A style guide is a means of documenting your approach, as a writer, to the main elements of writing style that you believe need to be consistent. Style guides are generally associated with specialist types of writing like technical writing, commercial or business writing, journalism and web copywriting. In each of these cases, there is a need to ensure that the writing style is consistent and so guidelines are usually published to allow more than one author to contribute while ensuring that the finished piece does not carry or exhibit the personal style of a writer but that of the publication, company or website.
For publications or companies with a large number of contributing authors, a style guide is essential if the completed publication is to be coherent and consistent.
Many creative writers eschew the need for a style guide, believing that the ability to follow a standard English writing style should be an innate quality for any writer. While to a certain extent this could be argued to be true, a style guide provides a means of documenting basic rules or features of your writing that will allow you to ensure consistency in your written output. Technical writers, for example, will generally have a style guide for a particular customer or project to ensure that the data they deliver will be in an acceptable form and will be in keeping with previous deliveries or other publications that the customer already has. In many cases, this style is dictated by a recognised standard.
The lack of a single authoritative source on style for written English means that there is, and will always be, healthy debate on the elements of style. The use of punctuation and correct grammar is well established but style is much more than just the correct usage of punctuation, grammar and vocabulary.
Each publication, company or writer will have a view on any number of elements of the style of their writing. Creative writers may not be worried about headings, lists, trademarks or the use of special terminology, whereas a bid proposal writer or a technical writer may need to take heed of all such considerations in their daily work.
For any writer, but particularly for the freelance writer, a style guide should be an invaluable tool. Freelance writers should continually develop style guides for each customer or publication type that they work with. It is important that, as a freelancer, you can demonstrate an ability to follow a prescribed style, but equally that you can learn and record what your customers prefer from their comments and feedback. This will help increase your customers’ satisfaction in the long term and will help place you as their supplier of choice for written material or content.
But what's wrong with a creative writer using their own style guide? Well, nothing. Can you imagine how much time it might save in proofreading and correction if a creative writer knows that they've followed a set style from the outset in certain areas?
Paul Docherty has over 13 years experience of technical and business related writing, as well as operations management and project managing complex technical writing projects. For more free advice and articles on how to make the most of your writing either as a hobby or as a career, try visiting http://www.freewritingadvice.com and http://www.freewritingadvice.com/articles