Creating a Style Guide for Writing Online

In fields like journalism or law, style guides have long been a fundamental part of company policy. Other industries are now discovering the benefits of having a reference point to promote consistency in their digital communications.

They’re useful whether you engage in email marketing, write documents for clients, or are maintaining the company blog. If you want to make sure all content across your company website follows the same style rules, a well structured style guide is key.

What is a style guide?

A style guide sets out standards for how content should be written across your company communications. The purpose is to give writers guidance on format, tone, grammar and punctuation. This means it should cover correct usages along with how the company would like to manage exceptions to the typical rules.

Why do you need a style guide?

A style guide should solve any of those internal battles you have trying to recall whether to use a semicolon or a colon, or if that full stop needs to be placed on the outside of the brackets. You might also want tell your employees how they should be writing the company name, using pronouns, or remind them of the tone of voice you’re going for. This is the place to get those messages across.

Bear in mind that most people will only consult your style guide when they have a specific question. Make sure it has a clear structure that allow writers to find their answer easily. Here at Webfactory, we veer towards the A to Z format but there are other templates out there. For example, if you are design based you might want a more interactive version. Most importantly, it should act as a resource to answer queries about writing for the web rather than a document that has to be read from cover to cover.

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What are the common features?

Punctuation and Grammar

As mentioned, most style guides contain punctuation and grammar advice. You don’t necessarily have to cover the basics but it can be a convenient resource when it comes to tricky rules like hyphens, quotations, acronyms, and abbreviations. There may be times when the company would like to depart from standard style rules, and these should all be highlighted. This is especially true when writing for the web — think of choices like e-mail or email, e-commerce or eCommerce.

Company Names, Products and Services

A style guide should show the correct ways of writing your company name including abbreviations, possessives, and capitalisation. It should also tell writers how to structure product or services names, and the names of any other companies that are often referred to in your communications. It’s difficult to expect other businesses or individuals to know how to refer to you correctly if it isn’t made clear internally first.

Headings and Lists

Formatting of headings and lists is one of the major components of a style guide. Inconsistent presentation of these across websites and documents looks careless, and this is a chance to make sure all employees are using the same patterns. The same might go for elements like references, captions, and colour usage online.

Common Issues

Finally, it’s often best to have a section on common pitfalls you have noticed. This section could include overuse of jargon, use of internal phrases and acronyms, inconsistent pronouns, or any other company specific issues.

Should you include a tone of voice section?

Not every style guide will have a tone of voice section, especially those based more around cut and dry rules, but we think including one is a good opportunity to remind your writers who they’re writing for. Should they write in the first person? Are they trying to be conversational or highly formal? How would you describe what you want company content to convey? Prioritise a few of the most important aspects, and use the style guide as a chance to bring them to the forefront.

What comes next?

Run the document by a few colleagues to see if anything has been omitted or if there are any sections they have feedback on. The style guide should be relatively brief; make the document as concise as possible while still covering all of the necessary details.

It doesn’t need to be the most extensive style guide out there, it simply needs to give anyone writing online content for you clarity on any major questions they’re likely to have. Make sure it’s a useable document both in layout and length. Otherwise, it doesn’t help your creators but instead becomes something they have to contend with.

Finally, your style guide should be a living document. Make changes as the company evolves or comes to different decisions. Be open to new points of view, especially as writing for the web is constantly evolving. Above all, it should be a tool to reference, and make writing that great content you’re aiming for a little easier. If you have any other questions about writing your style guide, get in touch at hello@webfactory.ie.

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Rebecca Treacy

Junior Content Editor

The author

Rebecca started off her career as a Communications Intern with the Undergraduate Awards, and has spent her spare time writing for online publications, social media, and guest blogs. She loves working with all areas of content, and is a fan of a good turn of phrase.

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