Published on October 17th, 2013 | by Contributing Author2
Use a Style Guide for Consistently Great Content
While writing blogs, newsletters, social posts and other content, keeping a consistent style across all platforms and writers is a must-do. Making sure that readers understand what you’ve written, as well as familiarizing them with the voice and tone coming from your company is important for brand awareness and content marketing strategies. A style guide keeps you and/or your entire team on point, especially on nitty gritty details such as how you describe your products or speak with customers.
In the world of journalism, print or online, copy editors use stylebooks as a sort of bible to provide consistency for readers. Most publications choose a standard manual and add internal style preferences to the mix. Two of the best-known guides are the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. They cover stylistic choices, such as how to handle particularly tricky pieces of grammar. They also have a dictionary of sorts where a writer can look up a particular term and see how to use it consistently. For instance, the word ‘e-book’ can also be written ‘ebook’ or ‘eBook’ depending on which style guide is used.
Tracy Gold, a writer, editor and content strategist, works with clients on creating online publications from scratch, including developing the style of those publications. She says the greatest value in style guides is the efficiency they add to the publishing process.
“Creating a style guide makes it much easier to bring a new writer or editor on board. Instead of sitting down and explaining everything in the style guide — and likely forgetting half of it — you can just send them the document. That seriously cuts down on editing time later,” Gold says.
Choosing the base for your style guide is a necessary first step, unless you’re willing to recreate the work of another guide from scratch. Gold relies first and foremost on the AP Stylebook for stylistic decisions. She says, “I use AP and refer to (its) online stylebook whenever I’m in doubt. My subscription is worth every penny.” Most style guides are available both in print and as digital subscriptions. A print copy of the AP Stylebook is less than $15 on Amazon, while a digital subscription runs $26 per year. The Chicago Manual of Style is more of an investment, costing around $40 in print and $35 for a digital subscription. Specialized industry style guides tend to go up from there.
Using the AP Stylebook as a bedrock, Gold then creates a detailed internal style guide for each client.
“I start with a brief overview of branding and tone. What’s the voice we’re going for? Then it drills down to details, such as whether we’re calling customers ‘clients,’ ‘customers,’ or ‘partners.’ I treat the style guide as a living document and fill it in as I learn more about the client. You can’t always think of every pet peeve or preference in an initial interview. For example, if I discover that the client prefers the word ‘offer’ to ‘deal’ while going back and forth on a blog post, I’ll add that to the style guide.”
It’s crucial that a style guide be easily accessible to anyone working on a given project — both as a reference guide and to streamline updates. Gold notes, “I either keep the style guide as a Google document, or as a Word document in a shared Dropbox folder, depending on the client’s preference. That way everyone has access to the most recent version. Normally, I’m the enforcer of the style guide, because I edit everything before it goes live. It’s great to have the style guide to point to when I’m asking a writer to make a change.”
Once a guide is in place, you will need to find someone to act as what Gold describes as the ‘enforcer.’ While most writers will stick to the assigned style guide, there will be occasional slip-ups and typos. Luckily, having a style guide in place can quicken the editing process and minimize an editor’s or enforcer’s need to go back and forth with a writer.
What style guide do you use? Have you created one for your company? Tell us about it.
This post was contributed by guest author Thursday Bram. Bram has written for CNET, GigaOm, Lifehack and a variety of other sites. She can be found at thursdaybram.com.
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