Four Ways Using or Creating a Style Guide Will Improve Your Work Flow
I can hear it already. You’re wondering what a style guide is and if you need one. First, you do need one, even if you build it yourself or use an existing style guide.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is where you document the language and/or visual components that need to be consistent for your brand, business, or institution. Elements that you might include are brand specific words that are or are not capitalized, correct spelling of names or programs, words that you do or do not hyphenate, and guidelines for how written content should sound. Visual components might include fonts, colors, logo placement, and the aesthetic feel of your brand or business.
Why you need a style guide.
Style Guides are all about consistency. We all know that to engage a client or reader, you want them to do the least amount of work possible. Donald Miller of StoryBrand, talks about setting up simple website flows, obvious opportunities to engage, clearly describing what you are providing, and creating stepping stones for potential customers in his book, Building a StoryBrand. One way to do all these things, is to make sure your grammar, word choice, and tone are consistent—all elements of a style guide.
If this isn’t enough to convince you to make time for a style guide, here are a few other reasons:
Four Reasons You Need a Style Guide
Style guides save your business time by having a place for content creators and contributors to find answers to their questions.
How many times have you fielded emails asking how to spell a brand specific word, if something should be, and if you prefer an Oxford Comma? Or, if your content creators haven’t asked, how many tweaks do you have to make to the content before it’s a finished product? Having a style guide (especially digital), means your content creators have guidelines and references already available. This saves you, and your content creator or contributors, time. Saving time frees you up to bring in more customers and serve the ones you have.
Style guides set a tone for new or existing content creators; all your branded content should sound like one voice.
How many channels does your brand or business put out content on? There’s websites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, newsletters, and guest articles. And you may not be writing all that content yourself. Maybe you use a social media management service or pay writers for blog posts. Having a style guide gives all those contributing voices the information they need to create content that sounds like your brand.
Style guides make you think through your writing and improve your documentation.
Recent studies, my experience, and the experience of my business network shows that content that engages is purposeful content. When you take the time to read through old content to create a style guide, you see what worked and what didn’t. You notice wording and voice issues you want to avoid. You also get to reflect on how your content matches your brand. And you document it, by writing it it down in your style guide. That documentation is going to make your brand more cohesive going forward. That cohesion will help you create content that engages.
Style guides help avoid confusion.
One of the worst things you can do as a business or brand is confuse your customers or employees. You sent an email with scheduling times for a post, and it said 12. Is that a.m. or .pm. (and should that be a.m. or am….)? So, your social media manager scheduled it for 12 a.m. You lost views, clicks, and money because of the posting time. If you were using the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) as your base style guide, you’d know that should always write out midnight or noon, instead of 12.
Now imagine your business model uses meet ups. How do you spell it: Meetup, meet-up, or meet up. Technically, there’s not a correct answer for this. Unless you’re using the Meetup app, then you should use their branded term. Meet-up could be a phrasal verb, since meet can be a verb, which is hyphenated. If you used Merriam-Webster as your style guide’s go-to dictionary, you could go with no hyphen, but two words. You could also treat it as a one word noun, like the Meetup app does. Language is constantly evolving. If you have a style guide, you pick which one you want to use, and use it the same way, every time. This comes across as professional and less confusing.
Style guides will improve your work flow and are part of creating clear content.
Style guides are a necessary part of running a brand or business, in a busy world. Whether you build your own style guide from scratch, choose a reference style guide (like CMOS or AP), and build out a brand specific section, or have someone, like the Observer’s Table, build it for you.
I’d love to hear about how having a style guide (or not having one) has impacted your business or brand.