There are disagreements about things like single quotes or double quotes, one space or two after a full stop, what case headlines should be in – and other punctuation and layout styles. Whoever is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – and most people who are passionate about punctuation will swear THEY are right – in the end it comes down to the style dictated by the owner of the publication, whether it’s online or offline.
House style is about consistency and professionalism and includes all sorts of things. For example:
Fonts: One or more fonts are chosen and everything that goes out from the organisation uses the same fonts – for headlines, body text and subheadlines. Newspapers do this and more – their style sheets (actually manuals) dictate the font, the column width, the positioning of stories, pictures, type of pictures for particular places, etc. etc. Some newspapers even have a unique font created for them.
Changing a font can completely change the look and feel of a piece of copy – try typing something in Arial and then changing it to Time New Roman – it creates a completely different image. The style affects people’s perception of your brand.
Presentation: I was taught (by a seasoned advertising executive from JWT) that headlines in upper case are hard to read and headlines that have a capital for each word stop the eye at every word so that your reader gets your message one word at a time instead of as a sentence. That makes sense to me – but, some publications and companies prefer the alternatives. I have even come across one publication that doesn’t use any capital letters, so everything is in lower case (yes, they are designers)!
There is a whole range of options when it comes to highlighting a word or book/film title – some people use inverted commas or double quotes, others use bold, others italics; some even use a completely different font or colour of type. From my book editing days I favour the italicised title and hate the rash of inverted commas that some texts suffer from – especially when they appear as quotes and also in their normal role of apostrophes too.
There’s even the little matter of your brand and logo – does it go left, right, centre, down the side, along the bottom? Can you ensure it’s consistent online and offline?
As long as everything uses the same approach, that’s fine – and it’s worth checking out how your chosen style works in a variety of situations before making that decision.
Punctuation: Of course, anything you publish should be punctuated correctly – but what is correct? If you read Lynn Truss’ Eats, Shoots and Leaves you’ll probably have a good idea of just how passionate people can get about perfect punctuation! Even in the less lively Penguin Guide to Punctuation there is guite a discussion about the use of single or double quotation marks. I still maintain that double quotation marks remove the confusion that occurs when apostrophes and quotation marks appear close together – but that’s my house style!
Some people like the modern tendency towards putting a single space after a comma and a full stop. My house style has two spaces after a full stop, although only one after a comma, because I learned that that little extra space gives the reader a moment to digest the last sentence before launching into a new one. It improves understanding and retention of information. The modern trend is to use a single space. Again, it’s down to the owner of the publication or business to make that decision and then stick to it.
You wouldn’t think there would be so many decisions to make before you launch your brand on the unsuspecting public – but, it’s worth getting it right in the beginning in order to create a professional ‘joined-up’ image.
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