By Safia Kazi
The recently released 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style involves numerous style changes, including dropping the hyphen from email and no longer capitalizing internet. While some of the changes received criticism, by and large, most changes were welcomed.
Chicago, MLA, AP, and APA style evolve, and if your association has an in-house style guide, it is crucial that your style guide also evolves. The following are some considerations to make when updating your association’s style guide:
To avoid alienating any of your readers, it is crucial to consider cultural differences and adjust your style guide accordingly. While your association may be based in the United States, if you have members in other countries, style choices should not make them feel disconnected from headquarters. This may mean that you explicitly state in your style guide to avoid references to seasons, holidays, and cultural norms.
If you have a large portion of readers whose native language may not be English, ensure your style guide has considerations for these readers. The use of certain metaphors, phrases, or stylistic choices, e.g., contractions, could obfuscate the meaning of the work and alienate some of your readers. While not every difficult-to-translate phrase can be included in your style guide, even one entry mentioning that many readers’ first language is not English and a brief list of some common phrases to avoid may help editors make stylistic choices that are more inclusive of all your readers.
While some may argue that word formatting is just semantics, it can greatly affect the way your readers perceive your association. Not adapting with the times and using an old, static style guide can make your publications look outdated and obsolete.
For example, something as small as writing a term as one word versus two can affect how your association is perceived. To prevent confusion, newer terms are often written as two separate words. As those terms become more commonly used, it becomes possible to close them up and write them as one word. While dictionaries often vary on whether certain terms are one word or two, e.g., healthcare is one word in Oxford but two in Merriam-Webster, your association’s style guide needs to take a firm stance on terms your members commonly use. A healthcare association may want to close up healthcare and make it one word, while a financial association may be able to style health care as two words. Whatever your association’s preference is, be sure to document it to ensure consistency across publications.
In the clamor to cover emerging industry trends, writers and editors often overlook considerations that could make their content evergreen. The stylistic treatment of new trends should be added to your in-house style guide. Even if the trend in question is just a fad and will only be mentioned in a couple of pieces, it is worthwhile to have an entry for it so that all content covering this trend is consistent. If a trend becomes a big deal in your industry and you have coverage of it from its nascency, you could become the go-to resource for more information on it. And with all that traffic, it is crucial that all your publications style that term in the same way.
It is worthwhile to meet with your association’s legal team annually to discuss any legal concerns that may need to be added to your style guide. Aside from the usual concerns of libel, slander, and plagiarism, does your association have any other legal restrictions? How does your legal team want you to cite figures from other sources? Is your association prohibited from citing certain sources? Are there outlets that might reflect poorly on you just by association? Any legal concerns that affect what or how something should be styled must be included in your style guide.
Along the same lines as culture, it is essential to know who your readers are and whether they require any special accommodations. Do you know if a large portion of your readership is visually impaired? If so, how can they best engage with your materials? If you know that a lot of people using your content leverage text-to-voice programs, that may affect your content. In a scenario like that, editors should consume their content using a text-to-voice program, note any ambiguity or confusion caused by editorial choices, and update the style guide accordingly. This ought to be done with any accommodations that a large portion of your membership uses.
Beyond physical ability, associations must also consider technical ability and preferences when updating their style guide. If most members are opening newsletters on mobile devices, it is worth optimizing subject lines for mobile devices, and a style guide entry about optimum subject line length can help ensure that technical preferences and limitations do not hinder your members from enjoying content.
The one common thread across these considerations is the need for cross-functional collaboration; editorial teams cannot operate in a silo. By working with other departments to truly understand and adapt to your members’ needs, you can create content that best serves your readership and makes you the go-to industry leader.
Safia Kazi is editorial coordinator for ISACA and member of AM&P’s content creation committee.