Have I Formatted My Writing Correctly?

Aside from developing a piece that is well-organized and free of spelling and grammar errors, you'll also need to make sure you've formatted your writing correctly. Some clients may ask you to refer to an authoritative source like The Chicago Manual of Style for help with this. Many larger companies, however, also have their own style guides. Microsoft, for example, has a comprehensive guide they provide to all technical writers. Following are some instructions commonly included in style guides.

  • Rules related to graphics: Your client will probably tell you how and when graphics should be used in the document. They may also specify rules regarding whether they should be labelled as figures and if titles and informative captions should be developed.
  • Rules about punctuation: The two most commonly used punctuation styles are American and British. Your client may have a preference. ?php include("new_left_rectangle.html"); ?>
  • Tense: Clients will usually want documents written in a consistent tense. Many technical writing documents use the present tense, but you'll need to comply with your client's wishes if they request something different.
  • Notes about using gender neutral language: At one time it may have been acceptable to use the pronoun "he" to describe computer experts and scientists, but many companies are now trying to produce literature that is more gender neutral. If this is the case, you'll need to use terms like "the technician," "the user," or "his or her" while preparing your document.
  • Input about abbreviations and acronyms: These are used frequently by technical experts, but they can make documents written for nonspecialists quite confusing. The style guide might outline how you should handle abbreviations and acronyms (whether they should be explained within the text or included in a glossary, and if they should be used at all).
  • Capitalization rules: Your client will assume you know to start each sentence with a capital letter and capitalize proper nouns. However, rules about other uses of capital letters might be more ambiguous. Look for instructions about whether all words or only the first in headings and labels should be capitalized.
  • Proper units of measurement: Should you use centimetres or inches, pounds or kilograms? Style guides often specify a preference for metric or standard units.
  • Information about bullets and numbered lists: Bulleted and numbered lists appear regularly in technical documents. Your client may specify which style of bullets you should use and how numbered lists should be formatted.
  • Notes about automatic formatting: Automatic formatting is an effective tool that can help you quickly construct a table of contents page and other elements like numbered lists. Some clients may prefer you don't use automatic formatting for these tasks - it can make editing the document more difficult and cause problems if the text will be displayed online. If your client doesn't specify a preference, it's probably safe to assume that automatic formatting is acceptable.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014