In this age of rapid-fire communications when texts, tweets, chats and posts are the way we seek advice, information, approval or just share preferences, words are often reduced to three letter codes. So, does good writing still count?
Yes, it does. We’re all writers. Whether members of your firm are writing emails, blogs, proposals or letters, we all generate business communications on a daily basis. While each communication may have its own purpose, you should aim to come across consistently and professionally as a firm.
The point is, in the business world we still use full sentences. Full sentences require a fundamental understanding of how to carefully craft a sentence to get your point across. Think of the proposals, blogs and other content your firm distributes on a regular basis. What you write and how you write it represents not only you, but your company as well.
With this in mind, Skoda Minotti Strategic Marketing recently launched our firm’s first writing style guide. Below is a synopsis of the topics we cover in the five sections of our guide:
Businesses pump out content at a staggering rate these days — and as that volume increases, more inconsistencies are bound to creep in. Whether due to lack of clarity about the style in which you’d like to write or disjointed communication across the multitude of content creators in your organization, failure to decide upon and document accepted editorial guidelines is a recipe for inconsistent messaging.
Which is correct: red, white and blue or red, white, and blue? The answer is…both! The same holds true for certain capitalization and grammatical rules. We have all learned certain rules of the road when it comes to writing. It’s not always a matter of one being right or wrong. It is more a matter of your firm adopting one style to use consistently.
We developed this section of our style guide to try to standardize usage rules for things such as ampersands, commas, numbers, titles and our Skoda Minotti brand.
One way to write strong content is by being aware of your firm’s voice and tone. Whether you’re writing an email, a memo or a proposal, that voice and tone should be professional and consistent.
Our style guide’s Tone chapter provides insight and advice on considerations such as:
- Should you adopt a casual or formal writing tone?
- Should you use first and second person or third person?
- Are you using too much industry jargon in your writing?
Capitalization is often a grossly overused practice, especially among professional service firms. In business writing, many words are capitalized—from degrees and titles to digital terms, company departments and more.
At Skoda Minotti, we believe that capitalization, like all other style considerations, should be based on thoughtful consideration and a commitment to consistent usage. Accordingly, our style guide addresses several common capitalization questions, such as:
- Are academic degrees capitalized?
- How should you write directions and regions of the U.S.?
- Is it internet or Internet and web or Web?
- Should you capitalize company departments/practice areas and professional titles?
Here is an area where firm conventions should often defer to commonly accepted grammatical rules. Proper grammar may not always get noticed; but improper grammar tends to stand out—and it doesn’t reflect well on the offending writer, or their firm.
We’re not all professional writers. But some basic grammatical rules should be followed by all firm professionals. Grammatical issues addressed in our style guide include:
- How should you write an acronym?
- When do you use hyphens versus longer dashes?
- Where do you place commas to make a sentence meaning clear?
- How do you use semicolons, colons and dashes?
This section of our style guide is similar to the Grammar section; but here, we wanted to highlight some common words, phrases and abbreviations that often are misused. Examples include:
- How are principal and principle different?
- What is the difference between i.e. and e.g.?
- Are you basically guilty of literally using words like leverage and value-added solutions?
Some of the content in our style guide isn’t a matter of right or wrong—its purpose is to enable our firm to project a singular, consistent voice. Whether your firm follows AP style, the Chicago Manual of Style or one altogether different, you and your colleagues should be on the same page. That’s doesn’t detract from individuality—think of how boring blogs would be if they all sounded alike. However, your website and firm collateral should sound like they came from the same firm.
Think of it this way—style guides are tools that can help members of your firm speak the same language, while still allowing for slightly different accents. Creativity is wonderful. Mistakes are just plain unprofessional. If you write intelligently, professionally and creatively, your firm will stand out from the competition.
Planning and Implementing Your Firm’s Style Guide: Timing and Process
At Skoda Minotti, the process of creating our style unfolded in several phases over several weeks. First, our marketing team sat down and developed a strategic framework for the project. We asked fundamental questions:
- Why do we want to do this?
- What’s to be gained from a style guide?
- How do we roll it out, and to what extent can we monitor firm-wide usage?
Then, we established specific chapter headings in which to categorize all the information that we felt was important to include. From there, we leveraged our own experiences, knowledge of style and outside resources like the AP Stylebook, to create a first draft. And finally, we organized it so as to serve as a quick, easy-to-use resource for all professionals in our firm.
Once the style guide was formatted, we distributed electronic copies to all professionals in our firm as part of an email communication that explained its purpose, outlined the various chapters and encouraged feedback and questions.
Our efforts to monitor firm-wide adoption of the style guide’s recommendations are a work in process. While t’s not practical to review every communication from every firm professional, we plan to check in with partners and associates as the year unfolds, answer questions, solicit concerns and feedback, and adjust our style guide to suit our firm’s needs. It’s a living, breathing document, and we know it will elevate our voice and strengthens our brand.
If you’re interested in learning more about creating a style guide for your firm, or if you want more information about Skoda Minotti Strategic Marketing services, contact Cindy Spitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think you’re a grammar whiz? Take our ten-question quiz and find out how you measure up!
- According to AP style, is the American flag red, white, and blue or red, white and blue?
- True or false: e.g., means “in other words,” so you’re just giving further meaning.
- True or false: Do not use quotation marks inside parenthesis when indicating an abbreviation. Example: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) or The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”)
- True or false: “that” can be used to describe both people and things. Example: The CPA that/who spoke at the conference…..
- Which is correct in the following sentence, between or among? “The students shared the treat ____ each of the team participants.
- Complete the following sentences: “The dog was licking [its/it’s] paw.” / “[Its/It’s] going to be a nice day.”
- According to AP style, which is correct: toward or towards?
- True or false: “principal” has only one meaning.
- Complete the following sentence: “I’m taking out a piece of [stationery / stationary] to write a thank-you note to my friend.”
- Correct the following sentence: “You had a very unique take on the situation.”
Answers can be found below.
- The latter: red, white and blue
- Between is two parties; among is more than two
- The dog was licking its paw. It’s going to be a nice day.
- Principal has two meanings: an adjective meaning “main” or “key” (The principal objective is to make a profit.) As a noun, principal is “the head”, or “leader” (The principal suspended the student for fighting.)
- I’m taking out a piece of stationery to write a thank-you note to my friend.
- You had a unique take on the situation. Unique means unlike anything else; it’s not possible for something to be very unlike anything else.