Style guides are commonly used by the media, academia, and large companies. While somewhat less common for small businesses and nonprofits, they’re a useful tool for organizations of any size! In fact, we think every organization should have at least a basic style guide.
While it does take an investment of time to create a style guide, it ultimately saves time in the long run because you have one central resource that answers a lot of the common questions that come up in marketing. It also helps ensure consistency in your marketing over time.
How to get started using a style guide
Many companies start with choosing an existing, recognized style guide as their foundation and then build from there. Associated Press (AP) and Chicago Manual of Style are two of the most common style guides, but other options include the American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA) style guides.
These are hefty resources with lots of guidelines about things like how numbers are written, which words are hyphenated, how certain punctuation marks are used, and much more. Grammar nerds and writing experts probably know the rules of their primary style guide well, but small business owners don’t need to, if they know where to look when a question comes up.
If you want to start with a recognized style guide, you can purchase a hard copy or online access for most of them. In some cases, the answer might be as easy as searching online for what your chosen style guide says about a particular question.
You can also bypass the existing style guides and go straight to creating your own internal guide for the things you encounter most.
Things to consider when creating your style guide
Your company style guide should start with who you are as a company and include some guidelines surrounding your brand voice. If you have a brand guidelines document, it’s possible some of that information exists there, so point to that document if available.
Is your brand voice formal or informal? More personable or professional? Do you talk directly to the customer in your marketing, or do you talk more generally about clients/customers? Do you refer to the people you serve as customers or clients or something else? What are the acceptable ways to write your organization’s name?
Next, think about how you want your marketing materials to look in terms of headlines for email copy, website content, or other pieces. Do you use title case (capitalize each word) in blog headlines and email subject lines, or do you prefer sentence case where only the first word is capitalized? Do you use numerals in your copy, or do you spell out numbers? Do you use the Oxford comma? If you’re a nonprofit, do you write that as non-profit, nonprofit, or not-for-profit? It’s little things like this make up your style guide.
Create a document that includes things specific to your organization and/or things that contradict the primary style guide you reference. For example, our company style guide includes that StoryPath is always spelled as one worth with a capital P, we use the serial/Oxford comma, we spell nonprofit as one word, and we capitalize blog titles on our website.
Why a company style guide matters
Consistency matters when it comes to your marketing, and a style guide is all about helping you be more consistent. It keeps you and your team (whether at your company or an outsourced partner) on the same page over time as you create all the different components of your marketing.
Like any resource, it’s only valuable if you use it. Review it regularly, add or subtract things as needed, and make sure you’re referencing it when creating new content.