Which is correct? Single or double quotation marks? Do I have to put a semicolon at the end of each item in a bulleted list? When do I use numerals and when do I use words for numbers? The answer to these questions is probably in your organisation’s writing style guide.
Most people know there are specific guidelines for using corporate logos and colours. Many organisations also have a preferred writing style which is set out in their corporate writing style guide. This is usually a separate document from the branding guide but goes hand in hand with it.
A writing style guide is a document that sets the standards for writing in your organisation. It’s important to become familiar with your organisation’s writing style for several reasons.
1. It helps you understand your organisation’s preferred tone of voice.
Written communications form an important part of the image or brand your organisation strives to convey. For example, many organisations adopt a neutral, plain English approach while others may adopt a more casual or formal approach. Compare these examples:
Hot food is not to be consumed in the training room. (Old school)
Please do not consume hot food in the training room. (Formal)
Please do not eat hot food in the training room. (Plain English)
Please don’t eat hot food in the training room. (Conversational)
Hey! No hot stuff in the training room, thanks guys! (Very informal)
2. It helps you understand your organisation’s style preferences.
For some aspects of writing, such as bulleted lists or dates, there is more than one correct style. A writing style guide will tell you the style your organisation prefers. For example:
The closing date for applications is 15 June.
(Rather than 15th June or June 15.)
The writing style guide may also contain formatting preferences such as what font to use and spacing between lines of text.
3. It promotes consistency in your communications.
Inconsistently using style conventions such as inverted commas, capital letters, italics, capitalisation and list style can make your communication appear disorganised. By extension, the reader may think you are disorganised in other aspects of your work.
The writing style guide will help you make decisions about what style or spelling to choose. It’s then up to you to apply them consistently.
4. It saves time in the document review process.
Team members can become very heated about such issues as whether it’s acceptable to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’, whether to write ‘organisation’ or ‘organization’ or whether to use semicolons in bulleted lists. These issues may seem unimportant – no one is likely to die if you use a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’.
Yet, when people become entrenched in the position, these seemingly unimportant discussions can reduce productivity and lead to unnecessary inconsistency. A writing style guide that clearly sets out the organisation’s preferences takes the discussion away from the personal. Whether you agree with it or not, the writing style guide as the final say.
Complying with your organisation’s writing style guide will help you project a unified and professional image. This can range from addressing and signing off emails, to producing professional brochures or writing complex reports. Once you get in the habit, this attention to detail will come more naturally to you. It is well worth the effort.