When putting together a document, where do you begin? What formatting or style do you use to present and communicate your information in a document? This question and others can be answered within the Style Guide. A Style Guide contains a set of rules that a writer uses to maintain consistency for grammar, format, and or content material. There are several Style guide designs. There is usually a generic guide that gives a summary of what styles and formats to use for particular types of manuals and then there is a more specific guide with greater detail, i.e., for:
- Medical and Science Writers when submitting regulatory documentation or research,
- Developers when submitting requests for database changes and documenting code,
- Engineers who require Functional Specifications and Technical Specifications,
- Testers who require QA specifications,
- Users who require User guides and Reference sheets documenting processes and definitions,
- HR Personnel when writing procedural instructions or educational material, or
- Manufacturers when creating design specifications, etc.
These were just a few examples. Following a written set of guidelines ensures that the document is consistent, uniform, and allows the writer to focus on the writing of the material. You can call it a blueprint or template to follow. It will help the writer design the finished product and it will also make it easier for the reader, because they’ll know beforehand where certain information is located within a document because of the consistent style.
The Style guide will also:
- Detail grammar and industry terminology.
- Denote how certain text would be displayed within, e.g., Medical specifications or descriptions, or database definitions.
- Indicate how to display numbers, or how to present abbreviations, i.e., should they be presented with initial caps or are some initial caps and some lower case?
- How to format other objects such as check boxes or bullets or drop down lists.
- Show where objects are defined. Should, e.g., definitions be placed in the back of the document, before the glossary or within the Appendix? How should tables be formatted and laid out? Should a background color be applied to the table or should only the heading have a background color?
- Note what typeface, font, and size should be used. Will a newspaper or column style be applied and should text always be left justified?
- Indicate the type of graphics embedded; are only jpeg files permitted or are any types of graphic files permitted?
Many other groupings or items have to be described as well, such as the Table of contents, the Appendix and headers and footers and paragraph breaks.
Most Style Guides contain references to sample material, standard conventions, a glossary, etc. So I guess the answer to the question ‘Do we need a Style Guide’ is ‘Yes’.
Note: As reminder, as with all documents, include a section for the review cycle and sign off sheets. This will ensure that everyone approves of the particular Style Guide. See some tips in the next post.