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Your Personal Style Guide

by Linda Jenkinson


When your fingers do the talking, sometimes they trip over your words and leave your ideas in shambles. That's why it's helpful to establish and use a personal style guide.

You are probably already familiar with some of the standard style guides such as the AP Book of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style. Besides these, there are stacks of style guides, each containing hundreds of rules.

While they come in handy when you are writing for a specific genre, in informal writing you really only need a few basic rules to help you stay clear and help keep your ideas clear for your readers.

Style is a mixture of your own preferences and what your readers expect to see (literally) on the page.

For instance, have you ever read something where “web site” was in one paragraph and “website” was in the next? Aside from looking amateurish, there is nothing wrong with it. Both spellings are correct: web site can be two words or a compound word. Another example is Internet, which can be either capitalized or written in lower case. But seeing a word written differently from paragraph to paragraph can also be a distraction for your readers. They may wonder why you have written a word one way in one spot and another way in another spot.

Another stickler for many writers is the Oxford or serial comma. That's the comma that goes after a series of words and before the conjunction (e.g. “and” or “or”) in a sentence. Some writers swear by the Oxford Comma. Other's swear at it or at least about it. Whether or not you use it is up to you. My preference is to use it, because sometimes it really isn't needed and other times it is. (e.g. "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God")

A personal style guide keeps things consistent. It helps you to remember not just what you preferred today, but also what you preferred in last week's, last month's, or last year's blog post. A personal style guide can also save you from making common mistakes.

Did you know that not all acronyms are really acronyms? There are three types of these letters-become-words: acronyms ("as soon as possible" becomes the word ASAP), initializations (Content Management System abbreviated to CMS), and abbreviations such as Mr. Mrs. Dr. oz, and lb.

While the following style guide is by no means comprehensive, it is a good template for beginning your personal style guide. What would you add that I've missed? Let me know in the comments.

Acronyms. abbreviations, initializations (AAIs)

  1. Should follow the first use of the spelled out words on new pages (except facing pages), new chapters, and new sections. e.g., Content Management System (CMS) or Conversational Monitor System (CMS)
  2. You do not need to define common AAIs such as USA unless your subject is not the United States of America.
  3. You do not need to place periods after each of the letters in acronyms or initializations except in cases where the AAI might be confused with another word (inch: in., United States: U.S.)
  4. Make plurals by adding an s, not an apostrophe s. (i.e. CMSs, not CMS's).


Just as how some words are spelled or capitalized can be according to preference, so can some punctuation:

  1. Remember to bold punctuation after a bolded word. bold:
  2. Don't hyperlink punctuation except for apostrophes, single, and double quotes.
  3. Don't underline punctuation

Commonly Confused or Misspelled Words


affect: is a verb meaning "to influence" vs. effect: is a noun, the result of that influence.


1. When you interchange "affect and effect", you will affect the quality of your writing and cause an unwanted effect.
2. Sunlight affects the Earth's atmosphere, creating the effect of color.


capitol: legislative building vs: capital: (v)financing or (adj)primary


effect: is a noun, the result of an influence vs. affect: is a verb meaning "to influence"


1. When you interchange "affect and effect", you will affect the quality of your writing and cause an unwanted effect.
2. Sunlight affects the Earth's atmosphere, creating the effect of color.


Internet can be either title case (preferred use is bold) or lower case, but the chosen case should be used consistently throughout.

its: possessive form of it vs it's: contraction for "it is"


It's only the dog wagging its tail against the table."


loose: Unbound; untied; vs. lose: to part with unintentionally or unwillingly, as by accident or misfortune.


Principle: a rule of action or conduct; a fundamental doctrine or tenet vs. Principal: first or highest in rank; head of a school


Seams: the lines where two objects are connected vs Seems: appears to be

Separate not seperate (¿sp!) (If you want to make odd little notes that's fine. This is your style guide!)

Stationary: in a fixed place vs Stationery: writing paper


than: a comparison vs. then: a point in time

they're: contraction for "they are"
their: belonging to them
there: there it is, over there


"They're putting on their coats over there by the door."

to: in the direction of vs too: likewise, also, or in excess vs two: the number


website may be one word or two: web site, but the variant chosen should be used consistently throughout

were: past tense of the verb "to be" vs. we're: contraction for we are.


We were going to the store. We're not going to the store now.

where: question about location vs. wear: to bear clothing on one's person; to deteriorate through use.


"Where are your socks? You are wearing them on your feet. They are old and showing signs of wear."


Your: belonging to you vs. You're: Contraction for "you are"


"You're here now putting on your socks"

Let's talk about it! Please leave your comments below.

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