Today I’ll be reviewing the Microsoft Style Guide. An essential resource for anyone working with IT content where a house style guide hasn’t been provided.
I first learnt about style guides back in 2014, at the time I was heavily involved in reviewing technical documents and decided to book myself on a proofreading and editing course. One of the focus points of the course was providing you with some default resources to use; this included the Big Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, the Collins Dictionary and the Guardian Style Guide.
These resources combined are a great toolkit for anyone starting out in proofreading, editing and any kind of writing or review work. They are especially useful when you work with clients who don’t have anything defined.
So what is a style guide?
Style guides have many names, often the one most people are familiar with are the guides for branding; this can include, and is not limited to, font type, company colours, logo etc. Take a look at the Channel 4 Identity guide, it’s a good example of a branding guide. However there is another type of styling guide, which is often referred to as a House Style or Publication Style guide, this guide sets the standards and provides writing guidelines. For example, there are many ways to write the time:
- 1 PM
- 1 p.m.
- 1 o’clock
- One in the afternoon
A style guide will provide you with details on which format to use; this ensure that’s all documents are consistently written. All large publishers will use a style guide, and if they don’t have their own style guide, they will usually use another publishers style guide e.g. the Guardian Style Guide or the Telegraph Style Guide. Style guides are often overlooked by smaller companies and if you’re working somewhere where this is the case, adopt a style guide yourself and stick to it – it will only make your work more consistent.
Okay, I get it, so what is the Microsoft style guide?
I used the Guardian Style Guide for a while and it is a great resource, but I wanted to find something that would be a better fit for my writing style and type. After a bit of googling I discovered the Microsoft Style Guide and ordered it straight away. When I purchased the guide originally it was in it’s 4th edition; however they have just released a new edition which is now available online. This is amazing! As great as the book is, it’s a lot easier to search for specific words in an electronic document then a paper based on. Microsoft advertise their guide as:
“Your guide to writing style and terminology for all communication—whether an app, a website, or a white paper. If you write about computer technology, this guide is for you. “
The guide includes details on grammar and punctuation, tips for writing in “Microsoft voice” and an A-Z word list.
Example of Using the Microsoft Style Guide
At work we create step-by-step guides for practical tasks and a lot of the steps provided are completed in a Microsoft operating system. We don’t use a style guide and I realised that our SME’s were switching between “Click on” and “Click in” a lot. On the grand scale of things, this is a small issue, however I set myself a task of making our content clearer, so this definitely falls into that category. I went to the Microsoft style guide and found a section called Describing Interactions. The style guide states:
“Don’t use input-specific verbs, such as click or swipe. Instead, use the verbs listed here.”
This means that the statement “Double click on the Photos file” would become “Open the Photos file.” I suppose the only downside to this is that rewriting this statement might mean that absolute beginners performing a task might perform the action wrong – do they click or double click? How do you open the file? Just thinking about how my parents interact with a computer is enough to make me think that “Open the Photos file” might not be specific enough of an instruction. This would then feed into your audience analysis – who is your target audience? Who is going to read this document?
Another great is example is when to label something as an App, Application, Program etc. Searching for the word application in the guide brings up the following definition:
“If possible, refer to a product by its descriptor, such as database management system or spreadsheet.
Most of the time use app, not application, to describe desktop apps and cloud apps for tablets and mobile devices.
Global tip The abbreviated form, app, isn’t available in all languages, so allow enough space for the full translated term in localized content.”
I love how Microsoft also include the global tip! Great if you’re writing a document for a global audience.
I use the Microsoft Style Guide as my reference point – but I deviate from it depending on who my audience is. The key is to be consistent but also adaptable to the situation. If I were to write something focused on an Apple product, then I’d look for and use the Apple Style Guide. If you are a technical writer and have no reference resources, then this is a great tool to have in your toolkit, especially if you’re writing something that uses a Microsoft product or UI. Always check with your client to see if they use a style guide, if they don’t then inform them that this is your reference material (as they may question why you have used certain terminology).
As the Microsoft Style Guide is now FREE and available ONLINE, go check it out!