What comes to mind when you think of style guides? 

Maybe you’re thinking of a guide focused on branding. Like a brand style guide that outlines the correct logo, font, and color palette for your organization. Or perhaps the Associated Press’ Stylebook, often considered the ultimate companion for any journalist, or an academic style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style

Well, a content style guide is much more than that!

So, what’s a content style guide?

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.

Simply put, a content style guide is your best tool to make sure all of your company’s content maintains consistency across voice and personality — regardless of department or location. A content style guide contains a set of company-specific writing guidelines that shape your content and keep everyone writing in the same way. So it’s a major reference point for all writers regardless of content type: such as blog posts, content marketing assets, technical documentation, etc. And successful corporate content style guides achieve several things simultaneously:

  • Define your tone of voice and harmonize all your enterprise content.
  • Integrate seamlessly into your content creation environments.
  • Evolve as your brand identity evolves.

But how can you put that into practice? And what should your content style guide include?

Start with the basics

Every corporate content style guide should harness the basic formatting rules of one of the major editorial style guides. There’s no single set of rules when it comes to writing content. So, an established editorial style guide provides the foundation for standardizing spelling, grammar, formatting, word usage, and other variations of the English language. And, of course — that includes whether or not you can use the debated Oxford comma

Here are four style guides that every writer should know about:

  1. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. As mentioned before, the AP Stylebook is a set of writing standards for news media, and one of the most comprehensive and ubiquitous style guides. AP style contains commonly accepted journalistic standards for usage, spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  1. The Chicago Manual of Style. This set of writing standards is used in commercial and academic publishing — so it’s one of the most widely used style guides and beloved by writers, academics, editors, and publishers.
  1. The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style ManualThe MLA Style Manual is mostly used in the academic world and is primarily a set of guidelines for formatting and citation, in scholarly writing and manuscripts. It’s often used in teaching and lays out the principles behind citing and documenting sources.
  1. The Elements of Style. Written in 1918 and revised decades later by EB White, The Elements of Style is short and to the point. With an emphasis on clarity and simplicity, the rules are hard and fast — but set out simply.

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 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 corporate 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. It’s also a chance to tailor your guidelines to your target audience.

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, that’s consistent across all your content touchpoints. We love to talk about tone of voice here at Acrolinx. 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, 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 consistency of terminology, no matter which department or writer it’s produced by. 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. Or perhaps your company prefers not to use capitalization so it has a more informal content style. Either way, you can adjust your grammar guidelines (or a lack of them) as a way to emphasize your brand voice and style. 

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 content guidelines. Think about including helpful references for content creators, such as a step-by-step process of how to format a document.

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 an important 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.

Developing your company-specific guidelines can be challenging. It’s difficult to know where to start and what’s important. Our guide, Content Style Guides: The Path to Creating Consistent and Engaging Customer Experiences, walks you through the process and guides you with helpful tips. Download your copy today and start creating compelling customer experiences, fueled by consistent, on-brand content.

It’s time to scale

The main problem organizations face when trying to scale their style guides is to ensure content creators use and adopt them.  

After investing lots of time in defining and outlining in-depth guidelines, the last thing you want is to bury your style guide in a folder of PDFs, with no way to check if writers are using it. Not only does this limit your ability to update new guidance, like changes in company terminology, but it’s also unlikely writers consult the PDF for every piece of content they produce. This usually leads to editorial bottlenecks, as editors have to spend their time checking for tone, voice, and style, instead of adding high-value guidance.

In essence, if you can’t enforce and maintain your style guide, you risk inconsistent and potentially confusing content reaching your audience — and nobody wants that!

How technology can help

A better approach to enforcing and maintaining your content guidelines is to capture and digitize your content strategy. And make it available anywhere people are creating content, in the authoring tools they use. 

This means your content guidelines are available to all writers, all the time. And it keeps them dynamic — so you can be sure every content creator has access to the very latest standards about the way your enterprise communicates. Whether that’s one style, or several.

Content improvement technology adds velocity to your content creation process, by guiding writers to meet your content standards. When all your content creators build content that reflects your brand, you make your strategy a reality and help your organization speak with one clear voice.

In an increasingly digital era, it’s time to embrace modern, technology-driven forms of content governance to give your style guide the impact it deserves. The benefits include:

  • Easily capturing and digitizing your corporate style preferences for content.
  • Aligning all writers (regardless of department or location) to your content guidelines.
  • Guiding writers to create inclusive and accessible content. 
  • Maintaining a consistent voice, which makes your company easy to identify and recognize.
  • Increasing efficiency through seamlessly integrating into your content ecosystem.
  • Maximizing budget by making it easier to translate and localize your content.
  • Adding velocity to your content creation process with AI and automation.
  • Protecting your company against the repercussions of poorly crafted or non-compliant content. 

Bringing your content style guide to life

Realizing the potential of your content style guide is critical to providing engaging and consistent customer experiences. And Acrolinx wants to help you achieve that. Our platform lets you define, enforce, and maintain your content guidelines by capturing and digitizing your corporate style guide and aligning all content creators to meet your standards. From day one, Acrolinx maximizes the value of your content, by boosting its overall quality, fitness, and effectiveness, and giving you time and money back to reinvest in other higher value activities.

Want to learn more about how Acrolinx can bring your content style guide to life? Let’s talk.