Technical writers and communicators should consider developing style sheets and style guides which are two completely free and convenient resources.

Overview

As professional writers know, writing pieces cycle through the various writing stages multiple times before being completed. To ease the transition between these processes and to develop consistent methods, especially when collaborating with others, technical writers will rely on a tool kit of systems and approaches. Each writer and editor stocks their tool kit with the equipment, or methodology, that works best for them and their client. 

Regardless of your preferences, it is still beneficial to be familiar with the foundational tools that technical writers and editors depend on to produce credible work. Style sheets and style guides are two free tools that every writer and editor can leverage to improve the consistency of the work they produce and review. 

Style Sheets 

Rarely are writers and editors responsible for one document at any given time. In most situations, these individuals must manage numerous writing projects in differing stages of completeness. A style sheet is a quick reference for a specific document that outlines the major design, style, and formatting standards that should be uniform throughout the writing piece. Since style sheets are referenced regularly, the sheet should ideally be one page or up to three pages for larger works. Remember the main purpose is to help you or others locate information quickly. It should feature brief statements, bullet points, and key ideas or reminders. A style sheet can be used by many people or by one person. Adapt the content based on the information the users need to be reminded of the most.

Some examples of what may appear on a style sheet include: 

  • Words that should be hyphenated 
  • Abbreviations and what they stand for
  • Whether numbers are written or spelled out
  • Citation standards
  • Typeface/ format specifications

If using a style sheet, consider keeping it in an easily accessible location. Laminating or hanging a hard copy above one’s work area is a great way to ensure the reference is preserved and readily available. Digital files can also be saved to the desktop or pinned to one’s ribbon bar if located online. 

While style sheets are commonly used to save time, this document does have its limitations. For instance, style sheets do not contain all of the editors’ or writers’ standards. Continue reading to learn how style guides bridge this information gap. 

Style Guides 

Being detail oriented is one of the main traits of respected writers and editors. Style guides are a comprehensive resource for documenting all project-specific standards. Think of the style guide as a more in-depth version of the style sheet. Similar to the style sheet, the style guide promotes consistency across documents or sections of a document, guides the reader through the document, and saves writers time by preventing questions on varying stylistic or grammatical choices. Ideally, a style guide should be broken into sections that address specific standards. 

Sections that a style guide might include appear below:

  • Grammar/ punctuation guidelines
  • Citation guidelines
  • Formatting guidelines
  • Style/ layout guidelines 
  • Design/  brand guidelines 

Because the style guide is a more comprehensive resource, it can be lengthy depending on how specific or detailed the writing must be. This resource is particularly useful in the field of knowledge management where several writers and editors are collaborating on company documents. Company documents support the business’s brand recognition, which requires consistent use of company logos, colors, formatting standards, and language. For representation reasons, style guides are regularly referenced and updated.

How to Use Each

Both style sheets and style guides are used to maintain uniformity, enforce company or personal writing standards, and guide readers through a document. How they are used and developed mainly depend on the writer or editor. Some may find it easier to develop these tools before starting a project while others may find it more rewarding to develop one with a client or stakeholder. 

Furthermore, non-fiction writers and editors are not the only ones who benefit from creating and referencing a style sheet or guide. Fiction writers and editors find them helpful for recording character details such as one’s physical appearance, personality traits, nicknames, plot-altering events, and more.

Does your company use a style sheet or guide? Do you know a writer or editor who could benefit from using a style sheet or guide? 

Let us know on LinkedIn and don’t forget to share this blog with a technical communicator who could benefit!

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