The Importance of House Styles and Style Sheets

            You can find style guides aplenty if you but look. Some of the more popular ones include AP, the Chicago Manual, and APA. There are plenty of others though. A company or individual is ideally supposed to choose one style and follow its guidelines for all their written materials. But what do you do if you can’t follow every part exactly? What if the style diverges from what would be expected from an industry or genre? Today we are going to talk about the importance of house styles and style sheets.

            A lot of businesses create a house style for all their written communication. Many newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses all have house styles, as do private companies in every industry imaginable. Even government agencies will often have house styles for their publications and press releases. A house style is not a complete rewriting of a style guide or a personal dictionary. It explains where the company wishes to part from its standard writing style for the sake of the company’s voice or purpose.

            You may only be one writer and not a whole company. That doesn’t mean you have to follow a style guide to the letter. The answer for you is a style sheet. I’ve mentioned style sheets before as a valuable tool for writers to use when mapping out their novels. It can help you keep track of names, spellings, facts, grammar conventions, and even made-up languages for your writing. A style sheet is beneficial to writers of other genres for similar reasons. It assists you in keeping track of your variations and explaining them to your editor later on. It is truly an essential tool for any writer.

            There are many possibilities of additions for your house style or style sheet. The variations included can be an alternative spelling, like continuing to spell out “drive-through” even though AP has recognized “drive-thru,” or it can be capitalization that veers away from the style guide’s suggestions, which is something I see quite often in IT and government publications. It doesn’t matter so much what the variation is if it serves a purpose for you or your company and doesn’t break any basic grammar rules, causing it to become unreadable to others.

            How should you go about creating one? It can seem daunting at first. The best way I have found has been to do so gradually. As an issue comes up, you should decide what your standard will be. You may also want to revisit your style sheet every so often to make sure your style variations still make sense and are serving their purpose. Writing changes fast, so your style will end up changing too.

            So, for example, I use Chicago Manual as my standard writing style and Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition Collegiate as my dictionary when I write, but I have a style sheet with some variations that I follow. I like having spaces around my em dashes because I believe the space adds to the text’s readability, but Chicago does not add spaces. I also tend to use the British variations “afterwards, towards, backwards” that have the added “s” on the end. It is pretty prevalent in both speech and writing for American English and it doesn’t break any grammar rules, so I don’t see any reason to object to it. I also use “ok” or “OK” instead of “okay” when I write because I don’t see a reason to move away from the original spelling and add extra letters.

            What you decide to do is really all about what works for you or your company. The only points you should be certain of are your reason for the change (no changing for the sake of change) and that you stick with it once you adopt it. If you are ever asked about why you are diverging from the style, you want to have a reason to back up your decision. Pure opinion isn’t going to stand up well in a grammatical argument. It is also easier to uphold that decision if you use it consistently. Readers are pretty adaptable to different writing styles, but you shouldn’t try their patience. Consistency is important when you are trying to keep your readers’ attention.

Do you have a house style or style sheet already? What are some variations you’ve put on your style sheet? Share them in the comments!

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