Should I be using a style guide for my business writing?

It doesn’t have to be long, but creating and using a style guide is a good idea.

Find out how to create a simple one here.

There’s no doubt that good writing makes for engaged readers, which is after all what you’re trying to achieve.

“Blue and green should never be seen.”
“Never wear brown in town.”

I heard both of these snippets of worldly advice from my grandmother, but sticking rigidly and unswervingly to rules isn’t what it’s all about.

There are any number of men and women stylishly sporting brown shoes around the office these days, and fashion watchers generally don’t raise an eyebrow at a navy-emerald combo.

No matter what you’re writing: blog posts, site content, news stories, printed reports, fact sheets (need I go on?), it needs to be recognisable as you.

While you’re putting your efforts into a consistent look and feel through font, colour, images and layout etc., you also need to address consistency in your words.

If only I had a handy checklist…

Think of any major high street business – supermarkets are a good example – and ask yourself if you’re completely sure of how to write their name. Is there an s at the end? Do they use an apostrophe? Should that be & or and?  It doesn’t matter which you choose, but what’s important is that you do it consistently.

I’d like to think you’re quite comfortable with how to spell the name of your own business, but what about writing other things:

Do you use per centpercent%?
Do you co-operate and co-ordinate or cooperate and coordinate?
Is your event on 2nd September at 3pm or 02 Sep at 15:00?

It doesn’t matter which you choose, but what’s important is that you do it consistently.

Who are you talking to?

You know your readers better than anyone else, so you’ll know how to talk to them.

Do you want to be that chatty friend having a gossip and a laugh? A formal voice of authority imparting essential information? A kindly mentor, offering a helping hand?

All three examples are perfectly valid, but not all are right for your audience. Once you decide, stick to it.

It’s your call

Some major publications have very helpfully put their own style guide online, for example, The Guardian and National Geographic, while others, such as The New York Times, offer theirs for sale.

These can be hugely helpful, but they are necessarily long and will include a lot of information you won’t need. You can just as easily create a simple one of your own, containing just the bits you need.

Find out how to create a simple one here.

Even if you do use one from another source, it’s worth adding your own bits.

What you want to say is unique to your own business, so make sure that your readers are seeing the same things in the same way from start to finish.

  • You run a training organisation and often write about awards and qualifications. Make sure you’re consistent when you refer to a Master’s or master’s degree, NVQ level three or NVQ Level 3, a BTEC in Engineering or engineering etc.
  • You offer advice on financial matters. Ensure consistency when you offer factsheets or fact sheets, or write about £55 or £55.0096 euros or €96 etc.
  • You write a food and recipe blog. Keep an eye out for the way your recipes call for gramsgrammes or gteaspoons or tspsGas Mark 4or gas mark four etc.

You’ll have some real specifics for your own business that may not appear in mainstream style guides.

Just start with those and keep it growing as things crop up.

It’s a guide, not the law

Put away your handcuffs, language police.

Remember, while there are some hard and fast rules about writing English that probably shouldn’t be run roughshod over, such as ending a question with a question mark or sticking to received spelling conventions (people really aren’t going to know what you’re talking about otherwise) many other ‘rules’ are really just opinions.

And that includes not starting a sentence with a conjunction.

In his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell summed it up nicely with his six rules, concluding “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous”.

If it sounds good and says what you want to say, go for it. Just do it consistently.

If you say it regularly, stick it in your style guide.

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