Why do you need a writing style guide? If there are two or more people in your company who write, then chances are that there are two or more styles of writing in the communication that comes out of your company. There are lots of rules and techniques involved in branding, but if you do only one single thing, the best thing to do is to make sure that your communications and the presentation of your brand is consistent.
A style guide is the way that you can make sure that everyone writing content for your company is using tone and vocabulary and presenting your brand in a consistent way — whether it is web copy, brochures, technical papers, or even correspondence. Of course, anybody writing content for your company should be supplied with your messaging document, but in addition you should provide a style guide. There should be at least the following three sections in your style guide:
- Tone: What is the tone that written communication should take in your company? Informal or formal. Fun or serious. Conversational. If applicable, specify the tone for each type of writing that takes place in your company.
For example, you might specify that ad copy should be fun and in an active voice, whereas technical papers should be formal.
- Vocabulary: The goal of this section is to indicate word choice for those cases which are commonly misunderstood, to specify the company’s chosen style for words and terms that could be correct multiple ways, and list words and terms specific to your industry that may be new to your writers. Be careful when you write this part of your style guide that it is accurate! While you’re at it, indicate whether things should be capitalized and when, such as in titles, captions, and document subheads.
For example, your style guide could tell writers when to use the word assure vs. ensure, to use “vs.” instead of versus, to always place a comma before the conjunction in a series, and to spell email and multicore each as one word with no hyphen.
- Punctuation: There are some punctuation rules that have changed over the years, that differ slightly in different countries, or that are matters of style. Make your company’s punctuation decisions and document them in this section of your style guide.
For example, put only one space after a period, use a comma in a list before the conjunction (the Oxford comma), and always keep periods and commas inside the quotation marks.
- Brand: This section of your style guide tells writers how to refer to your brands, the words to use in association with your brands, and what markings to use with them.
For example, list the full, official name of each of your brands, and the acceptable shortened form (if applicable). Indicate whether the brand names are proper nouns, or are adjectives which require a noun — and if so, the acceptable nouns to use with each brand. Specify whether these names are trademarks which are followed by a superscript TM, or a registered trademarks which get ®.
A good place to start in writing your style guide is to ask your writers to start a list of the editing decisions they make. Also you can Google for “style guide,” choose one that sounds appealing to you, and copy anything from there that you agree with. Or start with the Miller & Mattson style guide. Many style guides also incorporate the rules for using the company logo, color palettes, and other information, but that’s a post for another day!
The moral of the story
By making tone, vocabulary, and brand decisions and documenting them in a style guide, you help ensure that your brand message is communicated consistently by everyone on your team.
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