How To Write a Style Sheet for Your Office

grammar guruEvery office has a grammar guru. It is that one person you go to when you need to know the difference between that and which, where to put the comma, or whether the punctuation goes inside or outside of the quotation marks.

But in an office of any size, that one person is insufficient to meet everyone’s needs. Eventually, people need to learn for themselves. That’s when a style sheet comes in handy.

An office style sheet serves several functions. It establishes expectations for writers in an office to understand their own responsibilities to a document and to the other writers they collaborate with. It offers a grammar refresher for those of us who were not strong English students. And it creates consistency in those grey areas of language.

Style sheets work best when they are written by committee. Otherwise, they tend to feel territorial and can breed either sarcasm or resentment.

When creating a style sheet, writers should first evaluate the guidance already provided by their organization. The style sheet is intended to supplement, not replace, existing guidance. And the style sheet should not contradict organizational policy.

To be useful to employees, writers should arrange the style sheet in the following sections:

  • Preparing to write
  • Reviewing your document
  • Formatting
  • Proofreading

The preparing to write and reviewing your document sections tend to be brief, and material is usually arranged by importance, from greatest to least. Under formatting, move first along a typical page in the document (e.g. page size, margins, header) and second through the document as a whole (e.g. title page, table of contents).

Style sheets tend to focus on proofreading, with topics organized alphabetically. Common topics include all of the following:

  • abbreviations
  • capitalization
  • commonly confused words
  • presentation of numbers
  • punctuation
  • references

Finally, remember that the style sheet should be helpful. So refrain from comments that might be intended as common sense but that can sound patronizing, such as “proofread your work” or “do not assume others will catch your mistakes.”

Good luck! And if you need help, feel free to give me a call: 304 283 4573.

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