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Every business needs a writing style manual and a company style guide

Improve your business content with The AP Stylebook 2015If you’re a small business owner and don’t use a style manual and company style guide as a foundation for your blog and website writing, start using one. Now. Once you do, you’ll greatly improve the quality of your content and, as a result, gain clarity, consistency and confidence.

Writers and editors in corporate communications departments of all industries use a style manual and, often, a company-specific style guide that sets the rules for technical issues like spelling, punctuation and grammar.

These two tools are just as essential for small business owners. They lay the foundation for good writing and make communications pieces clear and consistent. Clarity and consistency increase credibility. Credibility builds trust, and trust strengthens your company brand.

Style manuals

Two of the most popular style manuals used are the Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style. The newspaper industry uses the AP Stylebook as its style bible, and that’s what I’ve used for the last 28 years as a writer and editor in different industries: newspaper, city government, health care, nonprofit, oil and gas and magazine.

The greatest personal benefit of using a style manual is that it gives you peace of mind. You’ll no longer wonder if you’ve put commas in the “right” place (the AP Stylebook says not to use a comma before a conjunction in a simple series, for example) or if you should capitalize your business title when it appears after your name (You shouldn’t, as per AP. “Tom Thomas, owner” would be correct. Tom Thomas, Owner” would not).

Other examples of AP style rules include using:

  • “Email” – not “e-mail.”
  • One space between sentences – not two.
  • “U.S.” in text copy and “US” in headlines.

When you use a style manual, you’ll know the rules or at least where to find them. There’ll be no doubt. You can rest assured.

So, buy a style manual today. The 2015 AP Stylebook was just released last week. You can buy an annual subscription here ($26 for the online version, which I use, or $32.45, with shipping, for the spiral-bound print edition).

Company-specific style guides

Step two of laying the foundation for excellent writing is creating a company-specific style guide. The company style guide is basically a list of style rules that pertain to your specific business – rules that would not be mentioned in a traditional style manual.

That could include industry-related terms or spellings. If you work in the oil and gas industry, for instance, you would want a reference page on how to write volumes of oil and gas: 10 million barrels of oil per day (first reference), 10 MBD (second reference). You would also want a list of all the different types of volumes – and there are many in the oil and gas industry.

Your style guide could also include a few very specific deviations from your style manual, but keep those to a bare minimum. You additionally might document blog post or newsletter formatting details (word count limits, rules for spacing between indented paragraphs, for example) and graphic standards (the rules, measurements and specifics related to logos, company publication colors and all things graphic design). 

To learn how to create a company style guide, you can read about it here

Who style guides help and why

A style manual and company style guide will help you as a small business owner, whether you are the one writing the copy or you have a team of guest writers. Your writers need a style manual and a company style guide so they have direction. Use of both tools will make all of your content consistent. It will also make editing content from different writers easier (hopefully) because their drafts will need less style-related edits. Remember that anyone who writes for your company is a steward of your brand and should, therefore, be required to follow a style manual and company style guide.

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