Should You Follow a Style Guide for Your Blog?

An interesting discussion developed on my last post, Changing Styles. If you haven’t read, click over and read it now, and be sure to read the comments.

As a result of that discussion, I’m turning the post into a series of three.

One question that arose was whether bloggers should follow a style guide.  I used the example of my little sister many years ago. When we used to write letters by hand without benefit of spell-check, she would spell a word a different way every time she used it. Her philosophy was that by guessing a bunch of different ways to spell the word, she might get it right once in the letter.

My philosophy is that it’s better to be consistently wrong than to be wrong most of the time and right once in a while. It’s even better to be right all the time. So I think it’s important to have consistency in your blog.

Inconsistencies can be distracting and confusing for readers. Any time readers are distracted or confused, they are trying to figure out what you meant or why you did something the way you did rather than focusing on your message. Whether you’re writing a novel or a blog post, you don’t want to pull the readers out of your story or your article.

Matt Keegan agrees with me. He was thinking along the same lines when he wrote How to Maintain a Consistent Writing Voice. He emphasized that inconsistency in a blog damages the blogger’s credibility.

However, we both agree with commenters that blogs don’t have to follow the same rigid rules as some types of writing, such as academic writing. I no longer edit academic papers because I don’t enjoy that type of writing—often written to impress rather than to inform or entertain. Most of the projects I edit are far less formal, primarily novels and some nonfiction books. The goal of these books is to inform or entertain—or both, and they are written in an informal, easy-to-read-and-understand style. Yet it’s important to follow a style guide (generally the The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition) for consistency. Without some guide to follow, the writing will be inconsistent. Perhaps words will be spelled differently in different parts of the book, or the serial comma will used in some places and not others. Knowing the preferred way to spell the words and that Chicago style requires serial commas, the writers can avoid those inconsistencies.

I tend to follow Chicago style since that’s what I’m familiar with and use the most. Dominique at 4Walls and AView likes MLA style found in MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th Edition because that’s what she accustomed to. Matt uses Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2010 for some of his projects. I don’t think it matters what style you follow, as long as you are consistent.

In fact, you can use something more basic than the extensive style guides like the ones mentioned above. The classic Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style covers the major things you need to consider. An excellent online resource is the Guide to Grammar and Writing from the Capital Community College. It’s free and easy-to-use. When I was Editor-in-Chief for an Internet publishing company, we used the Guide To Grammar and Writing as our style guide with some additional information in a style sheet (which I will cover in the next installment in the series).

The major style guides include preferred spelling for many words, which some of the more basic guides don’t. You should choose a preferred dictionary to ensure that you are consistent in spelling—there are discrepancies among dictionaries as well as among style guides.

If you create or write blogs for clients, you need to determine the style for the blog at the onset. Many organizations already have a preferred style, and you will be expected to follow that style. If the company doesn’t use a specific style, you can choose the style. If other people post to the blog, they need to know the style, as well. For a group blog, the Guide to Grammar and Writing or a similar online resource that can easily be accessed by all bloggers may be best. Other style guides, including Chicago Manual of Style, are available online, but most require a paid subscription or the purchase of the print book to access the online edition.

Don’t let your readers become distracted and confused by inconsistencies in your blog. Keep them focused on your brilliant words by using a style guide to maintain consistency in your writing style.

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