The key to consistent messaging: the style guide

One thing I rely on for every one of my clients is the style guide: a simple document that outlines spelling and grammatical choices or preferences for that individual or business.

Any time I take on a new client, the first thing I do is create a style guide, noting such preferences as:

  • spelling style (Canadian, UK, American, etc.)
  • capitalization style (I’m a minimalist when it comes to capitalizing words, but some people enjoy using Capitals For Added Emphasis or capitalizing job titles such as Chairperson)
  • for businesses, certain industry words (noting capitalization, hyphens, etc.)
  • for authors, any word that is made up (names of places, character names, spells, etc.)
  • yay or nay for the Oxford comma
  • certain punctuation rules, depending on the country of origin (e.g., Canadians put punctuation marks inside the quotes, whereas, in the UK, punctuation goes outside of the quotation marks)
  • for academic writers, what reference style they’re using (APA, MLA, Chicago, CP, etc.)
  • for blog posts, I’ll note keywords, word count target, and formatting styles such as headings and lists

A style guide (also referred to as a “style sheet”) is a living document, which means it grows over time. The more I work with a client, the more words and choices get added to their style guide.

The benefit to a style guide can be summed up with two words: consistent communication.

You might think a style guide is a bit over the top when editing a 250 word blog post, but what happens when that same client wants an 800-word Linkedin article edited three months later? Or an author decides to write a sequel to the book that was published 5 years ago?

There’s no way I can remember every single word choice for each of my clients (and I’m a professional editor), so I rely on the style guide to ensure my clients have consistent communication. This way, an author who starts off a 75,000 word novel using “okay” in their dialogue doesn’t switch to “ok” by word 34,000. And that the “Life Insurance” an insurance agent blogged about six months ago doesn’t all of a sudden become the “life insurance” on their website.

Following the same spelling, punctuation, and formatting styles ensures you’re using a consistent style, which, ultimately, ensures that your message is heard and understood.

How to create a style guide

Want to create your own style guide and unsure how to begin? Download my free guide to creating style guides, and then give yourself a high five for using a tool that’ll make your communication more consistent.