Exclamation points, ampersands and serial commas. These are a few of my least favorite things. The misuse of “over,” gratuitous capitalization and sentences ending in prepositions. Those are a few more. A certain creative director I know strongly dislikes ellipses. What a shame … I happen to be quite fond of them.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to word snobs and grammar gurus. Our art directors, account managers and clients all have their own prose-centric peeves—some rooted in technical accuracy, others a matter of sheer preference.
We might never come to a consensus on m-dash vs. n-dash, but I think we all can agree: it’s time to pick a style and stick with it. And it starts with your very own company style sheet—meant to ensure consistent writing across all company communications. Let’s get started with a few tips:
- Brevity is your friend. Unlike more comprehensive style or brand guidelines, a style sheet should be a quick reference guide (no more than four pages).
- Identify the issues. Is your organization having an identity crisis, with conflicting references to company and product names? Take a moment to pinpoint the most nagging consistency issues and take a stance on each.
- Keep your audience in mind. Sometimes, industry vernacular trumps conventional grammar—calling for the abbreviation of units of measurement, for instance. Include these examples in your style sheet to head off AP style sticklers at the pass.
- Include stakeholder preferences. Think obsessing about splitting infinitives is splitting hairs? Maybe so, but if the CEO can’t stand the practice, it’s worth a rule in your style sheet. Same goes for words or phrases. A former client of mine outlawed “in order to.” Now it’s on my own personal no-no list.
- Review some best-practice biggies. While a company- or brand-specific style sheet isn’t the place to regurgitate every grammar rule, you may want to include a few refreshers. Pick and choose issues that continually arise within your company’s written communications—passive voice, for instance.
What are your style-sheet must-haves? Tell us in the comments.