Are you overwhelmed by the demands of writing new content for your small business? If so, a house style guide can simplify the entire process. Today’s post explains three benefits of house style guides as well as three things to do before creating your guide.
My related post “What Should Be in a House Style Guide” explores specific topics you may want to include in your guide.
Before we get to the benefits, let’s define the term house style guide.
What Is a House Style Guide?
A house style guide outlines how an organization’s internal and external documents should be written. House style guides cover writing and formatting such as word choice, tone, specific grammar and punctuation issues, and product name formatting.
House style guides are also called in-house style guides and house writing guides.
Three Benefits of House Style Guides
Here are three of the most important benefits of using a house style guide.
1. House Style Guides Promote Consistency
If everyone in your organization follows the same writing guidelines, documents are more likely to maintain consistency across departments and across various publishing outlets (e.g., website, marketing materials, manuals, etc.)
2. House Style Guides Save Time
Most of us tackle the same writing questions over and over again: How do we write the possessive form of the company name? Does our organization use the serial comma? What words should be avoided in marketing copy?
House style guides save you time by providing one place to look for answers—instead of chasing down answers from other employees or reviewing old documents (which may not be correct, either).
3. House Style Guides Are Flexible
There are no rules for creating a house style guide. As such, yours can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. A one-page Word document can be just as effective as a multi-chapter book formatted in Adobe InDesign. In fact, shorter guides will almost always be the most useful because no one wants to slog through an epic tome.
Although house style guides are meant to maintain consistency, you can—and should—update your guide as your business evolves.
Three Things to Do Before Creating Your House Style Guide
Here are three things to do before creating your house style guide to simplify the process.
1. Choose an Official Style Guide and Dictionary
In the United States, we have three primary style guides that influence most published writing:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style)
- The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style)
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)
There are also many alternative style guides for specific industries.
Select one of these guides to serve as a backup any time issues arise that aren’t covered in your house style guide.
I always advise my own clients to follow The Chicago Manual of Style for general business writing.
Further Reading: Which Style Guide Is Best for You?
In addition to a style guide, choose your organization’s preferred dictionary. Here are three of the most popular:
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition
Each of the style guides mentioned above has selected one of these options as its official dictionary. Therefore, you may want to use the dictionary associated with your chosen primary style guide.
Further Reading: Which Dictionary Is Best for You?
2. Ask for Topic Suggestions
Start building a list of topics to include in your house style guide by asking employees or coworkers about issues and challenges they have encountered while writing, editing, or reading your organization’s documents.
If you are a solo entrepreneur, build your list of topics by thinking about writing issues you frequently encounter in your business.
3. Name a House Style Guide Editor
In large organizations, the style guide is typically overseen by the communications or publishing departments. It may also be part of a larger brand style guide that covers related topics like logo usage and graphic design.
If your organization doesn’t have a dedicated writing-related department (and frankly, most don’t), name someone involved with communications to be the house style guide editor.
The house style guide editor is responsible for updating and distributing the guide.
If no one claims editorial ownership for the guide, it will likely languish away in some dusty, forgotten file folder.
Now that you know the benefits of using a house style guide, it’s time to answer the question: what should be included in yours?