Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

The client is (almost) always right

Posted on 17th April 2016

I've been working for a client recently who predominantly follows one particular style guide, albeit with exceptions. It's the exceptions that make the case interesting and why I thought I'd write this blog about being flexible and fluid. In this case, the client is a multinational business and the texts are usually formal reports. This means that the language is fairly standard and grammar and spelling conventions need to be adhered to. It's more the style that can change or vary, and, ultimately, the client can have what the client wants.

For example, the client writes out most numbers but at one point wanted to include a digit in a title. I tried not to sound flippant but was of the opinion that as the meaning is still clear, the digit would be fine (but I suggested they make a note in their style guide to say the exception is OK). I wouldn't personally have used this mix of style but if they much prefer it, there's nothing to stop them doing that.

Hyphens seem to come and go, with some styles using as few as possible and others using them a lot. I saw something the other day (not for this client) that said "five year-old children" which is ambiguous. I understood the context and knew it was wrong and should have said five-year-old children (i.e. the children were five years old) but I could have read it to mean five children who were one year old. This is where a hyphen is required and to avoid it affects meaning, but many other uses have less of an impact on readability and understanding. For example, if you want to put interest free loan, though I prefer interest-free loan, to exclude the hyphen doesn't usually affect the meaning. Sometimes, a certain field might always use a hyphen when it's not otherwise used, or vice versa, and it might be best in those circumstances to follow the "norm" in the field.

The use of italics or initial capitals to make certain words stand out is also usually just a matter of preference: if you want to make something stand out, as long as it's consistent, it's almost always fine. This is where having a comprehensive style guide is essential to help make sure that the right words have the right emphasis.

I think the key thing to remember is that the reader has to be able to understand the text so if you prefer a certain style or even something that might seem to be an exception to a consistent rule, as long as the understanding isn't affected, I think anything goes.

Written by Kate Haigh.