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Smoothing Over The Rough Spots With A Style Guide

  • By Robert Starr
  • Published 06/7/2008
  • Copywriting

A style guide is a document that helps writers and editors by answering the questions they will meet when editing. They vary greatly in length and cover a variety of different subject matter from how to attribute different types of information in academic works to how to properly write out a military commander’s rank in a newspaper article. One of the big reasons that style guides are so important is that they lend a certain uniformity to the look and feel for a certain kind of text. For example, all the papers that are done using MLA style offer symmetry of information and text that all the people associated with liberal arts disciples are familiar with. One of the other useful aspects of the style guide is that, where there is a choice about the way something is expressed, it can provide the preferred option such as the use of capital letters (Supervisor versus supervisor), the use of symbols (% versus percent) and even the preferred spelling for certain words (colour versus color)

In some of the positions that you might find yourself in as an editor, it’s important that you get a brief of some description that answers all the questions that you will need to know. Before an editor starts any edit, there is some necessary preliminary work that needs to be done to ensure that the editor has the necessary level of

confidence to do the job well. The editor should be confident that they are familiar with the readers linguistic level and that they know the kinds of words and the knowledge level that they are working with. In effect, that they know who they are editing for. It wouldn’t do much good to use the words and phrasings meant for a plumber’s union magazine if the intended audience was university professors. There are several other good reasons that you need a style guide. For example, all decisions about points of detail are made just once. Once they’ve been formalized, this saves any editor a lot of time and allows them to move on to other issues. Style guides also help to ensure that documents are consistent, and this helps to create a professional image no matter which type of document you’re working with. Having a style guide handy is also essential when you’ve got several people contributing to the same document. Again, this promotes a consistency throughout that adds to a professional overall appearance. There are many organizations and companies that have a in house guide as well and it’s a good idea for anyone who wants to work for a specific organization to familiarize themselves with that company’s rules.

Remember too that no matter what kind of text that you edit, you might want to produce your own style guide that will be specific to the kind of work that you are doing.


Robert Starr is a professional writer/editor with several published books and a degree in journalism. He’s brought 20 years of experience in the craft to his own on line writing/editing service. You can reach him at http://www.robstarr.org/index.php

by Robert Starr



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