Creating a Style Guide
Even after choosing a published style guide as a primary reference, you'll need to customize it for your organization.
Your editorial process will affect the type guide you need.
We'll point you to some resources to help simplify creating your guide.
After leafing through the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook, you're probably thinking that creating a style manual is a lot of work.
But the task becomes manageable if you start by considering the scope of your style manual and who will use it, that is, experienced copy editors or everyone responsible for contributing content.
What would you like your style guide to achieve? Are you just trying to clean up the copy to make sure capitalization and punctuation are consistent throughout the site?
Or do you want the guide to include overall Web site style such as page format and rules for bulleted lists or heads?
Do you want to include Web writing guidelines, for example, how to write hypertext links?
Consider how you will handle editing. Will all text go to a central copy editing group? If you employ experienced copy editors, familiar with style manuals, your task is simplified.
Designate a published style guide as your primary reference, for example, Chicago or AP. Then put together an addendum that covers your style deviations and addresses what isn't included in the style guide, such as information specific to your organization or Web site.
If you have many people and departments contributing content, perhaps all writers will be responsible for checking their content for style. In this situation, you'll want a different style guide, something quick and easy to use.
These writers probably haven't thought much about style and are not schooled in the finer points of punctuation and capitalization. They're not inclined to consult a thick style guide at every comma.
For these writers, you'll need to construct a style manual that covers the basics: general guidelines on punctuation, grammar and usage. Think Strunk and White's Elements of Style, a concise overview of writing and style principles (100 pages), not the all-inclusive Chicago Manual of Style (900 pages).
Most useful is an online searchable guide that all content contributors can access quickly and easily. Customize your spell check to flag inconsistencies, such as internet if your style calls for Internet.
Appoint a Style Czar
Regardless of how you handle the editorial process, grant one person the final word on style. The style czar should solicit input from writers, editors, designers and technicians to ensure that all style decisions are consistent with site and page design.
But ultimately, one person should take responsibility for style. Someone must issue an edict about whether Web site is one word and whether it is capitalized.
And since Web style is changing -- with new words, conventions and technologies appearing every day -- the style czar should also have responsibility for updating the guide.
Review Your Style
The best way to begin building your style guide is by reviewing the writing at your Web site. What style conventions are you following already?
Print some pages from your Web site and circle style conventions. What words or terms do you capitalize, abbreviate or hyphenate? How do you punctuate items like phone and fax numbers? Do you almost always use e-mail, not email? Do writers consistently follow style conventions? (Probably not.)
Begin constructing your organization's style guide or addendum by creating a list of the style conventions that exist already at your site. Label it Existing Style and have another sheet labeled Style Decisions for the issues you need to resolve.
Before making your style decisions, study the sites of similar organizations or industries. Review sites you like. What are the style consistencies among them?
Choose Tools to Help
You're now ready to begin constructing your guide. Where can you go for help? Lana Castle has called upon her vast experience as an editor to put some method into what might seem like madness. Her book, Style Meister, The Quick-Reference Custom Style Guide, provides advice and worksheets to get the job done, including:
- Suggestions on constructing word lists. Castle says to use a two-column format, one column for your preferred word, such as disk, the second for words to avoid, such as disc or diskette.
- Charts listing style options from which you can pick and choose.
- A model guide for specifying overall document style (font size, rules for lists and heads). Although designed for print, it can be easily adapted for Web sites.
Edit-Work.com is devoted to Web editing. Put together by seasoned writers and editors Renee Hopkins and Tom Kinsey, it's a source of invaluable guidance and tools, including:
- An online style glossary: Edit-Work.com's glossary is compiled from a variety of sources, including Chicago and AP style guides, the Gregg Reference Manual and the Microsoft Manual of Style.
- A site style guide: Edit-Work.com has posted the style guide it used to develop the site. The guide includes rules for page formatting and specifications for links, fonts and heads. It's a great model for compiling your own guide.
- Web Editors Discussion List: Got a style question? Ask the experts -- or the equally confused.
Will online editors ever agree about whether Web site is one word? Sure.
Will editors ever be able to convince writers to follow the company style guide? Maybe.
Is setting a style ever worth the trouble? Of course!
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