What's Your Style? Understanding and Implementing a Style Guide
I’m going to bury the lead in the story, so hang with me. Everywhere I go, the art of the English language seems to be slipping into the abyss. Autocorrect, Texting among others, all appear to be co-opting an art form. We even received an envelope back from the Chicago Post Office. From what we surmise the postal worker could not read cursive writing.
For years, my dad would say he wasn’t sure why he sent me to college because I use absolutely none of my journalism degree. I have to snicker every time he says it honestly. So, let me rewind a bit, back in college and some time after, working for a newspaper changes how you approach writing and grammar in general. So, when I got an email this week that wanted 56 comma corrections and had a “WHAT?” moment, I had to stop and think.
Google hates typos and bad grammar. As article writers, we know we have to proofread. Admittedly I often publish this blog and THEN tell our copy editor. Shame on me. But when I setup our editorial department, I set it up mirroring how college and North Jersey newspapers were set up in the 80s. We have deadlines, story ideas, and a Managing/Copy Editor. And, we have journalists who do the writing. It’s almost a bonafide newsroom. This is how our content department is set up to avoid Google’s wrath over poorly written content riddled with grammar mistakes. So just imagine my reaction to an email with 56 grammar changes in it.
So here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t declare a style. What I mean is AP Style, Oxford Style or Chicago Style (which based on my experience with their post office, I’d just skip this one). When I sat down to examine why I could clearly see why it never occurred to me to do this. It’s because I only hire people with a journalism background, so we all are AP Style so by default, it just happened. And this is how we ended up with a slew of comma corrections.
Picking a style is important because it allows all the copy to be uniform. This is why style guides were developed in the first place. It transcends the use of citations and footnotes and normalizes spelling,
If you’re reading because you’re a content marketer, for Google’s benefit, I would recommend use AP Style. Maybe it’s because I’m partial to it. But I say this more because Google is used to seeing this because of its broad exposure to news. AP Style is what most mainstream publications use. I always like to operate in a space that Google understands. Being clear, concise and grammatically correct is imperative.
The question more you should ask yourself, who is your audience?
Here are the choices in style you can choose from:
#1 MLA Style (The MLA Style Manual) is used collegiately. If you are writing English or Humanities papers, this is the guide for you. I will say as a journalism major it was difficult in creative writing. I often go a lower grade because AP Style comes as natural to me as breathing. For the rest of academia, MLA is the way to go.
My comma issue was born out of this, the Oxford Comma. In MLA, the Oxford comma comes between a member of a series.
Oxford commas look like this: Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
#2 AP Style (The Associated Press Style Guide) – Journalism professionals, copy editors, and broadcast journalists use this as the absolute bible for style.
#3 Chicago Manual of Style – A variant on the MLA Style Guide. If you’re into History or Religion, this might be the style guide to use. Although this uses the Oxford comma, it is closer to the AP Style guide than not. And again I say stick with the AP and don’t get too crazy.
#4 APA Style (American Psychological Associates) – Leave to the shrinks to have their own style guide. It’s more about the use of citations, but this is more for the AMA than Google.
#5 Bluebook – This style guide provides the mechanics of legal citations and is often used by judged and lawyers. Not something for a content marketer, even if your client is a lawyer.
The important take away for Web Designers and Content Marketers is to pick a style, learn that style and unilaterally use that style. The site looks more professional and uniform, and Google is impressed with your lack of grammar mistakes. If your unsure and don’t have a copy editor, remember Grammarly offers a host of options.