Writing Style Guide: create your own

Writing Style Guide: create your own?

Most business folks I speak to rarely have a writing style guide. They don’t usually know what one is.

In short, it’s a writing standard by which an organisation communicates it’s message.

Some companies use more than one copywriter. Global brands, for example, need to make sure their copy looks and sounds the same. An organisation that uses specific, technical language will be making sure their business writing is just so. Both will almost certainly have a document that details how they present their business. 

Do you need a writing style guide?

I think you do and I don’t care if you’re a freelancer or small business owner. When you outsource your writing to a professional, it saves a lot of time if they know how you like to do things. In reality, most smaller businesses don’t have one (and often their copy is all over the show).

Developing a style guide is bloody useful.

And I’m about to blow your mind with how useful it is: your copy will look professional, more polished, and demonstrate that you’re a company to do business with.

Words are powerful. They either have a positive or negative impact. If your copy has no cohesion, no brand standard, it leaves a bad impression.

Back to basics

Before you write a damn thing, ask yourself the following:

  • Who are you?
  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are you writing about?

You need to know who you are as a business. What your values are and how they define how you sell a product or service. And who are you selling to? How does that influence how your write your business content?

If you can easily answer the above questions but many will need to nail that shit down before they can create a writing style guide.

Consistency

This word comes up time and time again.

Many things in life can be achieved if only you’re consistent. The same goes for business. Think of this as the umbrella that stands over all the other stuff I’m going to talk about. If you don’t have writing style guide, your inconsistencies will be as noticeable as large chin wart.

Intellectual property

I’m referring to your company logo and business slogan.

You will have very clear ideas (or you should) about how these things are written down. If this isn’t (you guessed it) consistent, it will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Tone 

Everyone who’s publishing online as a business, has a tone.

Even if it’s neutral that’s still classed as a tone. And many businesses that write for academic or legal purposes often have to use that style of writing.

But what about your business? Are you conversational in tone, do you readily use contractions and begin a sentence with ‘and’? This should reflect the way you communicate with your customers, and more importantly, the kind of clients you’re trying to attract.

Grammar, capitalisation, and punctuation

But isn’t there one, universal way to write 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 English-English? (Joke for the Americans there.) Language evolves and changes. Go and read The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English to see just how much it’s changed.

Take a look at this lot:

Example 1:

Words that can be written in different ways: eBook, Ebook or e-book

Example 2:

How you format headings: 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

Example 3:

How you write direct speech: Sam said “I sure hope we get out of this alive” or Sam said ‘I sure hope we get out of this alive’

Tense.

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?

Perspective

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’

Business dictionary

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 that don’t reflect your business.

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. There’s an example of why having a writing style guide is very useful.

That’s it.

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. You’re welcome!

Take a look at my blog which has more helpful stuff about blogging and content writing for your business. If you want to know how I can help you, hit the button.

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