Style guides are essential if you are writing lengthy manuals or reports or if several people are contributing to one document. While readers may overlook a few inconsistencies, many style differences will make them wonder about your company’s attention to detail and commitment to a single goal. I’ve edited documents and websites where even the company’s name appeared in three different ways (CompanyName, Companyname, and Company Name). That level of confusion is bound to concern any reader.
The best style guides are short, preferably under 5 pages, because no one will read a 30-page guide. Design standards can be handled in a separate design guide; the style guide for technical content should focus on those grammatical and spelling issues that can vary from author to author. For example:
- Do you use the serial comma (the comma before “and” in a series) or omit it?
- Do you prefer that company titles (Technician, Vice President) be capitalized or lower case?
- What are the official names of products and are they trademarked or registered?
- How do you handle common industry and technical terms: Is it “healthcare” or “health care”? Is it “Cloud services” or “cloud services”? Is it startup or start-up?
- When do you abbreviate (SOX, HIPAA); what words do you never abbreviate; and which acronyms and abbreviations do you define in the text, in a glossary, or never?
- How do you handle numbers: do you spell out one through ten and use numbers for 11 and above; do you use numbers for all distances (3 feet, 6 meters) regardless of size; do you spell out “millions” or use M?
- When you refer to location in a graph or photo is it “left to right” or “l to r” or “from the left”?
- What font do you use for text, headlines, captions and subheads? What alignment?
Your style manual should focus on those areas that are most likely to be handled differently by different authors or cause you a bit of head scratching when you update a document months after its initial release.
At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we understand the importance of consistency when you communicate with your customers. As we proofread, edit, and copyedit your technical documents, we can create a style manual that will keep your writers and your content consistent. Contact us today.