to get the answers they need is to develop a thorough style guide. It ensures consistency throughout your materials – regardless of who writes or edits them – by providing quick and definite answers to common questions. Don’t have one yet? Follow these steps to create a style guide that will keep your copy consistent.

  1. Establish a baseline. Creating a style guide from scratch would burn through massive amounts of time and resources, so we suggest letting someone else do that work for you. Fortunately, you can pick from several existing guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, The Columbia Guide to Online Style, Microsoft Manual of Style, The Yahoo! Style Guide, or – our go-to – the Associated Press Stylebook. Certain style guides are better for specific content or formats, so do a little research to see which one matches your needs.
  2. Break the rules the right way. Once you have a good starting point, create a list of your company’s exceptions to the style guide and preferences that aren’t covered. Note all spellings, hyphens, contractions and punctuation that contradict your chosen style guide. For example, do you use “adapter” or “adaptor”? “Percent” or “%”? By listing only exceptions to an established style, you’ll be able to keep your company’s style guide concise and easy to reference.
  3. Define rules around trademarks. Company names and trademarks don’t always conform to standard grammar. List constructions of your company’s trademarks to use or avoid so that issues don’t creep into your copy. Be sure to cover how you want writers to handle possessives, plurals and modifiers. For example, if you were working with Best Buy, would you say “multiple Best Buys” or change it to “multiple Best Buy locations” to avoid the plural company name? How would you choose to handle the possessive in “Amazon’s Prime subscription service,” versus “Amazon Prime’s subscription service” or “Amazon Prime subscription service”?
  4. Run through different formats. Common projects, such as newsletters, quarterly reports, presentations, brochures and postcards, might require separate style sheets to let writers know any differences or preferences that apply only to those formats. If you want to make sure that every bullet point in your brochures starts with a verb, put it on the style sheet. Don’t want to see any questions in your newsletter headlines? Put it on the style sheet so that your writers know what you want to see.
  5. Use it! Accessibility is key for keeping a style guide in use and updated. Make sure your writers have access to your baseline style guide, whether in print or online, as well as whatever style sheets apply to their assignments. Writers will love having a quick reference guide, and you’ll love not having to make the same changes repeatedly in the review process.

Are you happy with your company’s style guide? Let us know in the comments below.

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