What is a style guide?
A style guide, or style sheet, is a document containing rules and guidelines that establish a company’s standards for communication. A well-written style guide is a top-level touchstone for a company’s external as well as internal communications.
The most common elements of a style guide are grammar and punctuation rules along with other information specific to the company creating it, such as buyer personas, tone of voice guidelines, or UX best practices.
What is a style guide used for?
The main purpose of a style guide is to shape the way a company is perceived and experienced by current and potential customers or employees. Style guides achieve several important goals:
Ensuring brand cohesion: A codified, familiar brand allows customers to feel comfortable and interact naturally with your company, which in turn deepens loyalty and brand evangelism.
Shaping company culture: Branding isn’t just about speaking to your customers. A style guide that covers employee-directed content can help establish a company as a desirable place to work.
Improving content: A style guide teaches writers how to fit your company’s chosen tone and style — making it invaluable in getting freelancers up to speed. At the same time, style guides ensure that editors can smoothly maintain formatting, correct errors, and keep corporate content on-brand.
How to create a style guide
A thorough style guide will contain all the information needed to allow copywriters, content creators, UX writers, HR personnel, executives, and others to create effective and consistent brand communications.
When creating a style guide, include as many of the following as you can.
Corporate mission and values
Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it, and why does that matter? Kick off your style guide with your company’s mission, values, and purpose to set the stage for the rules and guidelines that define your brand.
Voice and tone
Your brand’s voice and tone guidelines tell writers how your company speaks. Whether your company is clever and witty, approachable and reassuring, or scientific and confident, keep writers on-brand with clear guidelines and examples.
Explain who your primary audiences are — what pain points they have, how your company solves them, and how these people expect your company to communicate with them. Are they looking to be reassured, or are they experts who know exactly what they need?
Word spellings and choices
Is it e-commerce, eCommerce, or ecommerce? What about up-to-date versus up to date — and wouldn’t it be easier to go with updated instead? Do your customers purchase a subscription or a license? Remove the ambiguity and standardize your preferences in your style guide.
Include any words specific to your brand. For example, we use the term Grid to refer to Gridly’s spreadsheet-like workspaces, and we capitalize Grid in this context since it’s an official element of our content management platform. Clarify the capitalization, formatting, and spelling for any terms used similarly by your brand.
While not technically part of your style guide, a localization glossary plays a similar role during the localization process. Localization glossaries are databases that contain commonly used words along with their desired translations as well as definitions, context, and other notes.
A content management system or CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool with a glossary will prompt the translator to use the approved translation whenever it detects these words in your content, saving time and improving accuracy when translating strings and other text.
A localization glossary is an essential tool for ensuring quality and consistency — and it’s just one of the many built-in features that make Gridly the ideal content management platform for localization.
Grammar, punctuation, and formatting rules
Pick an established standard — AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style — then tweak it to meet your needs.
Guidelines on commas, quotation marks, em-dashes, hyphens, and other tricky punctuation save writers from having to make judgment calls and encourage editors to enforce standards based on policy rather than personal taste.
The same goes for text formatting choices, such as italicizing a word versus putting it in quotations or using bold formatting.
Due to its space constraints, UX writing often requires a separate approach. If your company creates software such as apps and video games, add a separate section to your style guide for UX writing. Here, it’s good to emphasize brevity and efficiency — such as by using an ampersand (&) instead of the word and.
Smart branding involves the ability to shape your brand to each communication channel you use. A quippy Tweet may not work as well on LinkedIn, which typically leans towards longer, more formal content.
Including channel guidelines empowers content creators to properly represent your brand, no matter where the communication is taking place.
4 tips for creating a great style guide
Ready to create your own style guide? Keep these top tips in mind:
Write simply. Don’t waste time on lengthy explanations. State a guideline, provide a relevant example if needed, and move on. A style guide that is easy to read and understand is also easy to use.
Keep it organized. Good style guides are easy to navigate. Sort your guide into intuitive sections that allow readers to quickly find the information they need.
Let everyone use it. Style guides aren’t just for copywriters. Make your guide accessible across your entire company, or consider hosting it publicly. A well-written style guide can serve double-duty as a branding asset if writers outside your company also find it helpful.
Make it a living document. Style guides aren’t set in stone. As your brand evolves and the words surrounding it change, update your style guide accordingly. Revisit your guide from time to time to adjust any outdated content while adding new information as needed.
Incorporate your style guide into your localization workflow with Gridly
You’ve got a robust and thorough style guide — but does it cover every market you serve across the globe? The best way to shape your brand in every language is by channeling the wisdom of your style guide through a localization glossary.
As a content management platform designed for localization, Gridly includes a huge range of built-in localization features — including a glossary. Gridly automatically detects glossary terms within your content to provide writers with the correct translations, enhancing consistency while reducing errors at the same time.
It’s just one of the many ways Gridly makes localization easier. Try it today.