From faux pas to flawless: Why your team NEEDS a writing style guide (and how to get it right)

Are you tired of battles with your team over bullet points, brackets and bolded fonts? Fed up with your colleague’s formatting faux pas? 

Your team needs a writing style guide.  

A critical source of truth for everyone who writes for your business, a writing style guide will help ensure every email, report, article and social post is written in a consistent style and voice.  

Let’s look at why writing style guides are so important, what they should include – and how to embed one into your workplace to ensure maximum uptake.

First up, what is a writing style guide anyway?

Chances are, your organisation already has a smashing ‘style guide’.

But hold up… because if it just covers logos, fonts, colours and imagery, you’re only halfway there. How your brand looks is essential to its identity. But how it sounds is just as important – and overlooked all too often. 

This is where a writing style guide comes in. 

A writing style guide is an instructive manual on how to write on behalf of your brand and organisation. It aims to act as an invaluable writing companion for your staff. One that’s reviewed and updated regularly – and easily accessible (perhaps on your company intranet).

Why are writing style guides so important? 

Done properly, a good writing style guide can:

  • Improve team unity and productivity: A clear set of writing guidelines ensures everyone is adhering to the same style and conventions. This means no time-wasting debates about the proper way to use quotation marks – and far less retroactive editing for managers. A breakdown of the writing, editing, reviewing and approval processes will also lead to smoother workflows.

  • Help you connect with readers more effectively: Consistent messaging and a recognisable brand voice  work wonders for your brand identity, helping your team communicate more consistently and professionally with your audience. Your style guide will also show staff how to avoid common mistakes, inspiring confidence in your organisation.

  • Facilitate seamless training and onboarding: A writing style guide helps new hires quickly familiarise themselves with your organisation’s communication standards, leading to faster integration within the team.

In short, a style guide keeps your writing sharp, your brand uniform and your organisation professional. And it will reduce your workload to boot.  

Now who wouldn’t want that?

What to include in your writing style guide

As we see it, there are three core pillars to any writing style guide. 

  • Your brand voice: What tone of voice do you want your people to adopt when writing to your clients and customers? Fun and cheeky? Conversational and friendly? Or perhaps conservative and formal? Whatever voice you choose, your writing style guide should include specific examples for your staff on how to implement it. 

  • Common terms: Your organisation will have certain terms and phrases that are specific to your brand and industry. List them in this section – to guide your staff on what is and what isn’t acceptable.

  • Grammar, punctuation and style: In this section, outline the hard and fast rules on everything from dates to dashes. This will become a concrete resource for people to refer to when they’re writing – reducing internal inconsistencies and editing time. Make this section as clear and detailed as possible. (You can thank us later!) 

  • Formatting: Think margins, spacing, font size, heading styles, capitalisation – those sorts of things. Anything that affects how a piece of writing looks. Formatting is one of the key ways to ensure your communication looks uniform. 

Once you have these sections in place, the world’s your oyster. You can flesh out your writing style guide to ensure it covers everything your team needs to know when writing for your brand. For example, you might eventually want to add sections on:

  • Referencing
  • Inclusive language
  • Writing for different platforms (e.g. a client email versus a LinkedIn post) 

You could also outline the editorial process, procedures for reviewing and approving writing pieces – and the roles of the different team members involved. 

It’s entirely up to you.

How to make your writing style guide as effective as possible 

Like anything, doing something well is not the same as simply doing it. To make your writing style guide, we recommend you:

  • Incorporate plenty of examples: Simply explaining a preferred style or grammar rule can be vague or even confusing if you don’t show what it means in practice. So, be sure to include multiple BEFORE and AFTER examples to drive home the points you’re making.

  • Be mindful of length: It might be tempting to include every little rule and convention that comes to mind. And yes, there is an argument to be made for creating an uber-comprehensive resource to refer to. But your team will get turned off if it ends up being a 97-page document. Aim to strike a good balance: include the essentials without going into unnecessary detail. 

  • Ensure it reads well and looks good: Check that your style guide adheres to its own rules! And make it visually engaging. In our experience, sleek design goes a long way in making what is essentially a dry document more appealing. Consider investing in professional design services to really make it pop.  

Ensuring your style guide gets used: 4 golden rules

So, you’ve got your writing style guide ready to go. You’ve spent hours ensuring it’s comprehensive yet concise. Next? Ensuring it does NOT sit on the company hard drive gathering metaphorical dust. 

Here’s how to transform your writing style guide into a critical, everyday resource for your staff.

1. Keep it front and centre 

Make sure your writing style guide is easily accessible: somewhere your staff will see it regularly. It can help to have a few printed hard copies on hand (though less eco-friendly, admittedly).

Also, mention it as often as you can. Make it a part of the company lexicon! Ensure your staff can’t forget it by: 

  • Including a link to the writing style guide in content briefs and templates 
  • Referencing it in team meetings
  • Posting updates in internal communication channels 
  • Encouraging employees to have it open when proofreading
  • Passive aggressively leaving comments on their documents with phrases like ‘as per the company style guide…’ (joking, obviously, but also…)

2. Present it to the wider organisation

Anyone who’s managed a team will know that simply emailing a document and asking people to read it isn’t the most effective way to impart new information. 

If you want people to internalise your style guide, present it to the company with tips on how to use and navigate it effectively. Or better still, get them in a room and teach them how to put the style guide into practice (if you need help, we’ve got training for that!)

And make sure it’s inherent to your onboarding process. 

3. Encourage feedback from your team

Establish feedback mechanisms to gather input from your team.  Is the style guide clear, useful and easy to read? How could it be more so? Is there anything missing that they’d like included?

Getting your team’s input on how the style guide can best serve them will increase the chances of it being used! 

4. Keep it up to date

It’s important to keep your style guide updated to reflect changes in language, industry standards or company best practices. 

Make sure you regularly review and revise it to ensure it stays relevant and accurate over time. 

After all, an outdated style guide is like a VHS collection – it’s got history, but it’s not the tool for today.

Need help creating the perfect writing style guide (or updating your existing one)? This stuff is our bread and butter. Get in touch!