What Is a Style Guide and Why Your Business Needs One
Originally posted in 2017, this post has been updated to incorporate additional content about style guide best practices.
How many times have you gone on the company’s website and found a grammatical mistake, a strange-looking font, or—gasp—the incorrect use of the company name? If your company doesn’t have a style guide, you may be part of the problem.
What’s a style guide, you ask?
Simply put, it’s a set of rules for writing and design. It also helps get everyone at your company on the same page when it comes to the look and feel of your brand’s content, from brochures and business cards to blog posts and landing pages. As an added bonus, a style guide is great for reducing the lengthy review and revision process, getting content done faster.
In case you’re not sure where to begin, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through the basics of a style guide and why you need one. If you’ve got a firm grasp on what a style guide is and how to use it as part of your inbound marketing strategy, go straight to writing one for your company by clicking on “how-to” in the table of contents below!
Table of Contents
- What’s in a style guide?
- Why every business needs a style guide
- Conveying who you are
- How to create a style guide
- When in doubt use a template
What is a style guide?
The contents of your style guide can be as unique as your business, but all of them have a common goal—to define the look, feel, and tone of your content. By establishing a basic set of standards for clear, intelligent communication, your content will have a professional feel across all assets.
Important aspects of the design style guide:
- Logo design and proper placement
- Color palette
Critical elements or the copy style guide:
Beyond these essentials, your style guide can document your buyer personas, document industry-specific terms, and define your company’s style, voice, and tone. These elements will help you nail down your messaging and better understand how to make connections with your audience, and ultimately solve their problems.
Why every business needs a style guide
We once received a press release that actually made us gasp.
Each sentence was quadruple-spaced.
Yes, four spaces followed each period.
How can this BE? Don’t these people have a style guide?
The name of the company that committed the quadruple-spacing sin is irrelevant because this reader stopped reading the press release after the first paragraph.
And that’s the best case scenario. The worst case is that people associate inconsistency and sloppiness with a lack of professionalism at your brand and share their negative impression with other potential customers. The harsh reality is, incorrect punctuation, grammar mistakes, or the wrong font can undermine even the most heartfelt message.
Don’t do that to yourself and don’t do that to your company.
On a more positive note, a style guide is your best bet for keeping your communication and branding consistent across all channels. When everyone has the same email signature format, uses the same fonts, and creates presentations from the same templates, you’ll present a clean, united front.
And think of all the time you’ll save when not making endless edits.
New hire: “Should I capitalize the word ‘retweeted’?”
You: “Check the style guide.”
New hire: “Do we have a special logo to put on dark backgrounds?”
You: “It’s in the style guide.”
New hire: “We don’t use the Oxford comma, do we?”
You: “Get out of my office and don’t come back until you’ve read the style guide. You soulless degenerate.”
Conveying who you are
Beyond the rules of punctuation and grammar, a style guide helps everyone throughout the organization understand the kind of image and personality your company wants to convey. The colors, fonts, and the words you use all combine to create your overall style, and more specifically your voice and tone. Simply put, defining style, voice, and tone helps ensure that what your company wants to say and what it’s actually communicating to their audience are one in the same.
For example, a law firm wants to evoke confidence, professionalism, and trustworthiness. The firm’s style guide should reflect this through the voice and tone of their content, such as using a traditional color palette and formal language. A trendy retailer, on the other hand, should adopt a voice and tone that’s on-trend and youthful. It will likely use bright colors and informal language and lots of slang.
Know your voice
Voice is the distinct personality or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. At Raka, our voice is educational, but not condescending. Your company’s tone might be quirky and fun, or perhaps you’re going for smart but approachable?
Set the right tone
Tone is like a subset of voice. If voice is the personality, then tone is the mood. Raka’s tone is conversational and familiar. Consumer brands often go for friendly and positive, while a B2B brand might have a tone that’s knowledgeable and helpful.
How to create a style guide
A great place to begin is to look at the resources your team is using now. Are they relying on AP Style Guide, institutional knowledge, Google searches?
Your company may have a clear, well thought out guide that needs a few tweaks. Or it could be a cobbled-together design guide that’s been passed down over the years with little thought about what’s inside or if it’s working. Dig up whatever style guides and design standards are currently used and decide what stays and what goes. At this stage it’s helpful to get input from your team about what they’d like to see included, since they’re the ones creating the content and will be using it the most.
Next, include all company and industry-specific terms and design elements. This includes:
- name of your company and products
- when registered trademark symbols should be used
- preferred titles and naming conventions for employees and company leadership
- branding, such as logo, color palette, and fonts
- terms used only by your industry
- preferred format for blog posts, press releases, and social media posts
Beyond the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, your style guide should also show content creators how to present your company, both visually and in writing, to the public.
When in doubt, use a template
Starting a style guide from scratch is time consuming. If your business can’t prioritize a style guide right now or you don’t have a writer on staff who’s capable of creating one, we can help.
We’ve created a style guide template based on the style guide our team uses here at Raka that even the busiest business can customize to suit its needs. We started with the fundamental elements of writing style, as recommended by the Associated Press, and included sections for your company’s social media best practices.
We’ve also outlined sections where more specific rules will be needed—such as positioning statement, social media, brand voice—that you can customize to truly make your own and reflect your brand.
Think of something we didn’t? It’s just as easy to create new sections all your own. Style guides should be considered living documents that can be changed whenever questions come up.
As for spacing, the answer on that is one. One space. Period.