Every aspect of your company benefits from a set of centralized guidelines: Your budgets are created using a pre-planned format, your ads are run on an agreed-upon list of social media networks and your colleagues follow a dress code, whether casual or formal.
Why, then, should your content writing be any different? A unified, company-wide style is essential to the success of any content writing strategy, and yet many organizations leave multiple individuals responsible for editing and stylizing their own writing.
Here, I’ll outline the key elements of a stellar style guide, so you can start producing an impressive and consistent body of content.
Learn From the Pros
You’ll want to start by selecting a respected and pre-made style guide that reflects the tone you’re after.
Here at bizbuzzcontent, we use the AP Stylebook, which is perhaps the most popular guide in the content, journalism and news industries. It’s updated every spring, and contains rules for numerals, names, capitalization and more.
Another solid choice is the Chicago Manual of Style, which is updated less frequently and is commonly used for fiction and non-fiction books.
While only you can decide which style guide is best for you, we generally find the AP Stylebook to be the best—it’s up-to-date, easy to understand and astoundingly comprehensive.
Nail Down Specifics
Choosing a major style guide is a great start, but you can’t exactly have everyone in your organization read 1,000 pages overnight. That’s why you’ll need to create an internal style guide that everyone can use as a quick and easy point of reference.
Inside, try to account for as many specifics as possible. These can include:
- Oxford commas: Are they in or are they out?
- Paragraph styles: Do you want indentations at the start of each paragraph? What about line breaks? How long should each paragraph be?
- Links: Should you hyperlink in your word processor, insert links in the form of comments, or copy and paste links into the text body?
- Capitalization: Think about words and phrases specific to your industry. For example, “agile” or “Agile?”
- Headings: Should headings be bolded, italicized, underlined or all three? What about subheadings?
- Word count: What should the target word count be for blog posts, social media updates, articles and emails?
- Images: How should images be inserted?
- Font: Should you be using Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia or another font? What size should the font be?
- Lists: Numbered or bulleted?
- Logos: How big should they be and where should they be inserted?
Of course, that list is not all-inclusive. To create the most comprehensive style guide possible, think about the issues that come up for your company. This might mean adding a section for tweets, or deciding how to sign off on emails.
Don’t Forget Personality
Figuring out how to develop a voice and tone for your brand is another beast entirely. However, your style guide should at least include a general picture of your brand’s personality.
To get started, think about the general traits you want your brand to embody. Take a look at Aaker’s five dimensions of brand personality for inspiration:
Then, come up with some general words to describe how you want your company’s content to sound. The Tuts+ style guide contains a prime example of this:
To simplify the process, start with two lists: one with adjectives you want to be used to describe your company, and one with adjectives you’d rather not be used to describe your company.
At this point, the first draft of your style guide should be coming together nicely. Now, all you need to do is clean it up, format it properly and save it in an easily-shared file. As time goes on, don’t forget to go back to it and add stipulations as needed.
Does your company have an internal style guide? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!