Writing a content style guide
A style guide keeps your content consistent, no matter who is writing it - or when.
Why bother with a content style guide?
When you write your content strategy, you should consider including a content style guide. A style guide is something definitive that people can refer to when they are creating content, and helps to present a compelling, collective voice for your company.
Where to start
- General advice for online writing and readability - do not assume that every member in your team, or your subject matter experts, know how to write for an online audience.
- Overall goals for your content – what do you want the user to get out of the content?
- Voice and tone - voice is the consistent style of writing, whereas tone can change depending on the content and its context.
- How you write about yourself as a company, and how you write about others.
- Grammar - it’s up to you how in depth you want to go, but you should at least clarify cases where multiple forms of grammar could be correct.
- Style and formatting guidelines for different types of content
Add real, hands-on examples
Make it real and close to home. Choose examples from your current writing, and show your team how to make them better.
Provide examples of dos and don’ts for each item you list in your guide. Where possible, use an example that is specific to your content.
Do not reinvent the wheel
Maintaining documentation is time intensive. Do not forget you want your team to focus on your content not your documentation. There is a lot of valuable advice out there; research and link to credible online resources. Again, the closer to your content, the better!
Govt.nz's style and design guide
An example close to our home base is Govt.nz's style and design guide. You can use, share or adapt it under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 licence.
MailChimp Content Style Guide
Closer to US audiences and large-scale business is MailChimp Content Style Guide. It’s completely public and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. The perfect point to start is their one-page TL;DR (too long; didn't read) version.
To sum up…
A content style guide is a useful reference for anyone writing or editing content. It helps to iron out inconsistencies in your content and means that there is something definitive to turn to in times of uncertainty.
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