At my last traditional full-time job, I had a set of magnetic letters. From time to time, I’d use the letters to spell things out on the wall of my cubicle. One day, I posted one of my favorite quotes from The Simpsons, which read: “You don’t win friends with salad.”
The next morning, I saw that one of my colleagues had created an addendum: “You don’t win friends with salad…or AP style.”
I had to laugh. In my experience, people really do not enjoy having their work edited. I always tried to be kind about my edits, explaining them whenever possible. But all it seemed to do is strengthen their aversion to any sort of editorial style.
But no matter which one you follow, editorial style matters, and it’s worth trying your very best to follow. Here’s why:
It Makes You Look More Professional
A key part of gaining consumer trust is your ability to convey that you are an expert. That you pay attention to detail. But it’s kind of hard to come across as a professional when your spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation are all over the place. Sticking with an editorial style will help you address all of these things.
It Makes Copy Less Distracting
Your copy will be consumed by all sorts of readers, but you can rest assured that there will be more than a few folks who cringe when you spell semiannually with a hyphen in one paragraph, and then without a hyphen in the next.
They’ll try to recover from this inconsistency, but they’ll be plagued by it for at least a few sentences, and won’t be able to devote their complete attention to the message you’re trying to get across. It’s how their brains are wired. Give them a break and help them focus on what you’re saying by using editorial style to create consistency.
It Eliminates the Guessing Game
Not sure whether to include two spaces after a period, or just one? Or whether to use a colon or an em dash? Or how to abbreviate a state in running text?
Editorial stylebooks, whether AP, Chicago, APA, or MLA, give you definitive answers to all of these things and more. Pick one that’s appropriate for your field, follow it, and you’ll have your answer every time!
It Helps Ensure Brand Consistency
Just about any branding expert will encourage you to make up editorial style rules for your brand to supplement broader stylebooks. Let’s say you offer a product called TruRemove — a software program that sweeps computers for unsecured personal information, and alerts users to its presence so that they can dispose of it or secure it properly.
If you want people to be able to recognize it easily every time they come across it, you’ll want to make sure you spell it and capitalize it the same way every time, so they associated with your brand and no one else’s. The same goes for any other naming conventions or special allowances your business or organization might make.
Check out my blog post on how easy it is to start building a brand identity.
Bottom line? With benefits like the ones listed above, following an editorial style is worth the trouble it may take for you to learn it. So why not start being consistent with one today?
AP Stylebook: It’s what folks see every day when they read the newspaper or read most websites. It’s all about clearing up clutter on the page — systematic abbreviations, fewer periods and commas. And whether you get the book or buy an online membership, it’s organized really well, with clear answers to the most common inconsistencies.
Chicago Manual of Style: Originally developed at, you guessed it, the University of Chicago, this editorial style is a favorite of medical and scholarly journals. Use of the Oxford comma (or “serial comma”) is probably the biggest difference between AP and Chicago.
So what style should you use? Most folks end up on the side of AP Style, since it’s what we’re used to seeing in the media. But the key is to stick to one style consistently. Once you learn an editorial style, it becomes second nature. Promise.