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Five tips for building an in-house style guide

Five tips for building an in-house style guide

January 3, 2019 By Diana Mota Resources
Diana Mota

College-trained journalists like me spent an inordinate amount of time in school learning how to punctuate, spell, use numbers, and abbreviate following the plethora of rules and guidelines in the Associated Press Stylebook. You gain a false sense that these guidelines describe the right way and the only way to create copy.

Just as you get comfortable dropping the Oxford comma, you enter the real world and learn firsthand that not everyone reveres the AP manual as much as you were trained to. Change jobs a few times and you’ll find yourself having to transition from one publication’s style to another’s. Doing so gracefully can set you apart as a trusted colleague—rather than label you an obnoxious know-it-all.

It helps if organizations use an established style guide, because then you have a foundation from which to begin. Unfortunately, when you work for small operations, you often have to pick up their editorial style without the benefit of a formal guide. At times, style decisions can seem arbitrary, and oftentimes there is more politics than sound reason behind the style.

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Moving gracefully between editorial styles can set you apart as a trusted colleague—rather than label you an obnoxious know-it-all.

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Learning a new style and making suggestions on how to improve it requires walking a fine line. If you come on too strong, you might end up offending your new coworkers. But if you aren’t assertive, the publication you’re responsible for could suffer from a multitude of inconsistencies.

In my new position as an associate editor at a trade organization, I found myself without benefit of a formal style guide—only an in-house guide that existed more in a coworker’s head than on paper. Taking the following steps helped make the transition smoother:

I’m now three months into my new job, and we’re working toward choosing a formal guide, which we’ll amend as necessary to suit our publication. We plan to meet periodically and document style changes as we go.

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​Learning a new style and making suggestions on how to improve it requires walking a fine line. If you come on too strong, you might end up offending your new coworkers. But if you aren’t assertive, the publication you’re responsible for could suffer.

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It’s a process that takes time. In the end, however, I know it will make our jobs easier. And taking a diplomatic approach to style changes will definitely make our work lives more pleasant.

Diana Mota works in Programs & Services at The Finance, Credit & International Business Association (FCIB), a division of the National Association of Credit Management in Columbia, Maryland. She previously was associate editor with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and a managing editor and education reporter with The Gazette in Frederick, Maryland. She tweets as @DianaMota12, takes Irish dance every Wednesday, and is the proud owner of 900-plus cookbooks.

Header photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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