Style Guide

Style Guide by The Economist
Style Guide by The Economist (Economist Books)

Reviewed by Christopher Richards

Any style guide’s purpose is to make writing understandable—with the possible exception of academic writing. Style Guide by The Economist offers sound advice for business writers, particularly for people writing articles.

  • Catch the attention of the reader and then get straight into the article. Do not spend several sentences clearing your throat.
  • Readers are interested in what you have to say. The way you say it will cause them to read on or give up.
  • Introduce facts as you tell the story.
  • Don’t tell readers what they should think, persuade them.

Confidence

American business writers can learn much from this short book—despite its emphasis on British English.

This book is organized alphabetically.  Listed under “P” we find the word propaganda, often mistakenly used as a synonym for lies. The accurate meaning is a “systematic effort to spread doctrine or opinions.”

This guide is full of opinions, mostly sensible, such as this one: Do not imagine that you can disguise the absence of thought with long words, stale metaphors, or the empty jargon of academics. Clarity matters. Articles have their foundation in ideas, analysis, and argument.

Style Guide wags its finger at times, even if what it says is good practice. Avoid using ought and should, it says. Don’t be chatty, over-familiar, or stuffy.  While The Economist is a model of clear business writing, it can be stiff-upper-lippish.  Annoyingly, it refuses to employ American usage in US editions of its what-they-insist-on-calling a newspaper. You and I would call this print publication a weekly magazine.

This reference book will give writers confidence and accuracy in their use of language. The Economist has global reach, and its guide is especially useful for anyone writing for an international business audience. Style Guide seeks to avoid confusion by addressing differences between British and American usage.  Public school in the United States is free, run by the state and local districts. In the UK a public school is a private fee-paying institution.

Clarity

Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought, says the Guide. This sounds a lot like plan and execute. But creativity is a non-linear process. Thinking and writing are intertwined and subject to constant revision. As one wit put it, declare an ending because revision can go on forever. All creativity comes about through engagement with a medium; paper, pen, back of a napkin, etc. Clarity of thought comes from writing.

“A scrupulous writer”, observed Orwell, “in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?” Scrupulous writers will also notice that their copy is edited only lightly and is likely to be used. It may even be read.

The Economist (2015-06-23). Style Guide (Economist Books) (Kindle Locations 114-118). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

Almost all organizations today publish material.  Businesses large and small must be consistent in their style. Employees and contributors need guidance. In-house style guides range from a simple style sheet of formatting instructions to broad resources drawn from The Gregg Reference Manual, arguably the most comprehensive style manual for professional business writers and editors.

Our language is a living thing. It undergoes constant change.  This means style guides are subject to on-going editorial revision. After 50 years in print, The Gregg Reference Manual is now available online by subscription, and the Style Guide is available online to The Economist’s subscribers.

Every writer and editor needs a style guide. Consistency matters. Whether you’re writing articles, a book, blog, or magazine, find a style and stick to it.

Style Guide by The Economist is now in its eleventh edition.

Disclaimer: Christopher Richards is a business book ghostwriter and has no affiliation with the editors or authors of this book.