1. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Nonfiction Document Question

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Andrae Smith, Mar 22, 2014.

    Hello all,

    I realize that this is a creative writing forum, but I also know many of you have experience in many forms of writing (e.g. fictional, academic, technical, journalistic, etc.). My question tonight is about business documents, particularly the alignment of headings.

    Back in high school, when they taught us about, business letters and other professional documents, they told us that everything should be flushed left, addresses, salutations, dates, text, and headings. My teachers said this was to maintain simplicity and consistency throughout the document. Since then I've always done it that way, though I have seen documents with dates justified right and centered headings as well.

    I am working on an editing assignment in which we were asked to edit a sales proposal written in modified APA format. According to the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (the APA style manual), level 1 headings should be centered, and level 3, 4, or 5 headings should be indented.

    However, the APA format is generally used for the social sciences, and not business documents, as far as I am aware, so I'm wondering if those rules still apply. If you know anything about proper business format I would greatly appreciate some input.

    Thanks!

    Disclaimer: While this is an assignment, my professor has asked us to look up things that we don't know, and she encourages us to ask people for help. In addition, our grade is not dependent on every editing choice we make but primarily on our letters of transmittal. In helping me understand style, you are not helping me to cheat in any way, but clarifying a question I came across while doing my own work and research.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You may find this page helpful. Formatting guidelines are towards the bottom of the page. Also, here are some sample letters. It doesn't look like there's a preferred way of formatting as long as you're consistent throughout the letter.
     
  3. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    If your document is supposed to follow a style sheet such as the APA's, then you should follow that. But if you're free to be a bit creative, here is the best guide you could ever hope to find.
     
  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Thanks @thirdwind
    However, I already searched Purdue and knew that information. Nice try though.
    @David K. Thomasson wouldn't that create inconsistencies in the document? They were told to use a sort of "Modified APA."
     
  5. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    As I said, it depends on how much leeway you have to be creative. If you're supposed to follow the APA, then that's the "law." Of course, if you do make any modifications, make them consistently throughout the document.
     
  6. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Okay, that makes sense. So the named style guide takes precedence over standard business format? It's not really about being creative; we just have to make the document as correct, consistent, accurate, professional and comprehensible as possible.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If it were up to me, I would use The Chicago Manual of Style. Nothing beats Chicago style. :D

    But yeah, if your professor said to use APA, that's the one to use. Also, I don't think there's a "standard business format." Each style guide has its own way of doing things, and which one you use depends on the situation.
     
  8. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I don't know of any "standard business format." There are just conventions and more conventions. No style sheet is more or less "correct" than another. As for creativity, you often need to be a bit creative to make a document more comprehensible.

    That's why I recommended the Robin Williams book. She makes layout (as distinguished from editing text for grammar, punctuation, etc.) clearer than any teacher I ever came across, and I've done a lot of design work in my time -- as a newspaper editor and also as a freelance designing ads, project descriptions, brochures, newsletters, funding proposals and other such business documents.
     
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  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    From what I've been finding, I don't think there is a standard business format either... which makes me wonder why they taught us that...

    Basically, the idea was that everything should be flushed left and everything should be consistent. I've seen professional documents that weren't entirely flushed left (i.e. centered headings, dates justified right), so I assumed they were deferring to a specific style guide or the conventions of their company.

    What confused me is that this writer followed the APA guidelines, but that led to inconsistent headings. One thing all my instructors have emphasized is the importance of consistency in a business document. Ah well. I'll defer to the law of the style guide.

    CMS is interesting. It's a bit less rigid than APA, I think.
     
  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I guess I'll have to add that book to my list! :D
    But I think you're right about business format... I think there is something really wrong with the education system if it can't keep up with the real world... This is yet another reason why I want to be an English/Writing teacher. Too many students not learning what they need to know!
     

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