August 18, 2016

How to avoid troublesome language

BY JAY CARMICHAEL

As writer Mary Norris implies in her renowned TED talk, it can be difficult to know how to correctly spell a word, write a sentence or, simply, use the English language. Choosing between UK and US spelling, commas and hyphens, single or double quotation marks can be confusing and time consuming.

Australian English borrows from both British English and American English, with a bunch of colloquialisms and other mish-mashes of words and languages thrown in. Standard usage is often determined by what is considered to be in common use, and as the schoolyard saying goes, “majority rules”. This can be seen with the current omission of the hyphen from words like ‘today (to-day)’ and ‘teenager (teen-ager)’ that were in common use even past the middle part of last century.

So what can you do about the discrepancies in language and ensure everything your company produces is consistent?

Introduce order to your language

Having a clear company standard will ensure every piece of content your company produces or commissions is on brand and works together to promote your products or services.

This can be presented in what is called a style guide. It can include:

  • grammar and punctuation guidelines
  • citation guidelines
  • facts about your audience
  • how to maintain your company’s reputation
  • how to design and illustrate a document in accordance with your company brand
  • how to use brand logos, colours and fonts
  • legal and compliance guidelines.

There are many style guides that companies and publishers have made publically available – such as the Australian government’s Style Manual, The Chicago Manual of Style, Hart’s Rules and so on. These guides are basically how those organisations choose to standardise and present language in their internal and external documents.

Note how the above are ‘guidelines’, this is to emphasise that they are correct in the sense of the style being worked with and may be not quite right in another publication. What matters is that they are what your business wants to be correct, but of course they should fall in line with common grammar and punctuation rules.

The importance of style

By having a style guide, you can ensure that no matter who is the writer (you, your team, a different department in your organisation or an external copywriter), you can create documents, blogs, newsletters, EDMs, etc, in a way that is consistent, coherent and concise.

Consistent and error-free copy builds trust and reliability with your customers or clients. Having a reputable business with a trustworthy brand converts to strong customer or client interactions.

If you can see the benefit of a style guide, but don’t currently have one in place in your company, contact Avion Communications today. We’ll help you create one that’s bespoke to your brand and brings your marketing and communications into line.

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