The Purpose of Business Guidelines

The Purpose of Business Guidelines

Determine organisational standards relevant to a task

The purpose of business guidelines

Document or publishing style guides

Developing appropriate business styles

Types of documents

Advantages of company style guides and templates

Style guides


Critical elements for designing documents


Simple layout


Reading sequence


Target audience

The message

The genre


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The purpose of business guidelines

Within an organisation there are a range of business guidelines which, when followed, enable the organisation to:

  • promote safety in the workplace—Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) aims to prevent harm to employees in the workplace
  • attain efficiencies—avoid time lost in repetitive decision making, etc
  • maintain quality assurance—complete all processes according to the same quality standards
  • support environmental protection strategies—eg reduce waste
  • protect business data with

– file management (directory structures and naming conventions)

– back-up strategies

– security (access, password, and virus guidelines)

  • ensure appropriate editorial conventions, eg for

– standards for referencing or a bibliography

– level of language use

  • standardise publications, eg in terms of

– graphics formats

– paper size, margins

– content items

  • meet security/legal requirements for having visitors in the workplace
  • publicise personnel policies, eg for

– leave entitlements

– anti-discrimination and harassment policies

  • promote copyright awareness to avoid illegal use of software etc
  • create and project a corporate image by having a consistent style for all business documents.

Often business guidelines will be made available in a Procedures Manual. This can be in a variety of formats such as: a set of instructional cards with samples, a printed and bound volume, or a repository of templates and reference materials on the company’s intranet.

Document or publishing style guides

There is great benefit in today’s business world for all documentation produced by an organisation to be consistent with the company image. ‘Corporate branding’ as it is often called or ‘corporate identity’ promotes consistency and engenders a sense of stability; and hence reliability instilling confidence in existing and potential clients.

Therefore, each organisation will usually have its own guidelines for the style of various documents as part of its business guidelines. It is the responsibility of every employee to ensure that the documents they produce adhere to those requirements. It is important that team leaders make certain that team members are aware of and adhere to the style guidelines.

An effective way for an organisation to create a consistent style or image, and ensure all employees follow the style requirements is to produce a style guide. As well, an organisation may:

  • refer to a publicly available style guide (such as past editions of the Government Publishing Style Manual) for certain standards such as the use and spelling of words and language terms
  • purchase a style guide that can be adapted and added to by the company.

Sample style guides

Spend some time now to look at the kinds of guidelines or standards for attributes (of content and/or formatting) you’ll find in a style guide. Use the Internet to access these examples:

This style guide is produced and used by AusAID, the Australian Government’s Overseas Aid Program:

The Australian Government Publishing Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (fifth edition) is available free online. (Note: the more recent sixth edition must be purchased.):

This style guide is produced by the University of New England to assist students in their academic writing:

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s style guide:

Developing appropriate business styles

A style guide is a reference document that contains a set of formatting and layout instructions defining the business guidelines for each type of document to be used within the company. It provides guidelines for designing, developing, editing and presenting company information. It will also contain the basic templates, controls and rules of design for the organisation’s documentation. Style guides ensure consistency throughout the company, allowing each department to contribute to the presentation and maintenance of an organisation’s image.

Style guides can be as short as a single page that just lists variations from a commercially available guide or the main company style guide. Or, they can be lengthy in-house guides with no reference to commercial guides. One example of a commercially available style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style ( A business may choose to use such a manual and only note some additions or changes to it in their own company style guide.

Style guides often contain three types of information:

  • process (how things are done, eg how to create a document and get it approved for publication)
  • design (what documents should look like to conform to the business image)
  • style (standard content should be in the document, and if there is a template to use).

The features of a successful style guide include: an effective process for enabling staff to follow the requirements, a keen team of stakeholders, and a diligent ongoing review and testing process of the design allowing the style guide to evolve.

The creation of a business image is a highly responsible task so the determining of the requirements of the style is crucial. The team developing the style guide must therefore have management involved either directly or through a detailed requirements analysis process.

A style guide consists of rules and suggestions or recommendations to be followed when producing a document or presentation. The mandatory (ie non-negotiable) components and suggested components depend on management’s choice and company policy. So the rules will vary from business to business.

