One of the challenges for proofreaders is knowing what rules to apply – and what is the style of your organisation. Some of the most common questions are:
- How do you punctuate bullet-point lists?
- Do you start with an upper-case letter?
- Do you use punctuation at the end of lines?
- Do you use a full stop at the end?
- When do you use a comma or a semi-colon?
- What’s the difference?
- Do you use a comma before ‘and’?
- Do you use semi-colons in the middle of sentences?
- How do you write numbers?
- When do you write 1, 2, 3 and when do you write one, two, three?
- Do you write numbers differently online?
- Is it correct to mix numbers written words (one, two, three) with numbers written as digits (10, 11 ,12)?
The solution to this challenge for proofreaders – and for everyone who writes at work – is a style guide. This is a resource that answers all those questions, and more.
Does your organisation have many writers who have to communicate with various ‘stakeholders’ in different ways? A style guide can help organisations which want to present a consistent style in all written communications. It makes decisions on how to use language, punctuation and layout to create a professional style – and answers all the questions above.
A style guide can support writers, editors and proofreaders who need to write clearly, concisely and correctly. It can also save time as you can simply consult the guide, instead of searching through old documents or asking colleagues for answers. It’s particularly useful when more than one person is writing a report or web content to ensure that style is consistent throughout.
Starting a style guide is easy. The first step is to simply begin noting down the existing styles you use and decisions you make when facing new style issues. The second step is for everyone in your team to follow those style decisions.
Until then, you could use existing an style guide, such as:
- Plain English guide for the public service in Ireland
- The HSE guideon writing digital content
- The UK government’s style guidefor writing online
- English style guide for writers in the European Commission
- Universal Design Toolkit – for accessible publications and web content
- The style guide of the Guardian newspaper
Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors.
Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English.
On Wednesday 29 May, Sarah Marriott will lead a Proofreading seminar. For more information, or to book, click here.