How to Put Your Best Foot Forward with Your Style Guide

You may not think fonts, colors, and tone of voice are essential in telling your company or organization’s story, but they are. These items all reflect your brand and serve as important components to distinguish your company and establish customer loyalty.

And there’s nothing better than a style guide to help ensure consistent communications.

Style guides are a reference tool for anyone who touches communications in your organization – whether that person be a writer, social media manager, graphic designer, or frontline employee.

A style guide spells out precisely what communications coming out of your organization should read and look like, no matter how small or large your company may be.

“Style guides are especially important in organizations with multiple locations where content is created locally. As a proud badge-wearing member of the branding police, I’m optimistic that a style guide will eliminate free-form design liberties such as stretching the logo, using other colors because ‘those colors match the image on my flyer’ or fitting the logo bug into shapes like wheels on a car,” says Sally A. Jozwiak, marketing strategist and founder of Jozwiak and Partners.

“If you want standards for consistent and high-quality representation of your brand, a style guide is a must-have asset in the marketing toolkit.”

What to Include

There are several elements you should include in your organization’s style guide. Most style guides contain the following:  

Logo usage 

A style guide should provide instructions on how to use your company’s logo. It should make crystal clear how to use it and what it should look like on any communications coming out of your organization, whether on letterhead, a T-shirt, PowerPoint, or a business card.

Below is an excellent example of logo usage illustrated in the American Red Cross’ style guide.

Email standards 

Have you ever worked at an organization and seen people use inspirational quotes or other sayings in lieu of a standard email signature? Maybe you’re allowing this now and haven’t considered an email signature a vital part of your company’s brand.

Think again.

An email signature plays an essential role in your branding because it communicates a high level of professionalism and provides instant recognition for your company any time it’s used. It is a critical part of your branding and should be included in your style guide.

What should an email signature look like?

Here’s an example to follow from The Writers for Hire:

Font and font sizes

The fonts you use in written correspondence or visual communications play an important role in your organization’s personality.

Your style guide should include all brand fonts acceptable for headings, paragraphs, and their respective uses. This includes everything from PowerPoint presentations to the fonts used in email correspondence.

When you select a font for use in your company’s communications, here’s a quick checklist of things to consider: 

  • Is it unique or memorable?
  • Is it legible?
  • Does it work on every platform? (This is important to take into consideration. What looks great on stationery may not translate well to a website or mobile device.)
  • Does it accurately reflect your brand personality?

Royal Caribbean includes the following rules for typography in its style guide:

Colors

Your style guide should include your company’s colors and specific print or screen values of red, green, and blue (RGB), Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (CMYK), or hexadecimal (HEX).

Colors should include primary, secondary, and complementing colors for your brand.

This is how Scrimshaw Coffee explains how to use color in marketing and other collateral material:

There may be some occasions where you deviate from your standard colors. For example, let’s say your organization is visibly supporting breast cancer awareness. Your logo may be adapted for a short period for sponsorships or special promotions.

However, someone within your communications department should always approve these variations and they don’t necessarily need to be included in your style guide.

Mission statement/tagline 

A style guide provides the perfect opportunity to remind employees of your mission statement and tagline. After all, every piece of communication that comes out of your organization should reinforce why you exist and what you represent. 

Editorial Guidelines 

Anyone writing on behalf of your company needs to reflect your brand, whether they’re the CEO, a social media manager, or a hired writer.

Presenting guidelines that provide specifics on tone (friendly versus authoritative) and voice (unique to your company versus commonplace in your industry) will help establish the overarching goals of your communications.

MailChimp, the popular email marketing tool, includes the following in their style guide:

Your style guide should also include rules for grammar, including punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations. Some companies may choose to adopt a widely known style, such as Associated Press or Chicago, while others may decide to create a style specific to their organization.

“Guidelines and style guides are always helpful for writers, public relations consultants, and expert sources. When I was in the journalism program at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication decades ago, professors impressed upon all of the students how important it was to adhere to the Associated Press Stylebook,” says Laura Pennino, writer, and senior PR consultant as well as founder and CEO of Pennino and Partners.

