You are ready to publish a white paper, but a debate about citing your sources has stalled the approval process.

You spend an absurd time adding Oxford commas to the designs you get from your freelancers.

An in-house professional submits a blog that is tight and difficult to track, much like the blogs of the marketing team.

With the infographic you have assigned to her, your intern takes "interesting" creative freedom.

Sounds familiar?

These are all symptoms of the lack of a content style guide.

Creating one is a crucial step that is easy to miss in the rush to get content in front of the eyes.

But it is absolutely worth your time.

By consistently presenting your brand, sales can be increased by 33%.

Brand consistency is not just about logos and colors. It's also about the image and character that you convey in your content.

If you don't have a style guide, don't beat yourself up.

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Many companies start producing content before creating a guide. I'll guide you through the steps to create one on this blog.

First, let's summarize what a style guide is and why you need one.

What is a content style guide and why is it important?

A content style guide is a document – it can be a PDF, a website, a slide deck or a Word document – that breaks down the pros and cons of developing content for your brand.

Think of it like this:

Your content strategy specifies what types of content you will create and when.

Your content style guide covers the basics of creating this content.

It gives your content creators specific instructions for creating branded content.

A style guide also sets the rules for more practical questions about writing:

  • Is it a white paper or a white paper?
  • What words do you capitalize in headings?
  • Is your tone assignable and entertaining, or authoritative and educational?

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A style guide keeps everyone on the same page.

It is sometimes overshadowed by its more striking, sexier sibling, the visual style guide.

Some companies combine their content guide with their general brand guide.

But others make it a separate entity.

Depending on how involved your content guide is, you can choose what works best for you.

Why do you need a style guide?

Everyone creates content these days: sales people, executives, subject matter experts, etc.

You need a set of rules so that you can march in time with the same drummer.

Without a style guide, the content created by various developers is omnipresent.

There is no way to enforce the rules if they are not documented.

And when you start scaling your content production, things can really get out of control.

Planning, creating, and distributing content takes a long time.

A style guide acts as gutter protection by keeping your content on the right track.

Now let's explain how to create one now.

How to write a content style guide

1. Start wiping

There is no reason to create your style guide from scratch.

You can start with old faithful matriarchs of the style, like AP Style or The Chicago Manual of Style.

You can also use one of the newer guides available online, e.g. B. Mailchimp or Mozilla.

The key to this step is wiping. Swipe away.

2. Define your content mission

Why are you creating content?

Look at your goals for your content marketing program and work backwards from there.

If you have a documented mission, be honest when developing the content.

Take some time to think about the purpose of your content.

Is it to be enlightened? To chat? Explain complex problems?

Document what your content should do and be for your audience.

Mailchimp's approach is a good example:

mailchimp-content-mission-example

3. Set your voice and tone

This is the really stylish part of the style guide.

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This section of your guide should describe how your content will reach your audience.

Your voice and tone should match your brand image.

Target's happy-go-lucky charm does not affect the serious, caring image of a children's hospital.

Google’s developer style guide includes a Goldilocks-style table that shows how to properly set your voice and tone:

Google style guide for developers

4. Establish the basic rules for the basics

Now is your chance to set foot.

  • Do you use the Oxford comma?
  • When do you use numbers or write out numbers?
  • Emoji or not emoji?

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Die on this hill. And the guide will support you for the rest of the time (or until you change it).

Even if you choose to follow the rules of a popular style guide, it's a good idea to outline general usage practices and provide examples.

See how Canada Post removes confusion about common terms:

canadapost-style-guide-vocabulary-example

5. Address-specific content types

Different types of content may require you to change your tone or voice.

This is also an opportunity to outline best practices for the content types you create.

For example, your subject matter experts may not recognize that blogs need to be scanned so that users can actually read them. In this way you will receive a four-page word wall, which you will probably upload to the website unchanged.

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You may know the meaning of headings and short paragraphs, but this is not the case.

Document these details in the style guide.

Check out how Mailchimp gives instructions on the blogs he creates:

mailchimp-blog-style-example

And then they offer writing style guidelines that they can use on their blogs:

Mailchimp Blog Policy Example

6. Document your rules for graphics

While your visual style guide describes in detail how logos, images and visual design elements are used, your content style guide should also contain some instructions on images.

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Your design team may not touch every blog or content item you produce.

Should images be left, right, or centered? Are there certain types of images to avoid?

Include these rules in the guide to protect brand consistency.

See how the search engine journal works in our editorial guidelines:

Search engine journal image rules

5 examples of content style guides

Now that you know all the steps you need to take to develop your guide, you will have a lot of questions about structuring.

Fortunately, there are many examples from which to draw.

So let yourself be inspired by these instructions in the spirit of wiping as you develop yours.

Mozilla's manual for Firefox

Mozilla style guide example

Take away key

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Mozilla leaves no room for confusion as it is as accurate as possible.

The quick explanations in parentheses ensure that everyone (remember, everyone creates content) is clear about subjective things.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

uncch-style-guide example

Take away key

These simple questions force everyone who writes content for UNC Chapel Hill to compare their content with the brand's content mission.

Mailchimp

mailchimp style guide example

Take away key

Mailchimp avoids offensive faux pas by describing how to talk about gender, disabilities, sexuality, and ethnicity.

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Even well-intentioned content creators can step on a banana peel in these areas.

Your guide keeps everyone on the right track.

Spotify

Spotify Partner Messaging Guide Sample

Take away key

This excerpt from the Spotify Partner Messaging Guide shows how a style guide can anticipate user needs.

The alternative example here gives the Spotify partners a little flexibility and prevents them from leaving the ranch when talking about their catalog.

Atlassian

atlassian-style-guide example

Take away key

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The easy-to-navigate table of contents from Atlassian makes the style guide very easy for users.

Even if you don't have the tools to create a sophisticated website for your style guide, a clickable table of contents can do a lot.

Tips for the final final style guide

Now you know what a content style guide is, why you need one, and how to do it.

Now it's time for you to start creating your guide.

And remember, the guide is only as good as your ability to enforce it.

Here are some tips to help you do this:

  • Make it easily accessible to your content creators. Regardless of whether it's a web or a shared folder, you shouldn't hide this.
  • Refer to it when you give feedback. It may take some time to adopt your style standards. Keep nudging your creators so you can really see the guidelines.
  • Make it easy to read. A style guide can be a monster of a document. Take a keyword from the Atlassian example above and split it into parts that users can easily understand.

If done well, a content style guide can be an important step in creating content that will leave a lasting impression on your audience.

So go out and conquer!

Draw your lines in the sand, put your foot down, document everything and do not forget to wipe off existing guides.

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Image credits

Selected picture: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots made by the author

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