Breath of Clarity

Style Comment #1

Original Post by Amy McNulty:

Adhering to situational formatting and style requirements is essential to ensure that your message doesn’t get lost in the delivery. If the formatting or style is incorrect or unusual, readers may focus more on that than the substance of the message. Moreover, it gives the appearance that you are not aware or don’t care about organizational norms and standards. This could give the impression that you are inconsiderate, lazy, disrespectful, inexperienced, or unknowledgeable – the exact opposite impression you are generally trying to convey through a piece of professional work. Organizations also often have established communication standards that specify certain colors, fonts, template formatting, etc. This is to unify the organizational image and ensure that a cohesive, coordinated, “on-brand” impression is made. Finally, it facilitates more efficient learning. I know that when I get a regular document that it will always look the same way. That means that I can immediately go to the section that is relevant to me and I am more efficient in my research, review, learning (this applies to school and work). Submitting management reports are similar, certain managers look for certain things and ensuring that the documents are consistently formatted makes it more efficient for them to review so they’re not searching the document for needed information.

Certainly, there are opportunities to push the boundaries and break conventions however knowing when and how to do that is important. I wouldn’t try out my own novel pitch book formatting in a client meeting but rather discuss change with marketing. That would be my tip: make friends with marketing. They are a wealth of knowledge and have many resources to ensure that your work is on brand, appropriate, and up to the standard that the organization establishes. Many times, they can take your work and make it even better.

My Comment:

Hi Amy,

Awesome point that adhering to conventions is important to completely deliver a purpose to the audience. It is intriguing to see writing conventions depicted as organizational norms and standards. The approach to the issue goes along with Keith’s comment on my post regarding whether the conventions are actually reasonable or justified. Conventions source their power from being practiced by the masses rather than being from the actual substance contained in them. Is it strange that ethical appeal is so much based on being similar to everyone else? Is it because everyone else who follows writing conventions is considered a reputable, knowledgeable person so doing so makes someone be in the same pool? What other conventions may more appropriately indicate the knowledgeable, respectful characteristics that formatting and style requirements aim to achieve? Perhaps, the purpose of the conventions is for the writer to show the audience that they simple care about being considerate, diligent, respectful, experienced, efficient and knowledgeable. Emphasizing honor for the values in itself goes a long way in the academic world considering how much ethos a writer gains or loses depending on if they adhere to requirements. The established communication standards that specify certain colors, fonts, template formatting etc. prompts me to figure that the purpose of a writer adhering to the requirements is showing a desire to be part of a particular group and doing so gives off the impression to the audience that the writer perceives the group as valuable. Great point that the group shares the value of efficiency which is a principle linked to productivity which is followed by success. I also agree that knowing when and how to break conventions is important to maintain a sense of respect between the writer and audience.

Comment by Amy McNulty:

Hi Mary – I don’t believe that the power of conventions is because they’re practiced by the masses. Turabian style is quite niche as it’s nearly exclusively used within the academic world. Even within a university, styles can be different with education, psychologies, and sciences leaning towards APA; humanities tending to MLA; and business, history and fine arts tending to Chicago/Turabian (University of Pittsburg 2021). Conventions have power because they define the expectations for communication based often on how the recipient expects to receive the information (i.e., our use of Turabian, the format of a letter) but sometimes on how the communicator desires to be perceived (i.e., the style guides of an organization). Many times it’s based on historical practices rather than than the practices of the masses (most communication is conducted over email these days but letters are still formatted differently). It’s wrong to assume that established standards are always the best way to do something nor should we assume they’re static. I mention in my original post how I would go about challenging a style standard.

I come at this course (and life) from a pragmatic perspective focused on achieving goals and getting things done. I am also someone who worked in and with other countries and cultures for most of my career. This perspective weights more heavily the importance of understanding your audience and conducting your communication, whether it be written or verbal, in a style that respects the expectations of your communication partner. If I were focused on using my individual style as opposed to the expected style, the substance of the communication could be lost. Ultimately, I suppose it depends on what the goal or motivation is. If it’s to convey a personal style and create a new image, then by all means disregard style conventions. If the goal is focused on consensus and understanding, then abiding by convention is better. To me, the purpose of style convention is to be able to effectively communicate in a way that’s going to make my argument convincing.

As far as abiding by conventions to show a desire to be part of a particular, valuable group, I think that’s sort of true. I abided by my company’s style conventions because I valued the job and the paycheck that came with it. I can’t at all say that I felt any pride or value (or any emotion really) coming from my choice to abide by the stylistic preferences of my company to identify as part of that group. However, this certainly does explain the fads and fashion industry so I think there is some truth there.

Thanks for the questions.

University of Pittsburg. 2021. “Course and Subject Guides.” Accessed January 27, 2022.