“The AP Stylebook was first published in the 1950s and is now in its 55tth Edition. The AP Stylebook will always be my ‘go-to’ source for direction on grammar and usage. Additionally, whenever I am working with any media outlet to contribute an article or guest commentary for myself or my clients, I always check editorial guidelines for areas of focus, word count, accompanying image requirements, and submission deadlines.”

When written clearly, your style guide will help in the efficient creation of these marketing and public relations materials:

  • Blog content
  • Video scripts
  • Website copy
  • Press releases
  • Landing page copy
  • Talking points for events or media interviews
  • Sponsored content

How do you write one? 

Now that you know the pieces that should go into a style guide, how do you write one?

Sit down and evaluate all the different pieces and select relevant examples of each. While it’s good practice to show the proper way to adapt to your style, it’s also smart to have examples of how NOT to do something.

Here’s an excellent example from Kent State University:

If you are too stretched and find it challenging to find time to create this essential document, you may want to outsource the project to a professional writer.

It’s important to realize that a style guide is a living, breathing document and is one that will need to be adapted as your organization and how you communicate evolve.

Make it part of your annual task list to review your style guide and update it regularly.  

Rolling it Out

You’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into creating a beautiful style guide. Now how do you launch it effectively to ensure it’s used?

  • Ask your human resources department if you can include it with your company’s onboarding materials. This way, right from the start, employees are set straight on items such as email signatures.
  • Make sure your style guide is easily accessible. While a style guide is not a standard operating procedure, it complements your SOPs, and you might consider making it available in the same general area for quick reference.
  • Have refresher meetings on the style guide and use them as opportunities to recognize employees who have followed the recommendations. Everyone likes to be recognized, even if it’s for using a logo correctly!

“A style guide lets every employee know how they can put the company’s best foot forward when it comes to communications. It brings consistency to how your company looks to the outside world,” says Jessica Johns Pool, senior medical writer for Health Union.

“Every email, every social media post, every mailing, matters to your brand, and a style guide helps every employee create that consistency. You’ll still have to remind people regularly about what’s in the style guide and why it’s important to follow it, but it’s still the easiest way to share your company’s communications standards across departments.”

You have several different subject matter experts providing content, and all of them have their own “voice.”

You have multiple written deliverables, and none of them look or read the same.

You spend way too much time training new employees – and monitoring your veterans – on the intricacies of your corporate communications policies.

You have a hard time delivering a consistent message that reflects your company culture across all channels.

If you recognize any of the above scenarios, it’s past time to introduce company-wide editorial guidelines.

We love guidelines. It’s not that we’re particularly hard-and-fast rule-followers, but there’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing what to expect. Rather than seeing guidelines as restrictions, we appreciate the structure that they provide. Editorial guidelines are a reference point for anyone creating written collateral for your company. And the best part is, if yours are strong enough, they benefit everyone in the organization.

We help you ensure a common style throughout your communications – whether it’s a single piece of written collateral or your entire line of corporate communications – to maintain consistency in your messaging.

When we talk about editorial guidelines, we generally categorize them into three main groups: stylebooks, social media guides, and branding guidelines.

1. Style Guidelines

For our long-term clients with multiple projects, we typically institute a client-specific style guide to maintain editorial consistency across every piece. (This is usually part of our overall service, although we are occasionally hired just to create one.) Some clients bring their corporate guidelines, which we then apply to every piece; for others, we create a comprehensive guide that is easy to follow for both The Writers For Hire and your in-house copywriters.

Keep in mind that there are several well-established “traditional” stylebooks already out there (AP Style Guide, APA Style, Chicago Manual of Style), and many companies simply adopt one of these. But other companies find that, for whatever reason, these established books don’t exactly apply to their situation. This is where developing your own in-house style guideline makes sense.

Your stylebook could be one page or one hundred pages. It all depends on your level of specificity as you detail the editorial rules that are specific to your organization such as:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Style and tone
  • Headline styles
  • Bold face and italics
  • Lists, bullet points, and block quotes
  • Photos and captions

2. Social Media Guidelines

Sure, we all understand by now that writing for print is completely different from writing for the web. But keep in mind that every social channel has its own conventions. If your company often repurposes your web content for multiple social media accounts, you could be missing the mark. And it’s unfair to assume that everyone writing for your internet-based applications innately knows how to do this. That’s where your social media guidelines will come in super-handy. You can help your writers maintain consistency across all channels by establishing clear and easy-to-follow guidelines on structure and SEO best practices.

