When house style gives a silly answer

An organisation’s house editorial conventions are useful because:

  • they make documents from that organisation look like documents from a single place; and
  • allow writers to concentrate on what is important without worrying about trivial editorial details.

It is important, though, not to let house editorial conventions get in the way. I once worked on an accounting standard dealing with events that occur after the end of a company’s reporting period. Our internal style guide laid down the following conventions for the titles of documents:

  • the initial letter of each content word in the title should be capitalised.
  • the initial letters of definite and indefinite articles (a / the) and of prepositions should not be capitalised. That is because those words typically convey little content.

That convention worked reasonably well most of the time, but part of it produced a silly answer in this case. The document I was working ultimately received the title IAS 10 Events after the Reporting Period. The convention requires the preposition after to begin with a letter in lower case. Unfortunately, in this case, after is the single most important word in the whole document. So we should have capitalised the initial letter of after.

I made that point, but didn’t win the argument. So I’ll drink a toast now to the document that should be called IAS 10 Events After the Reporting Period.

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