Developing a house style guide

Megan Rogers knows the balance between adhering to style and representing a specialized industry.

Rogers, the communications assurance specialist for the National Court Reporters Association, oversees style for the website and the association’s Journal of Court Reporting, both of which serve the legal community. When she initially stepped into her copy editing role, she says she struggled to enforce uniformity between the online and print material, particularly while trying to allow for a variety of legal-speak nuances.

In her breakout session “Developing a House Style Guide” for the 2016 ACES conference, she broke down how to corral a variety of industry related nuances into one, uniform style — oh, and along the way, how to develop in-house style.

“We’re working with people who are educated, but not at a bachelor’s level,” Rogers said. Her work with court reporting stresses grammar and mechanics, but readability is also important, given the broad nature of the audience.

As a default, Rogers said she uses the Associated Press Stylebook for all things web and journal, and the Chicago Manuel of Style for books, as well as Merriam-Webster for spelling and hyphenation uncertainties.

When the style differs from industry norms, or when stylebooks fail to cover aspects of policy guidelines, Rogers supplants material with in-house style.

In her presentation, she flagged key areas to implement in-house style:

  • -Industry and association-specific terms
  • -Questions not addressed by style references
  • -Deviations from style references
  • -Unusual or hard-to-remember rules
  • -Extra material (guidelines, checklists)

“For instance, we do use the serial comma, even though AP says ‘don’t,’” Rogers said.

Rogers uses in-house style to clarify common industry errors. For instance, she cites the recurring use of the finicky double-space in legal transcripts, which she is trying to weed out, albeit one extra space at a time. However, in some cases Roger also uses the guide to deviate from style norms in the preference of the industry.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” Rogers said. “There are lots of style guides out there.”

Rogers recommends several style guide frameworks to use when developing in-house style. When she was writing the in-house style guide for the National Reporters Association, Rogers used the MailChimp Content Style Guide for framework, favoring the hyperlinked table of contents. She also looked at the VICE Style Guide and the Conscious Style Guide for content and framework.

Before releasing a new or updated in-house style guide, Rogers recommended gathering feedback from colleagues, including running the style guide by company content producers like writers, copy editors, public relations persons, and so forth, and eventually seeking input or approval from the upper echelons of CEOs, managers and editors. At the very least, she mentioned that incorporating departmentwide perspective can assure a greater chance of adherence to the new rules.

While Rogers said she originally hoped to include several non-hyphenated words, to follow what she sees as an increasing style trend, she decided to stick with Merriam-Webster defaults.

“Enough people need to do it first before it gets into the dictionary,” Rogers explained.

In her style guide, Rogers clarifies points for the word-but-not-style savvy, specifying that an organization is an “it,” and directing writers on how to properly capitalize titles.

“People get very cap-happy,” Rogers joked.

While the nature of an in-house style guide is differentiating choice from the norms, Rogers did suggest a general rule.

“It’s only helpful if it’s accessible,” Rogers said.

ACES newsroom member Junnelle Hogen is a student at the University of Oregon.