Style guides

Every business that produces communications of any type should have a style guide. A consistent communication style protects your brand and gives your company professional polish.

In publishing, a style guide is the set of rules that shapes how content is presented. These rules are most often applied to the “mechanics” of content, such as the way state names are abbreviated. A style guide may also set rules for images, layout and graphic design. Developing and enforcing a style is critical in all communications. Inconsistent application of style rules creates an unprofessional impression and may damage clarity.

Many organizations select a standard style guide for basic issues such as capitalization and the handling of numbers. Two commonly used guides are The AP Stylebook (for general writing) and the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide (for scholarly works). In addition, many publishers designate a specific dictionary for spelling and word breaks.

Smart organizations also compile a “house” style guide of rules peculiar to that firm’s needs. Common entries in a house style guide include the handling of trademarks, unusual spellings, and the use of boldface and italics.

A few of the opics to consider for a house style guide include:

  • Brands and trademarks
  • Heads and subheads
  • Tables, charts, graphs, and bulleted lists
  • Word breaks
  • Captions
  • Footnotes
  • Directionals (for example, See table, below.)
  • URLs and other referring text
  • Phone numbers, time, and measurements
  • Legal and copyright notices
  • Standardized descriptions and “boilerplate” copy
  • Titles and credentials
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