What is a writing style and why you need to know it.

Words and powerjpeg

In a world where information, trends and commentary are presented and consumed through words and images rather than conversations and actual interaction with people, words have more power now than ever. This makes crafting words well an essential and vital part of how businesses and people market themselves.

I’ve previously written about my passion for punctuation and the importance of a style guide for writing good content. While I am passionate about the former, I am still learning and I always get a proof reader or editor to review my writing. I am, first and foremost, a writer so I recognise the need for professional assistance in this area.

That said, I’d like to share some simple tools that can assist all businesses writers, business consultants and business self publishers.

Create a Style Guide

A Style Guide outlines what style of writing you/your company wants, what spelling preferences you have (I was one of the last people to drop the ‘me’ from the end of program and I NEVER use American spelling, these are part of my style preferences).

This is NOT the same as the branding guidelines. Think of the Style Guide as the branding guidelines for words.

What should go in your Style Guide. Things like

  1. How do you want the writer to treat acronyms, both everyday ones and ones that are specific to you/your business or industry.  You might not want them used at all, preferring the names of organisations, government departments, regulators, government bills and laws to be spelt out in full.
  2. How do you want the writer to treat business titles and names?Some companies like titles such as Chairman, CEO (there’s an acronym), Managing Director to always be capitalised. Others don’t.

Do you want the specific people referred to by their first and last names or as   Mr Blogs, Ms Blog. (I personally don’t like any salutation, just my name, Jaqui Lane. When I am in the role of Chairman I am a Chairman, not a Chair).

Do you want a full stop after the Mr. Mrs. Ms. Dr. or not?

I could go on, but you see where I am going. It’s actually important to get these small details cleared up early as it saves hours of time and multiple versions of draft documents coming back.

  1. What spelling conventions do you want to apply?Oxford English, American, Australian Macquarie are three common options in Australia but there are many more. And, if you’re writing for an international audience you need to consider what translation protocols you use.

This is especially important for two reasons.

  1. Most spell checkers are automatically set to American English and will put a ‘z’ in place of an ‘s’ in the middle of words, leave out the ‘u’ in most others and all manner of other things.
  2. Depending on who your audience/s are different spelling conventions will apply and you need to what to apply where.
  3. What level of ‘fact checking’ do you want applied.(Not FAT checking as someone once named it). How important is this to your business and audience, and how do you want facts referenced, both for the original writing itself and then across the platforms you will publish the piece?

It’s easier now than ever before for plagiarism and copying to be detected on the one hand and to get a reputation for not acknowledging sources, or providing links to articles, white papers, thought leadership on the other.

  1. What standard of punctuation is acceptable to you/your business?(Yes, I know, here I go again). Do you care about it, and if so, how much? Make it clear in your Style Guide what standards you want applied to the writing that is being created for your business, otherwise the writer will apply their own.

My son still makes fun of the fact that when I send him a text I spell out all the words, use capitals at the start of a sentence and a full stop at the end of one, and always type in my name or simply ‘Mum’ at the end. “I know it’s you”, he tells me. “I know you know it’s me, I just like typing, opps texting, the word mum,” I respond. But there are different levels of what’s acceptable and what you’ll accept.

If in doubt, I always refer to the Australian Government Style Manual for authors, editors and printers, (as I live and work mostly in Australia and this guide works pretty well across Commonwealth countries) and then make up your own mind. It’s largely a matter of preference and perspective.

I’ve always remembered a fleeting moment in the one-man show I attended, although I can’t remember the actor. At one point he said, “And, remember, a full stop is just a hyphen   coming towards you.”

There’s a different perspective.