With such a variety of style guides out there it can be quite overwhelming trying to work out how to write one.
Essentially, a style guide (or brand manual) should be tailor made to suit the individual, company or brand. It is designed to help protect the consistency of your image. If it does that, then you can’t go wrong.
Style guides are commonly used in the world of media, public relations and publishing. A style guide contains a set of guidelines that should be referenced when writing any communications. A style guide ensures that the communications from a company are always consistent and professional, even when there are multiple authors.
A style guide is also a great time saver for a new starter, they can quickly get a feel for the general style requirements without having to ask a hundred questions.
Some of the common elements we have found referenced in style guides include (but are not limited to):
- Titles and terms – e.g how the company name should be referenced, title of the Managing Director etc.
- Symbols or special characters
- Logo and colour palette references – e.g minimum size for logo, colour options, background options etc. Also, where to find the accompanying files in various formats and resolutions.
- Format – e.g use of fonts and styles etc.
- Sentence lengths
- Language, tone and voice preferences – e.g plain english, slang, formal, casual, present, past, third person etc.
- Spelling – e.g American or English spelling etc.
- Punctuation – e.g use of commas, semi-colons, parentheses, question marks, exclamation marks, hypens etc.
- Headings – e.g use of capitalisation or not, format, sub headings etc.
- Bullet formats and lists
- Page numbers – e.g will you display them at top, bottom, left, right or centred etc.
- Time, date, number, speed, percentages, scores and currency format preferences
- Quotations – e.g how they should appear and be referenced etc.
- URL formats
Top 5 tips
We browsed through many different style guides and guides on ‘how to’ write them and these are our top five key take outs:
1. Keep it simple – Don’t get bogged down in arduous detail. No one is going to read it. Ideally a style guide should be less than 5 pages in length (unless your a large multi-national corporation obviously). Remember the document should be a reference. At the very minimum include the components that are most likely going to impact on consistency, such as your logo. If you don’t provide your logo in an easy accessible manner (ideally in multiple formats), people will just grab whatever they can from your website or a search engine.
2. Include a table of contents – This will help make the document more user friendly. You may think that everyone will read your document thoroughly but you’ll be lucky if people get past the first page.
3. Consistency is key – Settle those common usage rules right from the get go. For example, will you be using ‘I’, ‘We’ ,’He’, ‘She’, ‘They’, ‘The company’ etc. It doesn’t really matter what you use just make a decision and stick with it. It’s also great to provide concise examples e.g:
- Correct – 18 June 2012
- Incorrect – 18th of June 2012
4. Collaborate and allow for feedback – Why not send a draft of your style guide around to a couple of the other content writers to get feedback before you release the document. That way you can double check you haven’t missed anything and also ensure others feel comfortable using it.
5. Make it an active reference – Don’t just send out an email with an attachment and expect it to be implemented. Make your style guide an active and living document. Hold interactive training sessions to roll out the style guide so you can discuss it, take feedback and emphasise its importance. Also publish a copy online or on your local Intranet so that it can be easily referenced at all times.
If you want some further references on writing a style guide, check out the list of resources on Wikipedia.
If you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share about writing style guides, we’d love to hear from you on the comments below.
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