Jul 11, 2009

Style agreement

For some time I've been thinking about creating a "default style guide" and presenting it to clients for review before undertaking major projects. This is because little niggling, repetitive questions about stuff like subheader capitalization keep coming up, and some days I feel like a parrot giving explanations.

Well, in the latest issue of Jost Zetzsche's Toolkit Newsletter there is an even better idea. Better because it is more compact and the customer might actually take the time to look at it. Better because it presents options and indicates default choices. He wrote a small "style agreement" for translations into German, covering common issues like German or Swiss conventions, new or old spelling, the use of hyphens in words, quotation marks and more. I love the practical way his mind works, and this is just the latest of many examples of how I have benefited from a premium subscription to his newsletter and the purchase of his books. I can always count on him for accurate, objective recommendations.

In any case, Jost suggested the possibility of a Google docs project with different documents for various languages. A good idea in principle; I hope something comes of it. I will in any case adapt his idea to issues we deal with frequently in English, because doing so will save me time.


  1. Thanks for the good post, Kevin! We linked to it from the Medical Translation Blog.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I saw Jost's article and was thinking along the same lines -- at least we wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel everytime. Nice post!

  3. Hi Kevin, I saw Jost's article too. Smart idea, at least we wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel everytime. Just a question of finding, or rather making, the time to do it. Nice post!

  4. Only an insane workload has prevented me from doing such an "agreement" for English so far. Actually, I did have it half done, but I stupidly failed to save the document. But things will get sorted out eventually and I'll post the document for improvement and comment. Unless someone beats me to it, in which case I'll post the link :-)

  5. Happy to add my tuppence worth when you do.

  6. This is a great idea, but you can spare yourself the trouble of developing an actual style guide by including one or two published default guides in your agreement. Most publishing in the U.S. follows the Chicago Manual of Style for style/usage and Merriam-Webster for spelling, so when going into U.S. English you can simply specify those resources. (You can list technical style guides like the Microsoft style guide or certain academic style guides as supplemental guides where CMOS falls short.)

    If you're going into U.K. English, equivalent resources exist as well.

    CMOS and MW cover together everything you might generally need: hyphenization, capitalization, hed style, subhed style, use of bold/italic, citation format, etc. Then when there is a question, you just refer the client to whatever page or section in those guides.


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  8. @MT: I realize there are full-fledged style guides which can save me the bother of writing an extensive one (for EN-UK I'd probably just use guide from The Economist since we have several lying around). However, most people are rather lazy as you know, so a two-page summary to sign off has a lot of advantages. Adding a footnote about which reference (full, published style guide) will cover other issues is a very good idea.


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