Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A guide to style guides

So now that everyone's in the content business, don't you think it's about time we all had a little style?

Let's Talk Style Guides

Whether your company has a website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or "just" a print presence, you have a style. And you need a guide.* And then, for heaven's sake, you need to make sure all of your employees know it exists, and why, and that they are expected to follow it.

Many large corporations and publications of all sizes have their own style guides. Some of those organizations even update said guides every-so-often. (If you keep your style guide up to date, please, give yourself a pat on the back.)

While creating a style guide sounds like a lot of work without a measurable payoff, reconsider: If half of your sales literature states the company name in ALL CAPS and the other half uses title caps, the company looks a little sloppy. If your website varies noticeably from page to page; if your sales presentations don't reflect the same style as your sales literature and websites, prospective customers can lose confidence in the company. And if there are more significant inconsistencies, especially on contracts (did I just get your attention?) they could have legal ramifications.

So. Have a style guide. And use it.

The Most Common Style Guides 

Most custom style guides are actually just a few pages long, highlighting a few company- and industry-specific terms and how they should be used. And, on the first page or maybe at the end, there's a line that goes something like this: "For all other style questions, refer to the AP guide," or another standard reference. The most common style guides are -
AP  - From Associated Press, or as it humbly considers itself, the Journalist's Bible.
Chicago Manual
MLA - AKA Modern Language Association Style, while generally considered the style of academia and researchers, its more widely used than that - even if many users don't know it.
Now, if you prefer to wing it consider something like the useful guide Purdue University's Online Writing Lab put together. Or, if you're into creating a brand new style guide, from scratch, well, congratulations on your adventure! Reinventing the wheel completely could be fun.

Here are a few questions to get the gears turning:
What font (or fonts) will you use? You might choose two or even three to use for different sections, situations, or sales. That's OK - just be consistent in their use.
What about line spacing? Like your choice of fonts, how you use line spacing has a lot to do with how easy your copy is on the eyes.
And alignment? While left-justified, singled-spaced copy is the most commonly used, there's certainly room in the world for a little center- or even right-justification. Again, consistency is key. if you
Have you chosen your case? If you don't know your title case from your sentence case, learn before you create your style guide. (Please don't talk to me about camel case or bumpy case.) And when you decide on a case type, stick with it.
Bonus points:
You don't need to be a graphic designer, but it sure is nice if you can speak the language.

*I'll save my comments on how stylish a company's style might be for another day. Today I'm talking guides. No matter what your guide, here's the best advice you'll ever get: FOLLOW IT.

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