Copyeditors are sometimes called upon to write their employer’s or client’s style guide. More than a style sheet, a style guide documents the company’s overall style. It often includes rules for describing the brand, style notes on specific publications, specific rules to follow from the governing style manual, and similar directions.
Ideally, this document will be used by people doing different jobs, such as sales and marketing people, designers, writers, editors, and PR folks. It’s important, then, to write the style guide as clearly as possible.
Avoid vague words and directions. Instead of saying “use nice language,” give the readers specifics such as “Don’t use vulgarities” or “Don’t use industry jargon.”
All copyeditors have experienced the frustration of trying to find an answer in a style guide or manual. Keep the writing lean and avoid including unnecessary history or explanations.
Watch Your Jargon
Consider the jargon you use carefully. If it’s jargon every user will understand and will help you be specific and concise, use it. But consider your different users. Designers and salespeople may not know some of editing jargon. For example, some editors use “words qua words” as a way of saying “words used as words,” but few people other than editors and academics know it. When jargon won’t do, describe what you mean instead.
Provide a Formula
One company I worked for had a specific formula for table titles: region covered, market, subject, subsegment, and years covered. This leads to titles like “U.S. Networking Software Revenue by Vendor, 1999–2004.”
The formula ensured the company’s goal for the table title was met: that the title precisely described what the table was about. We wanted the titles to be formulaic. Having that formula meant we met the goal every time.
We all pore over the examples in the mainstream style manuals. It helps us understand the guidance better and can result in shorter explanations. Do the same for your readers. Using examples from the company’s own work will illustrate the point even better.
Ask for Feedback
No one is going to write the perfect style guide the first time out. If writing were perfect on the first try, we’d all be out of jobs! Ask your users what they like and don’t like; ask them what they find confusing. Then incorporate that feedback into the next edition of the style guide.