House style guides

No, this isn’t a blog about interior design. It’s a brief explanation — for those who are curious about it — of what a house style guide is and why it can be important.

A house style guide is a set of rules and requirements, drawn up by an organisation (or ‘house’) about how its written communications — whether in print or online — should be presented and edited. The idea is that the organisation can present a unified, consistent and professional front to the outside world. It can look very unprofessional, and even be confusing, if different people within an organisation spell or capitalise key terms differently. For example, if an IT company’s website refers to ‘desktop’, ‘desk-top’ and ‘desk top’ applications in one paragraph (as I have seen), are these referring to different products? The customer might think so.

At its simplest, a house style guide could be one sheet of A4 containing the key features of your organisation’s ‘rules’ on, for example, writing style or tone, formatting of dates and numbers, spellings, frequently occurring technical terms, or how to present the company name, products or services.

In contrast, most publishing companies and newspapers, as you would expect, will have a substantial manual describing or specifying their house style in great detail. This will be used by the company’s authors, editors, proofreaders, indexers and anyone else involved in producing or working with text, to ensure the company’s output is consistently presented. A few make their house guide commercially available, such as:

  • New Oxford Style Manual (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Guardian Style (Guardian Books, 2010)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago University Press, 2010)
  • The Economist Style Guide (Profile Books, 2010).

Many organisations produce something in between. For example, the University of Manchester has a ‘House style guide’ which is designed for anyone who writes for the University. It is available to the public on their website at (go to the home page and search for ‘house style guide’). Many other universities will have similar guides.

By the way, despite the use of the word ‘style’ in the name, a house style guide wouldn’t cover such things as design rules, use of colour, how to present company logos, and so on — these design issues would usually be covered by an organisation’s corporate branding guidelines.

Does your organisation have a house style? This will depend on:

  • management’s keenness to ensure clarity, accuracy and consistency in written communication
  • how big the organisation is
  • what volume of written communications it produces.

There are many companies out there, like Wordhouse, which will help you to produce your own tailor-made house style guide. I’ve tried to make that sound as little like a plug as possible, but we’d be delighted to help if you think you need a house style guide.


About Stephen Wellings

I am a publishing and training professional with over 30 years' editorial and senior management experience in companies such as McGraw-Hill, Pan Books, International Thomson, The Open College, Butterworth-Heinemann and Pergamon Open Learning. During my career I have commissioned and published hundreds of books and learning materials in science, technology, social science, business and management. I have designed, developed and published major distance learning programmes, including one of the world’s largest for ACCA, the professional accounting body. I am accomplished at delivering sizeable publishing and training projects on time, within budget and to exacting quality standards. In my spare time I promote live modern jazz in the Thames Valley, under the Jazz in Reading brand. I am also Co-chair of Reading Borough Council's Learning Disabilities Partnership Board.
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3 Responses to House style guides

  1. Andrew Last says:

    Hi Steve

    Just a quickie to say how much I enjoy your “Stylebytes”.

    That might sound seriously nerd-like to some, but it is a pleasure to read a succinct and interestingly written piece of text on something as (potentially) dry as this. And the content always has some nuggets that I would like to think I tuck away somewhere and might use! Having said that, there was something with which you concluded a post not too long ago which jarred – but I hadn’t the time to comment on it, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was that offended!

    Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes


  2. Pingback: Proofreading 5: Getting down to it | Wordhouse Stylebytes

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