Building a Style Sheet 13: Tips on Building Styles for Your Team

Video transcript

The rest of our series shows how to make a PerfectIt style. This video provides guidance on what makes a great style for your team. It covers three topics:

- False positives;

- Style notes; and

- Fix or consider.

A false positive is when PerfectIt flags something that’s already correct. If you have too many, it’s not just a waste of time. Your colleagues might get frustrated and skip checking with PerfectIt.

Don’t be biased by the mistakes you see. For example, editors see people confuse ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ regularly. So you include the difference between the two in your style manual. That doesn’t mean you should include it in PerfectIt. Most of the time, people use them correctly. So inclusion in PerfectIt would create too many false positives.

Use context in your search terms. If you say “long-term” should be hyphenated, PerfectIt will produce false positives. However, if you add “long-term interest rate” to PerfectIt, that extra context means the results will be accurate.

Create style notes anywhere they might be useful. Style notes give colleagues a full explanation as to why PerfectIt is flagging an issue. Style notes can be used both to encourage users to check the context and to educate. By teaching the ‘why’, you can help colleagues to lift the standard of their writing.

Keep style notes short. If you create long notes, users simply won’t read them. And keep things simple. For example, don’t expect your colleagues to know what an ‘adjective’ is. Instead of saying ‘Only hyphenate if used as a compound adjective before a noun’, you can say ‘Use a hyphen only if the phrase describes an object after it’.

You can use PerfectIt’s checks to either suggest a fix or just offer a note. If you use the Preferred Spelling check, there must be a fix. If you use the Phrases to Avoid or Consider check, there is just a style note.

Think about whether you want users to save the most time possible (in which case they should have the option to fix) or whether you want users to consider carefully and look at the full sentence to see if restructuring is necessary.

To sum up, our three tips for taking your style from good to great are:

- Avoid false positives. If you’re worried that PerfectIt will miss something, remember that PerfectIt is not a replacement for an editor! It’s better for PerfectIt to skip something than to drown colleagues in checking things that are already correct.

- Create style notes to help your colleagues understand what to look for and to help improve their writing.

- Remember that not everything needs a fix. Sometimes, getting your colleagues to consider something carefully can be the best solution.