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A Style manual for the digital age

Whenever I find myself editing a document, there are two resources I keep close at hand – a dictionary and the Australian Government Style manual. Unlike the dictionary, which I can access online (depending on the version required), the Style manual has always been a physical publication. Hopefully that is soon to change.

The Commonwealth Government has been producing its Style manual for authors, editors and printers since 1966. The book lays out the house style and publication requirements for all federal government agencies, but it has a wider application as the default style guide for many private and public sector organisations in Australia.

As with most industries, the digital age has revolutionised professional editing. Unfortunately, the Style manual hasn’t kept up. The current edition, the sixth, was published in 2002. That makes it older than Facebook.

The Style manual is now the responsibility of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which recently announced plans to publish a new digital edition by the end of 2019.

There have been rumours that a seventh edition was just over the horizon for years, so I won’t be pre-ordering my copy just yet, particularly as the DTA only issued a request for tenders to write the actual content on 22 February. Even so, this does appear to be genuine progress at last.

If you’re wondering why we need the Style manual in the first place, Style Manual Product Manager and Head of Content, Libby Varcoe, gives a pretty compelling reason. According to her post on the DTA website, back in 2015 the Department of Finance costed the potential savings in having all agencies using the same source. They concluded it was somewhere between $15.8 and $39.5 million.

Even at the lower end of the scale this is a considerable figure, particularly if it were to be extrapolated to take into account the many other organisations that rely on the Style manual.

Similarly, the value of editing is often difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t mean it is any less significant.

Image credit: Breeana Dunbar for Red Pony

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