Re: Style Guide Help

Subject: Re: Style Guide Help
From: Jeff Hanvey <jewahe -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: chasity mcwilliams <chas -at- fcs -dot- uga -dot- edu>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000 10:17:27 -0700 (PDT)

--- chasity mcwilliams <chas -at- fcs -dot- uga -dot- edu> wrote:
> I have been asked to create a style guide for our
> department. It will be used for creating help
> guides/manuals and handouts. I have never done
> anything
> like this and was wondering if anyone out there
> could give
> me a good starting point.

1. Interview your co-workers to find out which style
guide they're using. Compile the results and choose
one style guide (Chicago, MLA, whatever) as the basis
for all your documentation (after all, there's no
sense in re-inventing the wheel).

2. Determine what common usages are "exceptions" to
the standard rules (do you prefer E-mail, email,
Email, e-mail; one or two periods after colons and
periods; et cetera). This process could go on awhile,
and you may have to review tons of documents or
interview everyone to get answers. I could see these
interviews as being a multiple-choice survey of sorts,
but then you may spend several weeks (years, decades?)
running people down to get their responses. However,
who really matters is the writers, designers, and

> Is there a particular format that works best for a
> departmental guide?

Whatever you do choose, avoid the standard
grammar-book approach (rules, rules, rules followed by
obscure examples - all written in heavy-handed

It might be worthwhile to create the document in
electronic form (either an email that can be sent to
new hires, a word document that can be attached to an
email, or a web page).

I would suggest that you use clear headings, such as
"spelling guidelines," "punctuation rules," "page
layout guidelines," et cetera. On each of these pages,
create a simple list. For example:

"Our department uses the following spellings:
-World Wide Web"

On the first page, and at the top of every section,
remind the reader of which style guide you choose in
step one above. For example:

"Although the ___ Department uses the Chicago Manual
or Style as a basic style sheet, the following are
exception or additions that must also be applied to
our documents:

1. Use one space after a colon.
2. Use a comma after each item in a bulleted list,
unless that item is a complete sentence. In this case,
use a period. Always use a period after the last
bullet in a list."

You might go so far as to create the two-column
approach with subheads down the left-hand side and the
specifics on the right-hand side:

"Spacing 1. Use one space after a period.

> How do I determine what should be standard vs.
> personal
> preference?

It depends on what we're talking about...if you're
going to demand that this style be used for all
official correspondence (including E-mail, memos,
letters, and press releases), then you have to be much
more detailed (I couldn't imagine making all my
E-mails matchs corporate style!) Plus, you'll have a
hard time changing people's training in these matters.

If we're talking manuals or training documents, I'd
opt for the "control what you can control" attitude.
In other words, leave the preferences to word choice,
subject matter, et cetera and standardize the
mechanical things. These would include:
-punctuation (One or two spaces after a period? commas
at the end of bulletted items? Use em-dashes or the
-layout (margins, headings, column widths, page number
placement, et cetera)
-graphical elements (including bullet and line styles,
type face, table appearance, et cetera)
-the order of pages in the front and back matter of
manuals (if applicable)
-Anything else you can think of.

Jeff Hanvey
Memphis, TN

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