In this age of information, content is king. Brands, publications and independent writers have their content bible or popularly known as a Content Style Guide.
Most people are familiar with a Brand Style Guide. All marketing and advertising companies advise their clients to have a solid brand guide they can refer to for colors, iconography, typography, and everything design.
A content style guide is more than that. It encompasses all content-related guidelines from grammar and punctuation to the content’s voice and tone. It’s a one-stop-shop writing guide for content creators that walks them through all the dos and don’ts of creating content – be it through direct response copywriting or graphics.
In this post, we’ll shed more light on what a content style guide is: its anatomy from the inside out, how and why you should create one, and who are the key people needed to establish a dependable writing guide.
Table of Contents
What Is a Content Style Guide?
In simpler terms, a content style guide is a handbook used by writers in order to create content that is reflective of the brand they’re writing about. Aside from the content team, the design team is also expected to have access to this guide. The two teams work hand in hand in producing material needed by the brand, and for them to do this well, they should have a set of rules to follow.
Since this document is accessed by pretty much the whole company, you might wonder who should be responsible for developing one.
Contrary to popular belief, writers are not the only ones who have the right nor the capacity to create a copy style guide. Marketing, advertising and branding teams can also contribute to putting this guide together.
It helps that they’re coming from different departments that use diverse approaches to communicate with the target audience. These differing insights are all valid and need to be considered when formulating an effective style guide.
We recommend creating a style guide as early as you can – especially before releasing any marketing collateral. This guide streamlines your communication style with your audience, so it’s best to prioritize creating this before any campaign.
However, you shouldn’t stop with the creation of a content style guide. This document should be updated quarterly or yearly (depending on your company’s branding updates) to ensure that it still reflects the brand image and voice.
Copy style guides are also a huge boost for eCommerce companies. Referring to this content bible helps copywriters in crafting product descriptions, ad copy, or landing pages that are cohesive across different platforms. With committed use, writing in one voice and style will increase brand recognition and eventually, brand trust among customers as well.
Why Do You Need a Content Style Guide?
No matter how good a product or a service is, you still need to devise a strategic content marketing strategy. Empathizing with your target market comes easy when you understand their pain points and how they behave.
Here are three other reasons why it’s beneficial for any brand to create a content style guide.
To Maintain Consistency Across Different Channels
One of the main ingredients of a good brand image is consistency on all platforms, be it social media, print, website or other video sharing sites. And that’s what a content style guide is for – it guides your internal teams in creating content that consistently carries your brand’s voice across different channels.
To Churn Out Better and High-Traffic Content
A style guide encourages you to research and gather as much information as possible to support your write-up. It also contains rules, do’s and don’ts that writers should follow in terms of capitalizations, punctuation, and grammar.
Aside from being a practical reference for your writing team, it also documents the preferred way of communicating with your audience. Thus, content created in reference to a style guide is intentional and targeted to a specific audience. All formatting aside, brand personality, tone and style play huge roles in helping you produce better content.
To Recognize and Address Your Audience’s Needs
The primary focus of any material is your audience. Will it resonate with them? Will they understand your content? Will they care?
A content style guide ensures a resounding yes the questions above. It draws out a bridge that connects your product or service to the needs and interests of your audience. And when done successfully, your content materials can effectively address your audience’s needs, resulting in higher conversion, better brand image, and lasting customer loyalty.
Bonus Tip: Characteristics That Make a Good Content Style Guide
- A brand voice that embodies everything the company stands for
- A comprehensive list of writing formats & guidelines
- A website content checklist of absolute do’s and don’t's in terms of format, style, and type of content
- An attractive and easy-to-read content (consider infographics instead of full texts)
How To Create a Style Guide?
Step 1: Solidify Your Brand Personality
Devising a brand personality that perfectly showcases your culture, communication, and values is a crucial component of branding. It allows your audience and future customers to remember who you are and strengthen positive relations with the brand.
A good branding personifies the brand, letting the audience feel that they’re talking or interacting with an authentic person.
A strong brand personality also aids your marketing in different ways. It sets your brand apart from the competition, builds customers' confidence, and influences their behavior through effective communications. In order to do so, focus on these factors when learning how to write a style guide that’s in line with your brand personality:
- Voice - Voice matters because it supplies the apparent personality a brand adopts in its communications. Is your communication formal, casual, or colloquial? It embodies everything from the words and the language to the brand’s underlying personality.
