|Stop Putting it Off: Create a Style Guide
- 4/28/2015 -
Putting it Off: Create a Style Guide
some quick and easy advice on how to start —
or simply shape up — your organization’s editorial style guide.
I have worked for five associations, and each
of them had their own style guide. Here’s what I have learned: Other than the
publications and communications team, few people on staff really look at or
implement anything from the style guide. The publishing staff becomes the de facto
internal proofreaders of most or all content, both printed and digital, with
the communications staff coming in close second. Therefore, your team will
likely be the gatekeepers of the style guide.
Here are my top tips for creating a style
- Don’t make it complicated. Pick one professional
style guide (AP or Chicago, for example) that works for your publication and
organization. Rely on that as the first source.
- You will likely need a
customized cheat sheet, which will be your second source. Just accept that fact
and implement one. Each industry has words, phrases, or acronyms that they customize.
For example, general counsel is a term that my prior association preferred to
use. Others in the legal profession use general counsels. Shudder. But you get
my meaning here. Try your best to keep the customized cheat sheet short and alphabetized.
If you have to divide it into sections, you’ve overdone it already.
- Sharing is caring. You will need to
share this cheat sheet with internal staff, outside writers, or anyone else who
works with you and your organization on a regular basis.
- Schedule regular
reviews of the cheat sheet to make sure that it’s still working and accurate. Remember the recent
grammar drama surrounding "more than” and "over” — I am still not over that
one. An annual review should be sufficient.
- Assign one of your
publishing staff as the go-to person regarding the style guide. He or she will know
exactly where the file is on the shared drive and be the one who is most
interested in making sure everyone adheres to the style guide. Depending upon
how your staff is structured, this is a good project for someone new to your
association because it serves a two-fold purpose: It quickly helps your new
hire become familiar with your association’s style, and it gives them ownership
of a project that even the CEO must adhere to.
- Make sure the style
guide is clear and needs no explanation. I mentioned keeping the cheat sheet simple
because the idea behind that is if your staff plays the lotto, wins, and all
quit at once, the new hires would be able to step in and understand your
association’s style guide.
- Keep everyone in the
loop on updates. When
you do send out the cheat sheet, update to all staff and highlight any changes
in yellow so that everyone can quickly see what the changes are.
Style guides are a good quick reference source
for staff. But remember that even the most seasoned journalist often submits
content that needs copyediting and proofreading.
Kim Howard, CAE is
an award-winning association publisher and writer who runs her own consulting
Communications, LLC. She is also immediate past president of the
AM&P board of directors.