Style Guide

EXCUSE ME! Did you really mean ‘basically’?

So many of us begin our sentences with “basically.”

Basically, I wanted to wear my new shoes.

“Basically, I can’t come out this evening.”

We unintentionally refer to everything as a concept; never mind if it’s a principle or even a process!

Then there are some of us who find everything awesome – whether it’s a new movie or the neighbour’s aunt’s cat. Going by the rate at which we use ‘awesome’, you would think the most banal events routinely inspire an overwhelming feeling of reverence and admiration. Good times indeed!

This was probably easy to guess, but using words loosely happens to be a pet peeve of mine. So, how does this kind of usage enhance our courses, which are primarily instructional in nature? In my experience, these usage incongruences cause confusion and definitely don’t contribute towards professional, instructional content.

Enter the Style Manual! (cue enthusiastic applause)

Creating a MOOC is a collaborative task and each contributor brings their individual style to the table. Having said that, the space where these tasks meet needs to bear a testimony to the brand we represent. The language with which we communicate—our style—has a bearing on the brand. A clear, crisp, appropriate, relevant, and consistent style of communication can include standards for:

  • Language
  • Word Usage
  • Grammar
  • Formatting
  • Punctuation

A style manual is a non-negotiable aspect of creating a MOOC. While there is no ‘right’ style template, guide, or manual, here are a few popular options you can explore:

  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • Elements of Style
  • Microsoft Manual of Style

In this feature, I will regularly share some language-related guidelines you can follow while creating any instructional or professional content. I encourage you to leave a comment if you have a specific query.

We will dive in with one of the most common problems faced by content writers: sentence length. How can we draw the line between a complicated sentence and an abrupt one?

At IIMBx, we reconsider any sentence that is longer than 25 words. It’s easy to get lost in a long sentence. Short, crisp sentences are easier to understand. Remember, the full stop is the most important punctuation mark in the English language. Use it liberally.

It is also a good idea to vary the length of sentences in a paragraph, as it improves readability and helps retain attention.

Let us look at an example:

The questions pertaining to the course scope and other details should be covered in the course scope questionnaire, and the Program Manager, Instructional Designer, Course Instructor and PRA should follow the course scope document to fill the questionnaire.

<Here, the word count is 38>

How can we rewrite this?

The questions pertaining to the course scope and other details should be covered in the course scope questionnaire. The Program Manager, Instructional Designer, Course Instructor and PRA should follow the course scope document to fill the questionnaire.

<Here, the word count is broken up into 18-19>

Watch this space for more such tips! And if you’re feeling really inspired to create a style guide that your organization can follow, just get started! I’d be happy to help; you can reach me at natasha.mujgule@iimb.ac.in.

Note: In this feature, we’ve deliberated primarily on written and spoken communication styles. Visual communication plays an equally important role, but that’s a discussion for another day.

[This blog post was written by Natasha Mujgule, Instructional Design Consultant at IIMBx]

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