Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

Setting the Standards

Some projects are so large, yet have deadlines so tight, that multiple writers must work simultaneously to complete the project on time. In such cases, writers generally work on their own sections. This method makes a lot of sense—but it can also make an editing mess if certain standards aren't established before writing begins.

Of course, following the basic rules of grammar should be a given (though you wouldn't know this from reading some web sites). Yet there's leeway in matters of voice, tense, and a variety of points just referred to as "style." Ideally, before writing begins, everyone should get a style sheet with guidelines to follow.

First of all, the style sheet needs to cover simple logistics. For example, do you want one or two returns between paragraphs? How do you want the writers to handle bulleted lists? Should the writers make the headlines bold and bigger, or just leave that to the graphics department? Those are some of the questions to address about entering and styling the content.

It's also helpful to include any client-specific jargon and technical terms that will be used. In addition, when abbreviations, acronyms, or initialisms will be used, the style sheet should indicate what they stand for. And it should specify when, if ever, the writer needs to spell out the item. For example, to some, "RBC" stands for regional business conference. To others, it's red blood cells. The point is: Will your audience know? The style sheet should say when and how to provide definitions.

For multimedia programs, a style sheet also needs to specify the format for referring to navigational elements. For example, do you want users to "Click the Continue button" or simply "Click Continue"? Should the button names be bold? What appears: a message box, dialog box, or a pop-up window? Does the client prefer online or on-line? Menubar or menu bar? And when should users select an item versus click it or tap it?

You can probably come up with many more examples. That's the point. Since there's such a variety of style preferences, it's best to set the standards right away. Or, at least, start developing—and, of course, disseminating—a style sheet as issues arise. Fortunately, once you have the basics down, the style sheet will be much easier to revise to suit each project. Best of all, you'll get the content you want with fewer editing headaches.

Style Sheet Summary

An ideal style sheet includes the following items:

  • the voice, tense, and tone to use
  • how to enter and style the content
  • how to set up and punctuate bulleted lists
  • how to indicate headlines and/or other items that require special handling
  • spelling and definitions for technical terms and any client-specific lingo
  • when to use abbreviations, acronyms, or initialisms, and whether to include periods
  • the format for navigation prompts, button and menu names, and other multimedia elements
  • any other decisions made affecting text or narration

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Copyright Judy Nollet, White Plume Communications. 
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