Using a Course Style Guide

If you do not use a course style guide, I encourage you to try one. In addition to clearly communicating your expectations for students’ work, a course style guide helps students polish and refine their writing and promotes consistency in their writing throughout a course. Furthermore, a style guide is a great way to help students think about writing for multiple audiences—the audience established in an assignment prompt and the instructor who grades the assignment.

Here is my Advanced Business Writing Style Guide, which you are free to use and adapt as you wish. As you create your own guides, you may want to do the following:

  •  Address only the issues of greatest need. What works as a guide for one group of students may not work for another group. One of my colleagues, for instance, specifies font type, font size, and margins for assignments in her beginning business writing course. These are not issues for my students in my advanced writing course, so I don’t address them in the style guide.
     
  • Keep the guide short. If it’s too long, students will ignore it. How long is too long? My guide is four pages, and I’ve found this is about as much as students can attend to in editing any one paper.
     
  • Introduce students to the guide by reviewing not only the principles in the guide but also your reasons for including them. My experience is that if students know why I want them to do something, they are more likely to remember to actually do it. Otherwise, the style guide appears to the students as a list of my personal pet peeves rather than standard bcomm practices. (Admittedly, though, “please feel free to” does drive me nuts.)
     
  • Provide practice editing exercises so that students can identify style guide violations in practice before they have to edit their own documents for a grade.
     
  • Make sure students understand the terminology in the style guide. For example, in my style guide, I use terms such as “independent clause” and “dependent clause.” Students learn these concepts in our unit on rhetorical punctuation, so I know they know (or should know) what the terms mean.
     
  • Make students accountable for style guide violations. For instance, in my most recent report assignment, students lost 10% on the assignment if they had more than five style guide violations. After I returned the report, I required that students revise all style guide violations by typing the sentence with the error, identifying the error, and then revising the sentence.

Students do get frustrated at having to follow the style guide, but several of my students commented after turning in their report revisions that they were able to see how much tighter and more professional their writing has become as a result of following the guide. I even get the occasional report from alums that they still use the style guide at work or have created their own to guide their (and their coworkers’) writing.

If you have a course style guide or have suggestions for making one, please share them.

2 thoughts on “Using a Course Style Guide

  1. This is wonderful work. The chart really simplifies the essential
    issues observed in student writing.

    Your work on this is very much appreciated. I have struggled in the
    classroom to accommodate different standards from a variety of
    textbooks and authors that are inconsistent and confusing. No one
    handbook has been adopted for standardization.

    Your work addresses my concerns in a very understandable manner.

    With respect, Tom

    • Hi, Tom~
      Thank you for liking it. Like you, I have many issues to address in student writing while also addressing the many acceptable style variations. I will say, though, that now that we (my classes and I) have picked our path and stuck to it, we’re much better able to focus on some of the more high-level rhetorical, critical thinking, and problem solving issues surrounding their writing.

      Best,
      ~Paula

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