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.