The production of a style guide is a formal development process. It is important that the planning and development of a style guide be done with the understanding that it is a living/evolving document. Items can be added, removed or changed as decisions are made or revisited, or situations change. As well, the guide should be regularly updated to reflect current business needs/policies and circulated to all who may be affected by the changes.

The style guide should contain design decisions that directly affect writing and editing, for example:

  • the conventions to be used on chapter and section and page numbering
  • the style for each level of heading, titles for figure and tables as well as the layout of vertical lists
  • the rules for highlighting text (eg bold, underline or italics type)
  • which template is to be used for which type of document
  • which version of English spelling to use (eg American or British)
  • which system of measurement to use if not metric and specifying any variations (eg ‘dots per inch’ in a metric guide)
  • mandatory reference materials like an industry style guide, a particular dictionary, the company’s design and process guides
  • where on pages headers and footers should appear and what they should contain
  • when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals as well as defining the punctuation to be used in numbers over 999.
  • writing style, level of language use
  • any special requirements such as whether or not the singular ‘they’ is acceptable or if there are any terms to be avoided
  • when and how to use screen captures
  • which elements such as title page, preface, table of contents, index, copyright details are required, and what to include in them
  • whether there is a need for a glossary, bibliography, references list and footnotes, and which format they should be in; related to these items may be styles of cross-referencing and any external or internal links within the document.

Types of documents

Typical documents that have a defined purpose, layout and content items are:

  • memos
  • faxes
  • letters
  • reports
  • letterheads
  • quotes
  • invoices
  • work request forms
  • change request forms
  • petty cash claim forms
  • leave forms
  • authority to travel forms
  • complaint forms
  • promotional materials.

There are some examples of these business documents in the templates supplied with most major word processors. For example, Word 2002 has the following groups of templates (see Figure 1). You are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the examples built into your word processor.

Figure 1: Templates in Microsoft Word


An interoffice memorandum, or memo, is a message sent within an organisation to give instructions or share information.

Due to the rise of email, most people now send memos online. Not only is this speedier, it is an excellent way of reducing paper usage, as many messages will only be read on screen, without the need for printing. A memo could be written as part of an email or be a formatted document attached to an email.

A memo should be brief and to the point, but be careful not to leave out any important facts. You should plan a memo carefully and set it out well, so that the reader understands its message immediately without wasting time.

Remember to observe the ‘Four Cs’: Clear, concise, courteous and complete.

It is often helpful to present information in point (or bulleted) form. This will clarify things for the sender and receiver.

Memos follow a basic format, and they are usually formatted on a simple form which has been designed specifically for the purpose. (Emails also include the important elements of a memo.) Headings generally show who it is being sent to, who is sending it, date when it is sent and the subject. Some companies also include reference initials.


Faxes (facsimiles) are less common since email services began, and require a fax machine to send and receive documents. Sending a fax has the advantage that you can hand-write on pages, and send text or graphics from hard copies, without the need to scan or copy the document before sending. The fax machine scans a document page-by-page then converts this ‘image’ to an electronic signal. This signal is transmitted along a standard telephone line (a fax number sounds the same as a typical telephone number). The original document is printed out (decoded) at the receiver’s end.

Faxes are used for external communications between organisations, while memos are only used for internal communications within an organisation.

Fax conventions include using a fax cover sheet at the front of the document you are sending. The cover sheet should include the sender’s and receiver’s details, as well as the number of pages being transmitted (in the case of any pages not transmitting the receiver will know if any pages are missing).


The most recent form of widely used electronic communication is email. Like a letter, the message is in writing (which is important) yet emails are faster to send than letters and not as formal (they are structured more like a memo).

There’s one disadvantage. You don’t control the format (the software program does this). However, you can personalise your email to some extent by adding features like your own signature at the end. Many organisations have a standard format for email signatures. These often include contact details for the person sending the email.

Business letters

Conventions for setting out business letters have evolved over many years and, currently, the style favoured is being ‘unfussy’ and quick to produce. Most importantly, the finished job should have a clean, professional appearance. Obviously, business letters should have no typographical errors.

Three simple guidelines can be applied to formatting a business letter:

1Press the Enter key five times after the date and after the complimentary close.

2Press Enter twice after the inside address, salutation, body, author’s identification and between paragraphs.

3Type the body text in single-line spacing.

