What Is a Style Guide?

Good copywriting makes you know who the brand is without having to check the logo

A blue fedora hat
Be stylish with your own Style Guide

If you want to be this recognisable, you need to make sure that your business copywriting is consistent, wherever it is written.


Whether it's the words you write in emails to your customers, or to sell your products on your site, or even to communicate to your employees, your copywriting needs to sound like it has been written by the same person.


There are two types of guidelines that can help keep your copywriting consistent.


A Style Guide and a Tone of Voice

If you don't have these already, you may want to consider producing at least one of them. The more people who write copy for your business, the more important they become.


At first glance, a Style Guide may seem very similar to a Tone of Voice. They both have a role to play in making sure your business copy stays consistent.


But when you look at each of them a bit more deeply, you will see that they cover very different elements of language.


A Style Guide

A Style Guide is a document of rules that explain the language approaches to which any copywriting for your business should conform.


It's like your own law book. The grammar according to your business.


A Style Guide should be issued to anyone who is going to be copywriting for your business, before they start writing.


Why you need a Style Guide

You may wonder why you need a Style Guide for your business copywriting. After all, most of us learned grammar at school, so we know the rules to follow.


It's because of how we learned grammar that makes a Style Guide so very important.


Grammar isn't a single set of rules, even if we think it is. For the most part, grammar just provides suggestions. Grammar gives us choices. Some are logical and some are not.


Grammar is filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. What people use in their own writing depends on what they were taught, what they remember and what they prefer.


A Style Guide confirms the language rules you use, and those you don't.


Style Guides worth referencing

The majority of brands will have a Style Guide, but most don't publish them for public consumption.

Worth checking out are the most-referenced Style Guides below. They are all accessible online - just click on the respective logo.


If you take a look, you will soon find that they don't agree with each other.


The Guardian & Observer


Possibly the most referenced by casual writers and smaller businesses, no matter what your political view may be.

BBC News


More formal than The Guardian & Observer as you might expect. Useful for a second opinion.


Associated Press


Though it has an American bias, the go-to for journalists regardless of publication. You have to pay for the Stylebook which is updated annually.

 

Examples of Style Guide content


Numbers

Do you write numbers as numbers? eg,1, 2, 3.

Or as words? eg, four, five, six.

Do you do both? eg, zero to nine, then 10, 11, 12 upwards.

And what about numbers as adjectives for positions? eg, first, 2nd, 15th, twenty-first.


Abbreviations & Acronyms

Do you capitalise every letter of an acronym? eg, NHS, BBC, VAT.

Or just start with a capital? eg, Nato, Unicef, Nasa.

Do you do neither? eg, pin (code), pdf, sim (card).

And when do they need to be followed by a full-stop? eg Mrs., ltd., etc., eg.


Hyphens

Do you use hyphens when intensifying with an adverb? eg, fast-tracked, quick-thinking, light-hearted.

Do you omit the hyphen when it is with an adjective? eg, hairbrush, deputy head, heartache.

Or do you not include a hyphen at all? eg, a Head Teacher, a Neo Nazi, or a late developer.


 

What you decide to put in your Style Guide is your decision

If you are to have a consistent approach to the copywriting done for your business, it is a decision that you need to make.