Style Guides: What They Are and Why Every Business Needs One

what is a style guide

I recently received a press release that actually made my jaw drop.

Each sentence was quadruple-spaced.

Yes, four spaces followed each period.

How can this BE? I wondered. Don’t these people have a style guide?

Whether they don’t have time to write one or don’t know they need one, I’ve found that the answer for many companies is no. But let’s change that, shall we? You want your business to perform at a peak level of professionalism and I don’t want to receive any more quadruple-spaced press releases.

In case you’re not sure what a style guide is or why you need it, we’ll start at the very beginning.

What is a style guide?

Simply put, a style guide is a set of rules for writing. The contents of such a resource can be as unique as your business—some companies might have a section of equal length devoted to design (logo size and placement, fonts, colors, etc.) where others only focus on writing.

style guide

What style guides should all have in common is the basic set of standards that establish acceptable style for clear, intelligent communication.

The most critical elements:

  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Spelling
  • Grammar

Why every business needs a style guide

I don’t remember the name of the company that committed the quadruple-spacing sin because I stopped reading the press release after the first paragraph.

And that’s the best case scenario. The worst case is that people associate the lack of professionalism in your messaging with your brand and share negative reviews with other potential customers. The harsh reality is, the wrong font can undermine even the most heartfelt message.

style-guides-for-dan-gilbert

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.”

How to create a style guide

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, you’re in luck. We’ve created a style guide template even the busiest business can customize to suit its needs. We’ve laid out fundamental elements of writing style, as recommended by the Associated Press, that are appropriate for most industries. (Note: If there are specific rules for your industry, you should, of course, defer to those.)

We’ve also outlined sections where more specific rules will be needed—such as positioning statement, social media, brand voice—and you can fill them at your own pace. 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. At Raka, we keep a text document in Basecamp where anyone can ask questions about writing or design. Once answered, the information gets added to the style guide.

On that note, I’ll mention you can always come to us if you have questions about business writing and design. Reach out on social media or send a message via our contact page.

As for spacing, the answer on that is one. One space. Period.

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