What’s Your Style?

If you are writing a book, it is always a good idea to keep a running list of terms you use in a way that may be outside the dictionary norm.

If you are writing fiction you can keep a running list of the way you spell names of people, towns, streets, etc. That way you will always spell them the same way and maintain consistency. That becomes especially important if you are writing about a fictional world. (Can you imagine J.K. Rowling trying to keep track of all the details of Hogwarts as she was writing Harry Potter if she hadn’t kept notes?)

Non-fiction authors often reference particular programs or processes they use in their work. Many times these are proprietary and may warrant registration as trademarks. Using the exact same form of the names of these elements becomes important legally if you want to claim trademark.

This list will be the beginning of a style sheet for your book. So just what is style sheet? First of all, there is a difference between grammar rules and style rules. You can get everything grammatically correct and still have a host of inconsistencies without a style sheet. You can think of a style sheet as something that establishes a standard to all the things that require a choice or decision. It also includes formatting elements – like how you will handle numbers and capitalization and one of the biggest points of contention, whether or not to use a serial or Oxford comma. (Not sure what that is? Just Google it and you will see tons of articles with people on both sides of this issue!)

One of the easiest ways to tackle the hundreds of things that can be handled in more than one way is to use an established style guide. Journalists writing for magazines and newspapers typically use the AP Style Guide. Traditional publishing usually follows the Chicago Manual of Style. If you are self-publishing and want to be viewed as similar to traditional publishing I recommend that you start with Chicago Manual of Style. Both of these are encyclopedic books with thousands of entries that establish standards for just about any instance you can imagine. Their purpose is to establish consistency across a large body of work. Using an established style guide that you then list the “exceptions” you will follow is a good compromise.

As your book moves through editing, having a style guide that you have listed the terms you use to give your copyeditor will be very useful. The copyeditor will add terms to it as they encounter them and then the style guide can be passed on to your proofreader to further communicate the consistency.

Just as an editorial style sheet is important to maintaining consistency in a book, the same concept can be applied and expanded for your business in general even if you aren’t writing a book. Your style sheet can become the basis for the consistency of your visual branding. In addition to listing the terms and their forms you will use in your business and the general rules you will follow in your written communications, you should also include a color pallet for your business and any graphics that you use as part of your brand including logos, headshots and other supporting graphics. Having all of this information documented can help maintain consistency of your brand as you grow your business and have other people working with you.

So what’s your style?


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