Last night the Gloo team attended a wonderful debate about linguistic style. It was hosted by the Guardian newspaper to promote the launch of its new style guide. David Marsh, editor of the guide, went head-to-head with Simon Heffer, editor of the Telegraph style guide.

We’re already big champions of the value that a consistent and high-quality style can bring to any written document, but the debate raised some interesting questions that any good style guide should attempt to answer. We think they apply not just to broadsheet newspaper writers, but to marketers toowe’re all in the business of communicating clearly.

Do you lead or lag?

This is especially an issue in IT, because new terms crop up all the time. How do you treat words like e-mail, e-learning, or SaaS? When do you stop expanding acronyms, inserting hyphens, or capitalising “Internet”?

Do you have one voice or many?

Both the Guardian and the Telegraph were clear that, while their style guides do reflect the overall political ethos of their publications, they try not to stifle their journalists’ individual voices with too many stylistic rules. This sacrifices a little consistency, but preserves the vibrancy and individual tone of their writers. How strictly do you define your brand identity, and how should that come across in print?

Do you write the way your readers want?

Ultimately the decisions that the newspapers make about their style boil down to minimising complaints from readers. Apparently Telegraph readers were incensed when the paper incorrectly referred to the Queen as HRH rather than HM, an issue that Guardian readers probably wouldn’t notice! Remember that you’re not writing for youyou’re writing for your customers. What would be most acceptable for them?

What we came away with above all is that there are still plenty of writers and editors with a sense of pride in writing good prose. Style guides are about much more than whether to boldly split infinitives and the proper use of the semi-colon; they’re about paying attention to the words you use and the way you put them together. Whether we’re writing news for the Guardian or a brochure about servers, we can all communicate better by writing clearly, concisely and accurately.

Posted by John on 20 January 2011