The kind of style guide we are talking about is one that applies to your writing. If you write anything (regardless of your industry), you need a style guide. Even if you are working solo and do all the writing yourself, you still need a style guide. If you have multiple people writing for your business or brand, a style guide is vital.
What is a style guide?
In its simplest form, a style guide is a set of ‘rules’ and ‘standards’ to follow with your writing. It promotes consistency in your writing, your branding and your marketing. Consistency is vital across all media channels — websites, emails, letters, social media, blogs, newsletters, reports, etc. — as it fosters professionalism and high standards in your business.
What does a style guide contain?
How long is a piece of string? Seriously, your style guide can contain whatever you want it to contain, from spelling right through to your logo and branding. However, the most common thing style guides contain, are the following:
Language/Style — what voice do you use in your writing? Is it conversational or formal? Is it professional or hip? Knowing who your audience is and understanding their needs will help you decide.
Spelling — what spelling format will you follow? Aus English, UK English or US English. Some words are spelt differently in different countries (e.g. ‘colour’ for Australia and ‘color’ for US). You audience will largely dictate which form to use. Some style guides have a section devoted to words commonly used in their writing. Resembling a dictionary, it provides a quick reference guide on which words to use or avoid, and the preferred spelling (including capitalisation).
Numbers — don’t forget about numbers because they will pop up more than you think. The most accepted style of writing numbers is to write one to nine in words and 10 and above in numbers.
How will you express dates? Is it ‘1 January 2015’ or ‘1/1/15’ or even ‘January 1, 2015’?
What about fractions? Is it ‘1 1/2’ or ‘1.5’?
There is also the question of time and currency. And don’t forget about percentages. Will you use the more accepted ‘per cent’ or the symbolic ‘%’?
Common words and abbreviations — depending upon what industry you are in, there are bound to be some words that you use more often than others. For example, in the health-writing niche the following are commonly used:
* well-being Vs wellbeing
* wholegrain Vs whole grain
* type 2 diabetes Vs type II diabetes
* dietitian Vs dietician
* vegies Vs veggies
There may be no hard and fast rule as to which form to use. You simply need to decide upon one and stick with it.
You also need to decide upon your style when it comes to abbreviations. The most commonly used are ‘e.g.’ (example) and ‘i.e.’ (for instance).
You may also use abbreviations for organisations within your writing — for example, the World Health Organisation (WHO). Because some organisations may have the same abbreviation (Country Fire Authority and Continence Foundation of Australia), it is always wise to spell out the organisation in full with the abbreviation in brackets afterwards. Once you have spelled it out in full, simply use the abbreviation when referring to that organisation for the remainder of your piece of writing.
Formatting — this means what font you use, the colour and the size. It also refers to your paragraph spacing, underlining, and use of dot points. How will you write your headings? Will they be bold or in UPPERCASE?
Logos — If you have a logo (and what business doesn’t), you need to be clear about how it is used. Things to consider are colour logos, black and white logos, sizing, etc. Your logo is part of your branding so ensure it is consistent across all forms of media. Some brands have different components to their logo, so if this is true for you ensure you know how and when each component is used.
Referencing — If your writing tends to draw upon references, know how you will attribute them. For example, do you refer to the source in-text (e.g. according to the Heart Foundation….) or do you use endnotes (e.g. Heart disease is the leading killer of Australians 1). There are also different referencing styles, so decide which one you are going to use and be consistent with its use.
Developing a style guide may take time and effort. However, it is time and effort well worth spending if you want to develop a professional and consistent brand.
Need to develop a style guide but not sure where to begin? We would love to help. Simply contact us and we will be in touch.