Editors: here’s a style guide to improve your team’s writing

Communicators need to build trust with their audiences, and that means you need to be consistent. A style guide will help.

Ancient philosophers and modern neuroscientists agree that the best way to persuade someone is by being good (more on that in my free course, Communications Fundamentals). That’s why corporations spend so much on branding, and branding advice. It’s also why a competent candidate is undermined by a spelling error in their job application.

For organisations, using language consistently helps build trust between your organisation and its readers. For your colleagues, house style reduces cognitive load. By keeping a list of agreements  — not rules  — about how to use language, people can focus on crafting great prose that serves your audiences’ needs.

So where do you start? Based on my experience as an editor and communications professional, the answer is: with a minimum viable product.

I created one for you to get started with. Feel free to use this under a Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0) license.

Adapt this to your organisation. Have conversations with the people who’ll use it, and the people who are invested in your organisation’s brand.

Once you’ve integrated that important feedback, put your embryonic house style in a shared document, on Notion, or on your intranet. Support it with an editorial channel on your organisation’s messaging service, where colleagues can ask questions about spelling, grammar, and usage. Keep the house style updated as you resolve questions.

Let me know how it goes! Tweet me @tdwjeffery.

A common place

Many Europeans used to keep books where they’d jot down ideas, quotations, recipes and other knowledge they accumulated. They called them ‘commonplace books‘.

The coronavirus pandemic will be a pivotal event in my life. Like many people, it’s given me an opportunity to reflect on how I live, what I spend my time on, and what really matters to me. During one of the English lockdowns of 2020, I wrote a list of ‘soul preservers’. One of them was ‘letting people know what I’m working on’ – you can see that here. Another was to keep a journal.

Both are works in progress. But the underlying intention is to reinforce my terrible memory, give myself more space to think through things, and to work in the open.

That’s what I plan to do more of, here. I’d like to credit Jared Pereira – who’s building a wonderful way to learn at hyperlink.academy, for the inspiration.