A colleague — being helpful, I will generously assume — sent me an article today about how to create a style guide for a brand. Posted by the Content Marketing Institute, the article had a few interesting points to make, most of which our current agency stylebook violates.

First, the writer, Sasha Laferte, said that one’s style guide should be no more than four or five pages long. Ours is 30. A good style guide, she says, also should reflect the personality of the brand. Ours, while peppered with snarky jokes and fun mnemonic rhyming devices, is intended to help employees who write and edit content to refrain from making the same mistakes over and over. It continues to generate mixed results.

Our house style is based on the “Associated Press Stylebook,” but our style guide also repeats lots of AP style and spelling points that our writers often forget. It also includes a number of odd words and phrases peculiar to the Florida Keys, our oldest and largest account. Hence, furbelow and debarbed. Many of those are arcane fishing terms and boating jargon, along with decisions about whether to capitalize “Tiki” when referring to a usually thatched-roof bar located near a pool, dock or beach, as opposed to the first man created in the Polynesian origin myth (it’s capped in both cases, by the way).

I recently expanded the gender section with a bunch of terms that the AP has recently adopted and we have a whole appendix for words and rules of usage related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender terminology lifted from the Association of LGBTQ Journalists stylebook because Key West is a magnet for LGBTQ travel as well as having a large LGBTQ population.

Over my 23.5 years with the agency, the house stylebook has grown as new rules (see singular they) have emerged and the language and AP style have morphed. It is in its 37th edition and I typically update it twice a year and gift the latest edition to all agency employees at Christmas.

As the resident editor and keeper of the house style guide, I am a lover of the English language and delight in its foibles and wobbles. In my spare time I read books by people who compile dictionaries and ruminate on the vagaries of English for a living. I know, it’s the sad lot of we English majors.

Of course, the trouble with stylebooks is, they are never finished. Now, thanks to my “helpful” colleague and Ms. Laferte, I have to write a new section on proper emoji etiquette in business communications. Who knew there was such a thing?

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