Re: writing a corporate style guide from scratch

Subject: Re: writing a corporate style guide from scratch
From: Ann Howell <ahowell -at- POOLMAIL -dot- DOLPHINSOFTWARE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 15:09:24 -0400

I've had a few requests for a summary of the info I received re: this issue, so
here are the highlights from the responses I got. I apologize in advance for the
hodgepodge -- I was pressed for time and didn't have the proper time to edit
(where have we heard that before?).


From Rowena Hart:

I would recommend that everyone on your style guide
team read Microsoft Manual of Style. I also recommend
purchasing the Microsoft Computer Dictionary.

Once everyone is familiar with the Microsoft style, it
is time to think about your company's style. How do
you write things differently than Microsoft? Map out
as many of these differences as possible. Then discuss
them, and make a decision about whose style you
will use -- yours or Microsoft's.

Expect this project to take at least a week out of the
author's schedule, and perhaps longer. Start with the
TOC, then build up the sections. Start using the
style guide immediately -- for example, give the first
draft of the style guide to the staff and tell them to
apply it to their documents. In using the style guide
they will identify problems in the interpretation and
application of style rules, and they will also identify
a few hundred more style questions that need to
be answered.

Expect to dedicate time to the style guide on a
consistent basis. For example, you might review
and revise the style guide every four months. For
the style guide to be a useful, living document it
needs to be updated frequently.

From Sheldon Kohn:

An excellent commercial reference is "Read Me First: A Style Guide for the
Computer Industry," which was developed by Sun Microsystems and is available
from I think it costs about $25 US plus shipping.

For web writing, you may want to look at

For online help, you may want to look at

From Donald Le Vie:

1. Get an upper management champion first. Sell him/her/them on the benefits
of a style for your organization (let me know if you need more info here)
2. Announce ahead of time that you plan on developing a style guide,
(especially to those people who you expect pushback from, such as engineers,
programmers, technical types, SMEs)
3. Make sure the people affected by the guidelines in a style guide will
have input on what goes in the first edition (not that you have to include
it necessarily, but they will be more likely to comply if they've had a
chance to have a say in it)
4. Don't try to reinvent the English language. Focus on the most pressing
issues/problems/concerns for your organization
(department/division/company). Ours focused solely on the division where I
worked at Motorola. The style guide did get picked up by many other
divisions both inside and outside of our business sector after we
distributed it to our own division.

Cheryl Magadieu has put together a very useful list of online (mostly, if not
all, from university sites) style guides here:

Lesley Roth sent me this list of questions:

Questions to Ask When Creating a Style Guide

What are frequent jargon words?
What is the standard format for the jargon words going to be?
What are frequent words in the particular business environment (customer's
specific terms, etc)?
What is the standard format for words in the particular business environment?
When are words set in bold, italicized, underlined?
When and how are words hyphenated?
What fonts are used and when?
How are headings formatted?
How are headers and footers formatted?
How are Tables of Contents formatted?
How are other Tables such as Tables of Figures formatted?
How are page numbers formatted?
How are lists formatted (numbered, alphabetical?)
What type of bullet is used in bulleted lists?
How are dates formatted?
How are numbers written?

How are draft markings formatted?
Where do draft markings appear?
How are footnotes formatted?
How are titles formatted?
How and where does the company logo appear?
How does the company address appear?
How and where do signature lines appear?
Where do the Configuration ID schemes appear and what do they look like?
How are attachments identified and formatted?


I hope this is of some benefit for the rest of you. Thanks again to everyone who

Ann Howell
Dolphin Software Services ULC

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