Is it health care or healthcare? E-mail or email? How about a Web page or a web page? These are just a few of the terms I see used in varying ways from client to client and publication to publication.
As an editor, one of my pet peeves is inconsistency. In some cases there’s no “right” way to write or edit something, and that can lead to inconsistency. One way to improve consistency of word usage, punctuation, spelling, and more is to create an editorial style guide for your organization or publication.
Why is it worth spending valuable time creating a style guide? Here are five reasons.
1. To make a good impression. Many of the details editors look at—placement of commas, whether a word is capitalized or not, etc.—may seem trivial. But when all of those items are used properly, it helps you make a good impression to your target audience. Your audience will never see your actual style guide, but they’ll see the results of it in your high quality, professional print and digital publications.
2. To set the tone. An editorial style guide can help you determine the style and tone used in all communications materials your company produces. If you want an edgy voice, it can address that and provide suggestions for terms or usage of certain terms to achieve the voice you want. If you want a more formal voice, a style guide can address that, too.
3. To empower you and your staff to make decisions. For most companies and universities I work with, there’s an approval process that most communications pieces need to go through. Sometimes individuals reviewing a communication piece will focus on the content, while other times they’ll focus on the details. If you have a style guide, and a colleague asks you to make a change such as add a comma or capitalize a word that shouldn’t be changed, you can rely on your style guide to back up your decision not to make the change. It shows others you’re making decisions based on a set of standards, rather than making decisions based on your own personal preferences.
4. To address usage of unique terms. The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style cover a lot of style issues, but they don’t cover all terms you may use. By creating your own editorial style guide, you can address any editorial items unique to your industry or company that aren’t covered by a standard style guide. For example, one university I work with uses healthcare as one word in all instances; another uses it as two words (health care) when it’s used as a noun, and healthcare (one word) when used as an adjective.
5. To ensure accuracy no matter who is writing or editing. Editorial style guides for my university clients often include information on how to talk about different degrees (e.g., Master of Science vs. master of science vs. master’s degree), names of campus buildings, and more. The guides help to make sure that all people creating copy across the university are using the same terms. When staff turnover occurs, it’s easy for the next person to pick up the guide and make sure they are using the appropriate names and terms in all communications pieces they produce.
About Dana’s Creative Services
Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.