Should We Have a Content Style Guide?

A few years ago (in 2020), I was hired by a new content team to develop technical content. On the first day, they gave me a brief and asked me to write it within 24 hours.

I looked through the brief and saw nothing about their content style guide. I searched the public files but couldn’t find anything relevant. So, I sent a message in the group channel on Slack, asking: where do you keep your content style guide files?

The content manager said, “We don’t have one!” I was shocked. But why? What is a content style guide, and why is it so important?

Content Style Guide

A content style guide is basically a rulebook that helps keep writing and formatting consistent across all the content an organization or individual produces. It’s like a go-to manual to make sure everything sounds and looks the same, making the content more professional and easier to read.

It’s crucial for almost every business to have one. It showcases their uniqueness and professionalism in their content.

How to Create a Content Style Guide?

In general, every content style guide has 10 components that should be clearly defined. let’s list them:

  1. Voice and Tone: Defines the overall personality of the content and how it should sound to the audience. Voice is generally consistent, while tone can vary depending on the context.
  2. Grammar and Usage: Provides rules on grammar, punctuation, and word usage, often referencing established grammar guides like the AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style.
  3. Formatting and Style: Specifies how content should be structured, including headings, bullet points, numbering, and other formatting elements.
  4. Brand Language: Lists specific words and phrases that align with the brand’s identity, including preferred terminology and words to avoid.
  5. Typography: Guidelines on font choices, sizes, and styling (bold, italics, etc.) to ensure readability and visual consistency.
  6. Images and Media: Instructions for the use of images, videos, and other media, including size, format, and attribution requirements.
  7. Accessibility: Ensures content is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, by adhering to standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  8. SEO and Keywords: Best practices for incorporating search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and keywords naturally into the content.
  9. Legal and Compliance: Guidelines to ensure content complies with legal and regulatory requirements, including copyright and data protection laws.
  10. Examples and Templates: Provides examples of well-written content and templates for common types of content, such as blog posts, social media updates, and press releases.

It’s not mandatory to use all of them, but you should define at least tone, formatting, SEO, grammar, and examples.

What happened after the Slack message?

I argued about the content style guide, and they said, “We don’t need it because we’re fine.”

Believe me, they weren’t fine. There were five content writers, and each one used a different approach for their content structure and writing methods. The lack of a unified style guide led to inconsistent and unprofessional content, making it clear that their claim of being “fine” was far from the truth.

After three months, I was frustrated because I couldn’t make any changes or improvements. So, I left and started a new job as a senior technical writer. I wrote a new content style guide for the company and sent it to all the writers. They loved it and began writing and editing their content based on the guide.

A man with a pen a women with a laptop: Content Style Guide
Image Source

One response to “Should We Have a Content Style Guide?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *