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Stylin': Creating an In-House Style Guide

Though we were all taught rules and guidelines for writing, none of us remember every single one. Plus, the English language keeps evolving and changing – is it Email or e-mail or email? And, there are numerous people in your company writing every day who have probably been exposed to a variety of style guides. What are the chances you’re all following the same style?

When a company creates a brand, there’s always a set of guidelines with it; use this color, this size, this font. Why? Brand consistency is important.

Besides creating company-wide standardizations for your brand, establishing consistency with punctuation and wording also reinforces your brand and your credibility. You want your company to live up to its professional reputation of thoroughness and attention to detail. Having a “go to” resource makes consistency easy. The good news is that creating that resource doesn’t have to be complicated.

Start by choosing an established style guide as your foundation. Three major ones are The AP (Associated Press) Stylebook, The CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style), and the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual. These style guides agree on most major issues, but there are some stylistic differences. For example, they have different approaches to the Oxford comma – always a hot topic among grammarians!

Then choose a dictionary. Again, all dictionaries will agree on most spellings, but there are differences as language keeps evolving. Check out some of the biggies like Merriam-Webster, American Heritage or the Oxford English Dictionary.

You could stop there since those two resources will cover most of your issues.

Creating your own in-house style guide, however, is the real “value add.” The guide should be a living document accessible to everyone in the company. Start by listing which foundational style guide and which dictionary you have chosen. Then, by whatever process works in your company, add the house style choices. Perhaps your communications or marketing department will oversee this process with input from other departments and execs. The list will likely grow as different questions arise. Though Apple’s writing style guide runs hundreds of pages (you can see it here, if you like), keep yours as simple as possible. The main thing is to have a guide that is helpful and user-friendly.

More than likely there are already some “unwritten rules” within your corporate culture – we never write this or we always say that. For example, “Use the closing of ‘Sincerely’ in all business correspondences,” or “Use CAD not CADD.” Include those decisions in your style guide. When you discover stylistic choices that are different from your foundational style guide, add those exceptions. At Graceworks, for example, we use AP style but have made the in-house decision to italicize workshop names in proposals and on our website. You might also want to include expressions specific to your industry or standards for how to write people’s names, company lingo or taglines, etc.

With an in-house style guide established, you and your colleagues won’t have to rely on gut instinct or hazy memory when it comes to questions about punctuation, hyphenation, capitalization or any of those other grammar “-ations”! The benefits? A time-saving, easy-to-access resource to create consistency in your company’s communication.

— Judy

Graceworks Portland, OR