What Do You Do When Your Colleagues Won’t Follow the Style Guide?

What should you do if you’re the lone voice of editorial standards in a company full of people who can’t even be bothered to put their dishes in the dishwasher or make sure their garbage hits the wastebasket, let alone follow your style guide?

A style guide exists for a reason, and that reason isn’t just that you like consistency. Your choices of spelling, punctuation and formatting are made carefully with an eye to the audience. And industry standards. And clarity. And, yes, tidiness. No one who checks into a hotel would accept a messy bed, so why should readers be forced to look at inconsistent writing?

Here are some things you can do to get people to follow house style.

You Could Try These, But Don’t Blame Us If You Do

These methods may sound familiar. Nevertheless, we’re not recommending any of them.

Require all new employees to memorize the style guide. They won’t, and they don’t need to, and they’ll hate you for expecting it of them.

Be passive aggressive. Send little reminder emails to the whole company focusing on that one little detail someone who shall remain nameless overlooked, by accident of course, and it’s OK, you caught it, but it’s really helpful if we can all pitch in, you know?

Be aggressive aggressive. Sometimes screaming at people can be cathartic. And if you do it enough, you won’t have any co-workers to have to scream at.

Ask nicely. It’s less cathartic than screaming at people but also less likely to give you a heart attack. Success rate is approximately the same, but it makes less work for HR.

Just don’t even bother. Fix it all yourself. No one else can be trusted to get it right anyway. And you’ll have that feeling of accomplishment as you finally put your computer to sleep for the day at 8:30 pm. It’ll last until the next day, when you spot that one awful thing you missed because you were too tired… or maybe until the president of the company spots it first at 11:30 pm.

It’s Worth Trying These

There are some things that can at least slightly increase the likelihood of your style guide being adhered to. We can’t guarantee they’ll help as much as you’d like, but they’re worth doing regardless.

Explain why it’s important. Formulate an elevator pitch on why sticking to house style matters. Keep abstract explanations of principle to yourself. Instead, talk about legal and fiscal consequences with specific examples. Give cases of disastrous lapses that have affected other companies. But be calm, collegial and concise.

Run a yearly one-hour lunchtime workshop and provide food. It’s not the weekly or monthly sessions that you might want to run (and that some colleagues need), and not everyone who needs it will attend. But a short annual class with a free lunch will have a good effect. Don’t be exhaustive or exhausting; just focus on the most important items and show how to find answers.

Make it the path of least resistance. One of the best ways to get people to do something is to make it harder not to do it than just to do it. You can accomplish this to some extent with templates that constrain users to the style you want. This will help with structural and formatting details – but not as much with spelling and punctuation.

Definitely Try This

There’s one more thing you can do to help: Call technology to your aid.

You don’t want to spend your days harassing colleagues or fixing basic errors. And no matter what you do, colleagues are unlikely to pay attention to a written style manual. PerfectIt solves all of that. You can create a house style sheet in PerfectIt and propagate it automatically to everyone in the company. Then colleagues just click PerfectIt and are taken through all of your corrections. It makes their lives easier. It delivers better documents. And it means you’re not fixing obvious errors late into the night.

PerfectIt doesn’t decide your style sheet for you. It doesn’t replace editorial judgment. It helps you implement your judgments more efficiently by finding the places where a document is stylistically inconsistent. And it helps enforce those rules with colleagues. It’s the little helper you’ve always needed.

PerfectIt won’t put an end to all your style adherence woes. There are many style issues that no software program can help with. However, it’s more effective than any other approach, and it will save you a lot of work too. See for yourself – download a free trial for Mac or PC.

Enforce your organization's house style automatically with PerfectIt