Create your own personal writing style guide

'Writing' by jjpacres on Flickr

Does your writing have style? 'Writing' by jjpacres on Flickr

In this post I’ll give you a free style guide template to work with, and I’ll cover the following:

  • What is a style guide?
  • Why create a personal style guide?
  • How to create a style guide.

In university we learn about style guides such as MLA and APA, which are so confusing that you practically need a guide to use them–especially if you take a psychology and a history class at the same time!  But style guides don’t have to be complicated or long–they can be as short as one page!

My first run-in with a simple, personalized style guide really delighted me, so I thought I would share this simple tool with you.

What is a style guide?

Wikipedia says the following about style guides:

“A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field. The implementation of a style guide provides uniformity in style and formatting of a document.”

In simple, a personal style guide is a clear set of rules that reflect the choices you’ve made in your writing style over the course of your writing career.

Why create a personal style guide?

Everyone has a different writing style and although there are grammar rules, we all know that these are not set in stone.  Consider the following choices you’re faced with on any given writing day:

  • Where do you use semicolons? (maybe you hate them, so you never use them!)
  • How do you use em dashes (–)?
  • How do you use en dashes (-)?
  • Do you put a comma before the last item in a list? (apples, oranges, and pears)
  • When do you capitalise headings?
  • Do you use American or Canadian English?
  • When do you italicise words?

Instead of making style choices again and again, or worse, being inconsistent, your style guide will capture things you’ve learned, and choices you’ve made over the years.  Your style guide will grow with you, as you grow as a writer.

How to create a personal style guide

You can download my personal style guide, but I HIGHLY recommend that you spend some time editing it–I have my own idiosyncrasies based on my own writing experience (plus, I’m Canadian).  The blog, “Copyediting”, has a great post about creating style guides and they offer a list of things you ‘might’ want to address in a style guide.  I suggest that you pick what you feel you’d like to add to your style guide, and forget the rest (don’t be intimidated by the amount of info on this list! It’s only a prompt):

Quick reference style guide issues (taken from Copyediting.com)

  • Dictionary of choice.
  • Punctuation. Start with the items below. If you have time, check out other comma rules, semicolon usage, parentheses vs. brackets, and other punctuation marks.
    • Serial comma
    • Em dash
    • Ellipsis
  • Hyphenation. This is a big topic.
  • Names. Know the capitalization rules for:
    • Personal names
    • Titles of people
    • Organization and company names
  • Titles of works. For books, blogs, newspapers, articles, poems, and so forth, note the following:
    • Capitalization rules
    • Rules for using italics, quotation marks, or nothing at all (no one underlines anymore, right?)
  • Abbreviations. Items to familiarize yourself with:
    • How do you introduce acronyms and initialisms?
    • Which state abbreviations do you use: two-letter (MA) or traditional (Mass.)?
  • Numbers. This is another complicated topic. Start with the rules you use most often, such as:
    • Numerals vs. words
    • Plural and possessive numbers
    • Dates
    • Fractions
    • Units of measure
  • Possessives. There are so many variations! Try to nail down the basics:
    • Singular noun
    • Singular noun that ends in s
    • Plural noun
    • Plural noun that ends in s
    • Exceptions to singular or plural rule
Remember that your style guide can be as detailed or simple as you want and it does NOT have to address everything on the list above.  Look at my style guide (free to download below in the resources) and you’ll see that it can actually be really simple.

Resources

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