In-House Style Guides: The Best Thing You Never Knew You Needed

Whether you do your own copywriting or technical writing, use outside writing services, or a combination of the two, do yourself a favor and create a company style guide.

Style guides are documents that set standards for writing within your organization. They don’t seek to correct errors; rather, they focus on preferred usage when multiple options are available. For example, they detail how titles should be formatted, how acronyms are handled, whether to use a serial comma, etc.

Save Time and Money and Boost Your Image

Style guides are important whether your business is big or small and whether you use multiple writers or you do it all yourself.

  • Save time and money. Without a style guide, you and your writers are either 1) spending time combing through existing content to figure out “how you did it last time” or 2) continually remaking decisions about style choices (and not necessarily making the same decision each time).
  • Make a good impression. Style guides ensure that your writing is consistent. When your writing is consistent, your clients see you as professional and trustworthy. (To be fair, people may not notice consistency per se, but they’ll definitely notice inconsistency.)
  • Develop your brand. When all of your written materials use a consistent language and voice, it helps solidify your company’s voice and brand.

How to Begin

There are plenty of authoritative style guides—Yahoo! Style GuideAP Stylebook, etc.—and it’s worth choosing one as a “go to” resource. But, while those guides are 400+ pages long, yours will only be 4 or 5 pages and contain guidelines so relevant that your writers will consult it every time they write new copy.

You can create your guide yourself or get help from an outside writer. Either way, there are a couple of ways to begin:
  1. Consult existing company documents and web content, noting style choices as you go.
  2. Consult an authoritative guide for guideline and category ideas.
Important categories to include in your style guide are:
  • Formatting standards (headings, bullets & numbering, etc.)
  • Words not in the dictionary (e.g., IT words, new technology)
  • Abbreviations & Acronyms (e.g., mgmt./mgt., U.S./US)
  • Internet terms (e.g., web site/website, e-mail/email)
  • Company-specific terms (e.g., product names, descriptions)
  • Punctuation standards (commas, quotation marks, hyphenation, etc.)
  • Words with multiple spellings (e.g., adviser/advisor, among/amongst)

Make sure your guide is plainly organized and has a table of contents for quick referencing. For each entry, be sure to include detailed explanations and examples. Finally, make sure your guide is updated regularly and highly available to everyone who writes for your company.

Initially this project may seem like a burden, but once it’s done, you’ll find it has made your life a lot easier.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *