Style guides: why are they important?

July 15, 2015 | Web content, Writing

I’ve recently finished up developing a style manual for SANE Australia. I’ve also just finished editing one for Medibank Private.

The general impression of a style guide might be that it’s a long, boring document determined to strip any ounce of personality from a piece of writing. In fact, the opposite is true. Style guides are a great tool for writers (and anyone sending so much as an email), and they actually help to BUILD personality rather than strip it away. They also serve a few other functions.

Why are style guides important?

While style guides might only cause excitement in people with OCD, editors and people who enjoy emptying out drawers and placing everything back in an orderly fashion, they’re still pretty important. Why? Well, among other things, style guides help brands to:

  • Maintain a consistent style (thank you Captain Obvious)
  • Keep things looking professional
  • Introduce new employees to the brand
  • Build recognition and familiarity with a brand’s audience
  • Build trust with the audience
  • Improve the tone and style of a range of communications
  • Portray values
  • Create more effective communications.

What’s in a style guide?

Style guides can be long or short, and tailored to the needs of the organisation or brand. They commonly include:

  • Grammar, spelling and punctuation preferences (i.e. Australian spellings, single quotation marks etc.)
  • Tone guidelines
  • Brand-specific terminology
  • Context-specific guidelines (eg. print guidelines, letter guidelines, web guidelines etc.)
  • A glossary.

Each section will generally have a bunch of examples to help the reader understand the rules in some sort of context. For example, this sentence is a perfect illustration of the concept!

How to make a style guide

A style guide can be as simple or as complex as your company needs. It could be a one-page list of dot-points, or it could be a 100-page document distributed around the office.

If you’re after a simple style guide, there are plenty of templates and examples online to help you get started. If you’re after something more complex, it might be time to call in a professional.

Either way, if you think your brand communications could do with a little help, it’s worth investing the time and/or money. It’s a great way to set the tone for future publications.