I’ve been thinking about style this week because I’m working on copy for a European audience, written in U.K. English. Sometimes I feel I should be munching on fish and chips as I write such words as analyse and organise.

I consider myself fortunate when it comes to switching from one English style to another because I grew up in New York City and have lived in the Toronto area for the last 20-odd years. I can easily don my Canadian persona and write honour and colour. When U.S. clients hire me, it’s honor and color all the way.

Still, style comprises more than spelling. That’s why professional writers often rely on style guides to help them choose the proper spelling and usage. For instance, which is correct: worldwide, world-wide, or world wide? Well, they are all “right,” depending on whether you’re following the style of Associated Press (AP), CP (Canadian Press), the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, or some other authority.

In my writing workshops, participants take one look at my stack of style guides and groan, “But which one should we use?” I answer that it depends on their audience. Let’s face it: U.S. readers often look askance at British or Canadian spelling. If your readers are all Canadian or Scottish or Australian, you can safely use local style.

In addition to a purchased style guide, you may need to develop a “house style” for those situations not covered in a guide, or where your organization differs from the guide’s rules and regs. For example, do you capitalize job titles or names of departments within the company? Do you use employees’ formal names (Margaret A. Jones), or can you use nicknames (Maggie)? Do you italicize product names? Do you always include trademark information?

The main point is to choose one style and stay with it so your readers are comfortable with your content. (Sticklers may note that I have been known to swing from one style to another in my blog. From now on, I promise to stay Canadian, eh?)

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