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“… a matter of style” – Part 2: Types of style guide

Published on June 16th, 2014

Readers are primarily interested in what you have to say. By the way in which you say it you may encourage them either to read on or to give up.Economist Style Guide – Introduction

In my previous post, we looked at the critical part style guides play in ensuring a brand’s image is maintained. If your various departments communicate with clients in different ways, the perception of the overall brand may vary, and clients may indeed decide to “give up”, instead of reading on.

In the sector of multilingual communications, there are two general types of style guide: monolingual and multilingual. Monolingual style guides govern the company’s official language. Multilingual style guides, on the other hand, may address fewer issues, but are no less important. Let’s look into the differences.

Monolingual style guides

Generally, these are written for and dictate usage of the company’s official language. Increasingly this is in English, even among countries whose headquarters are located outside English-speaking countries.

Usage would be broadly by authors, proofreaders and editors of original content.

Many companies simply choose to adhere to an internationally recognised guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. My own favourite is the Economist Style Guide.

These guides can be used in isolation, or in conjunction with a company’s own internal guide, outlining company-specific clarifications or exceptions to these larger guides, especially when it comes to product names, straplines or other linguistic usages which would not appear in general rules of style.

While many organisations will use a style guide even if they do not translate content, when it comes to translation the use of even a monolingual style guide can reap rewards: the more consistent and clear the text of the source language, the easier and faster it is to translate, and when using translation memory technology, the chances of matching previously translated content become higher.

Multilingual style guides

Multilingual style guides, on the other hand, are typically designed for application to the company’s translated content.

With the rise of international and cross-cultural communications, we are seeing more and more organisations who communicate and market themselves in more than just their chosen lingua franca. Go onto any website nowadays for a business or organisation which deals internationally and you will normally see a language options tab with a whole host of global choices.

This type of guide is used broadly by translators, as well as proofreaders and editors of translated content.

In spite of their differences, both guides highlight the same sort of information for content creators and language professionals. Examples include:

–  Locale – e.g. United States or British English; Brazilian or European Portuguese.

–  Register – whether language needs to be formal or informal, e.g. French “tu”/“vous”, or German “Du”/“Sie”.

–  Neologisms and loan words – companies and countries will have different sensitivities to new words or words borrowed from other languages.

–  Punctuation – e.g. how to punctuate bullet points (full stops, semicolons or nothing at the end of each bullet).

–  Trademarks & product names – how to write company product names; trademark every term, or only the first instance within a document?

–  Times and dates – e.g. 24-hour clock vs. 12-hour clock; 4th May/4 May 2014//May 4th/May 4, 2014.

There are many other examples such as the above, and I’m sure you are now questioning your own use of language!

But, the facts are clear: anyone wishing to maintain any degree of consistency in their corporate or internal communication should consider implementing a style guide in their workplace… even if it is just an indication to never split infinitives in English.

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Posted on: June 16th, 2014