It’s a mad, mad world we live in, and we could all use a little more certainty now and then. Well, nothing gives us a sense of security like a solid style guide.
And no, that’s not weird.
"Consistency" is one of our favorite words. (And "kerfuffle," because, let’s face it, that’s just a fun word to say.) But back to the point, when you have consistency, suddenly things are much clearer, both for readers and the teams creating content. And how do you find consistency in the world of content marketing? Yup, you guessed it—a style guide.
Dot Your T’s and Cross your I’s
To start with, your style guide needs to address where you come down on such important issues as the Oxford comma or the use of spaces around em dashes. (Yes there are people, like us, that care deeply about these things—don’t judge!)
Here are some areas to consider:
- Do you want to always use active voice and verbs?
- Are there certain phrases or words you want to avoid?
- Are there phrases or words that you want used in only a certain way?
- Do you embrace everything that AP says in their rulebook, or do you make some exceptions?
Answering these questions are good places to start when creating your style guide.
But Who Are You?
Don’t stop there though: Your style guide can really be a look into the essence of who and what your business is about. Start by using your style guide to define your organization’s brand attributes. Who are you, and what does your brand stand for? Take a moment to brainstorm a list of words that describes the core essence of what you do or create. This can evolve over time so don’t worry about making this a definitive list. Just shoot for something that explains to an outsider what you are about.
Now, let’s take that list of words you created and begin to translate them into the tone that you want conveyed in any communications about your brand. For each brand attribute, it can be helpful to not only define the tone, but also to specify the style of writing or language choices you want used in reference to that attribute.
Show What You Mean
Finally, a thorough style guide will offer some examples to illustrate exactly what you mean. For instance, if one of your brand attributes is that your company is easy to work with, then your style guide should say that your writing will use a conversational tone, as well as things like lists and short paragraphs. In this case, a content style rule example you might want to include is:
Content Style Rule Example:
Be concise, but not dismissive in tone. Content should be factual and authoritative without being overly technical in tone or style.
How To Do:
The utility knife offers multiple features:
- A tool kit, including a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver
- A corkscrew
- Two knife blades
- A ring to attach it to your keys
How Not To Do:
Featuring alloy composite blades, the utility knife is a multipurpose apparatus with a multiplicity of applications.
There’s nothing wrong with either of the examples, but the first one is less stuffy and easier to understand for the average person than the second option.
There you have it: Just a few tips to get you started as you look to establish your brand's voice in the wide world. The most important thing to remember is that your brand's style guide may not be perfect at first, but even as a work in progress, it will save time and add a level of professionalism to your communications.