Over many years, all of us at Shenouda Associates Inc. have researched, written, edited, and published hundreds (maybe even more) of works both large and small. For us, attention to detail is more than chic or fashionable. It is de rigueur—necessary, required, and proper. Shenouda team member, Donna Muldoon, knows a thing or two about guides to stylish writing. Here is her take on the subject.
Of all the tools that a writer employs, a style guide may be the most used, most reliable, and most important in the day-to-day work of that writer. A style guide that is well organized, complete, and easy to use can save a writer the time and frustration of continually looking up information.
Just as an encyclopedia is a reference source that provides information that can be found in several other sources, a style guide can also act as a compendium of much of the information needed by a writer. A style guide is part Bible, part cookbook, part dictionary, part game rule book, and part fashion magazine. Like the Bible, a style guide proclaims what you shall and shall not do. As a cookbook, it outlines the recipes for font, color, dimensions, and icon usage. It serves as a shortcut dictionary for both common and product-specific words. Like a game rule book, a style guide can make referee-type decisions by reinforcing legal and corporate standards in matters of dispute. And the fashion magazine aspect is characterized through guidelines on tone, voice, and the presentation of content.
The main purpose of a style guide is to provide uniform, consistent standards throughout a group—whether it is a company, a field, a community, or a publication. The standards can form a unified voice and appearance that create a single brand image for all content creation including web pages, video, and marketing collateral. But most importantly, it ensures that multiple writers, contributors, and editors write with a common consistency.
So many options
There are several well-known commercial style guides such as the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the newly updated Microsoft Writing Style Guide. These are acknowledged sources of editorial guidance used and approved by various writing communities. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to use clear governmental communication that the public can understand and use. The U.S. government website (www.plainlanguage.gov) includes excellent general writing advice, including addressing your audience, using concise language, attending to visual design, and testing your content.
But an extensive style guide isn’t always necessary. And a formal style guide isn’t always available in every organization. This can give rise to the development of a style guide that may start as a dictionary, morph into a cookbook, and eventually grow into a full Bible-type style guide. Many guides begin with basic English grammar reminders and add words or language specific to the field or company. They can include information that is all encompassing or details that pertain to individual groups, jobs, or products. Guides can be general or they can contain the highly rigid specifications of a controlled language. But the design of any style guide should reflect its purpose—to provide consistency—and it is most helpful when it eliminates confusion or resolves questions of style.
With a multitude of excellent style guides available, there is no need to create one from scratch. It is permissible to pick the most appropriate standards from whatever source fits your needs best—with a caution to keep to legitimate sources. Some groups prefer to stick with one resource, for example, always following the AP style. Others prefer the flexibility of utilizing multiple resources. An online search will supply a writer with plenty of information—sometimes conflicting—for whatever style issue is confronted. These are a few sites that you may find interesting:
- A clear, basic document from the U.S. Energy Information Administration: EIA Writing Style Guide (https://www.eia.gov/about/eiawritingstyleguide.pdf)
- A terrific blog that walks you through creating content production, including style guides: GatherContent (https://gathercontent.com/blog/tone-of-voice-guide)
- Another blog that discusses various style guides used from The Economist to MailChimp: Kapost (https://kapost.com/b/best-content-marketing-style-guides)
Ultimately, any style guide is a growing and dynamic document that reflects our everchanging language, media, society, and cultural styles. In fact, a style guide really shouldn’t be referred to as an encyclopedia any longer. Maybe now it’s a Wikipedia version—a Stylepedia!
What guides your attention to stylish writing? We’d love to know!