Jenn Ganss

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson. Source: Flickr

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson. Source: Flickr

Many of today’s top companies—like Apple and Target—use their logos prominently and consistently, making their brand and the quality it promises immediately recognizable. For companies who sell services in addition to products, company marketing relies heavily on what you say, or write, and how you say it. Just like with logos, consistency is key. An inconsistent writing style can reduce the perceived quality of your product or services. Enter the style guide.

Developing a style guide—an internal reference of writing and design standards—can help staff at organizations of any size navigate the often complex world of communication. It can save time and allow your content’s message to shine through without distraction. Own your brand!

What is a style guide?

Style guides come in many shapes and forms, ranging from highly detailed references like the Chicago Manual of Style—which has more than 1,000 pages—to concise, single-page documents. The information included should help clear up any common misconceptions and ambiguities in communication that your team may face. Ultimately, for a style guide to help bolster your brand, your staff needs to actually use it.

Elements of a style guide may include:

  • Punctuation rules, such as whether or not to use the Oxford comma
  • Spelling of commonly used terms
  • Citation conventions
  • Design guidelines (e.g., company colors, font, spacing)
  • Guidance on writing for different audiences

 How do you start developing a style guide?

Thankfully, you don’t need to start from scratch. There are already several excellent resources that can answer your questions about subject-verb agreement, compound sentences, or citations. Consider the following process to develop a style guide that best fits your company’s needs:

  1. Think about who will use the style guide and what they need to know. Should your guide be short, or would it be more useful if it were comprehensive and easy to navigate?
  2. Look through your organization’s documents and identify key requirements for consistent branding. A review of both drafts and final products will also help you identify common errors and inconsistencies among colleagues.
  3. Assess existing style guides for ideas on how to organize a list of common errors alongside your desired style elements (such as company fonts, colors, and spacing).
  4. If your company relies on client style guides for communications, be sure to differentiate between the internal style and the client style. For instance, some of our clients use the word “cybersecurity” while others prefer this to be two words, “cyber security.”
  5. Include examples for correct and incorrect style usage, particularly for complex issues, so that your message is clear.
  6. If your company requires a comprehensive style guide, consider making a desktop reference for your colleagues. A one-pager that can be used quickly is extremely helpful in preventing common errors.

Once you’ve created a guide, consult with your colleagues to make sure that you have covered all relevant topics and agree on style conventions. A style guide is only useful if you have buy-in and if you can defend your reasoning for including certain standards. Is a certain rule too fluid to be useful? Is an Oxford comma really necessary?*

Here at Nexight, we develop products that distill immense amounts of information to its core. By using standards for writing style, we can ensure that our communications products are consistent, effective, and high quality.

For more information, please take a look at the following resources:

*Note: The answer to this question should always be “yes,” at least based on our company style guidelines.