Once you have gained experience and written many letters, you will be confident enough to vary the line spacing to display letters of varying lengths to their fullest advantage. For example, you can vary the line spacing between the date and inside address and for the signature; known as ‘spreading and squeezing points’.

However, always remember you will be expected to prepare letters according to your company’s requirements, even if this varies from what you have learnt in your training!

Report writing

A report is the presentation of information about a specific activity in an organised way, following the collection of data and information from anyone concerned with that activity. It may contain certain recommendations.

A report differs from other forms of written correspondence in the importance of the layout. How a report is presented is generally thought to be as important as its message. The conventions used in presentation help to take readers through the document; they also help to make sure that readers get a full understanding of the case and the facts involved.

There are various types of reports including:

  • letter report
  • detailed full-length report.

When writing a shorter report, it may be in the form of a letter report and many of the headings, such as the appendices and bibliography, will not be needed. A formal report will be longer, more detailed and analytical.

Features of a good report
  • Accuracy—of information.
  • Clarity—resulting from attention to the overall form, sentence and paragraph construction and vocabulary usage.
  • Coherence—through the logical association of all the parts to each other.
  • Conciseness—because it should contain only relevant information.
  • Objectivity—the writer must be impartial and not introduce personal opinions.
  • Completeness—all aspects of the aim have been addressed.
  • Consistency—presentation style and information.

A detailed, full-length report may have the following structure.

1 Title page

This includes a title, the name of the recipient and the name of the author.

The title page is like the cover page on a book and gives the name of the report. The person, receiving (or commissioning) the report is the recipient; the person writing it is the author. Print the title in a large font size because this is the most important information. Next, show the recipient’s name and finally the author’s name.

2 Table of contents (TOC)

A TOC lists the following items with their page numbers:

  • contents with sections and sub-sections
  • appendices
  • bibliography/references.

A table of contents assists in locating a specific topic by listing headings and sub-headings. Most word processing programs enable you to link your headings automatically to the table of contents, so you will prepare this once you have completed the final version of the report. If you have to make any revisions, be sure to run an update of your table of contents and other references.

3 Synopsis or summary

The synopsis is written once you have completed the report. It outlines, in a few paragraphs, the contents of the report and should reflect the order in which the information appears. When the report covers fifty pages or more, readers can gain an idea of what it is about before reading it in depth.

4 Introduction

An introduction:

1explains purpose of the report

2states problem or objective

3gives terms of reference.

It explains why you are writing the report and how you investigated the matter. The introduction gives readers an idea of the nature of the problem and what kind of research you undertook.

5 Body

The body of a report:

1elaborates on the introduction

2presents, discusses and analyses material collected

3uses meaningful headings and subheadings

4gives each major point a separate paragraph

5unfolds in a logical manner to a conclusion.

Do not print the heading ‘Body’ in this part of the report. Generally, different headings and sub-headings relevant to the information you discuss will suffice. In the body, information develops logically towards the conclusion.

6 Conclusion

The conclusion:

1develops logically from the body

2draws together all material discussed in the body

3does not introduce any new ideas

4relates conclusion to the original purpose expressed in the introduction.

This part of the report sums up the information you presented in the body. The conclusion develops logically from the body of the report, but does not introduce any new information. It is important to ensure that your conclusion relates to the purpose of the report which you stated in the introduction.

7 Recommendations

This section:

1recommends a specific course of action(s) to be taken

2presents a solution based on the conclusion

3introduces recommendations eg: ‘It is recommended that …’.

This is where the author offers a solution to the problem or situation, based on the conclusions reached. It is usual to recommend a course of action which the recipient should take, or organise to put in place.

8 Close

This includes:

1the author’s signature

2the date.

Do not print the heading ‘Close’ at this point. The author signs and dates the report to indicate that they accept responsibility for its creation.

9 Appendices

If you have to enclose supporting documentation, such as charts, tables, plans or maps, these are put in as appendices. Beside the appropriate paragraph in the body of the report, type a reference and use the feature in the word processing program that allows you to create a link to the appropriate appendix.

10 Bibliography/Reference

This section acknowledges books or reference material used to create any content or quoted in the report. When you obtain information from books, journals or other documents you must acknowledge this fact. Give the names of each document, the author, publisher, country and date of publication.

Steps for writing a report

The five main steps in report writing are: