This is part eleven in our Copy Matters series.
Words are tricky and the English language is hardly simple and logical. Even when you get past the not-so-simple rights and wrongs of writing, there are more decisions you have to make that don’t always have easy answers.
- When do you abbreviate months?
- Do you use p.m., PM or pm to denote the time of day?
- Do you use the Oxford comma?
- Should “scripture” be capitalized?
- What about pronouns referring to God?
- Is it St. Paul or Saint Paul?
- Do you write out numbers (three) or use figures (3)?
- Is it “megachurch” or “mega-church”?
Welcome to the world of style. Any good writer will quickly the see the need for answers to these questions. There’s not always a right or wrong answer, as long as you’re consistent. For the love of all things holy, be consistent.
And to be consistent, you’re going to need a style guide.
You should start by picking up the AP Stylebook. It’ll give you a good start to many of the basic style questions. It’s nice to start with a recognized authority.
But you’ll need to go a step further and create your own style guide for issues specific to your church. We’ve talked about creating a style guide before, so I won’t go into loads of detail. But do it. It can start as a simple Google doc you share with your team and continually add to. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But it will help you be more consistent and that will make your writing more professional. Any time you come up with a style question and make a decision, add it to your guide. It’s your new best friend.
If you need some help, here are a few examples from other churches:
- Style Guide (PDF) – Morning Star Church in Dardenne Praire, Mo.
- Communications Manual (PDF) – Calvary Church in Saint Peters, Mo.
- Communications Manual (PDF) – The Chapel in Libertyville, Ill.
- Communications Manual (PDF, currently being redesigned, but this is their old one) – Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colo.
- Communications Guide & Editing Checklist – LifeChurch.tv
- Communications Manual (for purchase) – Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind.
- Style Guide – Episcopal Church, U.S.
- Check out the full Copy Matters series.
- Or get those resources and more in our ebook, Getting Started in Church Communication: Copy Matters. It’s a guide to writing and editing for church communicators.