Style Guides: Why and How to Create Them

September 23, 2014

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your company is communicating consistently and effectively is to use a style guide. Whether your content is being created in-house or with an outside marketing communications agency, a style guide is a must.


Why you need style guides

Content matters. And now more than ever, the quality of that content matters even more than the quantity. Content is what helps you get found online, build trust with your readers, educate and inform them, and sustain ongoing, profitable relationships with loyal customers.

A proper style guide can:

  • Improve consistency in content to show attention to detail.
  • Give the appearance of a single voice. Even though several people may be writing content, a unified style will ease seamless integration.
  • Make transitioning work to new employees a much simpler task.
  • Facilitate faster turnaround time as style and quirks can be easily tracked.
  • Lead to knowledge sharing across the team, instead of knowledge living in one person’s head.
  • Help you keep up with change.


How to create style guides

In general, a style guide should include:

  • A chosen standard style guide. Whether AP or Chicago, find out what’s customary in your industry.
  • Contact information for key people on the team.
  • Words or phrases of note in alphabetical order. Include names with tricky spellings, hyphenation or other punctuation rules and which words the company likes and dislikes.
  • General facts about the company, like when it was founded and if it’s family-owned.
  • Good and bad brand words.
  • Industry-specific style guidelines. Should tablespoon be abbreviated? How should measurements be written? These details matter.
  • Any legal requirements regarding trademarks and copyrights.


Quick Tips

A style guide is a living document. Preferences and industry standards change, as should your guide.

This should also be a collaborative document. To ensure that all of your bases are covered – and that it actually gets used – get feedback from involved parties.

That being said, you should determine a rough threshold for notables. Will you include a preferred brand word when the president says it? If you get the same feedback more than twice? Pick a threshold and try to stick with it to prevent the guide from getting out of control.

It’s also important to consider pushback for artistic value. In some cases, a catchy phrase may trump proper grammar.


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