Have you ever wondered what technical writer style guides are? If so, this article is for you. Technical writers need to adhere to a set of specific rules when it comes to writing their content.
These guidelines are known as technical writer style guides, and they will ensure that your customers can read your content easily. We’ll discuss the different types of technical writer style guides and examples from other companies in the industry.
Table of Contents
What is a Technical Writer Style Guide?
A technical writer style guide is a set of guidelines that technical writers must follow when they are writing their technical documents.
These style guides provide rules on how long sentences should be, what words to use or avoid, and how charts and figures can be used in the content material.
A technical writer style guide informs first-time writers, such as technical writer interns, or professionals about the standards to follow when writing technical documents.
Technical writers can follow a few different types of technical writer style guides depending on the type of content they are creating or the technical publications they're writing for.
If you're interested in becoming a great technical writer, then check out our technical writing certifications.
What Should A Writing Style Guide Include?
A technical writer style guide should include the technical writing standards for your company.
It should also provide examples and references for each rule so the writers can easily find what they're looking for. Another important thing is it's best if the content style guide has enough flexibility to allow some variation in formatting when necessary.
Technical Writing Style Guide Examples
To keep your documents clearer and more consistent, it's best to follow a style guide. Here are some examples to use or take inspiration from.
Chicago Manual Of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style is a guide that focuses primarily on grammar and writing style. It provides guidance for punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, hyphens/dashes, plurals, and possessiveness.
Technical writers can use this style while writing software documentation or technical information for the web.
A List Apart
The A List Apart content style guide is suitable for technical writers who mainly write web content since it focuses on the design and development of web content according to web standards.
The technical writing guide is ideal for writing in a conversational and informal tone, although not at the cost of accuracy or clarity.
Techprose is a style guide written for technical communicators, and it covers a variety of topics ranging from grammar to presentation.
Many full-time or freelance technical writing guides are tailored toward different industries or disciplines; Techprose is no exception.
There's also an Appendix section that has examples of how the rules work in practice, as well as answers to frequently asked questions like "How do I write about software?"
Other pages include Word Usage Definitions, Numbers & Math Symbols Guide, Foreign Language Translations Guide, and Punctuation Rules.
Microsoft Manual Of Style
The first chapter of the Microsoft Manual of Style is a style manual, which covers punctuation, capitalization, and italics. It also offers guidelines on how to handle headings and formatting technical terms for clarity.
The Microsoft writing style guide also contains advice on spelling in different contexts (such as medical terminology). Moreover, there are rules about words that have more than one meaning or pronunciation.
In addition, there are sections on grammar usage such as restrictive versus non-restrictive clauses—which means whether you need them or not in your sentence —as well as contractions like "it isn't" vs. "it is not."
IBM Style Guide
The IBM style guide is a style guide for technical editing, in particular.
The first chapter covers common usage questions and grammar rules such as how to spell "effectively" or the difference between "affect" and "impact."
In addition, there are sections on words that shouldn't be used because they might not be understood by everyone (such as "utilize") or words that mean different things depending on context (e.g., whether you're talking about a person's occupation versus their use of something).
There is also advice on punctuation usage for editorial style, like when to put an apostrophe after contractions ("don't").
Oxford Manual of Style
The Oxford Manual of Style is a style guide that covers academic publishing. It also contains advice on general writing, such as how to correctly use words like "would" or the difference between using "fewer" and "less."
The Manual includes chapters for different types of documents: books, journal articles, essays (books), book reviews, letters, speeches. There are even sections about recipes in books and computer code in technical publications.
Handbook of Technical Writing
Whether you're writing technical documentation for emails or formal reports, the Handbook of Technical Writing offers advice and guidelines for writing in a variety of technical contexts.
The Handbook includes chapters that cover professional communication, organization, and style, document design (including tables), graphics, math notation, punctuation usage like when to put an apostrophe after contractions ("don't").
It also discusses how to write technical documentation for other geographic regions.
A11Y Style Guide
The A11Y style guide is for designers, developers, and writers to ensure that content is accessible with a focus on people who are visually impaired.
The style guide focuses primarily on alt text descriptions of images used in web pages with guidelines about their size and shape.
It also includes information about how to make it easy for screen readers to navigate through pages by using proper titles, headings, and links, as well as the use of language like acronyms or abbreviations (one's vs. one).
Open Suse is an open source style guide for developers and designers who are creating software documentation.
The technical writer's style guide is a one-page document that provides guidelines for grammar, formatting, punctuation, capitalization rules, hyphenation of compound words (receipts vs. receipts), etc.
It also specifies the preferred fonts: Liberation Sans Narrow with Arial or Times New Roman as backup font choices. Moreover, the guide has a DocBook markup at the end to help you select the right XML element and make your document easy to translate from English.
Apple Style Guide
The Apple style guide is for everyone involved in technical communication, including writers, editors, and proofreaders. It's used by Apple developers to write customer-facing content.
Here are some of the more distinctive guidelines from this particular stylebook:
- No underlining or overstrikes
- Use italics instead (e.g., "typeface")
- Text that needs emphasis should be specially marked as such with an asterisk (*emphasis*)
- No ALL CAPS EVER!
- Never end a sentence with a preposition ("John stopped at yesterday.")
18F Content Guide
The 18F Content Guide is an open source style guide, meaning that it's available for anyone to read and contribute.
18F is the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) internal team building digital components of federal agency websites, intranets, and other online content on behalf of the entire US government.
The AP or Associated Press Stylebook is a style guide published by The Associated Press for journalists and editors.
The AP Stylebook is used as the primary reference book in most US newspapers, magazines, TV newsrooms, major publishing houses of books, and other print publications outside North America.
What are the Steps for Writing Your Own Style Guide?
You can use one of the options mentioned above as your reference guide to create content templates for yourself. Here are the steps for writing a style guide:
- Start with your preferred writing templates, such as the AP Style Guide, for reference.
- Create rules for point of view, passive voice, and tenses.
- Translate jargon to language easily understood by the readers.
- Specify practices for various formats.
- Define how the branded terminology shall be formatted and spelled.
- Establish performance standards.
- Set rules about the table of contents and FAQ.
- Define formatting and photo guidelines.
- Specify rules for visual design elements.
Focus on accessibility and user-friendly English usage when creating your guide. Them, you can use the same guidelines to write content for social media, web, or print publishing.
Remember to include examples, definitions, and explanations of the terminology you use in your guide so that it is clear what you mean when referring to something in particular.
In conclusion, technical writer style guides are the necessary starting point for any technical writer. Although not as extensive as tutorials, these guides are the blueprint for writers to follow when creating content about computer technology, HTML, or other technical aspects.
As discussed, you can either use one of the examples discussed in this article or create your own developer documentation style guide.