You Make a Change in Your House Style Guide. Then What Happens?
16 April, 2019
Your house style guide is the document that keeps track of all the writing style preferences at your organization. It includes everything from how your brand should be presented through to spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization preferences in documents.
Since language changes, organizations evolve, and people learn, good style guides are updated at regular intervals. But what happens then? In many cases, the answer is “nothing.” So what’s the point of updating a style manual if people won’t use it? And how can you ensure authors throughout your organization actually adopt the changes?
Most People Don’t Read Style Manuals for Fun
You, dear reader, are probably a language professional, and you may enjoy reading style manuals. But few of your colleagues are likely to snuggle up at night with your house style guide to read the changes! In the real world, it typically goes more like this:
- New starters look at the manual… and then forget most of what they’ve read.
- An all-staff email goes out about changes… and people don’t read it.
- Staff members never read the whole guide, but they occasionally refer to it to settle a question… without looking at the bigger context.
- The head of editorial sporadically berates people (ahem, gently corrects them – and perhaps by “gently” we mean passive-aggressively). That can be either by email (reply-all!) or out loud (loud enough for others to hear)… but in the end usually sighs and says, “Might as well fix it all myself. Again.”
Style manuals are important for everyone in the organization. Unfortunately, they’re often most needed for the people who care least about them!
Whether individuals care or not, all authors need to write in a uniform way across an organization. If they don’t, documents will look sloppy. Articles will be rejected. Clients will be unimpressed. And proposals will be lost. Yet despite the importance of the style manual, people still ignore it.
Can you imagine how much simpler and more effective it would be if the style could be enforced on everyone’s computer automatically?
An Electronic House Style Manual
PerfectIt is a Microsoft Word add-in that makes it easy to enforce style manuals across an organization. One person updates the style rules. Then PerfectIt enforces that change on everyone’s documents. Style rules that it can enforce include:
- Presentation of names and brands (including correct spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization of organization names)
- Capitalization of terms specified in the style manual (for example, trademarked versus generic names in medical writing)
- Spelling consistency (including options for US, UK, Canadian, and Australian spelling)
- Sensitive and inclusive language
- Abbreviations and their definitions
There are free video tutorials that show how to build your style into PerfectIt – or you can pay to have it customized for you. Either way, once the style manual is built into PerfectIt, it’s easy to update and share it, so colleagues don’t need to memorize every detail of the manual. In fact, you can update it automatically, so they don’t even need to be told that a style has been changed.
Technology can’t do everything for you. Even if you load the style manual preferences for capitalization, hyphenation, italicization, spelling, and more into PerfectIt, it still won’t enforce every element of a style manual. For example, you may have rules about the passive voice or other questions of style that software is not good at checking. The software isn’t there to eliminate the style manual, just to make enforcement of key rules easier so that everyone in an organization writes in the same style.
Keeping a Style Manual Up to Date Is Hard Enough!
Lead editors have enough work to do editing, overseeing other editors, and updating the style guide without also having to play sheepdog to get people to actually follow the rules they’ve worked hard to establish. Technology can allow them to focus on editorial matters instead of trying to police people who can’t be bothered to read the manual! Using PerfectIt is faster and easier – and more diplomatic: no one is lecturing staff every time someone gets it wrong.
See the difference PerfectIt can make in your organization. Download the free trial today.