With thousands of pages in style guides already, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel to create a house style specific to one company. Ideally, a house style builds on an existing style guide, adding to or adapting it as required. That’s what editor Carol Harrison did when she created a house style sheet for Financial Reporting & Assurance Standards (FRAS) Canada—the umbrella body representing Canada’s accounting and auditing standard-setting family of three boards and two oversight councils. In this post, we’ll continue our discussion with Harrison from last week.
“We took the existing house style, added a dash of CP Style (CP) and a dollop of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), which works well for the longer technical documents with footnotes,” Harrison notes. “We also listed our resources, such as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (second edition), Garner’s Modern English Usage (fourth edition), and the Oxford Guide to Plain English.”
“In fact, for technical documents,” Harrison says, “the CPA Canada Handbook often trumps the style guides to keep material destined for the Handbook consistent. There are a couple of places, such as number style, where we say, ‘For more information, see The Canadian Press Style Guide,’ but we don’t reference CMOS or CP. That said, I use CMOS a lot to iron out individual style questions that crop up.”
Style for Various Media
A house style has to address all the various media and audiences the company publishes for. Says Harrison: “I combined the previous guide (which focused on web) with what I found in the Handbook (technical content). Most things we publish are for public consumption: from decision summaries, to web blurbs, to annual reports, to exposure drafts, to the Handbook.”
Putting Style to the Test
In order to get a house style that serves everyone’s needs, it’s important to test it for completeness. To get buy-in from employees, so the actually use the house style, , it’s important to test it for usability. Here’s how Harrison tested the FRAS guide:
“About nine months in, we assembled a group of principals from all three departments to ‘break it’: What worked? What didn’t? What was missing? How did they use it? We took that feedback and incorporated into the style guide. The exercise not only showed gaping holes but also revealed assumptions I’d made about the users’ knowledge of grammar and suchlike. I kept that in mind when I revised.”