Style guide is a document of lessons presented by the companies for its employees for writing and providing suggestions for writing styles and presenting of the documents. Style guides give suggestions to the employees on the best option they can use to prepare their document and include the information specifically required by the company or organization. In the style guide, correct grammar or style of writing is not important but what is important is the decision that employer or client has made among the various possibilities available.
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Style guides can solve many purposes like confirming that documents prepared are conforming to the corporate policies along with several legalities, providing information to the persons involved in the writing process and editors on the prevalent styles, to make them aware of the fact that which style can be used and which can be negotiated and which cannot. More than this, it needs to check that consistency is being maintained especially in the cases where more than one writer is involved in preparing the documentation. It is also used as a reminding source for the writer on the style needed to adopt for each project in the case when writer is working on the several projects and also served as several specifications for the documents that need to be presented before the clients.
A style guide has both the rules and suggestions and recommendations and which are the rules and which are negotiations that need to be decided by the company or adopted according the policies of the company. While preparing the style guide, one thing that needs to be kept in mind is that it should be a document that can be evolved and in different phases during the process of documentation preparing. It is not necessary to incorporate every point in the process but points can be added as and as requirement arises and decisions made. Items can also be changed while making new decisions and while dealing with changed situations. (Weber, 2007).
It can also be a possibility that a style guide can often become a cause of main power struggle, with the employees working in a senior hierarchal level trying to impose its own decisions but it could also be a very fruitful endeavor if the employees behave in a cooperative manner and sees the development process as beneficial for all. (Weber, 2007) Style guides are of three kinds: comprehensive, descriptive and house. Comprehensive style guides are the most general kinds of style guides and used in any kind of documentation processes. Descriptive style guides are presented specific to particular situation or cases and House style guides are used to maintain consistency in the process documentations and contain the information most specific and confine to particular audience. (Mistak, 2003)
To keep a check on the inconsistencies, there are many organizations that make the use of the automatic word-processing templates, cascading style sheets, and code-tagging guidelines such as XML for establishing design criteria. (Bright 2005) Templates have inbuilt settings of style and layout which help in the preparation of the documents and prevent inconsistencies to the maximum extent.
Style guide has to be prepared very carefully taking into consideration policies and requirements regarding their documentation processes. Even before starting the preparing of the style guides, requirement is the gaining of the support of management. It is the most crucial first step in the formulation of the development process. Many managers don’t feel any value for the style guides and therefore it becomes the most ardent task to make them feel the need for the guides and its value. It is required to garner the support of the manager for the development and in its implementation process. (Washington 1993) First there is a need to begin the preparation to emphasize on the importance of the style guide and the type of communicative information needed by the employees. There is a need to consider the style of questions and the quantum of questions can employees ask, the resources to assist in preparing the style guide are needed or not. The other and minor things that are considered are the kind of shape that needs to be given to the style guide. There is also need to consider the cost benefit that would be required to prepare style guide. It is true that effective corporate style guides help in saving the time and money. It saves the time of employees and money by creating consistency, promoting a culture of professionalism in the process communication, preparing tool for training for new entrants and maintaining the policies for the creation of documentation. (Allen, 1995) For e.g. corporate style guide must use the process like introduction. This step includes front matter, preface including the purpose and scope of the style guide. It also includes the name of the authors preparing the documents, and the maintenance and updating process of the documents prepared. Secondly it has User Centered Design principles especially short descriptions of the designs to implement the principles and also links to the related documents. There are also cross-references to the other documents or links. This part could be either general or specific depending on the scope of the style guide. It also includes references to any other documents or style guides and has useful design references like Design Heuristics, Usability Goals, Guidelines for better accessibility and or other documents related to the project. Thirdly is the design process containing contents on the information pertaining to the general user-centered design process and may include links for minute meetings. Next is user interface metaphors whereby containing guidelines on various steps pertaining to the performance or steps that may lead to the accomplishment of the task. It may also provide the view of the way interface will give assistance to the users, like UI concept or vision, metaphors and User Assistance design etc.
Next information the style guide may contain is the structure of the site or a standard frame on the basis of which documents needs to be prepared. It can be prepared in the form of anchor pages like home page or the main menu and various methods for navigation. It also contains menu or control bars and a home page. Besides, the section contains pages for design layouts including descriptions of various templates for every kind of function or type of pages and also guidelines for the specific page structure including pop up windows, frameworks or wizards. Besides the style guide contains information like information on controls or design elements depending on the elements etc and all the texts and material that assist the users like user interface, labels, help text, messages, toolkits etc. It also contains designs for common functions used in the controls or for common functions and controls of the texts and other information like various facets of visual designs, and audio and multi media designs. (Quesenbery, 2001).
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Human resource department or the Communication department of the company has duty to prepare the style guide. For its preparation, the department concerned requires several resources like Company profile, brochures, policy documents of the company, written rules and regulations of the company and finance report. The department should have knowledge about the purpose of the document that needs to be prepared, various resources required for the preparation of the document and the problems that the employees may be facing while preparing the document.
