At Proofed, we know how valuable style guides are when editing, proofreading, and creating content. We personally use style guides with our content teams to ensure consistency and quality writing. And we’ve worked with thousands of businesses, helping them create style guides for their teams and developing their existing guides. Have a look at how we helped Grantify create a style guide and put together an editorial team, which resulted in a 40% reduction in their production time.
In this article, we’re breaking down eight features all content style guides should have. Here’s an overview:
A style guide outlines all writing conventions your content team needs to know. This ranges from whether they should use an Oxford comma to how to implement your company’s brand voice. Every content team should have a style guide to streamline their editorial process and ensure consistency among all content. Multiple style guides may even be necessary in some cases, depending on the type of content and/or the target audience.
A style guide is a key resource for any company that produces content because it:
Your brand voice is the voice you use every day – it’s who you are as a brand, your personality. The tone of your brand voice may vary depending on the content or context. For example, if you’re writing a public apology, you’ll most likely use an apologetic, remorseful, or even somber tone. However, a standard blog post may have an energetic, friendly, personal, or confident tone. Content writers should be aware of your brand’s voice and know when to use different tones.
Your brand voice and tone(s) should be clearly outlined somewhere near the beginning of your guide and should inform and guide the remaining points. Give lots of examples or common mistakes to help writers form a clear idea of what is and is not appropriate language or word choice for your brand voice.
Grammar and punctuation may often seem straightforward, but they’re not! For example, that little exclamation point (!) is permitted in Proofed’s style guide because it aligns with our voice and tone, but you may feel that it’s not appropriate for your brand voice or image. Detail how and when punctuation should be used, especially things like semicolons, dashes, and hyphens. Punctuation impacts your writing, so use it with intention.
Grammar also impacts how you portray yourself as a brand. This includes how and when your content uses first, second, and third-person pronouns. Is the active or passive voice best for your content? Does inclusive language matter to you and your customers? These are all important aspects of grammar that should be included in your style guide.
Your style guide should also describe how your content is formatted. You could include different formatting guides and examples for different types of content (e.g., a blog post vs. a product report). Formatting and layout should cover:
A style guide should outline words or phrases that should be consistently used –
or not used – across your content. For example, the use of client vs. customer, how to describe a product or service, when to use industry jargon, or blacklisted words and phrases. Be sure to include examples and exceptions.
Here’s an example from our style guide:
In addition, try to use gender-neutral language where possible. For instance, when using a personal pronoun for an unidentified person, use the singular ‘they’ over ‘he/she’: When someone is “monkeying around,” he/she is being careless. - ✘ When someone is “monkeying around,” they are being careless. - ✔
If your content uses lots of images or multimedia, explain how they should be used. Include information on the following:
Keep in mind that not everyone reads or consumes online content in the same manner. To be inclusive and create accessible content for all users, address ways your team can create inclusive and accessible content for everyone.
This may include:
Consider how your team will use the style guide on a day-to-day basis. You want it to be a helpful resource, not cumbersome, that’s clear and easy to navigate.
To accomplish this, make it skimmable: use short paragraphs and sentences, and make strategic use of bold and italics. Use one or two examples in as many sections as possible. Provide helpful links to resources that they may need, such as how to correctly use commas or examples for different types of content. Also, try to use bulleted and numbered lists and tables where possible to reduce long blocks of text, as well as a table of contents at the beginning so your team can navigate the guide more effectively.
Here’s an example from Proofed’s style guide, which illustrates how examples and links can be used in text:
When drafting posts, default to American English. This applies to spellings (e.g., ‘center’, not ‘centre’), vocabulary (e.g., ‘period’, not ‘full stop’), and punctuation (e.g., use a full stop after abbreviations that end in the same letter as the full word, like ‘Mr.’).
You know your team best, so tailor the style guide to their needs and skills.
Over time, questions, inconsistencies, and gaps will emerge – this is normal. The key is to amend your style guide to address any issues. Assign someone to deal with any comments or concerns and have them make relevant changes to the guide. Once modifications or additions have been made, communicate them to your team so that everyone is kept up to date.
Aim to routinely review and update the style guide to ensure it stays useful and relevant. As part of this, you could schedule team meetings to check in on how it’s being used.
Style guides are an invaluable resource for any content team. They make sure content is clear, consistent, and cohesive across all platforms. When creating a style guide, include sections on the following:
You should also think about how your team will use the guide on a daily basis, and make it skimmable and easy to use, with examples and images. Finally, make sure you update it as questions, comments, or gaps come up so that it remains a useful and relevant resource.
Style guides streamline editing and proofreading and ensure consistency across all content. If your content team needs help creating a style guide or streamlining their editorial process, Proofed is here to help. We’ve worked with thousands of businesses, designing style guides tailored to their business’ content and writing style. Schedule a call today to see how we can help.
Want to learn more about how to create your own style guide? Read our article Top 10 Things to Include in Your Style Guide.
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