Every brand needs content, lots of it. When you have several cooks in the kitchen, the resulting meals can look and taste quite different from each other. For your brand’s reputation and image, you need to make sure all written communications follow your style guide.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a reference document that helps employees, freelance writers, and others who write on behalf of your brand use language consistently. It has your brand’s take on questions that can have many answers.
For example, when referring to your company, do you allow abbreviations? If so, what are they? What font style and size should everyone use for content? How long should your blog posts/articles be? Do you need posts to have external links, and if so, what type?
These are very simple examples. Consider how you can use a style guide to let writers know what you expect from them in tone, voice, and content style. Your guide keeps brand communications consistent across all channels.
How to create a style guide
Style guides should be short and concise. They should not be a grammar lesson or instructions on how to use proprietary software. Keep your style guide limited to "need to know" information on two to four pages that they can’t find anywhere else.
The easiest way to create a style guide is to find a competitor’s style guide. Then use none of it. Write down the differences you notice, like changes or additions that apply distinctly to your company.
Then gather writers, both internal and external, to brainstorm a list of terminology your brand uses. Also try to agree on a "preferred style" of font type, text size, type of quotation marks used, etc.
Create a Google Doc anyone can edit to share information company-wide. Then post the link on your company’s Slack channel or other collaboration platform to get people to comment and suggest changes or additions.
If you’re a small company with remote workers, you can manage this process entirely online.
After you’ve incorporated everyone’s input, send copies to any third parties who frequently write on your brand’s behalf.
What not to do
Don’t use your style guide as a personal pet peeve list. Everyone has their own individual style, but your style guide is about keeping your brand’s content consistent, not about whether someone uses too many commas. Put your pet peeves aside and focus on your key message to make sure the style guide represents your company right.
Your style guide should not be a tome. If you’re a large news publication, then maybe you need a tome. The rest of us need four pages or less. Focus on elements of style with no right answer, but one that your organization prefers.
Don’t confuse your style guide with a design guide. You should have templates to help you design what content looks like, how to handle your logo and its size and dimensions, etc. Let your designers create a design guide separate from your style guide.
Finally, a style guide is no place for instructions on how to use Word or the company’s collaboration platform, or how to sign off on documents. Reminding your writers to spell check their documents before submitting them is a sure way to keep people from reading and referring to your style guide.
If you want your style guide to be ignored, tell everyone they have to obey it. However, if you want people to refer to your guide, include them in its creation. You’ll build a comprehensive, unified way that reflects your corporate style.
Let your style guide be a living document. You may find some day you need to redesign your brand, which changes your style guide. Be flexible, keep it short, and let it evolve as your brand does.