Using a Style Guide to Create Consistency with Your Writing

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young man writing at a desk in an office, writing on a notepad and looking at a laptop screen

Do employees in your organization struggle with using consistent abbreviations, spellings and capitalizations? Maybe you write Internet with a capital I but your co-workers spell it internet. Or you like organize with a Z while others spell it organise. None of these choices is inherently right or wrong. The issue is the lack of consistency. As an organization, you can avoid these consistency problems by using a style guide.

A style guide is a reference tool that sets the standards for writing so that there is consistency in the way written content is produced by different people in an organization.

Typically, a style guide will set out:

  • The preferred grammar rules and standards
  • Guidelines for voice and tone
  • The spelling of commonly used words
  • A list of words to avoid
  • An overview of brand basics
  • Format and design specifications with examples

When an organization has an effective style guide, content that is produced by employees will be consistent in quality, tone and appearance. This is important for branding because all of an organization’s communications should reflect the company culture. Consistent written communication presents a very professional, polished and trustworthy image.

Not only does having a consistent set of rules for writing eliminate inconsistencies, but it is also reassuring for people who are writing for the company. Writers can tackle producing content with more confidence. Experienced writers appreciate having a style guide to follow because knowing the rules saves time and rework.

Editing concerns can be resolved quickly because everyone can follow the rules as they are set out in the style guide. There is no need to debate rules or search through previous documents to figure out formatting guidelines.

Maintaining the Style Guide

The most useful style guides are accessible to all employees. Online style guides that are organized into meaningful sections make them easy to search and maintain.

Ideally, style guides are also kept as “living” documents that are continually updated. They should be simple for everyone to access the most recent version. Language evolves, which is why it’s important for style guides to be regularly reviewed and updated as required—note that the most current The Canadian Press Stylebook is the 19th edition. This new version includes sections on COVID-19 and climate change.

As society changes, the industry standard style guides and dictionaries are updated with standard spelling for new words and new rules for other ways in which language is used.

For example, internet terms have moved into our everyday language; therefore, the way we use them in writing has become standardized. Here is a list of common terms and the recommended style listed in The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling, 22nd edition.

Internet Terms

World Wide Web, web
Adobe Acrobat, JavaScript
Twitter, tweet
chat room
domain name
home page
instant messaging
web browser, web page, website

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By Marie Antaya, CTDP

Author of The Eclectic Writing Series.