As much as writing for the web benefits from a certain informality, there’s a delicate balance between informality and being unprofessional. Or, perhaps it’s better expressed as you can be informal and professional at the same time.

How does that work?

It’s largely about consistency and correct English usage – stay with me, please, I’m not going to go on about split infinitives and skotisons.

Is your style consistent?

I’m generally consistent across my writing, but even I make some annoying mistakes – have you noticed some variations on ‘WordPress’ here on Writing For SEO, for example?

Sorting out such problems is made so much easier online, where a quick search will tell you exactly what you want to know. For me, I’ll need to check with WordPress (or was it WordPress?).

Be consistent, and you’ll have a more trustworthy, believable blog – most people believe that authorities have great communication skills. Not true, I know – the biggest authority I know is dyslexic – but it’s a popular assumption that you should be aware of when writing.

You need a style guide

Most newspapers and publishing houses have a written style manual (often called a style guide). Some companies and websites do, too.

The style guide says things like ‘numbers between one and nine should be spelled out, otherwise use figures’.

Other rules might cover how to use capitals or abbreviations (should you spell out the full form and put the abbreviation in parentheses, or vice versa?). It may dictate that copy should be written to be understood by a certain age group. Or that the reader should have a certain level of understanding of a subject.

It may be just a short page, or extend over many.

Ready-made style manuals

In the UK, some newspapers have published their style guide in book form. You could choose to adopt the style guide of a newspaper or magazine you enjoy reading, or one that you think your readers enjoy reading.

Try Guardian Style: Third edition or The Economist Style Guide as a start.

In the US, there are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Book to try, plus countless others.

Make up your own

To be honest, I’ve long since lost the style guides I bought when I worked in publishing.

These days, I refer to a style guide if one comes with a project – usually it’s ‘just follow what’s already on the site’ or ‘make the style more personal. That content was written a few years ago, and it shows’.

I do some things habitually, like using one to nine, and 10 to 99,999,999+, and I’m fairly picky about hyphenation and capitalisation.

But I also put together my own brief style guides for particular projects in Evernote, so I can refer to them rather than try to remember what I’d done last time, or had been discussed at the last meeting.

You may want to do this, too.

How do you keep a consistent style in your writing? Or is a consistent style unimportant to you?

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Image courtesy of Chris Jones.