Judging from the hits, our post last year on creating style guides filled a need. If you’re just starting this process, or perhaps dusting off your current guide and thinking of remodeling, we thought we’d offer some tips on things you simply must have in your style guide. Typically, these are items that raise the most questions from readers or, if you are a custom publisher, from your clients:
Addresses: For state names, you have three basic choices: the full name, the two-letter USPS abbreviation or the older abbreviations still in force in the AP Stylebook and others. You also must decide whether to abbreviate or spell out other parts of addresses such as street, road and boulevard.
Personal titles and honorifics: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others, use titles and honorifics with persons’ names, both on first and subsequent reference. AP doesn’t. If you choose to do so, then you must decide whether to abbreviate some or all titles and if so, how: For instance, Senator or Sen., Alderman or Ald., Secretary or Secy.?
Military titles can be confusing, as the services have their own preferences — general might be shortened to GEN, Gen. or Gen without a period — that don’t always conform to AP or other style reference works. Also, there may be times when a client wants to capitalize a title when it is not used with the bearer’s name: “The President swatted a fly. It was the Governor’s duty to tell his staff where he went.”
Dates: Although a large majority of publications abbreviate the names of months in dates, some don’t. Some publications also use a European or military style of writing dates such as 25 December 2009.
Web site/website: Once you’ve decided how to spell it, as one word or two, you should decide whether to use the full HTML URL http://www.anyurl.com, or drop the http:// or the www. as well. This can get tricky, because the triple-W is still necessary for the addresses of many sites. While you’re debating these questions, you should also decide whether to use a special font or color treatment for URLs.
Profanity/vulgarity: Profanity and vulgarity try the souls of editors and writers alike. James Joyce famously fought with his publishers who resisted printing Dubliners because it included the epithet “bloody.” An editor friend who once worked on a hunting dog magazine told me his very sensitive secretary regularly changed the word “bitch” to “mother” or “female” dog when transcribing articles.
If you work for, say, a conservative religious publication, you might someday confront the question of editing a famous quote to remove profanity — “Darn the torpedoes” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn” come to mind. That’s when you’ll be glad you thought this out ahead of time and made a policy. Part of your decision should be whether to “wink” at the word by using the first letter followed by dashes (or first and last letter separated by dashes) to represent the missing letters.
Hyphenation: Publishing software allows designers and editors to set parameters for hyphenation and can even be linked to a custom dictionary of specific words that are never to be broken. Using these functions will save a lot of changes down the line.
Dashes: Speaking of hyphens, your guide should specify whether to use hyphens, en-dashes or em-dashes to set off words or phrases. Similarly, designate a style for telephone numbers (800-555-5555 or 800.555.5555).
Random style: As a custom publisher, Hammock works closely with clients on matters of style such as those listed above. There are also special cases — usually involving capitalization — specific to our client’s desires to emphasize certain core concepts. For instance, some of the publications we produce capitalize words such as Soldier, Warrior, Family, Veteran, Colonist, Marine and Patriot.
Above all, keep in mind that you’ll run up on situations you hadn’t anticipated and will need to develop or adapt rules. At that point, you have to consider your audience — and your client — as you pick your way toward a solution.