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Get your house (style) in order

Get your house (style) in order

When is it time to create your organization’s house style guide?

On a day that ends with “y.”

Nothing screams competence like consistency. Suppose your company, ministry, or group wants to be perceived as knowing what it’s talking about. In that case, consistency in spelling, capitalization, presentation, and references is essential from the first day.

If you’re an author and want your book to be taken seriously, you’ll need to be consistent in your writing and references or your readers may become confused. She capitalized East Side in the first chapter but called it the east side in this chapter. Is she talking about the same place?

And confusing readers should be at the bottom of your to-do list. You don’t want readers to have to think about what you’ve written. You want them to read it! (OK, maybe a little thinking won’t hurt.)

Whether to use a serial comma, for instance, is a fundamental decision you’ll need to make at the beginning of your enterprise or book. (And don’t worry: No matter which way you choose, you’ll make enemies.) As you develop more content in blogs, web pages, and manuals, or get further into that book, however, you’ll realize that some terms and usages unique to your project come up repeatedly. You’ll need to decide on how you spell them, capitalize them, or refer to them.

For instance, in the sentence in the third paragraph of this post starting with “Suppose your company …”, are you going to leave out the serial (Oxford) comma after the word “presentation” or include it? For that matter, will you insert a space between “author” and the ellipsis in the sentence before this one? And, hey, what about that ellipsis? Spaces or no spaces between the periods?

Or, you’re a healthcare company. Or, is it a “health care” company? One word or two?

Then you get to your unique branding or content matters. Walmart is one word. It’s not Wal-Mart or Wal-mart. A hospital in my area changed its branding several years ago, and the newspaper I worked for reluctantly followed course. St. Francis Hospital became OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

In a nonfiction book or academic paper, you need to make sure your usage is consistent and appropriate for the topic you’re writing about. In a fiction book, like I said above, just make sure you’re consistent. Your style will be a decision you make with your editor.

I would love to help you get your style set. I’ve been involved in the creation of two local style guides. It can be a long but rewarding process that results in a polished product for you. Please contact me to set up an appointment if you need help with that style guide.

(Photo by Nathan Walker on Unsplash)

Write for the reader

Don’t forget to put the reader first if you’re a writer.

Yes, I know, your prose is delicate and was formed On High, but if the reader doesn’t get what you’re saying or, worse, realizes that you’re trying to draw more attention to your style than to the information you’re presenting, it’ll end up down low.

I encourage the writers I edit to ease off the technical or inside jargon unless it’s appropriate for the audience. And if you write in a way that doesn’t adhere to the applicable style guide to a T but makes it easier for the reader to understand, I’ll encourage you to let it stand.

In the end, what’s most important is that the reader comes away from your prose edified.

And entertained.

Cereal box literature

Cereal box literature

Let’s face it: Cereal companies conditioned Boomers to read while we indulged in a bowl of whatever (Quisp, anyone?).

As an adult, what’s your favorite reading material while having your bran?

Mine used to be the physical newspaper, but now I tend toward blogs and, yes, a newspaper app. Or, at least, political material, for some reason. Helps with digestion? I don’t know. Lots of room for analogies there.

So what do you like to read with your cereal?