August 17, 2017
I recently read a press release from a healthcare organization that spelled “healthcare” as a noun, but also spelled it “health care” and “health-care.” All may be acceptable spellings, but to spell it three ways in a 500-word release is distracting, to say the least, and credibility-damaging, to say the most.
If you communicate as a company, organization, or
personal brand, you need a personal style guide
based on a standardized stylebook. They provide
consistency to your messaging. Without them,
you’re at the whim of the moment.
For example, do you use the Oxford comma—also
known as the serial comma—before a conjunction
in lists of three or more? Is it the Washington Post
with a lower-case, unitalicized “the” or The
Washington Post? Should The Washington Post be
italicized? Is it acceptable to use CVC in first
reference to Consistent Voice Communications?
Why is The Washington Post italicized and
Consistent Voice Communications isn’t?
Those are the questions stylebooks and style
guides answer. For the purposes of this blog, a
stylebook is a commercial publication, such as
The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago
Manual of Style. A style guide is an organization’s
in-house publication. A style guide usually builds
on and provides exceptions to a stylebook. It also
provides style information particular to that
organization. For consistency, every business and
organization should have one.
That’s why my company is giving away our style guide for businesses and organizations. We hope you’ll steal from it and use it as a guide to build your own. Then you and everyone else in your organization will use AM and PM, or am and pm, or a.m. or p.m. consistently. You’ll also build your credibility. Yes, I’m a stickler, but I’m not the only one who wonders if I can trust a company that is careless with its language.
A quick quiz: Is the correct spelling “adviser” or “advisor”?
According to Merriam-Webster, both are acceptable. So you can use “advisor” all through your copy or “adviser” all through your copy. You can even interchange them throughout your copy and still be technically correct, like using healthcare, health care, and health-care.
Because the dictionary advises both adviser and advisor are correct, a style guide would spell out one or the other as the “authorized” spelling for your organization. (Some dictionaries note “advisor” is the preferred spelling. If your style guide designates a dictionary as your base dictionary that makes that distinction, you don’t need to list it in your style guide.)
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. By basing your style guide on stylebooks, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Three of the most popular stylebooks are the aforementioned The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, along with the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. In addition, many organizations have their own stylebooks publicly available, such as the American Psychological Association, which many healthcare organizations use as their base stylebook.
The Chicago Manual of Style is your generalist stylebook. But if your target audience is the media, choose The AP Stylebook as your baseline. If your target audience is the world of scholars, choose the MLA Style Manual.
Then build on it. If “The” is part of your name, as it is for The Washington Post and The Associated Press, your style guide would reflect that. If CVC is acceptable to use in a second reference for Consistent Voice Communications and in media release headlines, your style guide would reflect that.
The English language is inconsistent. Stylebooks and style guides provide that consistency—and help your organization build its credibility. Download our style guide today and start building credibility through consistency.
Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.