How To Make a Writing Style Guide— People First Content

Consistency is the backbone of good branding. It’s the way to create a strong, recognizable, and trustworthy brand. All channels and touch points should have consistent elements, including logo design, typeface, tone of voice, and visual design. This will help you build trust with your customers and establish credibility.

It goes beyond just visual elements. Any text your brand puts out should be consistent.

We briefly mentioned writing style guides in our guide to brand voice. Still, we wanted to make a companion guide to go more in-depth on making writing style guides tailored for your business.

What Is a Writing Style Guide?

A style guide is a document that tells writers how to write in a way that is consistent with the company or organization’s brand.

It typically includes guidelines on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. It also should include information about how to write for different audiences with text samples.

It also specifies how to format titles and headings, use abbreviations, handle numbers and measurements, and use words like “you” or “I.”

A style guide’s purpose is to ensure that all content written for the company or organization is consistent in tone and content.

Why style guides are important

English is a remarkably non-standard language. There is a reason why there are so many stylebooks: AP, APA, AMA, MLA, and the list goes on. No one has quite the same idea about how we should cross our T’s and dot our I’s.

But within your company, you should agree or risk your content sounding like a crowd of quarreling English teachers wrote it.

Personally, my favorite part of having a style guide is that I no longer have to sit and debate a formatting or grammatical choice. Even if you only have one person (maybe it’s you) doing all your company’s writing, there can still be inconsistency. I know hyphenation rules for me are more a matter of vibe than anything you could call internal logic.

It’s especially important if you outsource your blog writing. Your on-boarding and proofreading process will take double the time and energy if you have to communicate tiny preferences constantly.

How To Build a Style Guide

One nice thing is you don’t have to start from 0. As I mentioned, there is an abundance of writing stylebooks and dictionaries that go through every possible instance and make a decree one way or the other.

So unless you want to write a 600+ page stylebook ( no joke), you should choose a style and dictionary as the baseline for your style book.

We recommend the AP stylebook. It’s intended for news writing, the closest thing to most online writing. It’s fast, punchy, and way more suited to content writing than, say, a stylebook for academic writing or psychology writing.

One handy tool I keep open 99% of the time is this title case converter that instantly transforms your capitalization to be in line with your chosen style. These grammar tools are also helpful for making sure you’re in line with a specific style. Grammarly even includes a business style guide in one of their paid tiers.

Go your own way

Here is a little secret English teachers don’t want to tell you. Choosing something and sticking to it is more important than figuring out what’s the most “correct.”

(The only exception to this is the Oxford Comma. It’s non-negotiable, and the AP style is wrong.)

But rant aside, especially when it comes to internet writing, not all traditional rules apply. For example, incomplete sentences? Love them. Getting your point across is the most critical element of online writing.

If you’re going off a stylebook and dictionary, you will have some personal disagreements with their decisions. Or just some things that are specific to your business.

That’s where you should start your style guide.

Elements of a Style Guide

I’m going to use PFC’s style guide as an example of the kind of table of contents you should have:

  • Spelling
  • Apostrophes
  • Commas
  • Hyphens
  • Dashes
  • Capitalization
  • Abbreviations
  • Blog Post Formatting
  • SEO Checklist

We have it customized to our business’s needs. All of the basic grammatical and spelling rules are what we’ve decided on as a company that may not have a definitive law elsewhere. Such as the spelling of “eBook.” Or the apostrophe placement of “Do’s and Don’ts.”

The blog post formatting is something a stylebook won’t cover. Still, it’s something that will look very sloppy if you don’t have something decided. We also wanted to incorporate some of the rules we have for SEO, like guidelines for keyword density.

Put your spin on it

Naturally, this is only one way to break your style guide up. Other industries will have different topics they need to hone in on.

For example, companies with more specific rules around how they want to present their brand should have sections devoted to that. If your company has a defined ethos or writes on sensitive topics, devote a section to the ethics of the language you use.

The important thing is to make the guide easy to navigate. If your writers have to wade through pages and pages to find out whether or not your company says “keywords” or “key words,” they may end up just risking it.

Aim for something 20 pages or under that’s easy to flip through. Think of it as a cheat sheet.

Do It With Style

Writing style guides help ensure everyone working for your business is on the same page with minimal fuss and muss. Luckily stylebooks have taken the majority of the weight off your shoulders. But that still leaves some room for your business to figure out your own style.

If you’re looking for someone who can match your brand’s style, People First Content is here for you! We work closely with businesses to ensure the content we produce for you looks and sounds exactly like you want it to. So call us today to get started.

Originally published at https://www.peoplefirstcontent.com on June 29, 2022.

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