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Set Your Style

Writing and Editing with Style: Sheets, Guides, and Manuals

A corporate message may be crafted by a writer and reviewed by an editor or supervisor. Everyone saves time and effort when writers and editors have agreed in advance the use of a style sheet, style guide, or style manual.

Each contributor brings a purpose and skill and the synergy leads to success. Each style resource also has its own purpose. An organization may have style sheet, a style guide, and a style manual. These should be aligned and not contradictory.

At least one form of style guidance is mandatory to ensure consistency and uniformity throughout the organization. And many organizations adopt a specific dictionary or professional style guide as the go-to reference for unanswered questions.

Style Sheets

Style sheets are brief and specific. They focus on specific project preferences. They reflect the organization’s or the department’s preferred style for a certain type of document.

Style sheets create uniformity by clarifying basic word choices (cannot vs can’t), usage or punctuation (am vs a.m., numbers) and style (tone, register). It ensures all writers and editors are using the same style. This consistency within and across documents saves time and money rewriting, correcting, or redesigning.

Style sheets are usually set up in a table in Word or a database document; often they are built around a table cell for each letter of the alphabet. Then, word and phrase preferences are entered alphabetically. They can also include basic style choices, like use of capitals, abbreviations or punctuation. The sheets provide a quick reference.

Style Sheet Example

Document:                                                                 Date:                           Version:

A & – and Accomplish – do   B By means of – by     C Can’t, couldn’t Spell out can not could not D Disseminate – send Dr, US, 6 am – do not use.
Numbers Use digits 1 – 10 Then write out eleven and up Punctuation In a series use, and : use before a list Dashes -hypen –en dash range 2–3 —em replaces ( ) Tone Informal first person instead of formal Use we, you

Users can keep adjusting the style sheet as they move through the project, keeping track of the versions so everyone uses the most current edition.

Style Guide

A style guide is a reference document, answering writers’ and designers’ questions. These used to be called office manuals and provided for consistent style in office correspondence.

Style guides help to fill out the standard templates in use. They cover logo, corporate references, spelling, style, formatting and design consistency. The style guide mandates tone, use of first- or second-person, and other language and format issues. Your organizationmay already have a style guide. Check that it is current and compatible with your project.

Style guides keep materials aligned on grammar choices, spelling preferences, preferred usage for acronyms, abbreviations and other language issues. They are a tool designed to serve all writing projects whether for sales, marketing, or admin, to be consulted as needed. It is important to achieve logic and clarity when organizing the information in your guide, so they are easy for staff to use.

Online content has specific requirements. A style guide should help writers in all media, but style sheets supplement the guide and set rules for specific media or unique projects.

Style Manual

Large enterprises may also have a comprehensive organizational guide to publishing including:

  • writing style
  • graphics and design rules
  • layout and publishing requirements.

Think of it in layers: writing guidelines, content style, visual layout, and organizational brand guidelines. Style sheets and style guides usually complement manuals.

Manuals keep an organization’s identity consistent in all media: print, visual, online. Internet access has made visual identity even more important and branding has become a factor. Manuals are the big picture of style, persona and look. They are comprehensive and ensure message and media meet the established criteria consistently.

You may be able to find a shared style manual online that simply needs minor adjustments to meet your needs. Make sure it is accessible and introduce to all staff.

Style sheets, guides and manuals are there to support content creators and designers. Special situations, such as Indigenous communications, literacy sensitivity, or plain language needs may require creating and integrating tailored sections. Guides need to be strong as well as fluid to meet the challenges all communicators face.