No, you don’t have to use a style guide for your blog. But you also don’t need to iron your T-shirt before you go bowling either.
You probably WOULD want to iron your shirt before an important meeting or a job interview, though. And a style guide gives you that extra finish to your posts. It is a way to come across as more pulled together and more professional.
So, what is a style guide exactly?
A style guide is a written or online source you can turn to for grammar, punctuation, formatting, and style rules. Here are some examples you have probably heard of:
- The AMA Manual of Style is a guide for journals published by the American Medical Association.
- The MLA Handbook is a product of the Modern Language Association. You might remember this one from your college English class.
- The APA Style is the American Psychological Association‘s manual. It is used in the academic world, most notably in the social sciences.
- The AP Style Book, written by the Associated Press, is for journalists, news outlets and marketers.
You can choose any of the style guides mentioned above or you can make your own. The point of a style guide is to have rules in place so that your text is consistent and polished. This makes you look good, AND it makes your posts easier and more pleasant to read.
A style guide is also good when you have more than one person involved in writing or producing your blog posts. A style guide can alleviate stress too–if you are like me and spend WAY too much time thinking about things like dashes and their spacing.
What Style Guide Should I use for my Medical Blog?
The short answer? The AP Style Book.
The AP (Associated Press) style guide is the one most commonly used by bloggers and by marketers as well. This style guide lends itself well to blogging (and content marketing in general) because of its journalistic slant. I talk more about why that is, in my blog post–The 3 Little Pigs of Medical Copywriting.
The long answer? The AP Style Book plus your own list of exceptions.
The AP style guide is a good starting point, but it is important to know that it has a few holes; it is not medically focused, and it was not designed to answer some newer online style issues. For example, the AP style guide says not to use italics. This originated because their AP wire system didn’t transmit this format (something like that anyway). Technology has come a long way and the benefits of using them may outweigh the convention. In a blog, italics can be a great way to visually break up text and show emphasis.
Creating your own style guide doesn’t have to be a bear. Start by picking one of the established style guides, and then just make a list of exceptions to those rules.
Top Style Rules for Better Medical Blogging
Here, I give you the three AP Style conventions and my exceptions that are most applicable to medical blogging.
Use Dr. in front of a name only when first introducing someone who holds a doctor of the following fields:
On occasion, when it is explicitly clear what kind of doctor you are talking about, you can use Dr. in front of individuals who hold other academic degrees. The assumption here is that people are more likely to assume someone with a Dr. before their name is a physician.
Exceptions: In some practices, the doctors prefer that Dr. show up in front of their name in every instance–not just the first time they are mentioned. Depending on the practice, a non-physician may prefer that you use Dr. before their name–I’ve seen this with doctors of physical therapy (DPT) and dentists (DDS).
Academic titles & degrees
Capitalize the first letter of someone’s title (like Chairman) only when it used before their name, and don’t capitalize title modifiers like department (as in department Chairman). When titles are used after a name use all lowercase letters.
Example: The department Chair, Lorraine Peters, M.D, lost her favorite clogs.
Example: Dr. Ty Andercoop, chairman of the gynecology department, made smoothies for the residents.
Descriptions of academic degrees are preferred over abbreviations.
Example: Mary Mondoll, a neurosurgeon at Bay City University, ate a liverwurst sandwich every day at noon.
This can be awkward when writing out a long list of individuals with various degrees. In this case, use abbreviations for degrees after a full name (never just a last name), and use commas to separate degrees.
Example: John Maple, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of surgery at City Hospital, kept a clown nose in his desk drawer.
Don’t use both Dr. and M.D. at the same time (Dr. Sam Jessup, MD.). Choose one or the other.
Example: Dr. Sam Jessup, an endocrinologist, was fond of his high tops.
Capitalize the main words as well as joining words of four or more letters in the name of a medical journal— and don’t italicize it.
Example: Dr. Avery Jones published his article in the August issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
Use quotation marks around the names of articles, books, speeches, and TV shows.
Example: The article, “Why kids Need Dental Checkups,” was published in American Dentistry Today.
Example: Dr. Peter Berger talked about spine care on “The Today Show.”
Exception: As mentioned above, many online writers use italics despite this rule.
The main thing to remember about style guides is to have one. Whether you make up your own, base it on an established guide, or combine the two, pick one way of doing things and stick with it.
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