Have you ever wondered how editors keep track of style for all the different projects they work on? There’s a quick and easy way that you can use to polish your writing and give it a professional edge.
Whether you’re a single operator or a big business, a style guide is a must if you want your comms to look professional. That’s because it gives you consistency so your writing doesn’t look ‘all over the place’.
And best of all, it’s easy to use, so you don’t have to be a skilled editor to use it…
First off, let’s clarify what style is
Put simply, it’s the rules you apply to the ‘grey’ areas of grammar and spelling. For example, do you capitalise titles when they’re used in a generic way or use lowercase? Do you prefer Australian or American spelling? Do you write in plain English or use a more formal tone? Do you write out all numbers or use numerals from 10 onwards?
These are the types of things a style guide will cover to give you the icing on the cake of professional communications – consistency.
The cheats way to keep track of your style
It can be hard to keep track of your house style, so take it from someone who works with many different businesses across a range of house styles – this simple tool is the easiest way to track your house style and stick to it.
I call it the ‘style cheatsheet’ and it’s what many editors and proofreaders use when they start a project – a simple template that anyone can recreate (though I’ve linked to a template to get you started, below).
You can use a table format like I do or simply headings on a page, separate pages in a notebook… whatever works for you. The important thing is to have clear sections for different letters, numbers, punctuation and any other categories you need.
Now you’re ready to fill it in
You don’t need to know your house style upfront. Use the cheatsheet to list style as you go through the text – you’ll soon see a pattern or inconsistencies.
Put each style element in the box that correlates with its first letter. So, write your rule for ‘abbreviations’ in the ‘A’ box, your rule for ‘italics’ in the ‘I’ box, your preferred spelling of ‘focused in the ‘F’ box, your approach to dashes in the ‘Punctuation’ box etc.
This makes it easy to look something up when you next come across it.
What to put in your style cheatsheet
This is just a short list but should get you started.
- Abbreviations – do you use a period after all abbreviations or just those that end on a different letter than their non-abbreviated form?
- Acronyms – how you treat them as well as ones that are specific to the document
- Bold/italic/underline – when is this allowed?
- Dashes – use of hyphen, en dash, em dash.
- Websites – do you put the full address, write them in bold etc?
- Numbers – when you put the numeral and when do you spell them out? Do you use commas, spaces or close them up once you reach four digits?
- Double and single quotes – when do you use these?
- Preferred spellings – Australian or American? Names specific to the organisation that are tricky to spell?
- Capitalisation – what do you capitalise?
- Titles – how do you treat job titles, books, films etc?
- Technical words – list those that are specific to the document or oganisation to save you having to look them up.
- Possessive plurals – eg, just an apostrophe or ‘s?
- Problem words – remind yourself of the rules for any words that are frequently confused like to/too, your/you’re, its/it’s, which/that.
- Treat your style sheet as a living document and refer back to it when you’re reviewing your writing.
- If there’s more than one person writing across your blog/business/team, you can share it so you all use the same style.
You’ll be amazed at how much more professional your writing looks when you’ve applied consistent style to it.
If you need a hand to set up your style guide or with editing a document, don’t hesitate to get in touch. As well as being an experienced editor, I’ve worked with many organisations and businesses to develop their house style to fit with their brand.
Download my Style Cheatsheet here: Heartspace_Stylesheet