Why Your Company Style Guide Needs an Update

Style matters. In life, the style of your clothes, your speech, and your car tend to say a lot about you as a person. Likewise, a business's writing style says a lot about its position in the industry, attention to detail, culture, and much more.

Keep in mind that we are talking style and not grammar. The rules of grammar apply to all users of a particular language. These rules cover things like subject-verb agreement and misplaced modifiers. No matter what your business uses as its style guide, it breaks grammatical rules at its own risk.

Style standards should also not be broken, but the style guides or stylebooks themselves apply only to specific publications and companies. For example, your company’s latest white paper could contradict a number of standards in the AP Stylebook while remaining perfectly faithful to its own style guide and all the rules of American English grammar.

Keep your style guide up-to-date.

A style guide should never be a static document. It’s always a work in progress, and luckily the file-sharing tools at our disposal today make updating in real time a much more streamlined process than it used to be.

New technology means new words.

Innovations are rapidly surfacing in every industry. New companies, new inventions, and new processes need names and terms surrounding them. Often, the original terms become outdated rather quickly.

Take email for example. Since the technology’s emergence, The New York Times, a breaker of news that some might call a linguistic laggard, has referred to it as “e-mail.” But just this week, The NYT finally dropped that annoying little hyphen and has updated its style guide to use “email” instead. Curiously, The Grey Lady left “e-book” the way it is. The paper also now allows for “website” where “Web site” was once the norm. However, “Internet” still must be capitalized as a proper noun. These are the contradictions and little changes that keep editors scrambling for their well-worn stylebooks. Provide your employees with the same luxury of knowing that the answers to their style questions are always within reach.

New platforms mean different audiences and restrictions.

There are now so many channels through which your business can publish content that it is necessary to address stylistic differences for each one, as well as the type of content that should be published on each. For example, Twitter’s character restrictions provide good reason to use abbreviations more often than you might in a company blog post or even a Facebook post. SlideShare applies only to presentations, and you better believe you need style standards for presentations in general.

Stay in the know, and lead by example.

New technology and new audiences are just two big reasons that your company should be keeping tabs on the style standards of major publications, as well as your content-publishing competitors. Some of the best ways to stay abreast of the changing times are to read trade magazines, follow relevant people on social media, and always ask questions.

At the least, the purpose of your company style guide should be to keep your organization from seeming outdated. But if you want your business to be perceived as an industry leader, keep an eye out for opportunities to coin a phrase or use an old word in a new way. You can even eliminate certain words from your company’s dictionary when they become outdated, cliche, or offensive.

What benefits does your company get out of using its own up-to-date style guide?