21 Steps to Create a Customized Style Guide

How can you help ensure that your work team delivers consistently high-quality blogs and articles, customer email responses, presentations and reports for customers and your management team, white papers, and other documents?

Let’s assume that you have already created document–specific Writers’ Guides to ensure that each document’s content is accurate, appropriate for the context, and substantive. The Guides could include annotated document models, content checklists, dynamic templates and instructions for writers. The dynamic templates could have fields for writers to fill in content or simply annotation/prompts for writers.

Once the Writers’ Guides are in place, it is time to focus on style. For each writing situation, consider creating a customized Style Guide and Glossary for your work team’s quick reference. These codified rules and standards will help to deliver a consistent experience for your readers and the desired perception of professionalism and credibility for your work team and larger organization. These rules and standards will also increase your team’s writing and editing efficiency.

The following list provides suggestions for your customized Style Guide:

1. Identify the industry and organization style guide(s) on which the group’s Style Guide is based. Align the group’s Style Guide with those standard guides. With few exceptions (such as the frequently debated style consideration concerning the use of a comma before and in a list), do not repeat the industry or organization style guide’s guidelines and rules in your customized Style Guide. Reserve your Style Guide for additional style considerations for your specific document or presentation situation.

For example, depending upon its industry and audience, as the basis of its own Style Guide, an organization in the United Kingdom might use the BBC Style Guide or the Oxford Style Manual, while an organization in the United States might use one or more of the following:

2.  Establish a convention for naming and formatting document files so that everyone can access content in each other’s documents quickly. Provide examples.

3.  Define your team’s overarching message/theme as well as the style for voice/persona and tone. For example, your team’s message might be “quick project turnaround and accurate results.” Your tone might be “accountable, professional, quality-focused, and responsive.” Also, define the preferred timing and media for communicating different types of messages.

4.  Provide sample pages or PowerPoint slides illustrating common style considerations for text and graphics as well as for any links to audio or video.

5. Establish a standard for clarity and readability, and provide guidance for enhancing both. For example, for a blog or customer report, you might limit the number of words or set a standard reading level appropriate for your content and audience. You might have a preferred style for use of active and passive voice. You might also indicate the tools writers are expected to use to gauge readability, such as Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics Feature.

6.  Establish a List of Abbreviations and a Glossary as well as a process to update the List and Glossary.

7.  Provide a List of Preferred Spellings for industry-, organization-, and customer-specific words that may have more than one correct spelling. Establish a process to update the List.

8.  Establish a style for such considerations as treatment/use of abbreviations, capitalization, contractions, dates, spacing, punctuation, and numbers. Establish a style for treatment of mathematical or scientific text. Provide examples.

9.  Establish, and provide the rationale for, a preferred font style and size for different media.

10. Establish a style for formatting including presentation of titles/subject lines, headings, graphical elements, and lists. Establish a style for numbering and captions for graphics. Establish a style for the use of bold, italics, and underlining. Provide examples.

11. Create a data base of, and provide a link to, commonly used graphics and icons.

12. Establish a style for reference to other documents of your organization and to documents and regulations of governments and of other regulatory organizations. Provide examples.

13. Establish a style for using trademarks and for naming products—on first and subsequent mentions. You may need to establish a different trademark style for documents with global/international exposure. Provide examples.

14. Establish a style for use of color. Provide standards for color use.

15. Establish a style for Alternative Text based on your organization’s policy for making documents readable by individuals with disabilities. Provide instructions for creating Alternative Text. Provide examples of graphics with Alternative Text.

16. Provide instructions for incorporating standard disclaimers and other legal boilerplate. Provide, or provide links to, approved examples.

17. Unless entries are in alphabetical order, provide a Table of Contents and detailed Index for your Style Guide.

18. Create a Template, Model, and Editing Checklist for each type of document to help ensure accurate, complete, cohesive content; clear, unambiguous sentences; and professional format.

19. Establish the Review Process for your Style Guide. Ensure that all elements of the Style Guide work together to deliver the desired content to the intended audience and to create the desired “look and feel.” Edit and proofread the Style Guide to reflect the team’s standards for clarity, complete content, and correct grammar. Include your legal department in that review.

20. Determine where your Style Guide will reside for the team’s quick access.

21. Establish a process to update your Style Guide regularly.

With your first customized Style Guide in place, you have a starting point for creating additional customized Style Guides. And you are well positioned to deliver consistently high quality documents and presentations.


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