The English language is a varied one. There are many, many instances when a word or phrase can be written in more than one way. It is often less a question of right or wrong and more a matter of personal style choice.
This is where a style guide comes in.
In the publishing world, a style guide is a set of rules and guidelines for writers and editorial professionals to follow to ensure consistency is maintained throughout a publication.
A style guide will include things like:
the form of English to be used − i.e. US English or UK English style?
spelling preferences – there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and, sometimes, there’s more than one way to spell a word too.
punctuation choices – how do you feel about hyphenating words like coordinated to co-ordinated? Do you prefer double quotation marks or singles?
formatting and layout decisions – including font, spacing, bullet points, etc.
rules for abbreviations and specialist terms, e.g. COVID-19 or Covid-19?
OK I get it, but how is that going to help my business?
The key words here are consistency, brand and time:
When used consistently, following a house style throughout all your written content just looks more professional. It does. When you standardise your editorial choices across all your business communications – I’m talking about your website, social media, blog posts, newsletters and any other marketing material − your message is not only clearer, but it shows to your potential customers or clients that you take your business seriously. A style guide makes it much easier to prevent inconsistencies that can distract your readers from the good stuff – your great content!
A style guide, when used properly, can help reinforce your brand. Language choice should play a big part in your business strategy. Being intentional about the editorial style used in your copy and implementing it across all your business communications helps to reinforce your company’s identity. What image are you trying to emit to the world? Cool? Serious? Modern? Traditional? Whatever it is, you should be making language and formatting style choices that reflect your brand and the clients you want to attract. Implementing a style guide allows you to define your language choices and keep control over how it is used to promote your business,
It saves you time. If you work with a number of different content writers then issuing them with a style guide at the beginning will cut down the amount of time you (or your editorial team if you have one) will need to spend editing or answering queries about word choice. Having a set list of language preferences makes your writers’ lives easier too: everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, or style guide in this case! If you write your own content, then a style guide is equally useful – it allows you to record your editorial decisions and acts as a reference point that you can come back to time and again. So you don’t have to sift back through past blog posts or trawl through old newsletters when you can’t remember how you spelled a particular word or need reminding how you normally display a quotation.
Your style guide is individual to you. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in − you can create a style document that fits your needs. You can have a section for technical terms, medical terminology, forms of address, digital acronyms … the list goes on. As your company evolves, you can add more to your style guide. It can be a working document that grows with your business
Sounds good? You can download my FREE editorial style guide template below or from the Resources section of my website.
If I’ve sparked your interest and you want more information or some help creating your own bespoke style guide, you can get in touch with me via my contact page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.