We’re not talking about your company’s overall social media strategy; we’re strictly speaking of getting all your employees to write with a common voice throughout the social sphere. Things we help you consider include:

  • Your audience
  • Post length
  • Tone of voice
  • Use of links
  • Use of images
  • Keywords/SEO optimization
  • Comment/response policy

3. Branding Guidelines

Your brand is your corporate identity; it’s what makes your company unique. By establishing branding guidelines, you give your employees a useful roadmap they can refer to in conveying your corporate philosophy to the marketplace.

Your branding guidelines incorporate your editorial style guide, your social media guide, and much more. Because so much is communicated through nonverbal or sensory channels, it’s vital to establish a uniform visual identity and consistent creative strategy that your customers will recognize.

We work with you to establish your comprehensive corporate identity style manual. We understand the elements to consider in creating your handbook on policies regarding the formatting and visual presentation of all company communications. These typically take into account:

  • Logo usage
  • Typography treatment
  • Color palettes and templates
  • Photographs and illustrations
  • Editorial stylebooks
  • Exceptions or special situations

Put Your Best Face Forward

Just like the rigorous rules or principles of practice governed by your profession, corporate communications adhere to their own standards. Editorial guidelines ensure that every one of your written pieces delivers a consistent message.

Consistency is key. It conveys integrity and breeds trust. Just as producing a consistently high-quality product is important, so is the ability to describe it consistently. Too much variation can confuse the market and even compromise your brand equity.

In order to win – and keep – customers, your products and services must be predictable and reliable. And how you communicate with your customers can speak volumes about your company culture. And it may sound petty or even far-fetched, but inconsistent messaging can destroy your corporate credibility.

It could be that yours is a multinational that needs to make sure you use consistent units of measure for clarity. Perhaps you’ve just redesigned your logo and need to guarantee that everyone’s using the right one in the right colors. Or you might need industry-specific terminology with distinct acronyms. Or maybe your CEO simply prefers the Oxford comma. Whatever the idiosyncrasies, we’ll work with you to compile them into guide that all employees will be able to follow.

Editorial guidelines are an integral part of your corporate identity, regardless of your particular industry. We’ve helped hundreds of clients, both B2B and B2C, enhance their brand across various market sectors:

Guidelines Help Editing and Proofreading, Too

Editorial guidelines reduce confusion among your writers, but keep in mind that they can’t replace the need for solid editing and proofreading.

Once you’ve retained The Writers For Hire to create your style, social media, and/or branding guidelines, you’ve got a go-to team of editing and proofreading experts ready to help you ensure that your writers are following the rules you’ve set in place. The beauty is, we’ve already gotten to know your company – so we’ll jump right in as a seamless extension of your writing team.

We provide editing and proofreading services for both business and technical communications and ghostwriting and books

Editing:

  • Reviewing your copy to improve the flow and overall quality of your writing.
  • Ensuring readability.
  • Correcting errors or inconsistencies.
  • Revising sentences and paragraphs.
  • Making the copy cleaner and clearer.
  • Guaranteeing your copy follows your designated style guide, if necessary.

Proofreading:

  • Reading your final draft (after it has been edited and approved) to remove any last errors.
  • Examining the layout and/or formatting.
  • Double-checking dates, URLs, page numbers, and other pertinent details.

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Everything You Wanted To Know About Wikipedia, Part 6: FAQs

Here it is: the very last in our Wikipedia blog series. We’re wrapping things up this week with a few odds and ends, random tidbits, and FAQs that didn’t quite fit in any of our other posts in the series.

Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I want to write a Wikipedia article about my company – but we were sued for discrimination last year and it was all over the papers. Do I have to include that in my article?

