Writing Style Guides: What, Why, How?

Writing Style Guides: What, Why, How?

Here at Paragraft, we’re all about encouraging businesses just like yours to create high-value brand content for their customers.

But with a whopping 60% of marketers creating at least one piece of content every day, there are bound to be some inconsistencies that slip through the net every once in a while. A word choice that doesn’t suit your audience, a tone that doesn’t match your brand, or a format that doesn’t communicate your message effectively.

So, how do you make sure the content your brand puts out is consistent in quality and style? Writing style guides, of course!

Today, we’re giving you the complete lowdown on all things style guides - a style guide style guide, if you will.

Breaking down what writing style guides are, why they’re important and how to use them and roll them out, we’re sharing all the essential know-how you’ll need to ensure your content ticks all the right boxes when it comes to best representing your brand.

What’s a writing style guide?

A writing style guide is a set of guidelines surrounding the use of writing, grammar, style and punctuation in any branded content your business produces.

Take a few minutes to scroll through the library of content found on the Paragraft blog. Spot anything? Well, yes - it’s all top-tier content (thanks for noticing!). But you may have also noticed that we always stick to the Paragraft tone of voice: colloquial, accessible and relatable.

Looking beyond the tone, you’ll also notice we’re consistent with formatting - we use bold for emphasis, we use NYT capitalisation in our titles and our paragraphs are kept short and sweet.

By establishing these rules and conventions, you’re able to ensure consistency across all pieces in all formats - regardless of who it’s been written by. This means that an annual review written by your CEO should have the same defining characteristics as your onsite copy written by your SEO team.

In short? It’s defining a tone and style that’s distinctly you.

Why do you need a style guide for your content?

At Paragraft HQ, we love a good content debate. From Oxford commas to paragraph indents, there’s a whole lot of grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting drama that can be stirred by disagreements within your team.

And given the wondrous versatility of the English language, more often than not, everyone is right. But that’s not very helpful, is it?

Enter writing style guides.

Writing style guides ensure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to all things vocab, grammar and punctuation. But this doesn’t only serve to bring a bit of peace and quiet to your office space - this consistency is key to your branding, too.

When done correctly, your writing style guide should detail a very specific set of conscious choices based on what they say about your brand. This makes consistency integral. After all, if you’re not consistent with how you’re portraying your brand, how do you expect customers to truly understand who you are and what you’re about?

How do you create your own writing style guide?

As we’ve already touched on, your writing style should always be a reflection of your branding. This means you should be able to back up every rule detailed in your style guide with an explanation of how it reinforces or complements your brand identity.

Start with the basics: style. Your style section should outline your rules surrounding basic grammar and punctuation - what do you capitalise, how do you format, what do you abbreviate?

Pay close attention to formality here, allowing this to dictate your decisions. For example, while a hip B2C brand might use ‘OK’, a veteran B2B brand might opt for ‘okay’. Consider, too, how your audience will interact with the style that you use. For example, a young digital brand may be free to use abbreviations such as ‘FB’ for Facebook and colloquialisms like ‘Insta’ for Instagram.

Don’t be afraid to get right down to the nuts and bolts here. While considerations such as numbers vs bullet points and italics vs bold may feel pedantic, keeping these little things consistent can have a big impact on the power of your branded content.

Next, move onto tone. While a little less objective than your style guidelines, your tone guidelines are the star of your show. After all, they define how your content will sound to your reader.

So, start with your overarching image. Are you setting out to be conversational, educational, entertaining, controversial... (the list goes on)? Once you have this set in stone, ask yourself how this image translates into your vocabulary choices and grammatical structures. Remember: your tone should be an extension of your brand image and personality. 

To do this successfully, consider how your choices will be perceived by your audience, too. Your tone and style should be readily accessible to your demographic, so be sure to factor readability and relatability into your decision making.

Let’s use everyone’s favourite content creators as our example once more. The Paragraft brand is built on the mantra of ‘content made easy’ - so, our tone is colloquial, accessible and relatable.

We achieve this through the following:

  • The language we choose (simple, no-nonsense vocabulary with more advanced ideas being broken down into layman's terms)

  • The style we implement (short paragraphs, snappy sentences and consistent formatting)

  • The tone we adopt (informal and conversational, with a sprinkle of personality and relatable references for good measure)

Simple as that!

What not to do

With so much to consider, you’d be forgiven for assuming that creating writing style guides is a never-ending task. But this isn’t true.

On the contrary, when a document becomes too detailed, it becomes difficult to implement day to day - meaning the impact of your writing style guide is ultimately watered down.

To help you strike that perfect balance between detail and usability, we’ve broken down some of the most common sections that are better left out.

Visual rules

Don’t get caught up in the subtleties of design and layout.

Visual guidelines are best placed in a design style guide with the contributions of your designers, developers and the likes. Instead, adopt the mantra of ‘words and words alone’, keeping your writing style guide strictly content-orientated.

Process rules

You’ll likely have a set of in-house rules regarding your writing and editorial processes. 

While these are important to have (and should always be communicated clearly with your team), these will have a far shorter shelf life than your tone and style guidelines.

So, to ensure your processes remain dynamic and reactive where needed, avoid detailing these in your writing style guide.

SEO rules

While you should always ensure your content and marketing teams are clued up on the latest in SEO best practices, these are best omitted from your writing style guidelines for two reasons.

Firstly, writers may not always be writing for SEO. Your writing style guide should be just as relevant to print content as it is digital, so avoid placing unnecessary rules and restraints on this content.

Secondly, SEO is an ever-evolving world. With each pesky Google algorithm update comes a whole host of new expectations, meaning it’s likely any SEO guidance in your style guide will quickly become outdated.

How to get everyone on board

Once you’ve spent the time carefully crafting your writing style guide, it’s important to get everyone on your team using it day to day. After all, the more quickly it all becomes second nature to your team, the sooner you’ll achieve a consistent and purposeful brand voice.

With this in mind, look to encourage everyone to get on board by adopting your tone and style at every opportunity.

Make it a collaborative exercise

Content as an art form is subjective - there’s no single approach for achieving a desired outcome. This means that one person’s version of a ‘fun tone of voice’ or ‘informal style’ may differ in characteristics to that of another.

This emphasises the importance of not making the creation of your writing style guide a one-man job. Instead, seek the contribution of anyone and everyone involved in content creation. Not only will this result in better, more rounded ideas, but it will also increase the likelihood of your guidelines being adopted from the off.

Make it as accessible as possible

Accessing your style guide shouldn’t be a chore. 

Store it somewhere to hand - whether in physical form displayed around the office or digitally on a shared drive. This way, it can be consulted at the drop of a hat, wherever and whenever your team needs it.

Make updates over time

It’s impossible to create an entirely comprehensive guide the first time around. There are bound to be new questions that arise, new disagreements that need quashing, new inconsistencies that need ironing out.

With all of this being said, ensure you’re regularly updating your style guide to keep it up to date and representative of your brand in the here and now.

Writing style guides are without doubt the most effective means of eliminating confusion, guesswork and inconsistencies across your branded content. To ensure your business is producing high-value content that best represents who you are and what you do, create comprehensive guidelines that couldn’t be easier to implement.

Struggling to pinpoint that unique tone and style? Get in touch with the content experts at Paragraft to learn more about how we can help you translate your branding into content that’s always unmistakably you.

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