If you manage the editorial process for your organization, sooner or later you’ll discover one of the facts of writing life: everyone has their own ideas about what makes up good grammar or style. If you submit copy to three different people for approval, it may come back with three different alterations. If your staff hands in writing assignments, you’ve probably found yourself editing the work for consistency.
The English language is evolving and so grammar rules are constantly changing. Is it appendixes or appendices? Should you use capitalization and periods in bulleted/numbered lists? Do you use open or closed punctuation? And do the same rules apply no matter what you’re writing?
Since written material becomes part of your organization’s public image, you can’t get rid of the rounds of approvals and rewrites. So how do you bring order out of stylistic chaos without working late into the night? Here are a few ideas:
1. Suggest that the company adopt a stylebook. There are dozens of stylebooks available, and the ones listed below are a good place to start:
- The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (generally for journalists and public relations practitioners)
- MLA Style Manual (Modern Language Association stylebook for scholarly, literary and academic works)
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (for writers and editors in the social and behavioral sciences
2. Even the most comprehensive book cannot cover every situation that editors face. A style sheet can define your organization’s“house style” and serve as an easy reference tool in addition to or in place of a stylebook.
In many companies, different departments are responsible for specific projects, e.g., marketing does the newsletter, business development writes proposals, and technical support prepares product documentation and manuals. These departments can get together and create a “house” style sheet for specific words, especially those pertaining to the business. Senior executives may not wish to be part of this process, but at least you’ll be able to send the document on to them with several of the problems already resolved.
Some style sheet formats involve dividing one or two sheets of paper into sections and assigning two or more letters of the alphabet to each section. Others, like this example from The Independent magazine, use alphabetized lists. You can also include general rules concerning numbers, punctuation and formatting.
If you use outside writers, give them a copy of your style sheet so that they know your requirements.
3. Consistency of style applies to graphic elements as well. Create an identity manual that sets rules for logo configurations and establishes the official color palette. That way, your organization’s visual identity won’t disintegrate into a confusing jumble of images.
So take time out of your busy schedule to decide whether it’s USA or U.S.A. In the long run, it may help you leave the office earlier.