In big organisations, it’s not uncommon to find employees consulting a comprehensive style guide. These kind of style guides cover everything — not just the design elements of branding but also the way that written communication should be handled. The mistake too many people make is assuming that these kinds of style guides are reserved only for big companies when, in reality, businesses of all sizes can be using style guides to benefit their communications.
What is a style guide?
Every person has their own unique style when it comes to writing — it’s something we all develop over time. A style guide makes sure that no matter who is writing your content or your marketing collateral, there will be one, consistent voice throughout. It outlines how grammar, spelling, points of view and formatting should be applied in every piece of communication.
Why do you need a style guide?
When it comes to small businesses, we can understand how it might seem a little bit like hard work to put together a style guide — after all, if it’s just you writing all your content, it’s likely that your tone is consistent anyway. These early days of content creation in your business are actually the best time to start putting together a style guide! You’ll find your voice early on and figure out the style you prefer to follow and it’s important for anyone who might join you in your business journey along the way to be able to see the thinking behind your writing style so they can follow it too.
Creating a style guide is also an incredibly helpful step to take if you are thinking about bringing copywriters or a communications agency in to help you tackle your content. Copywriters are professionals who do their research — they’re likely to adapt to your style and tone easily after taking a look at your website. Even still, a style guide saves time and effort, particularly if you have several copywriters creating content for you.
The biggest advantage a style guide gives you is consistency. No matter who is coming in and out of your business, you will have a consistent voice running through all of your content – a voice that your customers will recognise and trust.
What should you include in a style guide?
Your style guide can be as comprehensive as you like — it doesn’t need to be the 100 page, incredibly designed document that some websites will tell you is necessary.
- Grammar – Are you a fan of the Oxford Comma? Most people feel strongly about this one, so figure out where you stand on a whole bunch of common grammatical issues and then put them in your style guide so that you (and anyone else writing for you) will always know where you stand.
- Tone – Is your business generally formal, casual or somewhere in between? Define your tone so that your content is consistent.
- Word usage – Do you use & or ‘and’? Do you simply type the number ‘9’ or do you spell out ‘nine’?
- Point of view – First, second, third … there’s plenty to choose from but decide which point of view your content will be written from and when exceptions will be made.
- Spelling – The chances are, if you’re reading this you probably speak English but deciding which English spelling you’ll use is important! If you’re an Australian company speaking primarily to US customers, it’s probably a good idea to use the US spelling. Whichever you decide, US, UK or AUS/NZ, it’s important to stick to it.
- Date format – This is much more than simply whether it will be date/month/year or month/date/year. Will it be the 13th February, 2018 or February 13, 2018? Pick whichever format you like the best and stay with it.
- Titles and capitalisation – You’ll see that most of our titles are in sentence case aka there’s a capital at the beginning (and for any proper noun) while the rest of the words begin in lower-case. We like it that way but Maybe You Like To Capitalise Every Word?
It’s important to consider all the possibilities of each of these areas – which are far more numerous than what we’re able to include – and document everything relevant for your organisation.
For the most part, common sense will prevail throughout your content but style guides are for those times when you’re really not sure where the hyphen goes or how you format the date — when you have those questions, you could turn to Google but you’ll end up in a black hole of possibilities. Your style guide helps you to answer these questions in a way that is consistent with all of your content.
Want to get some consistency in your content? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0414 711 107.