Tips for creating your own style guide

As set out in this recent post, adopting an in-house style guide is crucial for content-marketing success – even if it means using an online reference such as The Economist’s free style guide. For those with time on their hands, however, creating a bespoke guide is probably the best option. It may sound like a daunting task, so here are some tips.

Know your audience: Your style guide should be tailored to your readership, but open to being accessed by those at entry level. Understanding your audience will help you decide what level of expertise needs to be covered in the guide.

Appoint a style guide team: It’s much simpler to create a style guide if a select few people put it together. If ever there is a style, spelling or grammar question, everyone will know who to ask for an answer. The guide should evolve and grow over time as language questions are posed and answered.

Agree how to express units of measurement and numerals: Key among the aims of a style guide is to avoid company documentation looking like an unco-ordinated mess. Therefore, agreeing a common way of expressing things like units of measurement and numerals will ensure data is easy to read when it forms part of a narrative. For example, it is common to spell out figures one to nine, and then use numerals above 10.

Consider ruling out clichés: A style guide can help your colleagues improve their standard of written English and prescribe a style that fits your company brand. Don’t want staff to use journalese or clichés? Give some examples in your style guide to help ‘nip this in the bud’, no pun intended (you can outlaw puns too).

Tell your colleagues the style guide is optional: If you want to enforce any kind of rules, you have to make them compulsory. Make sure everyone has a copy of the rules, and writes with them in mind. Document reviewers should check content against these rules. The more this behaviour becomes ingrained, the more likely your documentation will have a company identity.

Ignore the basics (ie, punctuation): A short segment on how to use full stops and commas may seem like overkill. But what about semi-colons and colons, exclamation marks and hyphens? What sort of quotation marks do you use – single or double? A style guide establishes a common standard.

Forget to update your style guide: If new styles are adopted, or words added, don’t just verbalise your agreement of how they should be treated – write them down. Make sure the updates are circulated at regular intervals to ensure style is maintained.

Allow slang or euphemism: Slang phrases, colloquialisms and sentences with unclear messages have no place in professionally produced content – they will run the risk of alienating or infuriating readers. Work out what won’t be acceptable to your audience. If your publication has a British audience, Americanisms will probably be unwelcome (ie, ‘neat’ to mean good, or ‘gotten’ instead of got).

Nina Bryant is senior sub-editor at Progressive Customer Publishing and writes blog posts on grammar, spelling and the power of language.

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