Have you ever argued with a coworker over grammar? Because English grammar is so complex, everybody seems to have an idea of what is right and wrong. Even grammar reference manuals have different views from one another (consider William Sabin’s The Gregg Reference Manual versus the Associated Press [AP] Style Guide). These different views make the English language dynamic, but they can also make grammar and punctuation a nightmare. The English language is also constantly evolving. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “e-mail” is currently spelled with a hyphen and “Web site” is two words with a capital W. But more and more the trend is to use “email” and “website.”
A great way to overcome the varying views is to create a style guide. But to do this, you first need to agree on which references will be preferred and come to a consensus on rules. For example, I once worked on an assignment where the writing team wondered about hyphens. Should “low income subsidy” have a hyphen? What about “non-formulary”? We decided yes—always spell “low-income subsidy” with a hyphen, but “nonformulary” without. Some writers were capitalizing the words “Tier 1 and Tier 2” and some were using the Roman numerals I and II, instead of Arabic numbers. Both ways were correct, but we needed to be consistent.
Creating a style guide gave our team one road map to follow, because as you probably know, there is often more than one correct way to arrive at your destination. It also helped the team with formatting issues. Some writers liked to italicize their figure headings and others liked to put them in bold, 9-point font. Some writers liked to use dashes for bullets and others liked fancy checkmark symbols. Determining one way to always format bullets and label figures and tables gave our written product a consistent look and feel that the client could value.
Even for small projects and teams of just one or two people, a style guide is an essential resource. It determines ahead of time what guidelines will be used for language and formatting, such as what fonts are used (Times versus Arial, for example), the size and look of headings and subheadings, and the indentations and styles for bulleted lists. It states how long tables are to be continued to subsequent pages. It defines terminology and word spelling for the particular project or client. It states how PowerPoint slides should be formatted and what content belongs in the headers and footers. It outlines the rules for using logos so that the client’s brand remains constant. Details like these are important to keep consistent so that the client can trust and respect the work being produced.
The English language is versatile and complicated. When a writing team serves multiple clients, it helps to have a style guide for each project, since not every client has the same preferences. Using a style guide makes your writing job easier—you can work in harmony with other writers and editors and quickly resolve writing differences as they arise. A well-written product created by a team working “on the same page” will be one the client appreciates and can depend upon. ~Pam