A style guide is nothing to do with the world of fashion, nor is it about the latest trends. It is, however, an essential document for your website or business, and it's the most important piece of content you'll ever produce.
A bold claim, sure, but over the course of this article, I'll explain what a good style guide should include and why it's an essential part of your digital marketing plan. And if you're considering employing someone to help with copywriting services, providing a style guide will mean the tone of voice is spot on.
Before you start writing content, you need to draw up a style guide. Style guides form the basis of everything you write. They help you write in the right tone and communicate clearly to your target audience. The other key element is that they ensure consistency across your content, branding, and literature.
What is a style guide?
Style guides act as a set of rules for how you write. If you don't follow your own style guide, inconsistencies will creep into your copy. That's bad for two reasons: not only does it look incredibly unprofessional, it also lessens the impact of your content.
When drawing up a style guide, you need to consider the following:
- Writing guidelines
- Tone of voice
- Brand guidelines
Writing guidelines are the nuts and bolts of a style guide. They're basically a list of rules you set up to cover how you write certain words and phrases. For example:
- do you write numbers as figures or as words? (eg ten or 10?)
- 2 million, 2m or 2,000,000?
- 9.30am or 9:30 am?
- 12- or 24-hour clock?
- Nasa or NASA?
In the examples above, neither option is right or wrong – but what is crucial is that you choose one option and stick to it. It might not seem a huge issue, but it really is, and presenting your content in a consistent way is very important.
The tone of voice:
The tone of voice is a hugely important aspect of a style guide. Your tone should be the same across your website, and if it isn't, your audience will notice. You can pick any tone of voice you like, whether it's professional/no-nonsense or something informal and cool.
The people you're writing for will govern your tone of voice, too. You wouldn't post content for millennials written in a stuffy, old-fashioned way. And equally, trying to appeal to a more mature audience by throwing in trendy terms they don't understand is not a good idea, either.
A good style guide will also contain a collection of banned words. These words are a no-no because they're either clichéd for the sector you're in, or just because they're not in keeping with your brand identity. For example, a travel company may have terms like 'paradise' and 'crystal-clear waters' on its banned list, because they're both rather lazy terms we've all seen in travel writing too many times before.
As well as the written word, style guides also cover more design-led elements such as fonts, logos, and color palettes. Together, they make up your brand guidelines, and just as with your writing guidelines and tone of voice, they need to be uniform and consistent.
Think about your favorite brands and they'll almost certainly have a hugely detailed set of brand guidelines, laying down rules for everything from logo design to preferred colors and fonts. Look at this example from Channel 4 – it's nearly 50 pages long and covers every conceivable situation.
You might think that such detail is over the top, but the more time you spend creating a solid set of brand guidelines, the greater the level of consistency each time your brand is mentioned – and by doing so, that will increase the emotional resonance with your target market and make them more likely to remember you.
Style guides can be as short or long as you like. The key thing is that you make yours easy to understand, whether that's for your own in-house team of writers and designers or anyone external who will have access to it.
A good style guide isn't quick to set up, but once done, you'll notice the benefits start to take effect very quickly. And if you don't have one yet, what are you waiting for?