Creating a trustworthy and consistent voice throughout all your marketing touch points is incredibly important. If your company is creating content on consistent basis (which it should) then at some point, you will need an editorial style guide. This post will cover why you need one, what a good style guide looks like and some places to get free style guide templates.
Why do you need a style guide?
As said earlier, a style guide will help you have a consistent voice and help you avoid mistakes in your writing and formatting. The more channels that you are creating content for and the more people creating that content, the more difficult and important it is to maintain a consistent voice. Just as important is avoiding common grammar and spelling mistakes, and presenting a trustworthy and unified voice. A style guide will help with all of these factors. There are different kinds of style guides, graphic style guides and editorial style guides. This post will only cover the latter.
What to include in a style guide?
- Mission statement – what is the overall purpose of your content production?
- A preferred dictionary – what dictionary should writers consult for spelling?
- Style – directions on appropriate grammar and punctuation. You probably want to reference a comprehensive style guide like: Elements of Style, AP Style Guide or The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Difficult word spellings – a list of words that are commonly misspelled like “Ebook” instead of “e-book.” In marketing, words are constantly being invented, thus spelling is often debated. Pick something and stick to it.
- Tone and voice – what is the tone of your writing? Are you going to come across as professional, down to earth, intellectual? Also, are writers going to use first person? Are they allowed to have their own individual voice? Or communicate as one unified voice?
- Buyer Personas – who are you writing your content for? You don’t have to have in depth buyer personas that a sales or marketing might have.
- Images – guidelines on where to get images and how they should be formatted. Again, don’t get too detailed in this section, save that for your graphic style guide.
- Approved and Unapproved Content – what subjects should you cover and not touch with a ten foot poll? What are good industry sources, and prohibited ones?
- Citing Sources – How should your writers cite their sources?
How To Build a Style Guide?
Start with the basics and add to your style guide as you go.
The average style guide is 5-15 pages. If your style guide is over 5 pages long, it’s recommended to include a cheat sheet so that people can quickly find what they are looking for.
Need help creating a style guide? Here are a few templates you can use:
Kapost’s Template – Kapost’s template is detailed and very grammar heavy. Download the word document for yourself and get a head start on your style guide.
Buffer’s Template – a little less in depth, this template is truly just a starting place.
HubSpot’s Guide – just as much an in depth guide on how to build a style guide as a template.
Need some examples of good style guides? Here are a few:
Things to remember:
Keep your style guide as brief as you can make it. Remember, you and other writers can reference your preferred comprehensive style guide or dictionary for grammar and spelling questions. You only need to include common grammar and spelling questions in your company style guide.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. A style guide is a work in progress. A good style guide will constantly change as you realize things you need to include, and old information that is no longer relevant.
Give explanations for debated decisions. While you don’t need to defend everything in your style guide. If there is something that is debated, or you anticipate being debated or questioned, feel free to add a short rationale. This can even help you know why you made decisions in the first place.