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Marketing / Business writing

Why you need a style guide, and how to create one

From writing proposals, reports and even emails – a style guide will ensure consistency, making your business look professional both on paper and in person.

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Do several people within your organisation write proposals? Or is one person tasked with updating the web content and blog articles, and another with writing client emails? Print some samples and compare the differences in written style and presentation.

A style guide is integral to keeping communication and branding consistent across your media channels – from websites to emails, sales letters, social media, blogs, newsletters and other publications.

Such a document ensures the same credible voice is conveyed each time a different person writes any communication material – no matter how many are in the team. If you don’t have one yet, here’s how to develop your own style guide.


Source: Work your way Flying Solo’s step-by-step course. View more.

"A style guide is integral to keeping communication and branding consistent across your media channels."

Getting started

A style guide need only be a Word document or PDF to share among staff or anyone who writes for your business.

Once you’ve established your business’ writing style, you could develop a system of templates to ensure every piece of communication maintains similar structure and presentation.

Language

Your style of language – or level of formality – comes back to knowing your audience.

Each set of readers has a different set of needs – and they communicate differently. Does your audience constantly use social media, or do they prefer something more formal?

Will your readers understand your terminology? And which words should you avoid or use more of?

Spelling

Many words are spelt differently in Australian English to US or UK English. Ensure “English (AUS)” is selected as the language in your Word document to avoid discrepancies in the spelling of words such as organise (Australian) and organize (US) between documents. Other word spellings to clarify might include:

  • Email (more common) and e-mail (or enewsletter and e-newsletter)
  • Program (AUS) and programme (UK)
  • Focused (more common) and focussed
  • Internet (with a capital “I” – less common) or internet

Words to avoid

Often one word sounds better – and more professional – than the alternative. Many official style guides encourage writers to choose the option that sounds best. Once you’ve made your style rules, chances are you’ll cringe each time you see one used ‘incorrectly’. For example:

  • Among, not amongst
  • Choose, not pick
  • Entire, not whole
  • More than, not over
  • Such as, not like
  • And, not &.

Punctuation

The frequency of commas, semi-colons and other punctuation can be a matter of preference. Once you’ve determined how long you like your sentences, include this in your style guide.

Numbers and dates

Commonly, written style is to write one to nine in words and 10 and beyond in numerals. Are your writers aware of this?

And which date format does your business use?

  • 16 March 2012
  • March 16, 2012
  • 16.03.2012
  • 16/03/2012

Use the same one each time.

Presentation

The presentation of your communication should be consistent and a true representation of your brand (visual and written).

Do you prefer bullet points to break up text on a page and to make it easier to read? If so, which bullet style looks best?

Sub-headings are also useful to present information in a more reader-friendly manner. Which font do you prefer, and what size? Use the same ones each time.

Formatting

Underline is rarely used, italics are used for titles of works such as books and movies, and bold for emphasis. What  formatting preferences suit your business communication?

Will you use UPPERCASE or Title Case for your headings? And what about your sub-headings? Simply bold?

Extras

If writing succinctly isn’t a strength, you may like to include some tips to reduce wordiness. Or even some tips on how to write in a more compelling way.

Of course, proofreading is essential before sending out any piece of communication, no matter its size, so include some tips on making this process effective, too.

What will you include in your style guide?

Caroline McDevitt

works with businesses to make their voice heard through superior written communication, and her new Writewords Writewell courses give you the skills to write with confidence.

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