Creating a simple style guide

Put together a handy checklist to give your writing a consistent look and feel.

As I wrote here, creating a simple style guide can give you a handy checklist to ensure your writing looks – and sounds – just how you want it.

Creating your own is simple and it doesn’t have to be very long

Some major publications have very helpfully put their own guide online, for instance The Guardian and National Geographic. Putting your own style guide together is simple and it doesn’t have to be very long

Others, such as The New York Times, offer theirs for sale and some are dedicated resources, such as the Chicago Manual of Style .

While it’s great to have these at your fingertips, putting your own together is simple and it doesn’t have to be very long.

You can tailor it to include just what you need.

Four easy steps for creating your style guide:

1. Decide on your tone of voice

2. List formal titles (proper nouns) that you need to get right

3. Decide how to express terms you use regularly

4. Recognise jargon

1. Decide on your tone of voice

Who are you talking to? How much do they already know?

Decide whether you want to be, for instance, a chatty friend down the pub or a more formal authority.

Hey, there! We’re Super Duper Bathrooms. Pop in and you’ll find a huge range of quality bathroom furniture that won’t break the bank!

Welcome to Super Duper Bathrooms. Pay us a visit and you will discover our extensive array of bathroom suites and furniture, offering you quality and choice at competitive prices. 

Tip: Contracting verbs instantly makes them sound less formal.

You’ll find a huge range
You will discover

Tip: Use exclamation marks sparingly. 

While not generally appropriate at all in formal writing, even when you’re aiming for a more relaxed tone of voice you don’t want people to think you’re being flippant.

2. List formal titles (proper nouns) that you need to get right

Note down the correct spellings etc. to make sure you get them right each time you use them.

To get you going:

Do you refer to government departments?

For example, it’s the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, but the Department of Health and Social Care.

Do people you mention have titles or letters after their name (post-nominals)?

It’s not just honours and academic qualifications, many professional industries have their own titles and post-nominals. 

How about organisations and companies? Many don’t write their names quite how you’d expect.

For example: easyJet, YouTube, eBay, sportscotland.

Tip: If an organisation uses a lower-case letter to begin its name, try to avoid starting a sentence with it. 

3. Decide how to express terms you use regularly

Note the correct spelling, and – where you have a choice – decide how you’re going to write them.

We all have a few of those words that we can never remember how to spell – add those to your list too.

To get you going:

3.40pm, 3.40 p.m., or 15:40
5th May 2018, 5th May 2018, May 5th 2018, 
or 05 May 2018
percent, per cent, or %


Tip: Consult published style guides to give you an idea of what to include. 

4. Recognise jargon

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone else seems to know what’s going on but you don’t? (I have, and it was weird).

This is how your readers may feel if they come across too much jargon. If they feel they’re in the wrong place, they’ll stop reading and go somewhere else.

Words and acronyms that you use without too much thought may be unfamiliar to others. Take a good look at your text and list those that you feel should be explained.

Tip: If you’re not sure, ask someone unrelated to your industry if they understand what you’ve written. 

You should be left with a handy friend that you know you can rely on whenever you’re drafting text.

You’re unlikely to be able to think of everything in one sitting, but you can add to your list whenever you need.

Most of it will become second nature after time, but checking your work against your guide will ensure you don’t forget anything and avoid those pesky mistakes.

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