Just recently, I wrapped up the first edition of a style guide for one of my clients. I was pretty excited when the job was finished, which may prompt some to ask, “Hm, get out much?” Still, the sense of accomplishment in putting this project in the can—even if I’ll be updating it in a few months—is undeniable.
Just what is a style guide, you ask. According to Wikipedia, it’s a “set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field.” Consistency of writing style across documents is more than a mere nicety, and one large organization I write for has several pods of editors scattered throughout. (All the more reason to make sure that what I send over is polished.)
If you write for a living, of course, you’re familiar with the tomes that dictate the use of commas, hyphens, capitalization, titles, academic degrees, and so on. We writers have more than a passing acquaintance with The Chicago Manual of Style, a multi-pound beast, and The Associated Press Stylebook, both of which are living documents.
The story behind the genesis of “my” style guide is simple. One day, in the middle of hustling to meet a deadline, my client and I said to each other, “Hey, we really need to write down the standards we use when we edit these data sheets. Maybe it shouldn’t all be in our heads.” So, I set to work to capture what we were doing. Things like using “real-time” with a hyphen when the expression is an adjective. Or “web services,” rather than “Web Services.” Or “UNIX,” rather than “Unix.” Some may take issue with our choices. After all, everyone has favorite usages, but consistency is key. Putting simple style concerns on automatic pilot is what allows you to concentrate on doing great writing.
Cliff Allen says
Style guides are soooo helpful for anyone who writes anything. Copyrighters (and their copy editors) need the AP and Chicago guides on words, grammar, punctuation, etc.
But non-copyrighters throughout an organization could use a “guide” with whole paragraphs of company-approved text they can drop into letters, proposals, presentations, and, of course, e-mails.
The 10-word, 50-word, and 100-word blocks of text written for trade show directories are great to distribute throughout a company so everyone can present a consistent marketing message.