In a perfect world, your company style guide would be the perfect bible for your brand. It would cover every tricky grammatical choice and every suggested phrase for your blog posts and outgoing content. Just by reading it, those tasked with developing content, designs, and marketing would understand how to clearly, intelligently communicate to your audience.
As my talented colleague Mary Brown pointed out, you need a company style guide to streamline and standardize your work. That doesn’t mean a slapdash, haphazard style guide is worth the time and energy it will take to produce, though. To ensure your guide is both effective and clear, you need to avoid the kind of mistakes which plague too many companies.
Not Involving the Content Team
I’ve seen firsthand what happens when you don’t involve the people who will be responsible for crafting the content within the guidelines of a style guide, and it’s not pretty.
Take a situation where your senior executives are interested in being the drivers behind a guide. The CEO of your company may have in-depth knowledge of everything you do, but he or she may not be a writer. That means you might get a muddled guide that doesn’t clearly lay out when you should lay down an Oxford comma, or when to capitalize titles. The result is a style guide that could be heavy on preferred company jargon and phraseology, and light on the specific grammatical structure you need.
Ultimately, you’ll end up disregarding that style guide, defeating the purpose of one in the first place. Push back, or find someone empowered to push back. That will ensure the style guide ends up in the hands of those who need it.
Only Involving Inside Sources
If you want your guide to follow best practices, you have to start somewhere. The Associated Press style, Chicago style, and design manuals from companies you admire all qualify. What you’ll want to do is take a hard look at those documents, decide the style that fits your company, and
steal crib heavily from it.
This is the rare time where we’ll urge you to borrow heavily from a source. Then customize it for your company, and use a quality template if you can find one. Otherwise, you risk incoherence or missing pieces that will need to be addressed down the line. At the same time, you’ll definitely want to avoid the following point.
An effective style guide should lay out the bedrock principles by which you create and write content. It should not specify a complete dictionary of language. This guide should not specify exactly how you must organize elements on a page. It should not specify the exact wording you should use to describe, say, an apple. It should not insist that writers use the word “cromulent” to describe your company.
The point of a style guide is to ensure compliance with how you want your company to sound and act in all public-facing content and marketing. It is not to micromanage the presumably talented writers you brought aboard to deliver creative and unique content.
Not Using It
The worst possible outcome for a style guide is weeks or even months of development, followed by letting it gather dust somewhere. A company style guide is meant to be a living, oft-used document. It is not meant to be used once per year when you don’t remember how to properly use a semicolon.