How to write for your brand by creating a Writing Style Guide
Full disclosure: I hate terms like ‘your brand’ and most marketing terms in general. I’m also uncomfortable with people who use ‘full disclosure’ yet here I am, look at what I’ve become.
Anyway, today’s gem of a post is all about how you write the stuff for your business.
If a company has more than one writer producing copy for them and/or they use very specific technical language they will almost certainly have a document that details how they talk about doing their business.
(Did that last sentence read like a company creating a document to tell employees how to take a poo? No? Sure? Ok)
Why do I need a writing style guide?
You don’t really but it actually might be useful and I’m about to blow your mind with how useful it is.
Mostly, it will help you sound more professional and your potential clients will come to trust you. Words are powerful and they can make or break you.
You see, when I was a kid I was called ‘thick’. By my brother usually, because it took me a long time to read. I was also hopeless at maths (still am) and even though I know I’m anything but thick (aside from my thighs) I still remember that word and how it made me feel. Words that make you feel good about your business will make your audience feel good too.
And one day soon you’ll get too busy to write for your business so having a guide will be useful for any writer you’ll outsource to.
Let’s start at the very beginning:
- Who are you?
- Who are you writing for?
- What are you writing about?
If you can answer the above questions, you’re on the road to knowing how to create a writing style guide. Exciting times.
I think this is one of the most important things to have when you’re writing. Consistency is important in many things in business. Think of this as the umbrella that stands over all the other stuff I’m going to talk about.
Here’s what your style guide should include:
Or your mission, if you prefer (I don’t) and by that I mean what you stand for as a business, what your values are and more terms I dislike but can’t find a better way of explaining them.
How you present your intellectual property
Look at how you write your business name and/or company slogan. If this isn’t consistent it will stick out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’.
Voice and tone
How do you run your business and how does it translate to how you communicate with clients? Are you naturally very formal? Are you very personable? Do you use humour?
Grammar, capitalisation and punctuation
But isn’t there one, correct way to do all this? Sadly, no. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all dictionaries agree either – they don’t. And what if you’re a UK based company but your clients are in America? Will you write using American-English or British-English? Language evolves and changes, go and read The Canterbury Tales in Middle English and see how well you understand it!
Take a look at this lot:
Words that can be written in different ways: eBook, Ebook or e-book
How you use capitals: How To Write For Your Brand By Creating A Writing Style Guide or How to write for your brand by creating a Writing Style Guide
How you use punctuation: “I sure hope we get out of this alive” or ‘I sure hope we get out of this alive’
This is getting tense but I’m talking about the past, present and future. For many of us it’s something we do without much thought but next time you write, take a look when you’re setting the tense and is it – you guessed it, consistent?
When we write we write from a viewpoint:
- First Person: Choosing ‘I’ or ‘we’
- Second Person: Taking on the viewpoint of the narrator, using ‘you’ or ‘your’
- Third Person: Writing about yourself as if you were someone else ‘Sarah has 20 years business support experience’ or ‘Blue Sky Thinking advertising agency was founded in 2004 by Robert Smith’
I have strong views about anyone talking about themselves or their business in the third person. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer or a large corporation, ‘I’ or ‘we’ sounds more approachable. Don’t add distance between you and the client.
Create a document with words you prefer to use when describing you and your business. You could pop in things like how you want the date to be written and include words you want to avoid.
I had a client who didn’t like the word ‘passionate’ when describing how he felt about his business. He thought it was a word that was overused. How did I find that out? I used it in the first draft of his website copy. Note to self: always ask this shit before you start writing for a client.
I think that’s probably enough, you can always add and build on this. It’s a really good exercise to give your brand a little cohesion and consistency. You’re welcome!
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