(Updated Feb. 5, 2016)
If you’re an entrepreneur, you can dramatically improve your business content – make it more clear, concise, credible and consistent – by using a comprehensive writing style manual and creating and following a company-specific style guide, even if the latter is just a page long.
Step one in improving your content, then, is using a comprehensive writing style manual, like the Associated Press Stylebook. (Learn more here, if you’re not doing this already.)
Step two is developing and using a second writing style guide that is specific to your company.
Here are a few steps for making a company-specific style guide:
- Today: Open a word processing document (Microsoft Word, Google Document or other) and label it [something like “(Company name) Style Guide”]. Save the document.
- The next time you are writing or editing business content: Look at what you will be writing or editing for that day. (Just that day. Don’t worry about everything already published on your website. Start in the present and move forward a little at a time.)
As you write or edit your usual business content, start a list in your company style guide document of any instances where a company-specific term or subject is not mentioned in the AP Stylebook (or whatever style manual you use as your main style manual).
You also may, on occasion, decide to NOT follow AP (or other style manual) on a particular topic, and that needs to be documented in your company style guide.
Examples of company style guide topics and when they’re needed:
Company name – when the spelling is unconventional and it’s not listed in the “company name” entry of the AP Stylebook.
Company taglines – because they don’t appear in the AP Stylebook.
Names – when rules differ from the AP’s “names” entry. For instance: AP says use the first and last name of a person on first reference in a sentence and only the last name on second reference. Some business articles might use a person’s first name on second reference for a more approachable, casual tone in a particular publication.
Industry-specific terminology – when AP doesn’t go into that kind of detail. One example would be a list of volume measurements for the oil and gas industry, such as “10 million barrels of oil per day” (first reference) and “10 MBD” (second reference).
Every time you write or edit something: Add to your company style guide any formatting, spelling, punctuation or grammar rules that are not addressed in your comprehensive style manual. If you have a company newsletter, for example, you might specify formatting standards (Where to use bold, add spaces, skip lines, etc.)
Continue adding to your style guide every time you edit a piece of content. This is a living document that will grow and change as you figure out what needs to be clarified. Your growing style guide is a building block for your company brand, so it will take time to develop.
After you add something to your company style guide: Edit your new entry to make sure your rules are clear and that they include examples.
When your style guide is near completion: Proofread your style guide. Have others edit and proofread it as well, if possible.
If you have the time to fully edit your site: Look at your online business content that you published before you created your style guide and edit that content using your new company style guide. That will make all of your content consistent.
Every few months or year: Update your company style guide. When you see that a company issue is not being addressed, add new entries to address it. Always add a revision date to your style guide.
Following writing style guides ensures that your content is more clear, concise, credible and consistent, making your content easier to read and understand. It tells potential customers they can trust you, and that elevates your company brand.
To learn more about style guides, check out these posts:
- Every business needs a writing style manual and a company style guide
- The Four Cs of Awesome Content
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