Consistency or style—which rules?
The answer to that question for me is easy: consistency is of utmost importance in business writing. Anyone who creates content for your company should be following the same rules—and the best way to ensure that happens is to create an in-house style guide.Think proper grammar and correct spelling are all that’s necessary to ensure consistency? Oh no. You may or may not be aware that a number of formal writing styles exist—styles you didn’t learn in your high school English classes. For example, AP Style is used by journalists, Chicago Style is used in the book publishing world and APA Style is used in academia. Each style has its own set of rules, which can be quite extensive; the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style has 1,144 pages. What does this mean with respect to business writing? It depends. You may choose to adopt a particular style and make using it mandatory, you may prefer one style with a few exceptions or you may simply pick and choose the rules you like—usually from the most widely used styles: AP and Chicago. Here are a few of the differences between those two popular styles:
- Chicago uses the Oxford comma—red, white, and blue—while AP does not.
- Chicago spells out numbers up to one hundred while AP only spells out numbers up to nine.
- Chicago italicizes titles of works like books and movies while AP encloses them in quotation marks.
- Chicago calls for no spaces on either side of an em dash—like this—while AP calls for a space on either side.
- Chicago uses ‘s to show possession for words ending in s while AP uses only an apostrophe, i.e., the boss’s temper vs. the boss’ temper.
Based on this small sample size, you may prefer Chicago Style except you only want to write out numbers under 10. Or maybe AP Style is more to your liking but you want to use the Oxford comma. Both are okay; it’s perfectly permissible to create your ideal company style by choosing the common style guide rules you prefer as well as including other specific do’s and don’ts for your writers—such as not using contractions or capitalizing titles even if they don’t appear directly before a name.What’s the common denominator here? Consistency! Choose a style and then stick to it. Make sure everyone in your business is familiar with it and let freelancers know your preferences as well. Ensuring there’s consistency throughout all your written materials is an important way to reflect your professionalism.
Which to use?
The easiest way to decide whether client or customer is more appropriate is to consider whether a relationship is present. Customer is commonly used in the retail space since one-time purchases are common but client is more prevalent in the professional services world, where long-term relationships are the norm. Using the clunky client/customer should be avoided.
Two words I often see capitalized in business writing are founder and owner. That is wrong 100% of the time. Always lowercase these non-proper nouns even if they directly precede a name.