Developing a house style

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Developing a house style

Why you need a “house” style

By “house” style I mean a writing or editorial style that a company or organization will aim to apply to all the documents and communications it produces. The same can perhaps apply to an individual author who is writing a series of books, guides, or articles. The main reasons why they would want one is for:

  • Consistency – to ensure that all their written output is presented in the same way, for example spelling, use of punctuation and grammar, capitalization, and hyphenation to avoid the document appearing disorganized or confusing to the reader. Also, the document may be written by several contributors (including temporary staff) or edited by various people, each with their own ways of writing, which when put together would give a chaotic appearance. Consider, for instance, how different people would present text, headings, diagrams, tables, captions, and references. Anomalies in their presentation would confuse and distract the reader.
    The solution: produce a house style sheet or guide that they can all use to express themselves in the same way.
  • Brand identity – to ensure the reader will immediately identify what they are reading with the image of the body or organization, for example use of their logo, colours used, fonts, the way their ideas are expressed and communicated (i.e. the visual identity).
  • Economy – having an identifiable and comprehensive style guide will make the editor’s or proofreader’s jobs quicker, easier, and probably cheaper. First-class results can be produced every time!

If a house style already exists

There may already be a house style in use (or even disuse) within a company or organization but it may be inadequate for present-day usage because it is out of date and has not kept up with changes in language, grammar, and capitalization. It may have been produced many years ago when budget did not allow for a thorough job to be done and only the basics were covered.

If a house style does not exist

This could mean that all a company’s documents are produced on a one-off basis – they may even be consistent within themselves, but not between them. Over time a wide variety of styles have been used by successive personnel with no thought to company image, clarity, or consistency. Alternatively, the document may be full of inconsistencies, such as:

southeast and South East
co-ordinate and coordinate
organisation and organization
the government and the Government
focused and focussed.

I have seen such instances many times and it is not a pretty sight!

In part 2 of this blog I will cover what sort of matters should be covered in writing a house style.