If you're anything like me, you might be kicking off 2022 by reflecting on last year and planning for the months ahead. When it comes to your comms, does that include setting up (or updating) your organisation's style guide? In this guest post, proofreader Emma Hewlett explains why that might be a good idea. A big thank you to Emma for her insights.
Think about some of your favourite brands. They have certain colours, fonts and logos that are unique to them so you instantly recognise them. They will also have a certain way of communicating with you as their customer: perhaps a chatty tone that uses text speech like OMG or IMO (I’m showing my age here!). Or perhaps they have a more formal or professional tone of voice, avoiding informal words like ‘can’t’ or ‘awesome’.
What a good brand will do is use these style and tone preferences across all their communications. This way, you know where you stand with this brand and what to expect from them. Over time you build trust in them and they become one of your favourite brands.
Want to know their secret? They have a style guide for their content and communications!
Here I’ll explain what a style guide is and how to create one for your own business, no matter what its size.
What is a style guide?
A style guide (or style sheet) is a tool for ensuring your business communications are consistent and in keeping with your tone and style. This consistency is what grows your brand and is how your audience comes to trust you.
Having a style guide saves you a lot of time and stress when creating and editing your content. It also makes outsourcing your writing, editing, social media management and design work much easier. The rules around how your content is presented are clear for everyone. This tool streamlines your content creation process and makes it a little easier to relinquish control without sacrificing the quality or professionalism of your communication.
I have created a free style guide template that helps you do just that. Here’s where you can request your copy.
What should I include in my style guide?
Have a look through your business communications and see if you can spot any patterns in the format, tone, words and punctuation that you use. Then, make a note of them.
The font and heading colour, size and style you use are part of your branding and should be recognisable to your audience. Making a note of the styles you use makes it easier to apply them across your communications.
Do you prefer American or English spellings and conventions? This may depend on where your audience reside. Do you prefer the -ize spellings alongside British spellings? Do you prefer using double or single quotation marks? Neither is more right than the other but decide what you’re more comfortable with and/or what your audience relates better to, then add it to your style guide so you don’t have to keep checking your previous articles to see how you spelled things last time.
Are there certain terms or phrases that are important to include or avoid for your brand? Do you have a preference over how a certain term is spelled, particularly if there is more than one viable option, e.g. eLearning, e-learning or E-learning? You should include all these preferences in your style guide so that you and anyone working with your content is producing the same brand values and voice.
Getting started with your style guide
Creating your style guide can be straightforward, and I’ve made it even easier for you by creating a free template (get yours here!). You can edit this Canva template to suit you. I’ve included sections for language, punctuation, tone and formatting preferences, as well as space for you to include a A–Z list of spelling preferences. I’ve included some examples and points to get you started. You can delete, amend or add to any of these sections – whatever feels right for you.
Have a look through your business communications and pull out certain words, punctuation choices and formatting/style elements that you want to protect as part of your branding. Then just add them to the style guide template as you go.
Make sure to save your own template locally and make changes whenever you need it. If you’re outsourcing elements of your content to other professionals you can share the template via Canva (with various editing permissions) or share a PDF.
Emma Hewlett is a proofreader, copy-editor and website editor for businesses who make a difference. She helps create clear, concise and consistent content for conscious businesses. Find out more about her services here. Emma also co-hosts the Green Pea Podcast – easy listening for those who are interested in the green and ethical side of business. Grab a cuppa and tune in here. To see what else Emma is up to, come and say hello on Instagram and LinkedIn.