If you write or edit more than one document a day or work with other writers and editors, you need a style guide to provide guidance on style (language conventions with respect to spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and typographic arrangement and display). You can create a style guide at the personal, department, or corporate level (depending on the politics in your workplace).
For example, will you write:
- Provider Services Department or Provider Services department?
- Post-operative or postoperative?
- Bullet points with periods at the end?
- Zero through nine as words and 10 and above as numerals?
If you want consistency in your documents, you must have a style guide to direct these and hundreds of other style decisions.
Base your style guide on a published style manual
Published style manuals include The Gregg Reference Manual or The American Medical Association Manual of Style. You can buy most style manuals on Amazon. To compare 12 currently published style manuals, download this style manual guide that I wrote with my colleague Elizabeth Frick. (You read that right―the other Elizabeth Frick [Betsy Frick] and I have collaborated on several books and documents).
Here’s the short version of that matrix:
- For most technical and business documents, consider using The Gregg Reference Manual.
- For medical documents, you must use The American Medical Association Manual of Style and/or Scientific Style and Format (the CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers).
- For academic publishing, consider The Chicago Manual of Style. This manual is generally not appropriate for technical or business writing.
- For publishing psychological research, use APA (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). APA is generally not appropriate for technical or business writing.
- For government writing, consider The Gregg Reference Manual and/or the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual (GPO Style Manual).
- For journalism and marketing or sales writing, use AP (The Associated Press Manual of Style). AP is rarely appropriate for technical or business writing.
- For software documentation, use the Microsoft Manual of Style or Read Me First.
It’s important to realize that your chosen published style manual merely acts as the basis of your style guide―you can go against or “contra” any of the style manual’s advice. For example, if your chosen style manual requires a period after the abbreviation “Inc.” but your company does not use the period, you could list your style followed by the parenthetical (contra Gregg 122f). In a culture driven by individualism, not having to conform to a style manual on every decision may be comforting if you or others chafe at any hint of being controlled.
On the other hand, it may be even more comforting to know that you don’t have to create a style manual from scratch. Save time and base your style on a chosen published style manual, adapting it to work for your organization.