One of the first traffic generating pieces of advice a blogger hears to get readers to their website 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 multiple people start submitting different styles of content to guest post on your blog? Create a writing style guide, now.
We’ve been there. Bloggers and writers want to submit their content for backlinks, exposure, and a little extra money too. How awesome, you don’t need to create content to fill out your content calendar.
The guest post submissions don’t mesh at all with your website. Sure, you don’t expect everyone to sound just like you (that’s half the fun of writing, isn’t it?), but, darn it, you just can’t use this on your blog.
Not everyone will touch on topics or say certain words you want kept away from your brand but make the standards clear, consistent, and up front to increase the odds of your contributors guest posts will be accepted. Wouldn’t you like to outsource your blog posts and have less work to do?
Any freelancers you’ve hired will be able to reference the writing style guide instead of contacting you with the same questions. How much time can you save by investing in the creation of your own writing style guide?
The Ultimate Writing Style Guides for Bloggers
What is a writing style guide?
The blog is your home on the Internet. A writing style guide will help direct the house rules for all things surrounding a language, including the spelling, punctuation, and formatting of your content. Having these rules provide order among chaos and consistency among confusion.
The writing style guide is created for the reader, not the publisher of these blog posts. Communications can be made clearer for the reader 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 but do address the most common questions that may come up in a written piece of content.
Why do bloggers need a writing style guide?
A writing style guide provides the consistent, quality content necessary to build trust and authority among readers. Whether you, a hired writer, or a guest blogger, everyone can understand the expectations of how a blog post, social media post, or an ebook should be presented to the readers.
The writing style guide also reduces the time it takes for an editor or content manager to review and clean up content. With a document to reference, questions between possible word choices or the preferred punctuation style are quickly resolved.
What goes into a writing style guide?
Before we go into what is included in a writing style guide, let’s cover what shouldn’t be included.The writing style guide is not the 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 of 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 multiple functions. How will your tagline, if you have one, apply on your blog?
Dictionary of choice
Choosing a dictionary to work from gives editors and writers guidance on how to spell words and what words express a point best whenever any questions come up that are not already answered by the writing style guide.
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/customer
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 in the topic of what you are writing? 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 writing style guide. Here you’ll identify if you prefer compound words split, combined, or hyphenated and if you want any capitalizations in your wording (e.g. ebook, e-book, Ebook).
There are two 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. No, sir. 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 than formatting here. This is about the headlines, paragraphs, and lists. How do your various headlines (H1, H2, H3, etc.) get utilized? When do you start a new paragraph? Will you use bold or italicized text? Do your bullets look like hearts?
Other common questions fielded by editors and content managers
This may grow as you become more familiar with your content 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 writing style guide as you continue to use it.
How to use a 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 of writers, editors, and contributors on the same page with your standards for your brand. The writing style guide will become an invaluable resource for learning what it means to write, or edit, for you and your blog/business.
The first option is to have the rules built into the authoring platforms. There are many web-based options for authoring platforms to use for this purpose, such as Gather Content, Content Snare, or Slick Plan. These options utilize templates in which you can provide additional information about the content that is expected within various fields.
Secondly, a searchable PDF, Word, Google Doc or webpage on your website allows for users to find needed information. Whichever option you choose, make sure everyone involved is able to locate the information whenever they may need it. A great example of a webpage is Mailchimp’s Voice and Tone guide and The Huffington Post’s editorial style guide.
Don’t assume people can keep track of a PDF among their own documents. Seriously, do you know where you saved the last ebook you downloaded?
How to create a writing style guide?
Decide who is in charge
The role of this person is to maintain the style guide, enforce the established rules, and settle differences of opinions between other writers and editors involved. Bonus if this individual has extensive knowledge on grammar, spelling, voice, and tone to provide educated answers to most questions brought up. Don’t worry if this person is the blog owner, without such knowledge. A scrutinous eye may research nearly all issues.
Everyone currently involved in your blog and business should provide input into what they would like to see as the newly established rule. Editors will have different opinions than the writers. That’s okay! The different perspectives will provide great feedback into what is and is not important to outline in the writing style guide. 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 grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other issues come up that need addressing or clarification. If no new issues come up, schedule a routine maintenance of the style guide every one to two 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 and make adjustments to create their own house style guide. I pulled together some of the most popular writing style guides in the United States.
The Associated Press Stylebook is an industry standard among journalists, magazine publishers, and corporate communications. There isn’t much room for unclarity to the reader when the AP Style Book is used. This has transitioned well as the news media focused on publishing content online utilizing this same style guide.
Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style is most commonly used for the general readership. Book publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style for its own style leading to the authors and editors working in that industry learning the rules set forth in the Chicago Manual of Style. 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 put together 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 is still relevant today.
Get your own writing style guide started today
Whether you start from scratch or build off of an already established style guide, a defined writing style for your own blog will keep all team members and guest contributors on the same page. A little upfront work, open communication, and regular maintenance will save hours of work down the line in writing and editing new content and refreshing old content to keep relevant. That is a return on investment worth investing in!
Download your own writing style guide template. Keep information together as you answer questions and gather new information. Streamline your writing style guide creation process with the template.