The purpose of an in-house styleguide is to guide writers and editors in a particular company or office with its own style peculiarities. In-house styleguides might include industry usage that conflicts with standard publishing manuals.
In-house styleguides are typically supplemental to standard publishing manuals that cover general style issues. The most widely used general publishing manual in the United States is the Chicago Manual of Style, currently 16th Ed.
For the primary dictionary reference, Chicago recommends Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, currently 11th Ed. (see Chicago §7.1 for choosing Webster’s, and §5.220 for qualifications regarding dictionaries).
An in-house styleguide might include style issues already covered in Chicago simply because it’s a style issue frequently encountered in your office. Any style issue that arises often, or that people often get wrong, should be included in the in-house guide even if it is well covered in Chicago. Document these entries with reference to the matching entry in Chicago—and note it with something like this:
- The reference books used and referred to are Chicago Manual of Style, 16h Edition (Chicago); Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Webster’s) .
- Section references (§) always refer to Chicago. Parenthetical page references (p. xx) also refer to Chicago unless otherwise noted.
- For issues not in this guide, default to Chicago style.
Having external style manual references to support your in-house styleguide lends greater authority to your guide and will help you field style-and-usage questions and criticisms from others in your office. This is especially helpful if “others” includes your boss. If you’ve done it right, your styleguide will be bulletproof. Of course, being bulletproof doesn’t prevent your boss from telling you to change the style anyway, but at least you demonstrated solid grounds for your choices.
An in-house styleguide should include some general encouragement for crisp and clear writing. In both tone and mechanics, you are looking for a “good read” that conveys integrity and trustworthiness to the reader (which means avoiding newspaper style preferences). The tone should achieve a balanced, concise, conversational style:
- Lively, but not too catchy
- Inviting and conversational, but not too casual
- Concise and polished, but not too formal
Mechanics are important. The exact location of a period or a comma may seem trivial, but the combined effect of a carefully researched style gives the reader a sense that the publication is a “good experience” and “seems reliable,” consciously or subconsciously. A well-designed style will have a huge impact on the reader, even when the reader is not conscious of the style. Conversely, inconsistent style, punctuation, spacing, usage, etc., will make the publication and the writer seem unreliable, not to be trusted, sketchy, and other bad subconscious impressions, no matter how brilliant and scholarly the writer is. That’s how a bad editor can severely undermine a good writer.
To reiterate the most important reasons for a well-structured styleguide: A smart and consistently applied style gives the impression of authority, and infuses more aesthetic pleasure into the reading experience.