The art of building content style guides;part 1

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, but if you aren’t, then welcome. We’re actually glad to have you here too. Contrary to common practice, writers are not the only ones who need to be concerned about content. The whole team should take responsibility for it because the whole team will at some point find themselves needing to create content. So how do we get a team of sometimes 100 or more people writing content that sounds like one person wrote it? A content style guide of course.

Why your team needs a content style guide

The task of putting together a content style guide is one that has tantalised and taunted many. The truth is, style guides are work, and they evolve over time too, so they are kind of a never-ending job. But, the value that they bring to your written content is worth all the effort. Whether you’re a team of one, some or many, having a single source of truth is very important. Style guides help to:

Put the user first

When you sit down to consider how you want to communicate information, you realise how important it is to know who you are talking to. For example, it would be impractical to use business speak to talk to an audience of 12-year-olds. They wouldn’t understand your content, would probably become frustrated and maybe even drop off before completing their journey with you.

Maintain consistency

In relationship building, trust is key, and trust is built on consistency. Creating and living up to your users’ expectations builds greater trust. Even the small things such as spelling, grammar and punctuation add to trust. Look at it this way; if you can’t run spell check on your content, can your users really trust you to provide good service? Consistency of voice is also important so your user never feels like they are dealing with different personalities when engaging with your brand.

Create better content

With a style guide, it becomes easier to concentrate on the art of writing. It gives your team the benchmark for how information needs to be presented. When you don’t have to think about those types of details, you spend more time on refining your content to sound even more appealing.

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How to create your own content style guide

Now that you know why style guides are important, it’s time to get to the real work. To get started you should:

Plan

Many important things get left out when you fail to plan. The first thing you should always do before starting the style guide is to consult the relevant parties on your team. Talk to everyone and anyone who might be affected, be it business partners, designers, marketers or even legal. For your style guide to be the single source of truth, it should minimise the need to consult with third parties when content needs to be written.

Understand

To write better content you need to understand your user. Do the research, build personas, do what it takes to find out whom you are talking to. Next, you will need to do some introspection and understand your own brand. Once you have a clear understanding of these two, you can define your voice and tone.

Include what’s important

A content style guide should include things that make it easier for the whole team to create content on the fly. You’ll need to build a dictionary and provide the link to it. A dictionary is a list of all the words you use and how to use them. You should also include any official product names in your dictionary to avoid confusion about the use of capitalisation.

Next, you need to include a description of your voice and tone. This should be easy now because you’ve already defined it in the previous step.

Finally, you need to include examples. People learn best by seeing, so it’s always a good idea to include examples of how the content should look in different scenarios.

Consider format

You should be able to use your style guide as a quick reference document, so keep it short. You also need to consider where it will live and how the rest of your team and other stakeholders will access it.

These are just a few guidelines but in part two of this article, we will work through a full guide on how to create a content style guide. I’ll also go into more detail about how to define your voice and tone so you can keep a lookout for that.

The art of building content style guides;part 1