One of the common questions an editor is asked is, “Which is the “right” way to do things?” In many instances there is a “right” way to do things, for example, spelling or where to put an apostrophe, but there aren’t hard and fast rules for everything.
Pick up a professional magazine or newspaper and you’ll find that each one has its own way of doing things. One might use double and another use single quotes for attributions. One might indent a paragraph and another will leave a space between two paragraphs. One might use -ize spellings and another use -ise.
Which one is wrong? Which one is right?
Neither of them. They’re following their own house style. The only thing that would make them wrong is when they don’t follow it.
A style guide’s value is its adherence to consistency. True, it borders on pedantry to dictate that there is only one space after a full stop (or period), that em-dashes must have a space on either side, or that book titles are always italicised, however, the benefits outweigh the initial discomfort of towing the line.
Contained within the style guide is the essence of a company’s brand. And in most cases, you want your brand to be professional, coherent and trustworthy.
If you happen to work for an organisation that has a style guide for its branding and logo, then you’ll be familiar with how prescriptive a style guide can be. But with good reason.
Inconsistency damages your brand.
A minority will pick the occasional two-spaces versus one-space following a period, but still more will detect where you haven’t been consistent in language usage, type-setting and punctuation.
Inconsistency says that you don’t take enough pride in what you do (or care enough about the people you’re trying to market to) or care about the small details.
So do yourself a favour, protect your brand and make consistency your motto.
Use someone else’s style guide and make changes where you need. Or invest in producing a style guide for your organisation, one that’s tailored to your brand.
And make sure you circulate it to your staff. There’s no point in keeping it under lock and key where no one can see (or use) it.