Editorial style guides (or sheets) are standards or conventions an editor refers to in order to establish consistency in spelling, punctuation, capitalisation, hyphenation, and abbreviations, as well as the selection of headings and the use of numbers within a document. 

What is the Purpose of a Style Guide?

The purpose of a style guide is to enable writers to produce consistent written documents as efficiently as possible. A good style guide saves writers and editors from fretting over what is the ‘right’ format for a word, sentence or paragraph of text, as well as the appropriate voice and tone for the message. They can also prevent wasting vaulable time researching a range of different published sources for answers.

How Should a Style Guide be Structured?

Style guides – often presented in list or table format – are a helpful resource when a formal style manual is not available. In addition, they can serve as a supplementary tool for creating editorial rules that aren’t provided within a style manual. Style guides can also used to specify certain exceptions that should be applied to a particular document or publication.

A well-structured style guide should be easy to understand and use, with a clear and concise format that presents the standard language ‘rules’ in a way that can be readily followed. 

Many traditional publishing houses have established style guidelines for their authors and writers to refer to. Likewise, a lot of corporate, government and non-profit organisations produce in-house style guides for editing both internal and external communication documents, as well as publications such as newsletters, press releases, reports and websites.

Depending on the publisher, some items listed in a style guide might be absolute rules while others may simply be strong recommendations.

What Should be Included in a Style Guide?

To create an effective style guide, you should establish rules to determine how the following elements will appear within your document:

  • abbreviations
  • capitalisation
  • hyphenation
  • citations and references
  • headers and footers
  • labelling for charts, images and tables
  • lists (bulleted or numbered)
  • names of people, titles, places, companies, and thingsnotes
  • number formatting (numerals or text)
  • paragraph formatting style
  • punctuation (including use of apostrophes)
  • time and date format

Effective writing helps you to get your point across quickly and succinctly. By ensuring your written work is consistent in terms of style and formatting, you will be in a better position to achieve this objective.