Style guides: what are they and do I need one?


A style guide is a useful tool for both the editor and the client. In this video I’m going to answer four questions about style guides: what is a style guide? how does it help you as a client? how does it help me as an editor? and which style guide should you use? A style guide is a set of standards for the writing and design of a particular set of documents that a company, organization, or publisher produces. It improves communication by ensuring consistency within and between documents and it enforces best practice in language use and composition. A house style refers to the internal style guide of a particular organization. So how does a style guide help you as a client? The first thing it does is save you from reinventing the wheel – there’s no need for you to start from scratch making decisions on issues such as punctuation or capitalization, where there may be multiple correct approaches. It also makes it easier to ensure consistency when everybody in an organization is clear about the correct way to handle issues such as spelling, hyphenation or capitalization, for example. It can also be useful in helping you to define words or language that you prefer to include or not to use. It also helps to ensure that you’re writing in a style that is expected in your industry, which will help to increase your credibility. In a word, it makes you look more professional. How does a style guide help me as an editor? A style guide provides me with an objective and credible resource. If I have made a change that a client queries or doubts, it’s very helpful for me to be able to point them to a resource which backs up my decisions. If a client has told me their preferred style guide it saves me from having to bother them with multiple questions over small issues when I can just refer to the style guide. A style guide also gives me a firm starting point when I’m working on documents for you. It saves me from having to reinvent the wheel if I can just tell you that I am referring to a particular guide. If a client has never thought of using a style guide before, I can recommend several different ones and they can choose which one they prefer as a basis for my work with them. Which style guide you should use very much depends on the field in which you’re writing. If you’re writing for an academic audience then the Chicago Manual of Style, now in its 17th edition, or the Oxford Manual of Style are both the standards in academic publishing. For journalism and very often corporate communication, the Associated Press or AP style is usually the benchmark. For law, you would use the Bluebook in the United States or OSCOLA in the UK for referencing and citations. There are many other style guides that you can choose from to decide which one most closely matches your style of writing and the audience that you’re writing for. For example, the BuzzFeed style guide aims to provide a prevailing and evolving style guide for the internet and the media. The Microsoft Writing Style Guide has replaced the Microsoft Manual of Style. This has been a respected source of editorial guidance for the tech community for over twenty years. Other well-known and well established style guides include The Guardian and The Economist. If you work in the field of content marketing, the Uberflip style guide is a great resource, including Uberflippinese, their preferred language, ‘say this, not that’, and guidance on grammar and mechanics, tone and context. MailChimp also provides its own style guide, primarily for its employees, but it’s also of use for anybody involved in communications. Its guidelines cover blog posts, emails, social media, tone, context, and accessibility. I’d advise you to avoid reinventing the wheel and have a look to find out which style guide most closely aligns itself with you, your company’s values, and your clients. Having decided on a style guide that will be the foundation for your company’s communications, an experienced editor can then help you flesh it out with the specifics that are unique to your company. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a solo business owner or a huge corporation, a style guide will help you ensure consistency and credibility in your written documents. I hope this has been useful for you. If you have any questions just drop them in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to this channel for more Worry-free Writing chat, and check out the description for more places where you can connect with me. See you soon!

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