A quick checklist: Ten things to think about when creating a style guide

Our language has boundless possibilities. The purpose of an editorial style guide is to impose order and consistency. But where do you start? Here are some great ideas from a workshop in Calgary Oct. 3, hosted by local members of Editors Canada, and led by editing veterans Christa Bedwin, Lori Burwash, and Sue Ridewood.

  1. Target of the style guide: Who do you hope will use the guide: in-house writer, freelance writer, copy editor, proofreader, designer, researcher, employee, volunteer, or club member? Should the guide be more prescriptive, or less? The user’s level of knowledge should shape how much detail you include.
  2. Purpose:  What do you hope to achieve with your style guide? If your goal is standardizing terminology within a horse club, then a more project-specific style sheet might be all that’s needed. Are you articulating the values and communication culture of an entire workplace? Then a more fulsome style guide might be in order, along the lines of the inspiring MailChimp Content Style Guide.
  3. Think about the audience: The style guide should help writers adjust their language for the intended audience. Who is your publication is trying to reach? “Speak in the language of the people you are speaking to,” Lori says.
  4. Organized: Make your style guide digestible, searchable, and visually attractive. Include a mission statement, clear structure, headings, and perhaps a table of contents. In our digital age, wasting paper on a lengthier style guide may not be an issue.
  5. Authority: Is the style guide mandated or endorsed within the hierarchy of your organization?
  6. Words and caps, consistency: Flesh out the preferred styles for capitalization, level of formality, tolerance for jargon or specialized terms, writing tense, acronyms, etc. Include a list of slippery or sensitive words. Make note of exceptions. “Consistency builds understanding in our audience,” Sue says.
  7. Best practices: Include and explain examples of effective approaches.
  8. Resources: Link to related sources such as online dictionaries, abbreviation guidelines, or other style guides.
  9. Cultural sensitivities: If your context is global, what geographic or corporate variations should be taken into account?
  10. Legal and ethical considerations: As needed, spell out standards for copyright, trademark, attribution, and defamation.

– Posted by David Hedley

Read more about the Calgary twig of Editors Canada.

Editors Calgary workshop 2