Consistency in your communications is the critical ingredient for a professional image. Using a good ol’-fashioned style guide will help you stay on track. Here’s how to create one.
Keeping track of your corporate ‘language’ and style is essential to maintain a consistently professional image in your market. Think of a brand. Do you ever see it in altered fonts with different proportions and slogans? Do you ever see them with key campaign words spelt differently?
Chances are that you won’t see variation in the good brands. They are sticklers for consistency. In a smaller business, it’s very hard to keep track of all the elements of a brand – the type size, fonts, colours, imagery and, of course, particular word spellings that suit your industry.
Being out of sync on these points can seriously affect how you’re perceived. For example, if your slogan is ‘Doing it with Style’, using ‘Doing it IN style’ is off message, and to the market it can portray different ideas about your business. It might sound trivial, but I know that for one of my clients I constantly have to remember to use ‘for’ not ‘with’ in their slogan because it’s really important to their audience.
Drawing up your own style guide can be a real time saver. You can post it on the wall where you do most of your planning and written work.
In the good ol’ days, editors, writers, communications managers and the like would simply draw up an A4 sheet of paper with columns and rows and list all the things they needed to remember when working through pieces for production.
A tool like this is an invaluable reference for remembering how to spell those bugbear words, how to use certain punctuation, or how to write commonly used brand or client names.
Want more articles like this? Check out the business branding section.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Divide an A4 page into two columns and four rows, on the computer or by hand. I do this in a word document on the computer in a table. This gives you eight squares.
2. In each of the squares, either going down or across first, write:
3. Write the conventions you want to use for particular items in the square corresponding to their alphabetical title. For example:
Bullet points – no capitals, no full stop at end
Colour – English spelling, not color
Capitalisation – MyBusiness (no space)
Decimals – 2 places after point 2.00
4. Print it out and keep it somewhere handy, preferably the place where you are normally doing your thinking and writing.
You can now refer to it every time you prepare business documents of any kind and write in new items as they occur. If you’ve prepared the sheet on the computer, update your revisions regularly and print a fresh one.
To complete a full style guide, I print out the A4 sheet and store this in a display folder with a copy of the logo at A4 size, with the print colours specified for different kinds of printing processes and applications. For example, I have a copy of how a sign should look, how an advertisement should look or any other expression of my brand so that I can be sure I am consistent across all media.
Keep this on your desk and you will never have to test your tired brain cells to remember every nuance of your corporate style.
If you want to be really smart and extend this into your office computer system, every time you spell check a corporate document, “add” any words queried by the dictionary you want so that they will always be picked up in future. Over time, your spelling dictionary will become filled with “your” language and your proofreading task will be orders of magnitude easier.
I first learned about this way of communicating with style in the Australian Government’s Style manual and it is still my bible. Check it out here.
How important is having a style guide to your business?