A blog style guide will make your brand better. Here’s how to make one in minutes

By Brittany Taylor

I went through a period of my life—hey, 8th grade—when I needed to convince everyone that I was a bitch. This was accompanied by the tweenage hip-first walk down school hallways and lots of dirty language. This phase lasted a few years longer than I wish it would have, in hindsight.

My new one is telling you all how much of a weirdo I am. Y’all, I am a total weirdo.

Case in point: I remember when I bought my first AP Style Guide. I remember walking into the campus bookstore and squatting next to the shelf where the Journalism Department course books were kept. I remember picking out the most pristine copy they had, and I remember cracking the spine in my dorm room as I flipped through the entries.

Total weirdo. I told you!

Before you write me off as a nutter, though, know that style guides aren’t just a writer thing or a journalist thing or a weirdo thing. A style guide for a blog is a tool smarties use to take their content to a whole new level of professionalism.

think on it

What a blog style guide will do for your brand

In its most basic form, a style guide for writing dictates how a certain brand, whether it's The New York Times or a sole proprietorship, writes (or "styles") words or phrases. It covers everything from comma usage to preferred holiday greetings to product name capitalization.

It's no surprise that I, as a word person, love a style guide.

I love how definitive it makes the language surrounding a certain idea or brand. I love that it’s a living document that evolves with a business as needs change. I love the process of building and maintaining one—all the consideration required to decide what the right way to use a word or phrase is and what the wrong way is.

I know. I know! It’s weird. Still, all the love-talk aside, a style guide is a valuable document that every business owner and blogger should invest time in creating and maintaining as their brand grows and evolves. Why? I’m so glad you asked.

A blog style guide helps you…

Decide which words and phrases fit your brand

When we think about branding, we think logos, color palettes, graphic design. Often, we train our attention on the visual side of branding and forget about the words we’re using to communicate our brand stories and messages.

Sitting down to craft a style guide forces you to consider the language you want to use—and not use—within your business. While you’ll use your style guide more frequently as a reference tool for your blogging and social media content, it’s also handy to have when you’re crafting website or sales copy.

Maintain consistency

Most people won’t notice if you use “fairytale” in one blog post and “fairy tale” in another. But every brand has its catchphrases and its trademark slang, and when you mess those up, loyal readers will take note.

Another area to consider: graphics. One graphic by itself with weird capitalization? Not a big deal. A series of graphics with zero consistency among them on a Pinterest board? That looks sloppy and unprofessional, and users will dismiss you and your brand for it.

Scale your business more easily

When you’re a solopreneur who’s DIYing everything, it’s not a big deal for you to be the only person who knows everything about your business. When you’re trying to grow, though, this becomes a handicap.

A blog style guide is another form of documentation.

It gives other people a tool they can use to step into your business and contribute without needing to ask you questions about every little thing. This allows you to delegate tasks like blog and email writing, responding to social media comments, and creating brand graphics without micromanaging them. And that frees you up to focus on big-picture details.

Create a unified brand voice

As you bring others into your business, you run the risk of diluting your brand’s personality, style, and, yes, voice. It’s the No.-1 concern my clients cite when they’re deciding whether or not to hire a ghostwriter: But will it sound like me? they ask. Will it sound like a bunch of different people?

It could, but it doesn’t have to.

A style guide can help you keep the writers you add to your team on the same path. With a reference to study and check, they can all adapt the way they write to the way your brand communicates.

Spend less time writing and editing

A blog style guide will save you time the same way Google does. Think of it this way: You could spend a few minutes searching your website to see how you capitalized a certain slang term 2 years ago. Or, you could use your style guide to double-check it, then go on with your work seconds later.

I like to keep my style guide open as I write and revise my blog posts and web copy. That way, I can quickly pull up terms I’m wondering about without having to waste time digging in my archives or my documents folder.

Use your brain to remember more important things

Remembering if you’re supposed to use “fairytale” or “fairy tale” is a trivial use of your brain cells. Use your recall for essentials, not bits and bobs you can shove in a style guide.

We only have so much energy at our disposal. Focus your energy on what matters most to your business without letting these little details escape you.

action plan

How to start creating a blog style guide right now

I know something called a “style guide” sounds like a Very Big Deal, but it’s not.

While it’s important to have one at hand, it’s not a document you need to invest scads of time in perfecting. A slap-dash style guide is better than no style guide at all, and a pretty style guide isn’t any more useful than a plain one.

Remember: This isn’t a client-facing document. This is internal. It’s for you and your team. Will it make you look a feel more professional than you are and do right now? Absolutely. But it doesn’t need to be polished. It doesn’t need to be designed. It doesn’t need to be printed and bound. It just needs to exist.

No more delays and no more excuses! Here’s how to make that happen right this second.

Step 1. Open a Word document

I use Microsoft Word. You can use any word processor—Google Drive, Open Office, anything. You could even use something like Evernote, although deciding your set-up there might be more time-consuming than necessary.

Step 2. Type [Your Business] Style Guide at the top

You should also include the date of the last style guide update at the top of the page, too. That way, if multiple versions end up floating around in the future, no one will be confused about which one is the most current.

Seriously, do this. I speak from experience. Date the damn thing.

Step 3. Make a list of words you use in your brand

These could be values, slang, catchphrases, taglines, job titles—anything. You want to pay attention to capitalization and punctuation. They should appear in your style guide as they ought to appear in every piece of copy you create from here on out.

If, for example, you use the word “boi” and it’s always lowercase, you need to decide if it’s going to be lowercase when it’s the first word in a sentence or if the section of copy it appears in is capitalized.

There’s no right or wrong answer—whatever you say goes. But do make a note of it in your style guide and be as specific as possible so that there’s never a question about it going forward.

Also: Some word processors will autocorrect capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. Keep an eye on that so that your program of choice doesn’t alter your intended style.

Step 4. Reference your style guide as you write and edit copy

As I mentioned earlier, I like to keep my style guide open 24/7 so that I can check it quickly no matter what I’m working on.

Step 5. Add to your style guide

Your style guide is alive! It’s always changing. As you write more content, add words and phrases to your guide so that it evolves when you do. The more you add, the more useful it will become. Don’t worry about making it long or cumbersome; that’s what your program’s “find” function is for.

Step 6. Share it with your team

Even Microsoft Word has document sharing capabilities nowadays, making it easy for everyone you work with to be on the same page. When you onboard new team members, ensure that sharing your blog style guide is on your list of orientation to-dos.

It’s also a great idea to periodically send around a message or email with a link or attachment, noting any significant additions or changes that have been made recently.

Don't want to DIY? Get my style guide for free!

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- Brittany Taylor