By Belinda Henwood – Chief Sub-Editor Projects
Producing effective content without a style guide is like trying to make an omelette without eggs. It’s an uphill battle that involves a lot of unnecessary thought and decision-making, and you’re unlikely to end up with an ideal result.
A style guide shouldn’t be confused with design or brand guidelines that focus on visuals, like graphics formats, logos and a colour palette. It’s an invaluable storehouse of information about tone of voice, English expression, and grammar and punctuation, which helps ensure your audience recognise your brand in various formats across all channels. The process of defining your brand’s voice and documenting the writing standards it aims for will strengthen its identity and help separate it from competitors.
Good for your brand
Most brands aim for consistent and high-quality content because they help build credibility which, in turn, develops loyalty. And it’s growing loyalty over time that the content marketing journey relies on.
So everything you write – from a blog post to a tweet or a made-for-social caption – needs to faithfully represent your brand. And how do you manage that when you have a team or teams of content creators working across different formats and channels? With a style guide.
Good for your content creators
Your brand’s style guide should be a one-stop resource for all your writing queries. It saves content creators’ time and energy by giving them instant answers to all those nagging questions about grammar and punctuation, and your brand’s preferred style. For example, does your organisation abbreviate its name? If so, how and when? Does it use an informal conversational tone or a more formal and business-like one? Which style should you use in headings and subheadings: sentence or title case – and what does that even mean? Should you use capitals and punctuation in bullet points? How do you deal with numbers?
Sure, not everyone is going to read or even consult your style guide and, at most, they’ll dip in and out rather than consuming it from cover to cover. But those who do use it will be grateful they don’t have to make a constant stream of decisions – and then remember what they’ve done in order to keep doing it.
Style guides have long been part and parcel of publishing. Oxford University has used a form of style guide for more than 100 years, while in Australia, both book and newspaper publishers have relied on the government Style manual since 1966. With brands now in the business of publishing, it stands to reason they should use a style guide.
Some brands use a default style guide. Many of our clients fall back on our own King Content guide, while some US clients choose the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook developed for journalists.
Some take the time and trouble to develop their own. And then a style guide needs space to evolve. It’s a methodical and ongoing process, collecting and revising – ideally once a year – to keep it a ‘living’ resource, updated to reflect changing use.