Get the right style to show off your substance
When thinking about your content, it is important to not only consider the words that will form your message, but also the form of each word
If, like me, you are not naturally great at spelling, the spellchecker on your computer is a bit of a lifesaver when it comes to writing content.
However, relying on a spellchecker does not solve all the problems associated with grammar and spelling. The increasing influence of American English on business content in the UK forces content writers to make decisions about which spellings should be used, such as should you spell organisation with an s or a z in it? And then there are homophones and words such as licence and license. You may spell them correctly, so they are not picked up by the spellchecker, but are you using them correctly?
Other questions that need to be considered are more stylistic. For example, do we upper case the first letter of all job titles? What about using focused or focussed? Shall we write out % as percent or per cent? The list is endless. Do we italicise printed names of books or other publications? Do we italicise foreign words or only those that are not in common use in English? Which compound words or phrases can be written as one word, which need a hyphen and which should always be two words?
Looking at content online, UK organisations all seem to take different approaches. Some businesses even have differences in style from one piece of content to the next. This can be a result of content being written by different people, in different departments or even different geographical locations. It could be that some content is written by freelancers or contract content writers.
Overcoming inconsistencies in style is not a huge undertaking. It just takes a little bit of thought. Most big publications, such as newspapers and magazines, have a house style guide. This guide will be shared with all writers and editors and all content must adhere to this. Therefore, it will determine which words should start with upper case letters. It will state the style for words that have two spelling options and it will include all the options for digits, i.e. when should numbers be spelt out.
Organisations can easily create their own house style. It can be a printed or online document that is shared by anyone who creates or edits content for the firm. This does not have to be an overly long document. It can just include widely used and industry-specific terms, and the style for digits, language selection (i.e. US or UK English) and any exemptions from this. Then, for all other spellings and style, choose a dictionary for reference. For example, if all content writers use The Oxford English Dictionary, then all spellings (such as focused or focussed) will take the first option offered in that dictionary.
There is also another very useful guide for content writers. The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors is a small reference book that will tell you which words are hyphenated, which words should be italicised and which should start with a capital letter.
At the end of the day, your content is a reflection of your organisation and its values. Take a little time to make sure that it is a good one.