As an organisation, do you have your own ‘house style’? In other words, is everyone in your organisation using a consistent style and layout so that from the outside it appears as if you are a professional looking organisation?
You will have noticed that all major corporates have their own identity and style when communicating. It’s no different for a smaller business. Having your own corporate identity or house style is just as important if you are going to create that all important GREAT first impression.
A house style doesn’t have to be as complex as that of a major corporate, in fact, the simpler the better, so that everyone understands what they have to do to be consistent in their approach when communicating on behalf of the organisation.
Whatever decisions you make regarding your own house style, make sure they are written down as a company policy and circulated to all staff so that they know what is required of them.
Here are a few tips on what to think about when designing your own house style:
Company/Organisation Name and Logo
These are the most individual things that your company has to identify itself, so it is vital that they appear – in the same format – on all your letterheads, compliments slips, business cards, invoices, newsletters etc.
All emails emanating from your company should have the logo, address and contact details of the individual sending it as a corporate signature. Don’t forget to include, in the small print at the foot of your emails, your company’s registration information including the registered address.
Read my earlier blog post – Get your email noticed
There are hundreds of fonts to choose from but it’s important that whichever one you opt for, you use across the whole organisation. It becomes your corporate font.
Some fonts are called sans serif, such as Arial or Verdana. These don’t have the twiddly bits on the ends of characters. These fonts tend to be used for website content and blogs.
Serif fonts, on the other hand, do have the twiddly bits, such as Times New Roman. These fonts tend to be used more with longer passages of text.
Bullet Points and Numbered Lists
Again, there are many styles to choose from and whichever you choose must become standard across the organisation
- You can have the traditional bullet point like this one
- but don’t forget the sub-bullet styles too
With numbered lists, again there are a variety of styles to choose from, especially with the sub-numbering styles.
If your bulleted/numbered text is a complete sentence, each line should end in a full stop, whereas if they are just a list of words or phrases, then each should be followed by a semi-colon.
Make sure that all your headings are consistent in terms of font, style (upper/lower case) and positioning (left/centred/right).
Choose also if you are going to have the same heading throughout a document, i.e. the document title on every page or the document title on one page and maybe the chapter/section heading on the facing page. Whichever you choose, be consistent throughout the whole document.
The most common theme to have in the footer space is page numbers. As with the heading, make sure they are consistent in terms of style (words or numerals) and positioning (left/centred/right).
You may want to have your website URL as part of your footer. Consider whether you include the www. prefix or not and then be consistent with whichever format you choose.
The space on the page around your text is very important. If you have a very narrow margin your text will appear very close to the edge of the page. Consequently, a full page of text in this style will be much more challenging to read than a page where the margins are wide and the line spacing is clear.
There is always a lot of debate about whether numerals should be written in words or in number format. There are no rules and you do whatever you want to do. A common format is to have one to ten written in words and 11 onwards written in number format, but you choose whichever format looks best for your organisation and be consistent.
If you use tables or images a lot then each item will invariably have a caption to describe it. Often those captions are numbered, e.g. Table 1, Table 2 or 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 or 1.1, 1.11, 1.12… Again, you choose what works best for your organisation and stick to it.
Other decisions to make include the style of numerals you want to use, such as:
Thousands, millions etc.
1,000 or 1000 or 1k;
1,000,000 or 1000000 or 1million or 1m;
First, second, third etc.
In full or 1st, 2nd, 3rd;
Decimals and fractions
0.25 or ¼
10 per cent or 10%
1 March 2015 or 1st March 2015 or March 1st 2015;
1/3/15 or 1/3/2015 or 1.3.2015;
9.30pm or 21.30
Abbreviations and Acronyms
In many instances you will want to use an abbreviation instead of writing out the words in full, for example (or e.g.) and whether to use full stops:
a.m. or am
p.m. or pm
e.g. or eg
i.e. or ie
The general rule for acronyms is that a full stop should not be used between letters, such as BBC, UK, USA, etc. Those that can be pronounced as words, such as Unicef, should be written in lower case with an initial capital letter.
Abbreviations and acronyms are now commonplace in social media language and such shortened versions are now becoming much more prevalent in longer forms of writing. Where you are using an abbreviation for the first time in a piece of text, it should be written out in full with the abbreviation/acronym following in brackets.
Have a look at the earlier articles in the Better Business Writing series and consider how you will use such punctuations marks like the comma, semi-colon and colon. Don’t forget the apostrophe and how that should be used.
Good luck in developing your own house style. If you need some help, contact me.