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Media Writing

Using technology to make in-house style guides more efficient

Companies that put out lots of content, have lots of employees, and want consistency in voice across their messaging will often have a style guide, which is good. If technology is leveraged, this can be even better.

Let’s say a company wants certain text in uppercase and certain text in title case. Often the copywriters are expected to type in the content in the required style. To me, this is the same as hard-coding boldness or color. Like other text transformations, case can be controlled by CSS. Companies could therefore simplify by having copywriters write all headlines and titles in title case. The content management system would label each item (via class or id) with a category, such as headline, subhead, etc., and the case of each could then be controlled via CSS. Not only would this simplify things for copywriters, cutting down on user error, but it would also make it simple to shift copy to a new format if there was ever a change to the style guide.

There are caveats. CSS is not natively able to transform text properly from uppercase to title case or sentence case, nor is it able to transform text from uppercase or sentence case to title case. Title case has strange rules–certain words are capitalized, others aren’t–that would have to be scripted. And transforming to sentence case presents another problem: there would be no way to preserve or create capitalization of proper nouns. If an organization knew all the proper nouns that were to be used in copy, this could be scripted as well, but it’s extremely likely that something would be missed, making this an imperfect solution.

I would handle all these situations by simply having copywriters write everything in sentence case. Transformations to title case could be achieved through scripting, as there are finite rules as to what gets capitalized. The capitalization of proper nouns would also be preserved. Meanwhile, changing to uppercase would be a simple CSS transformation.

This discussion has been web-focused, but I imagine something similar could be done for print.

Speaking of print, it amazes me that some organizations keep their print and online content storage separate. I would put them all together in a robust, customized CMS. Yes, the two have different needs, and those would have to be dealt with. But there is also a lot of crossover. Having everything in the same place would ensure consistency across the organization’s media.