What’s a style guide and why do you need one (or more)?

What’s a style guide and why do you need one (or more)?

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).

Some sample style decisions you might have to make

  • Provider Services Department or Provider Services department?
  • Post-operative or postoperative?
  • Bullet points with periods at the end of the text? Or no periods?
  • Zero through nine as words and 10 and above as numerals?

If you want consistency in your documents (who doesn’t?), you must have a style guide to direct these and hundreds of other style decisions. The good news is that you don’t have to create your guide from scratch. You can use one of the following style guides as your base and adapt it to your workplace or industry.

Base your style guide on a published style manual

Someone else has created a style guide that you might use! What a time-saver, no matter what type of document you typically write:

  • Technical and business documents: Consider The Gregg Reference Manual, 2010, free download https://www.nwcbooks.com/download/the-gregg-reference-manual/.
  • Medical documents: Use The American Medical Association Manual of Style, 2020, and/or Scientific Style and Format (the CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers), 2014.
  • Academic publishing: Consider The Chicago Manual of Style, 2017. This manual is generally not appropriate for technical or business writing but may be used in other publishing venues.
  • Publishing psychological research: Use APA (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 2020). APA is generally not appropriate for technical or business writing.
  • Government writing: Consider The Gregg Reference Manual and/or the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual (GPO Style Manual), 2010.
  • Journalism and marketing or sales writing: Use AP (The Associated Press Manual of Style, 2020–2022).  AP is rarely appropriate for technical or business writing.
  • Software documentation: Use the Microsoft Manual of Style (2012).

It’s important to realize that your chosen published style manual will probably merely act 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 want to 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.

Just know that you don’t have to create your style guide from scratch. Save time and base your style on a chosen published style manual, adapting it to work for your organization.

Or hire a professional editor to help you with style decisions and create your style guide. I’ve done this for several clients.

Leave a reply