Ya Gotta Have (a House) Style (Guide)

I was reading a newsletter put out by the city of Houston (note how that’s written) the other day when I noticed it constantly referred to itself as the City of Houston to differentiate the city government and city service providers from the city itself. That bothered me a bit because it’s grammatically incorrect; the city’s proper name isn’t “City of Houston.” It’s simply “Houston.” To differentiate, they should be saying the city of Houston.

As such, Columbus is “Columbus” or “city of Columbus.”

But, beyond annoying grammar geeks like me, I’m not sure that this is really that bad of a grammar sin. Here’s why: While they are wrong (oh, yes, they are), they are consistently wrong, so I’m willing to bet that most of the audience doesn’t know it’s wrong. It’s not something that would bother the reader – and taking a step back, that’s really why we have grammar rules, so that we can communicate without too much effort on the readers’s part.

If that publication had switched between uppercasing “City” and lowercasing “city,” it would be jarring to the reader and make the publication look amateurish. It’s one thing to be wrong about a minor point of grammar that few people will notice; it’s another to look like an amateur, which most readers will notice – and look upon negatively.

That’s why a house style guide is so important, especially if you have multiple people writing for your publications. A house style guide sets out grammar rules, punctuation particulars, how you’ll phrase certain processes and – yes – whether to capitalize “city” or not.

A good style guide, if followed, will establish the rules that all writers use, keeping a consistency that will bring professionalism to your publications. It will cut down on grammar mistakes, misspelling, poor punctuation and sloppy overall style.

A style guide also helps to ensure a continuous brand experience – no matter how, when or where a customer experiences a brand, they are experiencing the same underlying traits. It’s this consistency across every touch-point that helps build a brand and brand loyalty. Don’t just take my word for it: a couple years ago, Huffington Post wrote about the importance of brands having style guides.

There are several style guides out there – I’m partial to the Associated Press Stylebook, myself, but there are plenty of others. However, none of these were created with your company in mind. I think it’s worth your time to build your own unique corporate style guide.

Want a start? I’ve recently created a three-page style guide for companies – and I’ll gladly share it with you for free. Just send me an email and I’ll send it your way.

About the Author: Dave Schafer helps companies find their voice. He specializes in writing case studies, white papers, e-books, newsletters and lead-generation campaigns that connect with clients and prospects to move them along the sales funnel. Learn more about him, and see samples of his work, at You can contact him to request a style guide at

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