Long before I worked as a Communications Manager on a construction project, I developed a taste for builders tea.
I like the teabag to stew for a few minutes, I like a splash of milk (just enough to cool it down, not enough to dilute it) and either one or two spoons of something, depending on which sweet additive is on offer.
Why am I telling you about my tea drinking preferences? To illustrate a point.
Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows that even something as simple as making a cup of tea can bring variable results, depending on who the maker is.
The same is true with writing. People’s skill, style and ability varies wildly.
This means that you can give what you think is a clear brief to two different people and get vastly different outcomes. If you’re the one commissioning work this makes your job incredibly hard, and that’s why you need a style guide.
Benefits of a style guide
- It will save you time. It provides a reference point for information and reassurance that you would otherwise have to provide. You will also save time editing (or worse, rewriting) work that comes back to you.
- It will save money. Employees will spend less time writing, reviewing and correcting documents.
- It promotes a professional image. Having a style guide helps to promote your brand, giving everything from your letters to your annual reports a consistent, polished feel.
Three important points to consider when writing a style guide:
- Keep it short, 1-2 pages if possible, 4 pages max. It’s called a guide, rather than an instruction manual, for a reason.
- Cover the key points required for most documents. How do you want people to deal with abbreviations and acronyms (very important if you work in a technical area of expertise), what format do you want headings or lists to take, how should numbers be referenced (i.e. 1 or one).
- Put personal preferences aside. We all have our own style, but the idea here is to promote a consistent approach that makes easy writing for your employees and easy reading for your customers. Some people find writing very difficult and they will find too many constraints overwhelming. Think of a style guide as a friendly hand pointing the way, as opposed to a frogmarch.
Don’t have enough time to write a style guide? AMK communications can work with you to write a style guide that suits your company.