House style

It’s not just your home that needs a good clean every now and then. To get the most out of your house style, a regular tidy up will mean your messages are always polished.

When it comes to unpleasant words, ‘crevice’ has to be up there with some of the worst. So, when my mum recently asked me where I kept my ‘crevice tools’, if I hadn’t been sniggering like a schoolgirl, my face would have been one of total confusion. Turns out that what most people call vacuum cleaner attachments, my mum refers to as crevice tools… which in my opinion sounds anything but clean.

Was it a generational thing? A geographic thing? Or perhaps it was just a ‘my mum’ thing?

But this slightly surreal conversation got me thinking about the importance of our language choices, and why style guides are so valuable in Comms. Who would have thought that something as simple and everyday as a vacuum cleaner (and we all know that I really want to use the ‘H’ word) could cause so much confusion? Not to mention how neatly it would fit into my ‘cleaning up your house style’ metaphor. Thanks crevice tools!

House (style) proud

At 44, as well as having our own house style and tone of voice documents, we have different versions that we work to for our clients.

These will often include rules for how to write out dates or punctuate bullet points, but will also give us guidelines for how to style job titles, departments, and sector-specific terms.

By having a house style, not only are we making it easier for our writers, editors and proofreaders to quickly make the right language choices for the audience, but we’re also ensuring that any comms feel consistent – which helps build credibility and trust with your readers.

Working in Comms, the chances are that you’ve already got a house style document that you work to. But when was it put together? And how often do you revisit it?

Here are a few reasons why you might want to give your house style a quick tidy up and polish. No harsh chemicals required.

Getting your house style in order

Mind your language

It’s worth remembering that language is changing all the time. In an effort to keep up, the Oxford English Dictionary publish a list of new words every three months. The most recent list includes the words: ‘awesomesauce’ (extremely good), ‘hench’ (strong or fit) and ‘shticky’ (gimmicky or contrived).

But even words that we’re familiar with can sometimes take on a different meaning. Take the word ‘transition’ as an example. It’s one that’s regularly used in a business context, to mean a time of change. But in recent years, the word has also become much more widely used in relation to the transgender community. That’s not to say you can’t still use the word in a business sense, but it’s something to think about the next time you use it. Keep an eye on language change and update your house style as needed.

A full house style

It’s not just language that’s evolving, organisations don’t stand still either. I’m lucky enough to work closely with a client in the waste management sector. It’s a fascinating industry and the business is constantly innovating. With new reports and environmental legislation being published regularly too, there are often new terms, technologies and services to learn about.

Your audience will be looking to you for accuracy. And you need to lead the way from the outset. Make sure you capture any new products, services, reports or industry-specific terms within your house style as soon as they come up, and make decisions on how to refer to them, punctuate them and whether the audience will know what they mean.

Channel crossing

Your house style is unlikely to be one size fits all. It’s worth thinking carefully about any changes you may need to make when using a new channel and whether your current house style will still cover it.

You only need to look at Twitter to see that it’s a very different way of communicating, and that the normal rules of writing don’t apply. As technology continues to develop and bring new ways of reaching your employees, make sure your house style doesn’t get left behind.

Plain and simple

We’re often told to avoid jargon and not use a complex word when a simple one will do. And that’s generally good advice, but there are exceptions to the rule.

It’s common for a house style to mention jargon. But there’s a difference between business jargon (‘thinking outside the box’, ‘blue-sky thinking’) and technical language (‘flux capacitor’). Plain English isn’t about dumbing everything down. It’s about being clear and concise, ditching clichés and jargon and using language that’s appropriate for your audience. The Plain English Campaign website has some handy hints and tips on how to write using plain English, as well as some great example of ‘business jargon and gobbledygook’.

In a technical industry, when communicating with experts, it’s absolutely right to use the correct terminology. When it comes to your house style and language choices, it’s about understanding your audience.

I have yet to find anyone else who uses the name crevice tool, but everyone knows that mums are always right. When I (very cautiously) googled the term, it turns out that it’s a real attachment. I even found a handy Good Housekeeping guide: Every Vacuum Attachment, Demystified. You’re welcome.

While we may not be experts on cleaning appliances, we’re awesomesauce (nailed it!) when it comes to Comms. So, if you’re after advice on your house style, tone of voice or any other aspect of employee communications, give us a call.