Company profile is the detail of company. It contains history of the company when it was started, aims of the company, company’s policies, list of the products company is manufacturing, its achievements, future projects company is expecting to achieve and the finance reports. Through Company profile, person’s concern will have a better know how about the companies polices, its target audience and what are the expectations of the company. Brochures provide short descriptions on the products or services being offered by the company and how these products would be useful for preparing the documents. These both are easily available with the public relations department of the company. Then the persons concerned also require the proposal report of the company for the document that is being prepared. The proposal report can be collected from the department head or the manager. The proposal report has all the information regarding the importance of the document, purpose of preparing the document and to what it is targeting to. The finance report is required to regularly check the cost factor and the gains and losses that the documents can endure. Also required are the written rules and regulations. These rules are required to maintain standards of the company and also consistency.
The committees of the corporate style guide need to regularly schedule the meetings for updating the style guides at regular intervals. These reviews enable them for evaluating the style guides and scheduling the regular interviews and updates for after every six months. For this purpose, they require the user tracking reports and surveys to determine which specific style guide is not used and which information should be added. This data allow for updating of the document on regular basis and for meeting the requirements of the clients and avoid the use of any unnecessary content.
Now as and as technology is advancing, the style guide has not remained a paper work. The concept and the preparation of the style guide have changed to a considerable degree and extent and now the style guides have to use the domain knowledge for better interface and guidelines. A domain specific style guide can be the best and worthy guide to provide the framework and development for providing direct interface for the elements and guidelines with the comprehensive knowledge of the domain. This type of style guide is very important to give practical form of the packaging domain and HCI knowledge to help the developers. With the help of this the quality, usability, and efficiency and speed is increased at all the levels. (Olsson & Gulliksen, 1999).
Companies also provide the sample documents, which have standard form of typefaces for the headings, text of the body and documentation in printed form, text online and marketing collateral. The person in-charge is also provided with the materials required for the location of the paper and several other resources that are necessary for the completion of the project.
The biggest challenge is the gathering of the information in its updating process. The person’s concerned in the preparation of the documents need to be approached, interviews fixed to get the latest information on the guidelines regarding any changes company is forging in preparing document. It may require many efforts for scheduling time to bring in the management for giving them the guidelines for its preparation. If the style guide is in the electronic form, then the hurdle can come in bringing in the software technology and maintaining it and also the cost factor involved in the process.
The other requirements of the style guides are standards for the logo creations or legal disclaimers. Logo of the company is also incorporated in the style guide along with any legalities and legal complications. Legal aspects are required to avoid any misconceptions arising on owing to the preparation of the style guide.
Communication manager has the responsibility for the contacts in the development process and maintains the logos. The other persons that need to be contacted are the manager in-charge of the whole documentation project, finance manager, staff who is working on the project and software team who is giving the technical support. Collaborations and feedbacks from all these persons in various stages are most beneficial for the maintaining, updating and preparing of the style guide.
The main point that needs to be required for preparing the style guide is its presentation method. Persons concerned need to decide the best and the effective preparation method. It could be prepared in either electronic or manual form and it is to the communication manager’s duty to find out which is the best conducive way to prepare it so as its end users could use it effectively. The cost factors are also taken care of while making decision. But over and above it is the company’s policy that decides the best cost effective method and which can go easily and efficiently with the organizational behavior and practices.
After preparing the style guide, the most important part is to ensure that style guide is used. As it is most important part of the document as its effective use is more important as its effective implementation. There is a need to ensure that the employees need to value the document and make use of it effectively. To fulfill this aim, style guide also needs to incorporate the several gaining tactics for the employees to refer the guide and value. It involves various awareness initiatives like encouraging the employees to build and adopt the standards without giving orders, explaining them the responsibilities, and importance of the guide, and giving them the facts.
The biggest challenge lies in the way style guides needs to be written and the best suitable method is simple English, which can be understood by all. It also should be user friendly and very easy to use and also required is the maintenance of the corporate style guide library and have easy access to every one whether it is hard copy or online. If it is online then users must be encouraged to bookmark the site.
Corporate style guide are best guides to bring in the efficiency in the working process and in the overall preparation of the documents. It should be effective as well as prove itself to be the valuable source.
Allen, P. R. (1995). Save money with a corporate style guide. Technical communication, 42: 284-289.
Bright, Mark R. (2005). Creating, implementing, and maintaining corporate style guides in an age of technology.(APPLIED RESEARCH) Technical communication. 2008. Web.
Mistak, J. (2003). Corporate Style Guides: Polishing Professional Performance. 2008. Web.
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Olsson, E. & Gullisken. 1999. A Corporate Style Guide That Includes Domain. KnowledgeInternational Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 11(4): 317-338.
Quesenbery, W. (2001). Building a Better Style Guide. 2008. Web.
Washington, D. A. (1993). Creating the corporate style guide: Process and product. Technical communication, 40:505-510.
Weber, J.H. (2007). Developing a developmental style guide. Web.