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Creating style guides is actually one of my favorite things to do. But then,
I'm a bit anal about wanting all my docs to be consistent. Creating a style
guide speaks seductively to the control freak in me.
The first thing to ask is why are you being asked to create the style guide.
Is it so that your docs will have a more consistent look? Is it so you will
use more consistent terminology? I would suggest that if you are going to
all the trouble of creating the style guide anyway that you try to
accomplish both at least to some degree.
Second, peruse a few style guides out there, for example the MS Manual of
Style, Chicago Manual of Style, Sun's Read Me First, any others that might
be specific to your industry. Don't bother reading them cover to cover; just
skim through them to get a feel for what they cover, and to get some ideas
of what you want to standardize on and what you really don't care about. As
an example, I personally could not care less about serial commas or spaces
after a period, but I do think that periods and commas belong inside
Also, if you are the only writer in your department, will you be the only
one using the style guide? If you are the only one who will be using this
guide, then fine, do whatever you want. This guide will just be a reminder
to you to stay consistent. If you have been asked to create this for a group
of people to use, make sure that you - or some person - has final say on
what goes in and what does not. You will never create a style guide by
committee in less than several painful, drawn-out months of agonizing
meetings and discussions about punctuation and fonts. Even if you have final
say on what goes in, however, understand that the only way to get other
people to use the guide is to get their buy-in on it. Find out what
everyone's pet peeves are and try to accommodate as much as you can
reasonably stand and still maintain the consistency you are, after all,
trying to achieve in the first place.
As for writing the guide itself, start writing down whatever "rules" you
come up with as you go through the guides mentioned above. You may not think
there's much you want to commit to at first, but go through a few of your
own documents and you'll probably start to see things you'd like to
standardize on: Product names (spelling or capitalization), abbreviations
and acronyms, etc. Compile these things into a list and then if it helps,
categorize your list to make it easy to reference. Most places I've worked
the style guide is a printed loose-leaf book of varying lengths, kept in a
three-ring binder at everyone's desk.
If you are planning to include document design and layout in your style
guide, what works best for me is to take an existing document and format
(using styles, of course) until I'm happy with it. Save the styles to a
template, and I would take the trouble to document all your styles in your
style guide. Templates can get abused and corrupted and it helps to have a
written record of whether third-level headings should be 10 pt bold or 12 pt
bold and whether they should have 1 or 2 lines of white space before.
Remember that you are writing a style *guide* not a law, so you can change
your mind as you find that certain things do and don't work for your
documents. A good style guide should be a living document that can change
and "breathe" as your department's work changes or expands.
Good luck! and feel free to contact me off-list if you want to ask anything
From: chasity mcwilliams [mailto:chas -at- fcs -dot- uga -dot- edu]
Sent: Wednesday, June 28, 2000 1:37 PM
Subject: Style Guide Help
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.