Welcome to the wonderful world of content! Whether you’re a business, NPO, NGO or “other,” you have content to share. In my last post, I discussed why a style guide is vital for establishing consistency and trustworthiness. In this post, I’ll offer my thoughts on what belongs in your style guide.
B(u)y the Book
In my very first editing job–when I was a lowly summer intern–I was given the task of creating a style guide for my department. My supervisor took $50 out of petty cash and sent me to the local bookstore to buy a dictionary and a reference for grammar and style. I used them to create our department-wide guide, starting with the specific demands of our industry.
Even in our online world, I believe reference books still have an important role–perhaps their weight signals gravitas. Even though the Macmillan dictionary will no longer be available as a physical book, I recommend having an “offline” style guide. At least one copy of a reference guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, or a binder of printed material collated from other sources, should be available for the people who are creating or editing your content.
Add it up
But what goes in the style guide?
- Instructions on how formal or informal the writing should be. This may include issues such as using slang, writing in second or first person (versus more formal third person), using contractions, and the policy on profanity.
- Specific requirements for certain pieces of content, if applicable. This may include such items as minimum/maximum length of blog posts, what to include in a Facebook post or tweet, or how to approach letters or email correspondence.
- Company guidelines, such as job titles, partners, competitors, and core business knowledge. How will the content deal with industry-wide or organizational acronyms? (An established source such the Associated Press style guide can help here.)
- Decisions regarding spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and vocabulary that may differ among speakers of the same language, e.g., American vs. British English, Mexican vs. Continental Spanish, French from Europe vs. Quebec.
- Points of grammar or vocabulary that you feel deserve special attention.
Whoever is the content manager in your business or organization should also be responsible for the style guide. It is a living document, meaning that it should keep up as words, phrases, industry-specific terms or acronyms, or language rules change.
A well-constructed style guide will leave your writers free to create and lighten the editorial load. Happy thinking!