Lots of organizations use style guides. In fact, according to some of our recent research, 67 percent of companies have their own corporate style guide.
And no, we’re not talking about brand style guides — the document that outlines your brand guidelines for your logo, font, and color palette, among other design elements. We’re talking about a content style guide — your best tool to make sure all your company’s content maintains a consistent voice and brand personality, regardless of department or location.
Style guides typically lay out all the guidelines for the content a business produces. At their most basic, they might be just a few pages and cover the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation. Meanwhile, more sophisticated guides can run to hundreds of pages. They can contain guidelines about everything from terminology, formatting, and abbreviations, to slang, capitalizations, and industry-specific words and phrases.
A content style guide is the backbone of your enterprise content strategy. In a perfect world, it unites all your content contributors — no matter where they work — and helps them to standardize their writing style and tone. It also keeps them on message and speaking in the voice of your brand.
Having a style guide gives writers clarity and helps to ensure they create consistent, professional content — regardless of content type. Ideally, it should be a resource that makes life easier and makes sure that what content creators are writing reflects the company’s brand, style, and tone of voice. If your company doesn’t have its own style guide, there are plenty of great editorial style guides you can use.
Here are four of our favorite US style manuals for B2B writers:
The AP Stylebook is the media bible. This stylebook contains commonly accepted journalistic standards for usage, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Most U.S. newspapers, magazines, and broadcast writers use it as their go-to style guide. It’s also characterized by its commitment to keeping writing style easy, concise, and free of bias. In recent years, marketing departments and public relations firms have also adopted it. So, if this is your area of content creation, AP style is probably a good fit for you. And, even if that’s not the case, AP style is so ubiquitous you really can’t go wrong using it.
Currently on its 17th edition, The Chicago Manual of Style is beloved by writers, editors, and publishers. It’s the standard for book publishing in fiction and nonfiction and is often used in the arts and humanities for academic papers. It has a lot of instruction on the publishing process, such as preparing a manuscript, proofreading, formatting, and citation, as well as style and usage. A more pared-down version of Chicago Style, called Turabian Style, is also available and aimed at students writing research papers. If you’re a professional publishing your work, you’d use The Chicago Manual of Style. Many corporations have also adopted it as their preferred writing reference tool.
The Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook is mostly used in the academic world. Recently updated to reflect modern challenges, such as web publication, it has one system that can be used across all platforms. It’s often used in teaching and lays out the principles behind citing and documenting sources, and gives detailed guidelines on scholarly writing and formatting manuscripts. MLA style is favored by scholars, journal publishers, and academic writers and publishers. Here, too, however, B2B writers are adopting it for content creation.
The Elements of Style is an absolute writer’s companion and possibly the ultimate of style guides. Written in 1918, it was revised decades later by Charlotte’s Web author EB White. It’s short and to the point, with an emphasis on the clarity and simplicity of proper writing. The rules are hard and fast, but set out simply. Authors, journalists, and copywriters love the “Little Book.” If you want to improve your writing in general, or need to focus on brevity and conciseness, this might be the editorial style guide for you.
Of course there are other style guides you could also consider, like the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or the Diversity Style Guide. It matters less which one you chose, and more that you consistently uphold those standards across all enterprise content.
Make it company-specific
Once your company has settled on a foundational editorial style guide, it’s time to get personal! Now you have to consider how you can add to those base guidelines to make them unique to your organization. A content style guide has to be specific to your company since it’s your chance to showcase your brand voice and connect with your customers.
Your guidelines should lay out the rules for things like:
- Tone of voice. When used in a business context, tone of voice helps customers understand and connect with your brand. It’s about using language to give your brand its own distinct and recognizable voice. And it’s a vital part of creating engaging and effective content. If you haven’t defined your tone yet, or want to refresh it, make sure to check out Watch Your Tone! The Ultimate Guide to Developing Your Company’s Tone of Voice e-book, and our Tone of Voice Workbook — to help bring your tone of voice to life.
- Product or service-related words and phrases. Your content style guide is the perfect place to standardize any company-specific words and phrases. It guarantees consistent, on-brand terminology will be in your content, no matter which department or writer is producing it. And that helps your customers easily understand and learn about your product or service.
- Grammar guidelines. Some grammar rules can be bent or broken. For example, starting a sentence with “and” or “but,” or ending one with a preposition like “on,” may not be strictly correct, but more people do it when they talk. You can also standardize the use of things like the Oxford comma. So you can adjust your grammar standards (or a lack of them) as a way to emphasize your brand voice.
- Accessibility standards. Ultimately, accessible content builds trust with culturally and linguistically diverse communities and you want your content to be accessible to the widest audience possible. So set standards about clarity and conciseness when outlining your style guide.
- Inclusive language. Inclusive language demonstrates awareness of the vast diversity of people in the world. And using inclusive language offers respect, safety, and belonging to all people, regardless of their personal characteristics. So it’s a critical part of any style guide. It includes many different aspects, such as respectful, history-conscious, and gender-neutral language, among others. If you want to learn more about how to bring inclusivity into your content strategy, check out The Acrolinx Guide to Inclusive Language.
Getting the Most Out of Style Guides
While style guides are a vital instrument in creating content, they’re not perfect. Whether they’re online or in physical book form, they can be hard to use. Writers aren’t going to memorize them front to back, or even refer to them when they should.
Fortunately, modern technology means they don’t have to. Innovative software enables writers to select a style guide of their choice (or input their own) and be guided to write in accordance with it. The result is universal compliance with style guideline preferences, without the hassle of having to manually look things up or run all of your content through a team of editors. No matter which style manual your company uses, having the right software to help enforce it can make a big difference. Plus, you can standardize guidelines for inclusive language, accessibility, and brand tone of voice.
Find out more about how Acrolinx can help you manage and enforce your company’s style guide to increase the quality and accuracy of all your content. Download our latest guide!