Oct 12, 2017

Clarity Begins at Home

Consider developing a style manual

By Stu Slayen     

Let’s say you work at the Canadian Society of Picklers and Pastry Chefs. Do you tell people that you work at “CSPPC” or at “the CSPPC”? How do you use the organizational acronym in your newsletters, correspondence, and on your signage?

If you work for an international organization, do you write about your group’s flavor, labor, and behavior? Or its flavour, labour, and behaviour?

When you write about your CEO, do you call her Dr. Barbara Doe; Barbara Doe, PhD; or, simply, Barb?

Does your organization run 10 programs or ten programmes? Maybe half-a-score of events?

The appropriate approach depends on your organization’s character, audience, and preferred communications slant. Without consultation, I can’t tell you what would work best for you. What I can tell you is that consistency is essential. If your staff members rely strictly on their personal style preferences when they write, you potentially end up with different treatments of the same language in the same publication or on the same website. The message to your regular readers is that you communicate chaotically as opposed to carefully. And what does that say about your organization’s work as a whole?

And there are costs involved, too. If everyone relies on personal preference for acronyms, spacing, spelling, capitalization, comma usage, number treatments, n-dashes, m-dashes, abbreviations, and other elements, ultimately an editor or proofreader needs to spend additional time making those things consistent before publication. It’s not an economical use of time.

The solution? Consider developing a “house style manual” (also called a “house style guide”) that will clarify and codify your organization’s preferences. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are numerous examples of style manuals online that could inspire you, and you can add items that are specific to your organization. Monitor your manual and add new terms and treatments as new language, concepts, and programs become part of your work.

A clear, concise, well-managed style manual will help you avoid debates and inconsistencies every time you publish something. A manual is good for your readers, your brand, and your budget.