Those of us in the writing world talk a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about style guides. But, what is a style guide? What is its purpose? And what is an in-house style guide? Let’s answer those questions.
What Is a Style Guide?
Writing style guides (also called style manuals) are books that recommend specific ways to present written elements such as citations, numbers and currency, units of measure, time and dates, proper nouns (e.g., product and company names), and foreign phrases—just to name a few.
Style guides also cover general writing concerns including punctuation, word choice (e.g., favoring certain words over others), point of view (e.g., referring to your organization as “we” instead of XYZ Company), and voice (e.g., using active voice rather than passive voice). In addition, some style guides include preferences for fonts, line spacing, margin widths, and other formatting issues.
The four most popular style guides for American English are
- The Chicago Manual of Style,*
- The Associated Press Stylebook,
- the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and
- the MLA Handbook from the Modern Language Association of America.
*The student version of The Chicago Manual of Style is called A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian. It is commonly referred to as Turabian.
What Is the Purpose of a Style Guide?
The purpose of using a style guide is to maintain consistency throughout all of your written collateral (e.g., websites, blog posts, case studies, and brochures). Therefore, you should select one style guide as your primary guide and then incorporate others as needed. When you do combine styles from multiple guides, be sure to record those choices in your in-house style guide. Which brings us to…
What Is an In-House Style Guide?
An in-house style guide is a customized guide that documents preferred styles that may or may not agree with your primary style guide.
Check out “In-House Style Guides for Small Businesses, Part 1—Benefits and Preparation” and “In-House Style Guides for Small Businesses, Part 2—Selecting Topics” for information on creating your own in-house style guide.
If you’re feeling particularly defiant, come back soon for that promised discussion on ignoring your style guide—if you dare!