A: If it’s notable, you should include it. Wikipedia is supposed to be a source of neutral and unbiased information – and it’s supposed to include all relevant facts, not just the facts that make your topic look good. You can choose to omit a scandal, if you really want to. But remember that literally anyone can edit your article. Chances are good that someone will find the information and add it in – and you won’t be able to do anything about it. What’s more, an article that is too blatantly positive might get flagged for neutrality issues or a conflict of interest – and that could put your article and your entire Wiki account at risk.

Q: Can you guarantee that my Wikipedia article will stay up and/or remain intact?

A: No. We can review your sources and tell you if your topic is Wiki-eligible. We can write and/or edit your article to ensure that it “sticks.” We can make sure that your article is neutral, unbiased, and properly sourced. But because anyone can edit Wikipedia, we can’t offer any type of guarantees that your page will remain as-is.

Q: What do you mean, “Anyone can edit Wikipedia?”

A: We mean exactly that: Absolutely anyone can create or modify a Wikipedia page – as long as they follow the rules about neutrality, notability, and sources.
Q: What if someone vandalizes my page? Does that happen?

A: Vandalism can happen, but it’s rare. Fortunately, the Wikipedia community is fairly vigilant about spotting – and more importantly, correcting – cases of outright vandalism. That said, it’s unlikely that your page will be vandalized.

But when vandalism – or even bad, nonsensical editing – does happen, it doesn’t stick around long. Here’s an example of a type of almost-vandalism that Wikipedia calls “patent nonsense”:

This may or may not be straight-up vandalism. Someone could have accidentally “published” a test edit, or this could be the result of a language barrier or a (really, really) bad translation. Whatever the case, this, um, unusual lead paragraph didn’t last long at all.

The vandalism – or whatever it was – was quickly cleaned up:

Q: Why can’t this letter/diary entry work as a source for my Wiki article?

A: Wikipedia articles must be created using information from secondary sources – magazine and/or newspaper articles, books, and some websites. Letters and diaries are considered primary sources – and therefore not suitable to use as sources for your Wikipedia article. If you want your Wikipedia article to stick, you have to follow the rules.

For a more detailed discussion of sources, check out this post.

Q: Who made you the boss? Why do you get to tell me what I can and can’t put on my Wikipedia page?

A: Nobody made us the boss. We don’t have an agenda. We don’t work for Wikipedia. As Wikipedia writers/editors/consultants, our job is to know the rules and standards – and help our clients follow those rules and standards. Our only goal is to help you create a well-written, neutral, properly sourced article that doesn’t get flagged. In other words, we’re sticklers about following the rules because we want your page to stick. We’re sticklers because it’s our job.

Q: Why do I need to cite this? It’s true – I promise!

A: We believe you. But you still have to cite the information – it’s Wikipedia policy:

Q: Is my company/topic/product Wiki-eligible?

A: That depends. To be eligible for a Wikipedia page, a topic has to be notable – in other words, it has to have received some amount of media coverage. If your company/product/topic has appeared in a newspaper or magazine, you might be eligible.

You can use this handy Wikipedia checklist to see if your topic is eligible.

Four Ways to Flag-Proof Your Wiki Page

Want to make sure your Wikipedia page remains free of flags? Here are 4 ways to help create a page that sticks:

1. Use citations from neutral, third-party sources such as newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, or government websites.

2. Avoid stating opinions as facts. Use neutral language to describe conflicts or differing viewpoints.

Good:Some critics say that Company XYZ treats its employees unfairly.”
Bad: “Company XYZ treats its employees unfairly.”

Good:According to XXX, Company XYZ makes the best widgets.”
Bad: “Company XYZ makes the best widgets.”

3. Don’t omit negative/controversial details just because you don’t like them. If the information is out there, you should include it.

4. Use neutral words and a disinterested tone. State facts and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions:

Good: “Senator Smith was elected 5 consecutive times.”
Bad: “Senator Smith was popular and well-liked by her constituents.”

Good: “Senator Smith sponsored 20 pieces of legislation related to education and children’s issues.”
Bad: “Senator Smith was a champion of education and children’s issues.”

So, that’s it for the series. Hope you’ve enjoyed it! Have any questions? Need some advice? Still not sure if your topic is Wiki-eligible? Leave us a comment or email [email protected] – we may even feature your question in a future blog post!

 

Hyphenated or Non-hyphenated?

