Every business needs two writing style guides

Be consistent, professional: Use a main writing style manual and a company-specific writing style guide.
Updated Nov. 13, 2017

Want well-written blog, website and social media content? Start by making your copy consistent: Use two writing style guides when writing and editing all of your content.

The two guides every business should use are:

Writers and editors at Fortune 500 corporations and large companies use two style guides. And so should entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Writing style guides lay the foundation for good writing and make communications pieces clear and consistent. Clarity and consistency makes content easier to understand and also increases your credibility. Credibility builds trust, and trust strengthens your company brand.

Style manuals

Some people use style guides that are specific to their industries. You can read more about that here.

Two of the most popular style manuals used in a variety of industries are the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style.

The newspaper industry uses the AP Stylebook as its style bible and so do countless corporations and businesses. The AP Stylebook is what I’ve used for the last 30 years as a writer and editor in different industries: newspaper, magazine, city government, health care, nonprofit and oil and gas. Many book publishers and businesses use the Chicago Manual of Style.

Which ever foundational style manual you chose, make sure you use it. I recommend buying an electronic version because it’s easiest to use: Have a question about punctuation? Type “punctuation” into your manual’s search bar to find the guidance you’re looking for. You can also search for specific terms to check spelling and definitions. Some style guides, like the AP Stylebook, include a dictionary.

Benefits of using a writing style manual

The greatest personal benefit of using a style manual, aside from creating clearer, consistent copy, is that it gives you peace of mind.

You’ll no longer wonder if you’ve put commas in the “right” place. For instance, under its “comma” entry, the AP Stylebook says there’s no comma before a conjunction in a simple series (milk, bread and eggs).

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, and you’ll know that your content is consistent.

So, get a style manual today if you don’t already have one. You can buy an annual subscription for the AP Stylebook Online on AP’s site here ($28). The latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style can be found here ($70).

Company-specific style guides

Next, you need 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). 

Your style guide could also include a few very specific deviations from your style manual, but keep those to a bare minimum. 

Here’s more information on how to create a company writing style guide.

Who style guides help at your company and why

A writing style manual and company-specific writing style guide will help you as a small business owner, whether you are the one writing the copy or you have a team of writers.

Style guides give your writers direction. They’ll also make the editing process easier because writers’ drafts will (hopefully) need less style-related edits.

Remember that anyone who writes for your company is a steward of your brand and therefore should follow a style manual and company style guide. If everyone at your company follows your style guides, your content will be more consistent, clear, credible and professional.

Your style guide status

Does your company use two style guides, already? If not, are you willing to use them? If you already use them, how have they helped improved your content quality?

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