- Tone – This is the unique language of your brand. To put it simply, Tone is the specific way of addressing your audience. Do you want to communicate with them in a friendly and approachable manner? Or do you want to achieve a sarcastic and humorous tone? Whichever you choose, this component adds a certain layer of character to your messages and makes sure it pierces through the noise.
- Style – This is your content’s physical appearance: it comprises of capitalization, grammar, formatting, punctuation, and so on. Design principles can also be added to the mix. Think of different colors, patterns, illustrations, and textures that all contribute to an effective, well-thought-out communication style. Together with logos, typefaces, fonts, and everything in between, these elements visually help bring out your brand personality.
Step 2: Go Back to the Roots of Proven and Tested Style Manuals
- The Elements of Style - This is the oldest manual on the list. Since its publishing in 1918 and several revisions along the way, the Elements of Style delivers concise instructions on, you guessed it, style. It puts forward clarity and simplicity, which makes it a no-nonsense guide for all mediums.
- Associated Press (AP) Stylebook - The AP Stylebook has been the go-to resource for writing standards for news media individuals and outlets. It features in-depth discussions on journalistic standards for usage, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. AP Style has been around for over six decades and remains timely by today’s standards.
- Modern Language Association (MLA) Style Manual - The academe has greatly benefited from the MLA Style manual, thanks to its contemporary set of guidelines for formatting and citation.
- The Chicago Manual of Style - This collection of writing standards is commonly seen in commercial and academic publishing. The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the more popular mediums when finding appropriate style guides for writers, editors, publishers, and scholars. It serves as one of the pillars of style thanks to its evergreen directives.
Step 3: Identify UI Text Guidelines and Stick to Them
The next step is to address User Interface (UI) text guidelines.
This includes titles of list pages, forms, reports, and labels, including fields and buttons.
Tooltip, a text that appears when the user hovers over a button or menu; Help text that’s usually parallel with the navigation bar; and Info Logs all fall under UI text.
UI guidelines describe the best practices of UI and website publishing. These guidelines are usually magnified at the organization level and serve as building blocks for designers, developers, and testers.
Designers or website developers can easily get derailed when organizing the UI. That said, having a content style guide that streamlines layout and text designs comes in handy.
When the style guide is religiously followed and applied, your website visitors will have a seamless viewing and reading experience. Having an intuitive interface encourages learning as well.
Following UI text guidelines also means designers don’t have to deal with creating specs each time they create and add a feature. It also removes the need to wait for specs as they can simply refer to the guidelines provided.
Step 4: Enumerate Different Content Types
Content doesn’t always mean text. It could also mean graphics, moving images, or short videos.
The team responsible for creating a style guide should also include the type of content they wanted to see for the brand, with guidelines laid out for each (file size, image dimensions, and naming conventions).
If you’re wondering what to include in a style guide, here are some of the content types you can consider:
- How-To Guides
- Advertising Posts
- Case Studies
- Landing Pages
Step 5: Include All Preferred and Blacklisted Content Sources
Research is a must for any content creation process. Creating better content means knowing the right and wrong sources.
We like to believe that in writing great content, comes great responsibility. The content team should have eyes like a hawk when it comes to researching. And in order to help them pick the right sources, the content style guide should have a list of all favored publications and unapproved ones.
You can be as general as possible and list the domain types that signify authority (.org, .edu, etc.). Or, you can be as detailed as you like. List down company names or publications with their online addresses, specific studies, authors, or research documents.
Putting together a list of recognized and valuable resources helps your writers gather high-quality and credible information. Look into approved content like industry guides, product videos, market research sources, and data-focused reports and studies. Additionally, even key brands and competitors play a helpful role in gathering reliable information.
On the flip side, drawing information from taboo competitors, controversial and questionable sources can do more harm than good.
Content Style Guide in a Nutshell
Content Style Guides serve plenty of purposes. It encompasses a set of standards for writing, formatting and developing content for publications, websites, and organizations. You can rely on existing style guides or develop your own according to your needs.
Additionally, style guides serve as the backbone of your content strategy. It assembles all your contributors and helps standardize writing style, tone and more. A copy style guide is a great way of keeping things consistent, allowing you to communicate with your target audience more effectively with a distinguished voice and tone.
A content style guide is the best instrument to maintain consistency of voice and personality within your organization and beyond. It shapes your content and keeps everyone and everything in harmony, regardless of content type.