I love math. The square root of 9 is always 3. Prime numbers are only divisible by 1 and themselves, and circumference is equal to 2π r. For similar reasons I love chemistry, music, and various other disciplines that have rules that are consistent and repeatable.
I also love creativity. Creatively, I am a writer. I have been a writer since I sat down at my Windows 3.1 computer when I was a kid and opened a word editor. Within, I found amazing things like spell check and synonym finders that freed me from the stumbling blocks that usually slowed me down. I have gone on to use tools like Grammarly to constantly improve my process and give me more space creatively, which is where I am most effective as a writer.
Where rules are creativity meet
Throughout my journey to where I am today as an instructional designer, I have looked for a definitive set of rules for grammar. I wanted something I could memorize and force into the DNA of my writing so I wouldn’t need to think about it while moving the thoughts from my head to my fingers. To my amazement, there really isn’t a rule book. There are guidelines and standards like Chicago Style or APA, and there are voices like active and passive voice. Surprisingly, most of our grammar “rules” simply reflect the preferences of the writer.
I like that most forms of art grant liberties, and that as I write this blog, I can use whatever grammar rules I feel like using, as long as I am consistant. However, not all forms of writing grant us these liberties. I am in the process of contributing to a major project where there are multiple writers. All writers and editors have our own preferences and voice, all of which is grammatically correct for all intents and purposes (okay, mine usually isn’t, but that is why we have editors). Upon the first review, we realized these varied voices and interpretations of grammar rules was a bit messy. Luckily, we are not terribly far into the writing phase of this project and we have ample opportunity to right our ship.
The lesson I have learned is that big projects like this require a style guide. Writing large technical manuals, contributing to a performance support system, or really anything with multiple writers needs a set of rules people can follow. Below are a few recommendations I suggest you think about as you create a style guide for any project.
Pick a voice
Most instructions are written in active voice that start with an action verb that relates directly to the subject and eliminate passive words like will, should, shall, etc… Active voice typically uses short and direct sentences.
Pick a style
I started learning about style guides when I worked at my college newspaper, so I like AP, but it is up to you. This style dictates how numerals and dates are formatted and what is bolded, italicized, and more.
Clearly state exceptions
I always use Oxford commas; many styles don’t see the point. They are wrong, so I include them in my style guides.
There can be a lot of thought that must go into a style guide, and you may not cover everything on your first attempt. Style guides are living documents that give your team an opportunity to hone their writing craft in a collaborative manner. Have you used or created a style guide? I’d love to keep this conversation going in the comments below!