What is a style guide?
A style guide is a document that outlines your company’s standard for language and formatting choices for printed and electronic communications. Language is wonderfully flexible and subjective, but in professional communications, variety can create confusion for your customer and slow down the writing process for employees.
A style guide helps employees write consistent, clear, and organized communications that increase your company’s level of customer support and strengthen brand recognition over time. It also improves internal efficiency by establishing language and resources employees can leverage to reduce content creation and review times.
The company style guides below exemplify the type of resource I’m referring to. These are delivered as online guides, but yours can be as simple as a Word document delivered in a PDF format. Keep in mind that every style guide is different, according to the company’s audience, typical content types, and delivery method.
Do I need a style guide?
Probably. You need a style guide if you have multiple writers developing communications or if you outsource communications to an agency or freelance writer. Even a company of one will benefit from having standards that keep the company message consistent across content types and channels. Here are four things a style guide can do to make your life easier this year.
1. Increase customer satisfaction by helping them comprehend your point quickly, without frustration. Your brain performs best when it’s not overloaded with menial processing tasks. Consequently, inconsistent language and formatting slows down learning and can frustrate a customer who is trying to quickly find answers or understand a new concept. They shouldn’t have to re-read or guess what you mean. When we use predictable structure, customers learn where to find certain information and instinctively look for it in the same place every time. This means they spend less time trying to understand each document’s unique format and structure, and instead, quickly find the information they need. Writing with a style guide helps ensure important language and formatting conventions are consistent and familiar on every page, which supports efficient learning and a positive customer experience.
2. Strengthen brand recognition by becoming a recognizable “voice” in the marketplace. Document key messaging concepts and phrases that position your brand as one customers can rely on. You may need to meet with the marketing department or a consultant or set up workshops with your team to establish your brand concepts and language. After you document the final decisions, make sure every writer across the company consults the style guide when writing about company services and products. When you use a consistent and intentional brand message across all communication channels, your “voice” becomes familiar to your customers.
3. Improve employee productivity by reducing content creation time. When writers have go-to language, formatting, and even templates to consult, the overall development time for content creation is reduced. With a style guide, employees spend less time re-creating typical resources and more time focusing on content that requires critical thinking and creativity. Employees can avoid spending time debating language options, changing fonts, creating tables (and so forth) every time they write new communications. Instead, they select the right communications template and immediately start creating engaging content while following style guide standards.
4. Reduced time debating and re-writing content according to varying preferences. By establishing a source of truth, you reduce unnecessary editing cycles and debates about grammar, language, or formatting choices. Language is flexible, and there are legitimate grey areas that can propel reviewers into over-analysis and prolong review and approval processes. When questions or disagreements arise, a style guide provides clear guidelines to consult instead of guessing, diving into a rabbit hole of research, or leaning on the varying opinions of colleagues. By addressing debatable grey areas in a style guide early on, you enable employees to write communications with clarity and precision the first time and avoid wasting time with excessive re-writes.
Ready to get started?
You can create and implement a style guide in your company right away. Read my next article, 6 steps to creating a style guide for immediate use, to learn which topics to cover in your company’s style guide and how to deliver it to employees. I provide specific action steps, links, and a checklist to make the process as easy as possible.
Contact me for questions
If you have questions or requests for additional content, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to hear about your style guide challenges and successes—don’t hesitate to reach out.