The world as I see it can be broken up into two kinds of people. People who follow the rules and people who break them. When it comes to corporate rules and policies there are people who love them and live by them and there are those who just plain ignore them. Generally, in life I tend to be more of a rule breaker. But when it comes to corporate standards…well, I am the branding police.
What is a Style Manual?
The first thing I want to know when I walk into a company is where is their style manual? The style manual provides me as writer with all the information I need to know to create company documents that follow their rules. It tells me:
- What are their fonts?
- What are their specific product names? Are they capitalized?
- Do they write words like online as one word or two words?
- What are their style guidelines for punctuating bullets?
- What are their corporate colors?
Why Do You Need One?
Without these types of guidelines documentation in large organizations quickly becomes a mess. People spend time arguing over points that others before them have argued and decided, but never written down. Documents have to be rechecked for consistency when they are combined with documents by other writers. And worst of all, no one knows what is “right”.
The reason for style manuals is simple, some writing elements are “correct” more than one way. And yet writing requires us to be consistent throughout a document. In the business world writing requires us to be consistent not just within one document but within all our corporate documentation both online and in print. Style manuals provide a quick, easy, indisputable reference that tells writers which right way is the right way.
How to Start Creating Your Own Style Manual
So how in the world do you begin to create a style manual? Well, I have done this a few times and I can tell you from experience that it can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. When I was young I worked for a company with no style manual, and I began the process by simply writing down the few rules I knew that needed to be followed consistently. As the list grew, I organized it into topics. Eventually, if the topics become too long it is best to organize them into chapters.
This method works, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Surely there must be simpler ways.
Selecting a Generic Standard Style Manual to Follow
There are many style manuals available globally. In the US, the top two standards are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Guide. Many corporations' style manuals begin with a reference to one of these two sources. Then, these are appendixed with additional corporate style guidelines that are either an exception to that style guide or not included in their standards.
Get Some Expert Help
At Information Mapping we work with companies that sometimes have needs for very detailed style guides. Their materials often contain complex terminology, diagrams and processes that are not easily fashioned into a simple set of rules. If your style guidelines become extremely complex we can help you analyze, organize and structure a style manual to fit your corporate needs.
Just Do It
The worst thing you can do is to try to ignore the need for a style manual. With each passing day, more people enter and leave your organization. They need to know the rules of the road. Without them your documentation is a on a crash course toward major inconsistency. Don’t ignore the warning signs…just start writing down the rules…the rest will follow.