By Hillary MacEachern, instructor in the PR Diploma Program
As a new public relations (PR) graduate, your first position with an organization may include the responsibility of reviewer and editor. In this role, you’ll be responsible to provide editorial support for all corporate material before it is published, including reports, presentations, letters, etc. Organizations often delegate this responsibility to new graduates who have had several years of intensive writing training and are able to share their knowledge with others in the organization.
If you find yourself in the role of editor, one way to provide immediate value to the organization is to suggest the development of a writing and style guide. A writing and style guide is a corporate manual that provides direction on how to write within the parameters of the organization and its brand. For example, does the organization capitalize job titles? Does it use British spelling or American spelling? How does the organization refer to itself? A writing and style guide provides this direction, and more, to writers and editors.
A writing and style guide has many benefits, such as:
If your organization already has a writing and style guide, suggest to your supervisor that you review the guide to ensure it reflects the organization’s needs. Writing rules are constantly evolving to meet the needs of readers, platforms, and audience behaviours, and there may be an opportunity to refresh the rules within the existing guide. For example, many writing and style guides today include rules on how to write with a lens of inclusivity and accessibility which is important to many organizations and communities today.
Start by approaching your supervisor and offering to lead and develop the writing and style guide. This should always be your first step as a new employee!
After receiving supervisor approval, begin by keeping a running list of the specific writing inconsistencies that you observe in your editor role. For example, you might notice that there are many interpretations of how to refer to the organization; some use the organization’s formal name, some use an abbreviation, and some use its informal nickname. Above all else, you want to ensure that all corporate materials refer to the organization in the same way! Conducting this initial research will give you insight into the initial writing rules that, without a doubt, need to be included in the guide.
From there, conduct an environmental scan of other similar organizations. Many public-facing organizations publish their writing and style guides online and this can provide you with writing rules to consider including in your own guide. Below are some examples to get you started:
It’s also important to recognize that the guide is a living document that will continuously need to be updated to reflect new rules and writing needs. In addition to developing the guide, make sure to establish a process on how to update the guide to ensure the rules stay relevant.
If your organization already has a writing and style guide, speak with your supervisor about whether the guide meets the organization’s needs and whether there is opportunity for revisions. Writing rules are constantly evolving to meet the needs of readers, platforms, and audience behaviours, and there may be an opportunity to refresh the existing guide. For example, many writing and style guides today include writing rules for accessibilities and inclusion, and this would be important information to include in any guide.
As you begin to assemble your writing and style guide, it’s important to consider the different information to include in a guide. This will help you deliver a product that meets the needs of the organization in an organized and professional way. For example, consider:
In addition to making your life easier as an editor and writing, taking the lead to develop a writing and style guide will leave a lasting impression with your supervisor and colleagues.