What do you think of when you hear the words “style guide”? Perhaps APA for the social sciences, AP for journalists, and Chicago for historians. For communications-based jobs, in-house style guides might come to mind—amalgamations of an established style and corporate requirements in order to appeal to a certain audience. It seems obvious that style guides are meant to establish how a corporation presents itself to the world—so how do we address the rapidly changing ways that marginalized people talk about themselves and the world around them in order to present content that audiences find sensitive, accurate, and accessible? The answer is cultural style guides.
Elements of Indigenous Style was written by Gregory Younging of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (Manitoba, Canada) after he saw concerning portrayals of Indigeneity in the books he edited at an Indigenous publishing house. The resulting book was revolutionary and is lauded as the first published guide to editing and curating work by Indigenous folks. With a title similar to the familiar cornerstone of modern editing, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Younging’s comprehensive guide addresses ways that publishing can elevate Indigenous voices. Key to publishing’s failure to do this sooner, in Younging’s own words, “comes from a colonial practice of transmitting ‘information’ about Indigenous Peoples rather than transmitting Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives about themselves.” This style guide fills a void—a way to dictate how Indigenous people refer to themselves rather than defaulting to the paternalistic ways that they have often been referred to.
Why are style guides like this so important to consider? While style guides can be considered living documents, edited over time to more accurately reflect the current zeitgeist, there is something relieving about having guidelines written by and specifically for one’s group of origin rather than originally for an exclusive audience. Cultural style guides, while not perfect, consider the culture first and foremost, eliminating the need to have to view one’s own culture (and subsequently, one’s own self) through the lens of neutrality, and emphasizing an Own Voices approach to publishing as a whole.
To see cultural style guides at work in the real world, I had the opportunity to talk to Elliot Bailey, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Publisher’s Assistant at Ooligan Press, about how Ooligan’s style guide considers cultural elements.
How does Ooligan Press’s style guide currently work with people from different backgrounds—are there any unique considerations taken when working with these books, especially with the press’s commitment to publishing BIPOC and marginalized authors?
E: The Ooligan Press style guide has a condensed version of the Conscious Style Guide to be used when needed. The inclusive style guide within the Ooligan style guide takes into account disabilities, BIPOC identities, queer identities, age, appearance, and illness. In addition to our use of the inclusive style guide, one of the resources DEI has is a collection of other style guides and resources that can be found online, such as the National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide and the Transgender Language Style Guide that can be used when needed.
Does the press ever use other style guides besides our house style guide and Chicago Style? Would they consider using styles in development (such as from Elements of Indigenous Style)?
E: Yes, we do! When working with a manuscript that has content that needs special consideration, we add that to the individual manuscript’s style sheet. In general, any of these additional style guides are available for use within Ooligan for anything they are needed for, and I add to the style guide resources whenever I find new ones that would be useful for the press.
Cultural style guides offer an interesting glance at a future where people of all backgrounds can take the lead in how they are written into history. This collaborative future is one where we will probably not get things right at first—but that’s okay. According to Younging, “. . . plan on not getting it right. Make your best effort to make informed, mindful decisions about terminology.”