One of the biggest advice heard to increase website traffic is to get in front of new readers with guest posting on another blog. This is great for search engine optimization, domain authority, and publicity. What a whammy! So what is a blogger to do when many people submit different styles of content to guest post on your blog? Create a blog writing style guide, now.
We’ve been there. Contributors want to submit their writing for backlinks, exposure, and money. How awesome, you don’t need to create all the blog posts to fill out your editorial content calendar.
The guest post submissions don’t mesh at all with your website. Sure, you don’t expect everyone to sound like you. That’s half the fun of writing, isn’t it? But, darn it, you can’t use this on your blog.
Some contributors may write about topics or say words you don’t want associated with you. Make your standards clear, consistent and upfront so that your guest posts help your readers. Wouldn’t you like to outsource your blog posts and have less work to do?
Anyone you’ve hired can reference the blog writing style guide instead of contacting you. How much time could you save by investing in the creation of your own writing style guide?
What is a blog writing style guide?
Your website is your home on the Internet. A writing style guide will direct the house rules for the language used including spelling, grammar and formatting. Having these rules provide order among chaos and consistency among confusion.
The blog writing style guide benefits the reader most. Communications are clearer and consistent across the various content locations.
The reader shouldn’t have to think about what you meant to say. Writing style guides are not intended to be a comprehensive document. They do address the most common questions that may come up.
Why do bloggers need a writing style guide?
A blog writing style guide provides the consistent, quality content necessary to build trust and authority. You, a hired writer, or a guest blogger enjoy this standard. Everyone understands the expectations of how to write a blog post, social media post, or an ebook.
The writing style guide also reduces the time it takes for an editor to clean up blog posts. Stylistic questions are resolved quickly with the style guide to save you time and money.
What goes into a blog writing style guide?
Before we go into what’s included in a writing style guide, let’s cover what shouldn’t be included. The writing style guide is not a brand style guide. There are no visual components to this style guide. There should not be a section for creating search engine optimization friendly content. Nor should this document contain the content related workflow processes. All this information is important but belongs elsewhere.
There are many components that may be added or dropped as appropriate. Here are a few ideas to get started:
Blog’s mission and tagline including how to use both
Your mission is the framework in what you do or don’t do in your business. A well-communicated mission statement keeps everyone on the same page. The tagline serves many functions. How will your tagline, if you have one, apply on your blog?
Dictionary of choice
Choosing a dictionary gives guidance on how to spell words and which one expresses a point best.
Section on voice and tone
What do you want readers to feel about your blog? How do you want to express yourself to the reader? Bold, fun, and playful? Feminine and cool? Explain what these terms mean and provide examples of how this might be expressed.
Brief section on ideal client
The keyword here is brief. The writing style guide is for the reader, not the writer. How can the message be delivered so that it is best understood by the reader? We need to understand who the reader is to answer that question. What education level have they completed? Are they beginner, intermediate, or expert on the topic? What life experiences may alter their interpretations of ambiguous statements?
List of preferred word preferences
Word preferences can be delegated to a dictionary or guided by the blog writing style guide. You’ll identify if you prefer compound words split, combined, or hyphenated and any capitalizations (e.g. ebook, e-book, Ebook).
There are 2 different methods to define your word choices. You can list out the most important and frequently used words in their preferred format. Or you can define the parameters around why a format is used in particular settings. Remember to provide examples wherever possible.
The month is abbreviated for a blog post published date. The format is as follows: Mmm dd, yyyy (e.g. Apr 25, 2010, Nov 20, 2015). Located anywhere else, the month is spelled out completely in the text (e.g. April, November).
Brief section on troublesome grammar issues
This section addresses pesky punctuations. Do you include the Oxford comma, otherwise known as the serial comma, in your writing? Do you litter your post with many exclamation points because, well, FUN!!! Are all capital letters acceptable under certain circumstances? How do dashes (hyphen, en dash, and em dash) apply to your writing style guide?
Section addressing graphics
This is NOT the visual branding section. That is an entirely separate beast. This is about the words surrounding the graphics, or not. Will you wrap your text? Remember to address any words used in the image itself. What font, size, and layout will you use? The meta description for images will also fit under this section.
Section on formats
The section above on formatting with graphics is separate from formatting here. This is about the headlines, paragraphs, and lists. How do your various headlines (H1, H2, H3, etc.) get used? When do you start a new paragraph? Will you use bold or italicized text? Do your bullets look like hearts?
Other common questions
This may grow as you become more familiar with your blog posts and the writing process. The key to the writing style guide is that it gets used. Keep track of questions that come up and edit your blog writing style guide as you continue to use it.
How to use a blog writing style guide?
The point of a writing style guide is to get used. I mean, why put in all of the time and effort into creating this document when it doesn’t get looked at again? That would be a huge waste.
Instead, get your team on the same page with your standards. The blog writing style guide will become a resource to write or edit for your business.
The first option is to have the rules built into an authoring platform. There are many web-based options for authoring platforms such as Gather Content, Content Snare, or Slick Plan. These options use templates where you provide extra information about what is expected.
A searchable PDF, Word, Google Doc or webpage on your website allows users to find information. Make sure everyone involved is able to locate the information whenever they need it. A great example of a webpage is Mailchimp’s Voice and Tone guide or The Huffington Post’s editorial style guide.
Don’t assume people can keep track of a PDF among their own documents. You’ve heard of the freebie graveyard, right?
How to create a blog writing style guide?
Decide who is in charge
The role of this person is to maintain the style guide, enforce rules and settle differences. Bonus if this individual has extensive knowledge of grammar, spelling, voice and tone. Don’t worry if this person is the business owner, without such knowledge. A scrutinous eye may research all issues.
Everyone involved in your business should provide input into what they’d like to see. Editors will have different opinions than the writers. That’s okay! The different perspectives provide feedback into what is and isn’t important to outline. Get the information together and have the person in charge act as the tie-breaker as needed.
Make it easy to find and understand
This is a reference material, not a book studied from front to back. Make each topic easily found by the table of content. Each issue brought up needs an example. If you define a rule, provide examples of correct and incorrect applications.
Make changes to the new style guide as new issues come up that need addressing or clarification. If no new issues come up, schedule a routine maintenance of the style guide every 1-2 years. This ensures everyone stays on the same page and all areas still apply as written.
Need a launching point to start?
You can start your writing style guide based on an already established style guide. In fact, most companies start with a published writing style guide to create a house style guide. I pulled together some of the most popular writing style guides in the United States.
Associated Press Stylebook
The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is a standard for publishers and corporations. There isn’t much room for unclarity to the reader with the AP Stylebook. This transitioned well as the news media focused on publishing online using this same style guide.
Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) is most commonly used for general readership. Book publishers use the CMoS leading authors and editors to learn the rules. This is the most widely adopted writing style guide either straight from the book or as the basis for creating a new writing style guide.
Yahoo! Style Guide
Less popular but still very useful writing style guides include the Yahoo! Style Guide. This used the company’s years of experience to compile their own online content style guide. This guide is no longer available online, only in print.
Elements of Style
Another less popular option is William Strunk’s Elements of Style. Although Strunk wrote the guide in 1918, it’s still relevant today.
Get your own blog writing style guide started today
You can start from scratch or build off of an already established writing style guide. A defined blog writing style will keep all contributors on the same page. You’ll save hours of time and money with upfront work, communication and regular maintenance. That is a return on investment worth investing in!