Tag Archives: style guides

HSE in typo-ridden, grammer-challenged style guide shocker!

In-house style guides are there to keep publications clear, consistent and accurate so shouldn’t they be proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation themselves?

You’d think so, but it seems the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland forgot to check its work (or it hired the worst proofreader in the world) when it published a Plain language style guide for documents.

You can see the pretty long list of the errors on the document in Stan Carey’s post: HSE – Who proofreads the proofreaders? There’s also a good discussion going on in the comments.

My experience is that this kind of work can easily fall between the cracks in a big organisation. It is often the comms people who create the copy and the illustrators who lay it out. Technical points or queries about sense will most likely be run past a subject matter expert.

But basic proofreading is often passed on to the person in the department considered to have a good grasp of English. This is like giving the company accounts to someone who likes numbers, or layout to someone who is good at drawing.

Big orgs seem unaware of (or unwilling to prioritise the budget for?) proofreaders. But proofreading is a skill. Not only does it keep spelling, grammar and style points on track but, through accuracy and better readability, it builds trust in the reader.

I’ve only worked for two public sector organisations and both had previously just done the proofing themselves. In some cases, they didn’t do a bad job. But when they saw the level of red pen marks of a qualified proofreader, then they realised the difference between a quick read-though and a proper markup.

Still, the HSE errors are particularly surprising – even an automatic spellcheck should have picked up many of the issues that Stan highlights.

But, yanno, whatevah! I’m sure HSE is not the only outfit in the land with a dodgy style guide. I remember a superbly accurately Radio Times style guide that was completely unusable because it was the size of a doorstep.

Anyway, enough finger-pointing. Here is a LOLcat to rebalance the universe.

Starter kit: how to blog for your company

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide. This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

The Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Blogger’s style guide: Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Whatever you are writing about – whether it’s offering niche expertise and explanation, an engaging anecdote on something that happened in your business this week, a review of a new product, etc – it is good to be aware that your post is going to be published and archived.

Which means it’s important to be aware of company blogging guidelines – even if you have a blog of your own where you might mention your employer.

Many companies have a Corporate Blogging Employee Policy, where you can read legal guidelines and best practice, so make sure you are given these or ask for a copy of them as they are there to help you blog.

As a quick guide

  • be honest and transparent without revealing company secrets
  • be accurate and attribute any quoted facts and figures back to the source
  • be respectful of others and underline where your post represents your own view

Finally, one quick way to protect yourself and the company is this great advice (I’m not sure who said it first): ‘Never say anything you wouldn’t be happy to say in front of your mother or your bank manager.’

Happy blogging!

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Writing a good title

  1. Make the title or headline of your post specific – it lets your reader know what to expect BEFORE they click.
  2. Don’t promise something you are not going to deliver as this will result in a broken experience and an annoyed reader.
  3. Resist the hilarious pun – it most likely won’t make any sense out of context.
  4. Include both first and last names if a person is the subject of your post – this is better for SEO (see  previous post on  SEO for writers).
  5. Think mobile. Many people now read content on their phone or in an RSS reader, so they may only see the first few words (40-60 characters). Based on that, they will decide whether to click through and read on – or not. The trick is to be plain, include your keyword/s and also be as enticing as possible, which is not that easy. Oh and don’t write a headline that is dependent on an accompanying image/video – these don’t always appear on portable devices.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Comments and feedback

Feel free to invite a response, ask for help or even not fully complete your thoughts on a post. This encourages people to respond; after all, this is a conversational not a broadcast medium. However, don’t worry if your posts are NOT getting replies, as 90% of internet users are passive readers who read without commenting.

It can be handy to have your own community of followers on Twitter/Facebook/etc so you can announce that you have a new blog post up – commenters are people who are interested in either the subject or you as a blogger.

Also, be reassured that company blogs are usually pre- or post-moderated for spam, rude responses or other comments breaching trade or company rules. Responses where people disagree, however, are generally seen as part of the conversation and offer great opportunities to respond, learn or even develop fresh blog post ideas.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Five tips on tone

  1. Be yourself. Write in the first person and let your personality show through – TIP: this will happen naturally if you choose to write about something you are interested in or enthusiastic about, otherwise this will seem like homework (and who wants to read homework?).
  2. It can take time to find your voice, especially if you are not used to writing in this more conversational way, but reading other blogs will help and practice makes perfect. Having trouble? Try pretending you are emailing a knowledgeable friend or colleague. And read it out loud – it shouldn’t jar.
  3. Avoid jargon – you might think it sounds clever but jargon is a no-no for readers. By all means show your expertise and authority, but explanations in plain English will be welcomed by, and more engaging for, your readers.
  4. Invite conversation – fortunately, you don’t have to know it all! Ask questions, think out loud, be humble and say that you’d be interested to hear what others think about >whatever you are writing about<.
  5. Have fun – this is not an annual report! You can still be a corporate expert, but be a human one.

Don’t worry, it takes time – here’s me wrestling with online tone and etiquette two years ago.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Links are good!

Links are useful for the reader and vital for SEO – read my previous post on SEO for why that is – but they are also useful shortcuts for you as a writer.

For example….

Want to link to a quick explanation of what you are talking about so you don’t have to rehash it all yourself? Found something interesting elsewhere that you want to write about? Are you mentioning a previous post or a survey and need to source it?

Then use a hyperlink.

Linking is a way for readers to jump out of your post to context, explanation or source material. It adds value to your post and also saves you including reams of information or explanation.

Here’s how to link. Just highlight the words you want to turn into a link and then click the ‘chain tool’ or ‘add link’ button in your blog platform or CMS. A box will pop up for you to paste the link into. Make sure you include the ‘http://&#8217; bit or the link won’t work.

If you are presenting work in a Word document, then underline the relevant words and paste the link just after them so whoever is uploading knows what should link. I’ve used an example in the blurb below.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]