Write Your Company’s Style Guide

Disagreements about grammar, punctuation, and formatting are common in the workplace and can waste a lot of time. So how can you put an end to these types of arguments? Use a style guide.

A style guide is a reference document that outlines rules and suggestions for writing and formatting documents. Every writer should have at least two style guides: A published style guide, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, and one that’s written specifically for your company or client. Your company’s style guide will cover those gray areas where there is more than one correct way to write something, such as our email example. It should also include guidelines for usages that are specific to the company or industry and items for which a “standard” or example does not exist through commercial style guides. Company style guides serve many purposes, including:

  • Helping all employees write documents that conform to corporate image and policies
  • Enabling new writers and editors to learn the company style more quickly
  • Identifying style issues that aren’t negotiable
  • Improving consistency of documentation, especially when more than one writer is writing a document
  • Eliminating arguments about grammar, punctuation, and formatting

If your company doesn’t have a style guide, talk with your manager about writing one. To make sure that employees in different departments feel that they have a voice in the style guide, consider forming a committee comprised of a few employees from the departments that the style guide will affect. This committee will provide input about what needs to go into the style guide.

You may discover that writing a company style guide can start some power struggles. Within your committee, ask people with differing viewpoints to state their cases, and then let the committee decide which viewpoint to recommend as a corporate style. Before publishing your style guide, appropriate managers should review and approve it.

What to Include in Your Style Guide

Your company style guide should not duplicate information in published style guides unless it’s important to emphasize certain points. Although every company style guide will be unique, here are some things to consider including in yours:

  • Nonstandard words and usages that are used by your company.
  • Which template to use for each type of document your company publishes and where to find those templates.
  • Lists of required document elements for different document types and what to include in them (e.g., title page, preface, table of contents, glossary, index, summary of changes, copyright information).
  • Legal information that’s required for specific types of documents.
  • Correct wording and use of caution, danger, and warning notices in technical documents.
  • Conventions for capitalizing and punctuating headings, vertical lists, figure and table captions, and other elements.
  • The style to use for cross-references or clickable links, both when cross-referencing (or linking) within a document and to other documents.
  • Guidelines for using within-document navigational features, such as clickable contents lists at the beginning of a chapter or long Web page.
  • Guidelines for boldfacing or italicizing words.
  • Guidelines for spelling out numbers.
  • Company standards for using commas, spaces, or other punctuation.
  • Lists of company or product-specific words to use.
  • Lists of acronyms and abbreviations that can be used.
  • Lists of preferred words as well as words to be avoided. Include any jargon that’s acceptable and the preferred spelling and capitalization of names and terms.

Once you have a company style guide, writing and editing documents is much easier. If you have a company style guide already, be sure to refer to it and your published style guide whenever you’re editing and proofreading your own work or that of others.

Comments are closed.