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Create an in-house style guide to keep everyone in tune

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in Centerpiece,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

You've dealt with "old" school grammar, "new" school grammar and "everybody has her own rule" grammar. Maybe it's time to put everyone on the same page.

Do you have reviewers arguing whether to put a comma before the word "and" in a series? When typing numbers, do you know when to use figures and when to use words? Does anybody know whether the company's division in Peoria has an ampersand in its title?

Do you have a general reference guide, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, a grammar reference and a dictionary, but still not know what the preferred organizational usage or style is?

We thought so. Your organization needs its own style guide. A company style guide provides everyone with a concise reference of grammar and style usage particular to your organization. It should be the first point of reference when writing a report or when a usage question arises.

Instead of searching through a large reference book, people can find the most important guidelines they need in a few dozen pages or less.

Before putting together the style guide, have everyone keep a running list of style questions and peculiarities for several months. Prior to publishing the final product, ask the HR or PR departments to review it and provide any suggestions.

Here's what your internal style guide should cover:

Disagreements with the established style. If your office generally follows a published style guide but has decided, for example, to omit the serial comma (last one before the "and" or "or" in a series) note that exception here.

Are certain words that are indigenous to your industry always hyphenated or abbreviated? Do you always use percentage signs? Include these in the style guide.

Frequently used terms. Highlighting the most important terms and rules in your brief guide saves users time when learning the style.

Unique situations. How does your organization style its name? How does it handle terms particular to its field? Do you follow a particular citation style?

Watch for emerging issues and examples of how other organizations are handling them. (Are your clients and competitors favoring a particular style?) This will help you settle any disputes about which way to go.

While organizing your style guide alphabetically is good, dividing it into subsections can make it more user-friendly. For example, you might want separate sections for commonly used abbreviations, acronyms, computer terms and punctuation rules.

Include plenty of examples to make the rules clear, too. And in printed versions, be prepared to leave blank pages for style questions that come up from time to time.

When formatting the guide, a loose-leaf notebook is a good choice in addition to placing it electronically on the company's internal network. That puts everyone on the same page.

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