Some punctuation rules are pretty clear. You know that a period belongs at the end of a sentence. Quotation marks go around direct quotes. Exclamation points, in general, don’t belong anywhere in your copy.

But hyphen rules are not so clear cut (or is it clear-cut?). It seems that everybody has their own in-house “rules” for hyphen use – and usually, those rules vary wildly from publication to publication. But what are the actual rules?

These are our proposed rules for everyone — world English change! I mean if you look at a lot of guides and some newspaper guidelines…they have pages upon pages of one-instance hyphen rules because things have gotten so complicated, and these things have just built up over time.

To The Writers for Hire, the in-house hyphen rules change all that. They simplify things, and the rules are always the same. You can always apply them in any instance and I, personally, have never ever had to look up a hyphen as long as you follow them.

Here are the rules as we see them:

Rule 1: Hyphens are always used when two adjectives modify each other and NOT the noun.

Example (maybe not the best example, but you get the point):

She is a nice fat fish. No hyphen because you can take out the word “fat” and it still makes sense. That is, both words modify fish.

Don’t play the short-stick game with Fred. Use a hyphen because short is referring to the stick, not to the game, so short-stick is hyphenated.

Rule 2: We do not hyphenate adverb/adjective combinations. So you wouldn’t say, for example, “Go to the fully-stocked bar.”

Rule 3: If there are two instances in a document of a potential hyphenation, but one is used as a noun and the other as an adjective, you only hyphenate the adjective. You don’t need it for the noun.

Example: When I wanted to install the set-up software, I had a heck of a time with the set up!

See? Simple. Three rules to explain away every hyphen question you ever had. You never need an exception, ever. And if anyone can think of one, I would love to hear of it.

AP Style FAQs: Part 2

Last week, we kicked off a mini-series of Associated Press Stylebook-themed blog posts. This week, we’re sharing a few more gems of wisdom from The AP Stylebook Online.

Q: What’s the rule for capitalizing a person’s title?
A: It’s complicated, but here are the basics: AP defines a formal title as “one that denotes a scope of authority, professional activity or academic activity.” When using a formal title, you should capitalize the title if it appears directly before a person’s name. So, you’d write “President Barack Obama” or “Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.”

However:

When you set the person’s name off with commas, you don’t capitalize a formal title – even if the title is before the person’s name. So, you might say, “The hotel’s general manager, John Smith, donated to the cause.” Or “The vice president, Joe Biden, appeared at the event.”

When using a title alone (without a person’s name), you don’t capitalize. So, you’d write “the president gave a speech” or “the congresswoman visited her hometown.”

And, don’t confuse a job title or line of work with a formal title. So, you wouldn’t capitalize: teacher, politician, editor, technician, astronaut – no matter where they appear in the sentence.

Whew! Confused yet? AP notes that, when in doubt about how to capitalize, the best solution is to rewrite the sentence so that the person’s name is set off in commas.

Q: Should “city hall” be capitalized?
A: Well, sometimes: Capitalize “City Hall” if you’re writing about a specific city hall (like Boston City Hall, Houston City Hall, etc.). This is also the rule in cases where a specific city hall is implied; for example, if you’re writing for a local Houston newsletter, you’d write “City Hall” (even without “Houston” – it’s safe to assume that your readers will understand which one you mean).

But if you’re writing about ANY city hall – for instance, “A city hall is a type of . . .” or “You can’t fight city hall” – leave it lower-cased.

Q: When using the acronym “CEO,” do I have to write out “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)” on first reference?
A: I was sort of surprised by this: No. CEO is so widely used that it’s okay to use on its own. But AP does recommend writing out all other C-level titles, like “Chief Financial Officer (CFO)” and “Chief Operating Officer (COO)”

Q: So, in your last blog, you said magazine and newspaper titles shouldn’t be italicized, just capitalized. What about book titles?
A: Book titles should be capitalized and put in quotation marks. Ditto for almost all composition titles, including video games, films, TV shows – and the titles of lectures, speeches, and works of art. So, you’d write: “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” (book); “Fallout 3” (video game); “Inglorious Basterds” (movie); “Annabel Lee” (poem); “Deadwood” (TV show).