A guide to online style guides

If you’re a time-poor content marketer (i.e., the only person in your small company’s marketing team), you probably don’t have time to write your own style guide. But don’t worry, there are two excellent off-the-shelf sources online – which are free.

Why have a style guide?
In two words, accuracy and consistency. It is an obvious point, but accuracy is important in establishing your authority in your chosen subject. So if you’re in doubt about how to use apostrophes, commas, semi-colons and the like, then reach for the guide. As for consistency, this usually applies when the question of accuracy is less cut and dried – there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer to whether you should put a hyphen in ‘content marketing’, but you may raise a few pedantic eyebrows if your copy is inconsistent.

The underlying danger is that if you fail at doing these simple things, your audience may well doubt the important bit about your copy: the content.

The solution
In the print publishing world, two style guides have acted as subbing talismans for decades – and they’re both free. These are The Economist Style Guide and the Guardian and Observer style guide (note the lower cases). While these two differ in subtle ways that we don’t have server space to explore on this blog, it is worth going through both guides to get a feel for which one best suits your needs.

And one last point again about consistency: it nearly goes without saying that once you have chosen the style guide that is right for you, stick with it. Otherwise, you run the risk of applying two sets of rules and displeasing those consistency gods.

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