Creating a Content Style Guide

Creating a Content Style Guide

Why Create a Content Style Guide?

The more content your business generates, the more important a content style guide becomes. This is especially true if several writers are involved including coworkers and freelance writers. For example, while you may prefer to hyphenate words like “campus-wide,” “e-mail,” and “man-power,” your coworker may prefer do ditch the hyphen. Some terms, such as Internet and Web, are commonly capitalized but are also increasingly acceptable in lowercase form. Likewise, you may prefer to write blog posts in the first person with a casual voice while your coworker prefers third person and a more formal tone.

Which conventions do you prefer? By using a content style guide, you can make sure your preferences are known and shared with other writers on your team. That way, everyone will use the same style consistently.

How to Create a Content Style Guide

Associated Press Content Style Guide

Start with a published content style guide such as the AP Stylebook. Photo courtesy of allaboutgeorge(CC Attribution)

Don’t worry, creating a content style guide doesn’t need to be a major project. In fact, you could start with an existing style guide such as the Associated Press Stylebook and then supplement it with your preferences as needed. In the interest of keeping it simple, consider the following:

  • Choose an existing style guide as the foundation – I like both the AP Stylebook and the Yahoo! Style Guide. Make sure everyone involved has a copy and understands how to use it. Now create a content style guide document that references the book as your style bible and then include the other elements in this list.
  • Define your audience – Who are you writing for? You’ll use different language when writing for C-level executives and industry partners than you’d use when writing for consumers or small business owners. If you have a broad or diverse audience, create several personas representing the various segments.
  • Define your voice – Will you use a casual tone of voice? A humorous voice? Or will you be strictly business? Objective? Highly technical?
  • Create a words list – Are there certain words you want to use? Are there certain words you want to avoid? Do you want to use acronyms or avoid them? Your writers won’t know unless you put them in your content style guide.
  • Define your content types and approach – Your writers will likely write several types of content such as blog posts, website content, press releases, articles, and special reports. Though your overall voice and tone should be consistent across all types of content, you may take a slightly different approach depending on what you’re writing. For example, you might want to use the collective “we,” “us,” and “our” when writing your website content and other marketing materials but then use first person for your blog posts. On the other hand, you may not want your blog writers to write in first person at all. This is where you’ll clarify how to approach various types of content.
  • Formatting and graphics – Your content style guide should also cover formatting and graphics to ensure a consistent look and feel. For example, should bullet points include bolded text and hyphens or would you prefer italicized opening sentences complete with a period at the end?
  • Develop templates –  Make your style guide even more useful by including sample templates for your writers to use.
  • Include citation requirements – Which sources are okay to cite? Which ones should be avoided? Do you prefer inline citations and hyperlinks or do you want writers to list all sources at the end using a specific citation format?

Once you’ve created your content style guide, make it available to everyone on your team. It’s not a bad idea to host it on a collaborative file-sharing site where you can edit it as needed. That way, everyone will always have access to the most version.

UK Government Content Style Guide

UK Government Content Style Guide

I received an email with a link to the U.K. government’s content style guide. Since I don’t plan on writing content for U.K. government websites, I wasn’t going to read it.I couldn’t help myself and clicked the link. I was pleasantly surprised. For example, the U.K. government advocates plain English (it’s mandatory):

“Use plain English – don’t use complicated or long words when easy or short ones will do – use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.”

The style guide also listed government buzzwords and jargon to avoid because they can lead to distrust. Some of the words listed (and why) include:

  • Agenda (Unless it’s an agenda for a meeting)
  • Collaborate (The government prefers “working with”)
  • Dialogue (The government prefers to “speak to people”)
  • Key (Use only for keys that open locks; important topics should be labeled as “important”)
  • Facilitate (Say what you’re actually doing)

While much of the style guide is irrelevant to U.S. writers, it’s worth reading. If you write for U.S. and U.K. markets, you’ll definitely get some good insight into language differences and style preferences.The U.K. government’s website content style guide is located at:  

A word is a word is a word – NOT

As a website content writing company, Celestial Content Services is in the business of selling words. Not just any words but words that communicate your specific message. While we sell words for a living, those words don’t just appear out of thin air…

They have to make sense. They have to convey your unique message. They have to resonate with your customers. They need to be structured just so. They should be spelled correctly.

They can’t intrude or call attention to themselves. They shouldn’t cause readers to stumble over them – or worse, cause them to stop and ask “huh?” They need to appeal to readers on an emotional level. Sometimes, the words should show a little spunk, a little personality so to speak; other times they need to be objective and authoritative. Words may need to refer to higher authorities and cite them accordingly.

In addition, words must be popular. They must cater to the demands of search engine users and the engines that serve up results. Keyword phrases aren’t always natural sounding, yet they must be worked into the website content without sounding contrived.

Words can generate traffic. They can inform. They can reassure. They can incite emotions. They can set the pace. And they can prompt readers to take action – if they are crafted with all of these conflicting requirements in mind. Creating effective website content isn’t easy because a single word isn’t a just word. Each word is a cog in complex machine.

Celestial Content Services understands how to string the right words into sentences that make sense both to readers and search engines. We speak to readers first, search engines second. Contact us today to learn more.

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