Creating content for a brand, enterprise or publication isn’t easy. What should the voice be? What are the right rules to follow? How should the content be structured? A style guide is a set of standards that describes the style and formatting of content so that it is consistent across an organization.
Style guides can be a valuable resource to train employees on writing for your company. However, if your company doesn’t yet have it’s own style guide, you can take example of other great content creators to learn how they document and organize the writing process.
Here are five style guides from established enterprises that will help you craft better content:
Groupon’s meteoric rise means it’s not an example to be ignored. As Groupon has gone from being small startup to a public company in less than five years, it has consistently engaged millions of readers to sell its products.
Business Insider published an article containing screenshots from Groupon’s style guide. The Groupon style guide documents how critical copywriting is to a consumer’s purchase decision.
The most interesting sections in the style guide cover strategies to achieve the Groupon voice, how to avoid traditional marketing clichés and crutches, and examples of humor taboos.
As this Fast Co.Design article highlights, MailChimp’s style guide itself is evidence of its success. Despite style guides’ objectives to instruct staff on how to create interesting content, many agencies’ style guides are dreary, boring reads that new recruits force themselves to follow through. In contrast, MailChimp’s style guide is its own success story — it is full of content that is interesting and relevant for MailChimpers and non-MailChimpers alike.
One of MailChimps’ strengths is in identifying user emotions as they are faced with content. Their content lead, Kate Kiefer Lee, shares the secret in this slideshow: the MailChimp team uses Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel to identify users’ possible feelings in each situation. Content is then tailored to match the user’s feelings; for example, if the user is feeling apprehensive (e.g., legal), then MailChimp will avoid using humor and write as straightforward as possible.
Adobe’s editorial guidelines have helped to create a community of digital marketers and sell more than $4 Billion in software annually. Adobe’s style manual serves as a great primer for anyone starting to write — teaching you to avoid syntax or jargon that could confuse your readers and how to write for the web (break things down into short paragraphs, because reading onscreen is more difficult than reading on paper). Adobe makes a great point that will surely resonate with those who receive feedback from editors on their content: “You will be edited. Everyone is eventually edited. Don’t be surprised or offended.”
Unlike Groupon’s more fun-centric style guide and tone, Apple’s style guide suggests making use of humor only in examples and restraining humor on the occasion it could distract from the substance. Overall, Apple’s principle is to err on the side of caution when it comes to its writing.
Similar to Adobe’s style guide, Apple’s also has some practical suggestions for writing in a style that’s suited to international readers:
“Writing in the international style means that you write simply and that you express yourselfusing standard international conventions. These are the basic rules:
- Write in simple structures.
- Don’t use idiomatic or colloquial expressions.
- Avoid shortcuts, symbols, and abbreviations that could easily be spelled out.
- Express data using the standard international conventions outlined in this chapter. You should vary from these standards only when there’s a truly compelling advantage in using a proprietary or customary style.”
5. The Economist
The Economist’s style guide is an all-encompassing mashup of syntax and higher-level advice. For one thing, asides from the introduction, it’s all sorted according to starting letter, which means advice on “swear words” can be found extremely close to “syntax”.
The style guide starts off with George Orwell’s six timeless rules:
- Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
- If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
- Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).
Many of the principles illustrated within these style guides are similar; be empathetic, consider the wide range of readers, and write as simply as possible. Use these tactics to your advantage, and test each piece of advice to see how your readers react to your content. When in doubt, you can turn to these style guides as resources for developing your own tone, voice and structure for your content…and maybe even the foundation for your own brand’s style guide!